What is the history behind the recently renamed ‘Black Boy Lane’?

Tottenham community reporter Olivia Opara delves into the origins of the street name

The recent renaming of a Tottenham street, followed by vandalism of new ‘La Rose Lane’ street signs, has prompted speculations surrounding the name’s origins.

‘Black Boy Lane’ was officially renamed La Rose Lane, after the late poet, essayist and Haringey resident John La Rose, on Monday, 23rd January. This came following a two-year consultation and a legal order issued in December after Haringey Council’s corporate committee voted in favour of the name change.

A mixed response to the change has brought about speculations and theories regarding the origins of ‘Black Boy’ – with its meaning shrouded in mystery and perceived racial undertones.

Original documents held at Bruce Castle Park Museum and Archives reveal that the street was named after a nearby pub called the ‘Black Boy’ in the late 1600s. It was during this time that Britain became a known active player in the transatlantic slave trade. There is history of African slaves living in Tottenham during this period, with parish registers for All Hallows Church in Tottenham (dating back to 1610) offering evidence for this.

In Tottenham during the 1670s, Henry Hare, the second Lord Coleraine of Bruce Castle, owned an African servant boy – who can be seen in paintings with his two sons Lucius and Montague Hare.

Due to this history, some have claimed the name ‘Black Boy’ has racial connotations. The term has been historically used to undermine the manhood of black men and belittle them.

Some argue that the name ‘Black Boy Lane’ is not derogatory as the use of the word ‘Black’ in a racial sense was not widely used until the late 60s and 70s, whilst the street is believed to be named after a pub that existed before then.

Another popular theory is that the name is in reference to King Charles II. In British history, pubs and inns have been named after royals and often indicated political loyalties. The controversial use of ‘Black Boy’ has been linked to King Charles II who was nicknamed “the black boy”, seemingly due to his dark features that he inherited from his mother’s French-mixed ancestry. It is also considered that the name was adopted by his supporters during the English Restoration of the Monarchy, when he was reinstated as king in 1660.

It is important to note that King Charles II was involved in the slave trade as he granted a charter to the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa – which played a part in the British slave trade in West Africa. This company was led by his younger brother King James II.

Many pubs and inns across the country are called ‘Black Boy’. The Black Boy on Wyre Hill is one of five known pubs in Bewdley that were named after groceries from Bristol produced by slave labour.

The Ye Olde Black Boy in Hull is one of the oldest pubs with the name, seemingly named after a Moroccan boy who later worked there in the 1730s. The Black Boy Inn in Royal Borough of Caernarfon, Wales, is said to be named after a navigational buoy of a neighbouring harbour and King Charles II. The inn has been around since 1522.

Another theory suggests that ‘Black Boy’ alludes to dark-coloured buoys and is a misspelling.

The history of the Black Boy of Killay, which was explored by Darren Chetty in his essay about a Swansea pub sign depicting a “smiling black boy”, is another possible root. The sign is linked to Swansea’s copper industry, for which black slaves were bought – with industrialists connected to Bristol and Liverpool slavers.

A lesser-known theory behind the name ‘Black Boy’ and pub signs is the story of John Ystumllyn, a black man who was taken from west Africa in the 1700s. John was a gardener and servant of the Wynn family of Ystumllyn in north Wales. He was given the nickname ‘Jack Black’ (John Ystumllyn) and is known to be one of the first black people in the area. He is the first black Briton to have a rose named after them – John Ystumllyn rose.

Other theories surrounding the use of the phrase ‘Black Boy’ pertain to local windmill workers and chimney sweeps who were covered in soot.

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