Penny Lane, Inspiration for Beatles Song, May Be Renamed if Slavery Ties Are Proven [Update]
Update: The International Slavery Museum has concluded its investigation into the naming origins of Penny Lane and have stated that they have found "no historical evidence linking Penny Lane to James Penny." Read their full statement here.
Over the last few weeks we've seen many a statue be reconsidered due to past ties to racial inequality and a history in slavery-era America, but it's possible a musical landmark may also soon be affected. According to NME (via Sky News), Liverpool officials are considering the future of Penny Lane, the site that inspired the Beatles chart-topper of the same name, after road signs were vandalized due to alleged ties to slave trader James Penny.
Vandals reportedly blacked out the word "Penny" on the street signs found along the famous thoroughfare, writing the word "Racist" near the signs last Thursday night (June 11).
The city's regional mayor, Steve Rotherham, stated that the road could be renamed if the connection to James Penny is proven. “If it is as a direct consequence of that road being called Penny Lane because of James Penny, then that needs to be investigated," said Rotherham, adding, “Something needs to happen and I would say that sign and that road may well be in danger of being renamed.” But, he also added that at present, there is no evidence that the street was actually named after Penny.
“Just imagine not having a Penny Lane and the Beatles’ song not being about somewhere," said the mayor. “I don’t believe it is associated with James Penny.” Rotherham says that after doing some reading, he learned that the street name may have been associated with a toll that was once paid in pennies to cross the road.
“It’s for other people to decide whether they think it’s appropriate that road sign is taken down, if indeed there is any link to either slavery or other incidences," he continued. “I’m not pretending or I wouldn’t presume to tell people in communities in the Liverpool city region what they should be thinking. It needs to be investigated and then, if it’s found as a direct link then action can be taken.”
Liverpool councilor and history teacher Liz Makinson has also weighed in on the topic, revealing in a video she posted, "There is a weight of evidence to suggest the origins of the name. None of it points in any way to James Penny."
In addition, Liverpool's own International Slavery Museum has stated that evidence of James Penny's link to the street is "not conclusive." Their full statement can be viewed below:
"Penny Lane" was released by the Beatles in 1967 as part of a double A-side with "Strawberry Fields Forever." The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been certified as a gold single in the U.S.
Speaking about the inspiration for the song, Paul McCartney told Clash Music, "'Penny Lane' was kind of nostalgic, but it was really [about] a place that John [Lennon] and I knew ... 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."
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