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24 September 2014

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Abolition of Slavery

Penny Lane
Penny Lane

Penny Lane

By Paul Coslett
The street made famous in song by The Beatles is named after a Liverpool slave ship owner and anti-abolitionist.

Penny Lane is a street famous worldwide thanks to The Beatles 1967 hit, but the south Liverpool street owes its name to an outspoken Liverpool slave ship owner and staunch anti-abolitionist.

James Penny was a Liverpool merchant who made his money from the transportation of slaves.

Penny was one of several traders from Liverpool who spoke in favour of the slave trade at a parliamentary committee.

Penny told the committee that he had invested in eleven voyages of ships carrying slaves from Africa to the West Indies. His ships were between 200-300 tons and usually carried between 500 to 600 slaves in a single voyage. Of these approximately two thirds of the slaves were male and one third female.

'An advantageous trade'

The Lords Committee of Council was set up in February 1788 to investigate the slave trade.

In evidence James Penny voiced his opinion that the trade was humane “…that he found himself impelled, both by humanity and interest, to pay every possible attention both to the preservation of the crew and the slaves.

"Great improvements have been made at Liverpool within these twenty years in the construction of the ships."
James Penny in 1788

“The slaves here will sleep better than the gentlemen do on shore.”

The slave trader was presented with a silver table in 1792 for speaking out against the abolition of slavery.

Liverpool traders were anxious to preserve the slave trade which had made large profits for many of them and was the source of much of the city’s wealth.

The parliamentary minutes record James Penny’s conviction that ending the trade would cause great harm to Liverpool, “…Mr Penny being asked, whether he conceives this trade to be a profitable one in general to the Merchant?

“Replied, he thinks it, upon the whole, an advantageous trade; and added, he would have to beg leave to observe, that should this trade be abolished, it would not only greatly affect the commercial interest, but also the landed property of the County of Lancaster and more particularly, the Town of Liverpool; whose fall, in that case, would be as rapid as its rise has been astonishing.”

James Penny was insistent that the slave trade should be allowed to continue “…the Slave Ships at Liverpool are built on purpose for this trade, and are accommodated with air ports and gratings for the purpose of keeping the slaves cool.

“Great improvements have been made at Liverpool within these twenty years in the construction of the ships. The space between the decks is sufficiently large to contain the number of negroes above-mentioned and is plained, very smooth and painted.”

In July 2006 a Liverpool councillor Barbara Mace proposed that streets named after slave traders should be renamed.

The plan was criticised by those who argued the negative parts of history should not be "airbrushed" and was later withdrawn.

last updated: 15/02/07
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