The widespread misconception that the road was named after an 18th-century slave merchant was debunked by the Liverpool-based International Slavery Museum (ISM) on Friday.
Penny Lane shot to international fame back in 1967, thanks to the Beatles song named after it, and its original street sign was included in the ISM’s display when the museum first opened in 2007. Now, however, “comprehensive research” has shown it was wrongly linked to the history of slavery, the museum explained. It blamed the long-held popular belief that it was related to the slavemaster for erroneously including the sign in its display.
Researchers have found “no historical evidence linking Penny Lane to James Penny,” the executive director of National Museums Liverpool, Janet Dugdale, said in a statement. Dugdale also promised to ensure the sign was removed from display.
The origins of the street’s name are still unclear, but it was likely related to a toll requiring the payment of a penny if a vehicle wished to pass. The road was among several targets hit by BLM protesters recently, with vandals spray-painting over several signs and daubing the word “racist” on walls.
Had a positive link to the slave trader been established, the local authority had been considering renaming the famed street. “If it’s a direct consequence that the road is called Penny Lane because of James Penny, then that needs to be investigated,” Liverpool City Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram told Sky News on Monday. “Something needs to happen, and I’d say that sign and that road may well be in danger of being renamed.”
While Penny Lane has apparently been spared a rebranding, many other landmarks in the city could find themselves with new names. Liverpool has many streets named after slave traders, which is perhaps unsurprising, given the city’s history as a major hub for ‘human cargo.’
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