Campaigners against the veneration of Edward Colston in the city of Bristol have called for a boycott of Thatchers Cider because its director joined a merchants’ society with historic links to the slave trader.
The Countering Colston pressure group has campaigned for years to “decolonise Bristol” and remove the 17th-century slaver and philanthropist’s statue and name from the city’s streets and institutions.
They have been called “heartless” by cider-loving locals after they decided to turn their ire on the family-run Somerset drinks company, which has achieved national and international success in the past decade.
Countering Colston launched a “Don’t Buy Thatchers’’ campaign with a tweet saying: “Martin Thatcher, director of the company, is a member of the Society of the Merchant Venturers.
“The SMV has deep roots in the historical slave trade in Bristol, and its members were responsible for the suffering and death of tens of thousands of human beings.
“They are a powerful unelected elite who have significant influence on political and civic life in Bristol.”
Martin Thatcher, a fourth-generation cider-maker at Myrtle Farm, in the foot of the Mendip Hills, has been a member of the private members’ association, in which Colston himself was part of, since 2012.
Thatcher told the Bristol 24/7 website that he was a “relative newcomer” to the society and wants to bring “fresh perspective” to the organisation.
“During the time I have been a member, I have been able to contribute to the valuable, philanthropic work that members of the Merchant Venturers do with organisations across Bristol, from care homes to education establishments,” he said.
“As a relative newcomer to the society, I hope I’ve been able to bring a fresh perspective to thinking, in particular as to how the SMV needs to acknowledge what has happened in the past, yet continue to do its fantastic work for people across all Bristol communities in a way fitting and relevant for our lives today.”
Cider lovers replied to Countering Colston’s Twitter post to express their outrage.
Benjamin Allen said: “I’ll put up with most of these woke tempter tantrums, but this is where I draw the line. Stay away from Thatchers you heartless bastards!’’
Clive Pope added: “I think Thatchers Cider can easily ride out some pathetic campaign by a group of anti-British, law breaking, unwashed snowflakes.
“Maybe this is evidence that their campaign has run its course, now having to target innocent persons who had nothing to do with those in history that they find offensive in society. Pathetic.”
The Society of Merchant Venturers, of which the Princess Royal is an honorary member, was a livery company founded in the 13th century that ran Bristol’s port for centuries.
The society lobbied successfully for the end of the Royal African Company monopoly on slaving in 1698 so Bristolian merchants could be allowed to enter the slave trade. At the beginning of the 19th century they lobbied unsuccessfully against the slave trade’s abolition.
It has endured as an invitation-only philanthropic group of some of Bristol’s most prominent business people and has been the champion of Colston’s legacy, his schools and name for centuries.
It appointed its first black member a month before the Colston statue was toppled in June 2020.
The society gave funds towards the statue of Colston being erected in 1895 and in 2018 it frustrated Bristol city council efforts to add a plaque to the Colston statue saying he was partly responsible for the enslavement of 84,000 Africans and deaths of 19,000 during the Atlantic crossing, as well as being a Tory MP for Bristol who defended the city’s right to trade in enslaved Africans and didn’t allow those with different religious and political beliefs to benefit from his charities.
The wording of the plaque was never decided on and two years later campaigners pulled the statue down during a Black Lives Matter protest.
After the toppling, the society issued a statement saying the statue’s removal was “right for Bristol”.
It said: “To build a city where racism and inequality no longer exist, we must start by acknowledging Bristol’s dark past and removing statues, portraits and names that memorialise a man who benefitted from trading in human lives.
“It was inappropriate for the Society of Merchant Venturers to get involved in the rewording of the Colston statue plaque in 2018 and we have listened to the constructive comments put to us.”