Street name and Slavery debate Liverpool

Some thought on the street sign debate… as a Tour guide we use the things around us to explain history. Street signs in Liverpool that bear the name or link to slave traders or merchants who benefited from the slave trade being an example. There are many in Liverpool – Parr Street, Tarleton Street, South Hunter Street, Blundell Street, Bold St to name a few. With these we can tell the horrors of our past. Currently there are some calls for these to be removed and renamed. My current thinking is that adding additional plaques with information would help educate people more than their removal but it is a debate that does need to be had intelligently and sensitively, and I’m willing to listen. I don’t like the idea that it would be upsetting to others to see them on a daily basis.

I also think on the subject that there should be a distinction between a building or street name being named after someone because they owned the land there as opposed to a street being named after someone to honour them or a statue praising and memorialising someone. For instance Blackburne House/Blackburne Place is named after John Blackburne Jnr (the family were salt and slave traders who opposed abolition of the slave trade) It’s not because they love what he did but because it was originally his house and then the name of the school there too. The work they’re doing there today at Blackburne House is brilliant and very supportive of women and ethnic communities and I don’t personally feel that that is undermined by the name.

New streets and buildings could and should be used to honour black men and women from our community or those who have been forgotten, like Charles Wootton who was murdered in the alarming race riots in Liverpool in 1919. I was educated about this recently at a small exhibition at the Central library remembering the race riots 100 years on . A Plaque was recently located in Liverpool close to Queens Dock as part of a BBC history project documented in David Olusoga’s excellent tv series “Black and British” (four part series available on BBC iplayer, REALLY good)

Interestingly although it got smeared with graffiti Penny Lane, was NOT named after James Penny who was a vociferous opponent of abolition. It is just bad history to suggest it is named after him There is a helpful (and pretty long) article written by Glen Huntley which you can read if you have an interest

Copyright Harriet Gilmour

Copyright Harriet Gilmour

Copyright Jackie Spencer

Copyright Jackie Spencer

but the short hand is he owned no property or business connections nearby and died around 100 years before it was ever a notable road.. It was a tiny ancient Lane, originally called Pennies lane, probably relating to a property named Penketh Hall nearby …Thankfully this has now been recognised by the The International Slavery Museum whose display on street names has propagated this idea for many years, I didn’t question it when I saw it myself originally so it’s not surprising the rumour has travelled.. Arrad street just off Hope Street by The CASA bar IS named in relation to him, he had property there and the street is called Arrad after his birthplace in Cumbria

Local historian, guide and activist Laurence Westgaph wrote this well researched leaflet about which streets in Liverpool are connected to Slavetraders or slavery.…/…/research/streetnames-pdf/

There is also current fundraiser by Laurence, a historian and tour guide to raise money for a memorial to the Liverpool enslaved. Usually the triangular trade as it was known followed the route of ships laden with arms and other British goods travelling to west Africa, there trading for enslaved Africans who were forcibly trafficked across the Atlantic to the Americas and West Indies where slaves were delivered to the plantations and the lucrative goods of the slave economy transported back to Liverpool, such as cotton, rum, tobacco, sugar, coffee etc. Although it was not the common pattern for slaves to travel to Liverpool there is evidence from adverts for slave sales, burial and baptism records which prove they did sometimes. If you would like to contribute the link is here:

Laurence himself feels reinterpretation not removal is the way forwards. Saying the public realm is the best classroom, couldn’t agree more! Laurence leads excellent tours on Liverpool and Slavery and I would recommend you could attend one or listen to one of his lectures, via zoom. You can find info on the facebook page “Liverpool and Slavery”.

As guides you can’t do a tour of Liverpool without mentioning slavery but I think I’m reflecting we need to do more to show the wider impact that the slave economy and legacies of the slave trade have had and still have.