Jonathan Schofield thinks this petition has gone too far
BUTT Hole Road refers to a water butt that was located in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire, but the inhabitants didn’t like it. Apparently, they were being made fun of, and couldn’t take it anymore. Bless, the poor, sensitive little creatures.
The last straw came when coaches of American tourists stopped off to take pictures. The street is now Archers Way. You would have thought the residents might have taken reverse pride in the name and worn Butt Hole Road as a badge of honour, rather than getting arsey about it. I would have.
We should be aware of history, not make a cult of it
These type of name changes are perhaps a bit silly, puritan and humourless certainly, but not laden with baggage. Other name changes are driven by politics and a shift in cultural attitudes. They reveal a particularly modern desire to view historical characters, often minor ones, as though they were living now and we could judge them by the prevailing attitudes and political correctness of 2019.
For good or ill, the name of arts venue Colston Hall in Bristol will change its name after refurbishment in 2020. Edward Colston might have been a mighty philanthropist in the city but he was also a slave-trader. Bosses at the venue say people have felt uncomfortable entering the building because of Colston’s occupation.
An alternative way of looking at the issue might be that by keeping the name Britain and Bristol’s role in the Atlantic slave trade is not disguised and might be used as an example of its pervasiveness. The name might then become a useful tool in education. Putting a doily over the stain on a tablecloth doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
There has long been a campaign to rename Penny Lane in Liverpool due to its association with another slaver, James Penny.
But where would we stop with this? Every adult human has done something they are not proud of, or if not, participated in something that with hindsight they wished they’d not. The cheap clothes industry is perched on the backs of sweat shops in the East, people take holidays and buy second homes in the UAE having read reports of indentured slavery. What about global warming and the use of plastics. How will future generations judge us?
In Manchester there’s a petition at present in which: ‘We the undersigned petition the Council to re-name St. Peter’s Square as PETERLOO SQUARE, on or before August 16th 2019, and request that Transport for Greater Manchester rename's the tram stop in St. Peter's Square accordingly.’
The organiser writes: ‘On August 16th 1819 an infamous event took place on St. Peter's Field, Manchester, when the local yeomanry, along with a British cavalry regiment, attacked a large peaceful meeting, which had gathered to protest in favour of parliamentary reforms. Fifteen people were murdered, and many hundreds injured.
‘Renaming the tram stop ‘Peterloo Square’ would serve to commemorate permanently those who were killed or injured, and it would signal Mancunian pride in our history of radical politics and the labour movement (the protest was attended by textile workers, including many women - indeed, there is evidence that women were targeted deliberately during the massacre). This would put Peterloo literally on the map, and it would generate tourist traffic into Manchester city centre.’
Spring is coming, and over the last few years petitions have been blossoming like prolific crocuses on a sunny day. Many of them are shallow and their sheer number often renders them meaningless. This Manchester name change request seems particularly asinine, and I say that as a tour guide who guides the Peterloo Massacre frequently.
August 16, 1819, was a monumentally important and symbolic day in the British struggle for democracy, but we are already gaining a memorial by Jeremy Deller. The names of the fatalities are displayed in the floor of the link building between Central Library and the Town Hall Extension, and there is a blue plaque on the former Free Trade Hall. The story must be told and it will be (has been) but a name change for the tram stop is not necessary. We should be aware of history, not make a cult of it.
As for generating tourist traffic, no it wouldn’t, it would confuse visitors. The petition's aim is to seek a name change for the tram stop, meaning Peterloo Square would be located in St Peter's Square - so people would be looking for two squares in one location. Chaos. The petition is ridiculous. It’s so easy to create these petitions that this one has a whiff of being created in the pub after the fifth drink.
As Darran Anderson, author of Imaginary Cities, has said: ‘Once you decide to name a street after a person or an event, rather than topography, you’ve started something intrinsically political and subjective. When we fail to look at what existed previously and why, we rob ourselves of context and roots. Any psychologist will tell you this is a very unwise proposition, and that works for nations as well as individuals.’
Back to names that have changed or might change. Why would anyone want to get rid of Fanny Hands Lane in Lincolnshire, for example. It’s just funny, worth a giggle? In Manchester we have our own example from more than a century ago. Anita Street in Ancoats was originally named in honour of the sterling work of the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association. Residents didn’t like living on Sanitary Street, so the S at the beginning and the ry at the end was lopped off.
Generally though, it seems best to leave names as they are. We have only got to where we are through what came before. Names of locations and streets in towns and cities across the UK remind us of this, make us hold hands with our collective past.
And it turns out only 46 people have signed the petition anyway...