The Pero footbridge was named after Pero Jones, an enslaved servant of John Pinney, a merchant from Bristol, UK, in honor of the role the region played in the slave trade. Pero was acquired as a slave from Mountravers plantation in the Caribbean by John Pinney when he was 12 years old. He worked and died as an enslaved man serving Pinney for 32 years.
He was born in the West Indies and transitioned to become the personal assistant to Pinney who brought him to Bristol, according to Epigram. Pinney had under his care about 276 people who worked on his sugar plantations which distilled rum and sold it in Bristol and London. He also had a publishing house that printed pro-slavery pamphlets in addition.
Pinney had a liking for Pero and got him trained as a barber. Pero however died after a short illness at the age of 45. There were attempts to give him proper care, but he died while away from Bristol. In Bristol today stands a bridge that crosses the floating harbor between Society Cafe and Za Za Bazaar in his honor.
The striking feature of this bridge that attracts tourists from around the world has to do with the horns which act as the bridge’s flanks and provide counterbalance when the water levels rise. The mastermind behind the architecture was abstract sculptor Eilis O’Connell. The bridge was opened to the public in 1999, according to Bristol247.
The naming of the bridge after Pero was first mooted by Bristol Chair of Leisure and Labour Cabinet member Paul Smith. There were ongoing discussions among the leisure services committee with then-councilor and later Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, Stephen Williams, asking for a statue or memorial to acknowledge the role of Bristol in the trading of humans.
Pero’s Bridge serves as one monumental leap by Bristol in institutionalizing the memories of thousands of slaves who worked and died in Bristol. The bridge has become a sanctuary for couples and lovers as well who attach lovelocks to its railings to express their affection and undying love for their partners. They attach their names on the lock and dump the keys in the flowing water after performing this ritual.
Smith told Bristol247 that he proposed for the bridge to be named after an enslaved person following interactions with campaigners and abolitionists who were asking that the memories of slaves needed to be given a place in Bristol’s history.
Some councilors and key political figures have formally apologized for Bristol’s role in slavery, but, more is being asked to be done to honor the memories of the enslaved people. Efforts have however been made for a gallery exhibiting how the Pinnery family made a fortune through slavery. There is also a push for a museum to pay tribute to the horrors and dark past of Bristol’s involvement in slavery.
The Pero Bridge stoked controversy but as time passed the proponents of the idea to honor the enslaved have been vindicated.