Liverpool’s Penny Lane named after an 18th-century slave trader? Yeah, about that…

With global protests decrying racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, a number of targets are in the crosshairs, ranging from displays of Confederate flags to statues of people known to be on the side of slavery.

One such target was Penny Lane, the street in Liverpool made famous by The Beatles. Early reports said that the street was named after James Penny, an 18th-century British slave trader. Liverpool was, for a time, Britain’s and Europe’s major slave port. And yes, there are streets in Liverpool with names that reflect that dark time.

Once word got out of the possible connection, demands grew that its name be changed. Penny Lane street signs were vandalized, some spray-painted with the word “racist.”

One problem. None of the James Penny story appears to be true.

Liverpool’s own International Slavery Museum did some “comprehensive research” and determined that there’s no connection between James Penny and the naming of the street. Although the museum once included the street name in a display when it first opened in 2007, they say that it was a mistake. They’re not even sure how the mistake came to be made in the first place.

From the BBC:

“The chairman of the Association of Liverpool Tour Guides, Paul Beesley, said he had never seen any evidence linking it to James Penny.

“‘The road was named about 50 years after he died and although the origin is confused, none of the possibilities relate to James Penny.

“‘We believe that in 2007 when the museum opened, a mistake may have been made and that mistake has been repeated.’

“Historian Glen Huntley, who helped with the research, said he was “delighted” that the museum had ‘cooperated and responded to the research in such a positive manner.'”

(Thanks to Moutray for the link.)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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