Penny Lane, a street in Liverpool, England that became a landmark once The Beatles used the street as the basis of a 1967 single, has found itself the subject of some speculation the past week.
Apparently, rumors are swirling that the road was named after James Penny, an 18th century slave merchant who defended the slave trade in front of British Parliament. These rumors led to the iconic Penny Lane street sign being defaced, “PENNY” being spray-painted out and “RACIST” painted above it.
"Just imagine not having a Penny Lane"@MetroMayorSteve says he doesn't believe the Liverpool street of Beatles fame is named after the anti-abolitionist James Penny. HS#KayBurley #PennyLane pic.twitter.com/DAhaRWlJdJ
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) June 15, 2020
Liverpool’s regional mayor told Sky News that Penny Lane may indeed have its name changed if any links to James Penny or slavery in general are found. For what it’s worth, mayor Steve Rotherham does not believe there is validity to these claims:
“If it is as a direct consequence of that road being called Penny Lane because of James Penny, then that needs to be investigated,” Mr Rotherham told Sky News’ Kay Burley@Breakfast show.
“Something needs to happen and I would say that sign and that road may well be in danger of being renamed.
“But, of course, there is no evidence that is the fact.”
The International Slavery Museum, based in Liverpool, also weighed in on this controversy and states that any links between Penny Lane and James Penny are “not conclusive”:
Our thoughts on Penny Lane’s history, the research into its name and the need to be responsive to new evidence. pic.twitter.com/PAweUw2vCK
— International Slavery Museum (@SlaveryMuseum) June 12, 2020
“‘Penny Lane’ was kind of nostalgic, but it was really a place that John and I knew; it was actually a bus terminus. I’d get a bus to his house and I’d have to change at Penny Lane, or the same with him to me, so we often hung out at that terminus, like a roundabout. It was a place that we both knew, and so we both knew the things that turned up in the story. There was a barber shop called Bioletti, and he did have – like all barber shops – pictures of the hairstyles, so I likened that to a photo gallery, like it was an art show. Snd there was a bank nearby, so we kind of brought them all together – the fire station was a litte bit down the road actually – but they were all our memories – my memories I suppose, basically – of that area.”
This conversation surrounding Penny Lane in Liverpool comes during a time of civil unrest and heightened global conversations about systemic racism, sparked by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd and protests that have emerged in the weeks since.
It also comes shortly after country trio Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A due to slavery connotations surrounding the word “Antebellum” — though that is also the subject of controversy, considering there’s a Seattle-based blues singer who has used the moniker for decades.