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Controversy erupts in Liverpool over origin of name of Penny Lane, inspiration for famous Beatles song

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Penny Lane, the famous street in Liverpool, U.K., that The Beatles immortalized in their hit 1967 song of the same name, has become the source of controversy, because some believe it was named after James Penny, an 18th century merchant from the city who was a slave ship owner and a supporter of slavery.

In the wake of the death last month of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Black Lives Matter protesters in Liverpool late last week vandalized numerous Penny Lane signs with graffiti and called for the road’s named to be changed, the Liverpool Echo reports. One of the signs had “RACIST” painted in black next to it.

According to the newspaper, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said in a recent Twitter exchange that he’d be open to changing the name if evidence shows that it was named after James Penny, but he doesn’t believe that’s the case.

Anderson noted, “It is debated and said that there was a toll bridge that cost a penny there hence its name.” He added, “We are working with BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] community and historians to look at this and what we should do.”

The Liverpool Echo also reports that a local historian named Glen Huntley claims that evidence points to Penny Lane not being named after James Penny.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum has issued a statement acknowledging the debate over the origin of Penny Lane’s name, while noting that “the evidence is not conclusive.”

The museum has a display that identifies streets in the city named after people who were involved in the slave trade.

The message adds, “We are actively carrying out research on this particular question and will reevaluate our display on Liverpool street names and change if required.”

By Matt Friedlander
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