by Glen Huntley
Update: 14th June 2020
We can now prove conclusively that the story of Penny Lane being named after James Penny the slave merchant has no basis in fact.
We can also prove that when the story was started in 2006 by the press officer of the International Slavery Museum, no research at all was undertaken.
The only thing that links the lane to the slave merchant is the word ‘Penny’.
That’s it, that’s the only counter argument.
It’s a long post, it needed to be in order to dispel a popular myth, unfortunately started by a respected and otherwise superb museum. A story that proved so popular with the international press that it has been repeated ever since.
Mayor Joe Anderson has said he won’t be renaming the lane because of the evidence against the claim. The museum has said it will take down the Penny Lane street sign if there is no evidence to support their claim – but the only thing that could have proven a link to Penny would have been the research the press officer made in 2006, we can prove that no research was carried out.
On the 12th June 2020 David Olusoga said he also has never seen evidence to link James Penny with the lane. The acclaimed historian researches and presents TV’s ‘A house through time’, the first of which featured a Liverpool house. He is a Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester and an expert on the Slave Trade and Black British history. He told a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared that in his research on slavery he ‘hadn’t come across a link with the iconic Penny Lane’. www.liverpoolecho.co.uk
I encourage anyone who is still repeating the myth to find the evidence themselves. Good luck!
On social media, anyone who still believes it often says ‘Prove it wasn’t’ so here are facts in a nutshell:
Penny Lane was not named after James Penny. There I’ve said it!
The claim that Penny Lane was ‘probably’ named after the Slave Merchant was made in 2006 by the then press officer of the museum. The museum features a Penny Lane street sign in an exhibit. He has now admitted that before he announced it to the press with no evidence and he had undertook no research.
A snippet form the originator of the story here, full letter below,…The theory that it was “probably named after James Penny” or his family arose following a discussion at Merseyside Maritime Museum about Liverpool street names and their origins. ….However, neither I or anyone else has ever claimed to have documentary evidence to back this up. …It is a theory, a talking point rather than an academic pronouncement. Perhaps in my blog I should have said “may” rather than “probably”. What a difference a word can make!
The museum has faced increased pressure to remove the exhibit and thankfully on 9th June 2020 they agreed to review the exhibit and may take it down if no evidence is found. There is or never was any evidence, it was based merely on assumption. There is however a huge amount of evidence to show that it had nothing to do with him.
Please read the lengthy research on this site.
I am assisting the museum in their research.
Liverpool’s streets have streets named after slave merchants, but not Penny Lane.
Many streets in Liverpool have names linked to merchants who became wealthy from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. When these merchants owned land and streets were built on the site, the street would be named after the owner of the land. A few examples of streets bearing the names of slave merchants include Tarleton Street, Parr Street and Bold Street. Streets were not named in honour of these people, they just owned the land. Penny never owned any land in the area of Penny Lane.
You can read more about street with slavery links here in a 2006 publication by Laurence Westgaph called Read the signs.
Before the museum made the claim in 2006, NO-ONE had had ever made the association before.
Below is a paper from 1876 that explores the origin of the name Penny Lane. No mention of James Penny is made, instead it is linked to the ancient name of Penketh.
The Penketh – Penny theory may not be correct as the author makes some errors elsewhere, but the important thing is that he does not include James Penny in the possible origins of the name. (Read this post for further information about the Penketh theory).
The real origin of the name.
This is open for debate. It’s probably ancient and dates from before the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was a muddy country lane through countryside well into the 19th century. One possibility show in above is that it came from the name ‘Penketh’ which means ‘Edge of the forest’, the area was at the edge of the Royal hunting grounds of Toxteth Park – a forest until the late 16th century. The real origin is not crucial but several theories are provided on this site.
Named after a Penny Toll?
For balance, I have recently seen online that the lane got its name from a penny toll, Mayor Joe Anderson has also said this. I know of no toll roads that were in the Penny Lane area. If anyone has any any evidence I would love to see it. There a was a toll gate at the border of Toxteth Park and Aigburth, this was situated at Aigburth Vale. Although this was quite close, it is too far to be associated with the lane. Read here. I have also heard it said that James Penny’s name was spelt Penney, I have not seen evidence of this myself.
A Liverpool street that was really named after Penny and his real homesArrad Street off Hope Street was named after Penny’s birthplace. His son (also James and also a slave merchant) built houses on Hope Street and Arrad Street runs behind them.
Penny’s bookeeper lived on Arrad Street.
Thanks to @Waite99d we now know where James Penny’s house really were in Liverpool. One still survives although much altered. See the updates on the bottom of this post.
Museums, galleries or places of learning of any kind should research their exhibits before they display them.
The Penny Lane slavery debate has been a distraction to the real issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protests. The only positive outcome is that thousands of people have now decided to educate themselves on Britain’s shameful role in it and it is being debated like never before. When Lockdown is over I highly recommend a visit to this excellent museum, details can be found here www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk or follow them on Twitter – @SlaveryMuseum