diamond geezer

 Monday, January 23, 2023

Yesterday you could walk down Black Boy Lane in Tottenham, indeed I did just that, but today you can't because Haringey council have renamed it. Today it's called La Rose Lane instead, much to the annoyance of several residents and the relief of others. I visited yesterday to experience a road in transition.

What I didn't manage to do is take a photograph of a street sign because they're all missing. The sign at the southern end of the road has been missing for at least a year according to Google Streetview but the two at the northern end are more recent removals. It's possible the council intend to add new street signs overnight and unveil them specially today, or perhaps they'll wait awhile until any fuss dies down.

Black Boy Lane has been in existence for at least 400 years and has been called Black Boy Lane for the majority of that time. It was almost certainly named after the Black Boy pub in the hamlet of West Green at the northern end of the lane, a hostelry first recorded in the late 17th century. What not certain is how the pub got its name, but that hasn't stopped a lot of the angriest people being certain of the derivation.

The impetus to change the name came from a borough-wide consultation following the death of George Floyd in 2020. One resident raised the issue and further engagement with the community "found that many other residents shared the concerns about the racial connotations of the name and the impact its continued use has on Black people in Haringey." That was the nettle grasped, or the can of worms opened, depending.

Black Boy Lane also used to be the name of two bus stops on West Green Lane and they've both had to change too. The Men Who Change Signs came early so the stops already had their new stickers in advance of the renaming of the road. Onboard announcements lagged behind, so for example the 41 was still announcing the next stop as Black Boy Lane yesterday, and it'd be nice to imagine that'll change overnight but I suspect not.

Black Boy Lane, or La Rose Lane as it's become, is a sinuous street almost half a mile in length to the west of Seven Sisters. It has one school, one shop and about 100 houses, mostly Victorian. If you like your house to have a recessed porch with decorative tiling you'd like it here. Jewel of the street is Chestnuts Park at the southern end, once a field where flowed the Stonebridge Brook, which is long buried.

The council played it cautious by running a three-stage consultation, kicking off with "if we renamed this road what should we call it?" They offered a choice between Jocelyn Barrow Lane and La Rose Lane, each named after previously unrecognised black Haringey residents, and unsurprisingly the less mouthfully one won. Further stages then focused on whether to change the name, because best tackle one thorny issue at a time.

No council-owned properties have yet made the switch to the new name. Chestnuts Primary School still gives its address as Black Boy Lane Tottenham N15 on the cheery yellow sign above the front gate. Meanwhile the postwar terrace opposite the corner shop is still labelled 90-100 Blackboy Lane, a two word name which wasn't correct even yesterday so I wouldn't hold out much hope of this being updated any time soon.

Lengthy research by residents and staff at Bruce Castle Museum has failed to come up with a definitive answer to how the Black Boy pub got its name. Some say it's a reference to swarthy Charles II, others that it's plainly not a reference to anyone of African heritage. What is known, however, is that in the 1970s a stereotypical 'picaninny' featured on the inn sign so the connotation was once there, even if long ago removed.

The council's consultation process showed that a large majority of respondents were against the change, although this may have been a result of whipped-up campaigns on both sides. More significantly three-quarters of Black Boy Lane's residents said no, please don't do this to us, but the council said we're doing it anyway because it's offensive, indeed it's important to remember that consultations aren't referendums.

What's striking if you visit is that the old name definitely hasn't disappeared. Several houses now display prominent 'Black Boy Lane N15' signs in their windows, on their walls, on their doors or even on their sheds - I counted well over a dozen. These mark out the houses of the angriest residents, each keen to show they disagree with this imposed decision and keep the name alive. This manufactured seethingness is most evident at the northern end of the street.

John La Rose, after whom the road is now named, was a publisher, essayist, poet and former Haringey resident. In 1966 he founded New Beacon Books, the UK's first specialist Caribbean publishers, and later founded schools to support the education of West Indian children. He didn't live locally to Black Boy Lane but he did leave an outstanding legacy of social cohesion, and now all the street's energy bills will bear his name.

Having your address changed overnight induces considerable hassle, including needing to inform doctors, delivery companies, employers, insurers, mortgage companies and the DVLA. Haringey council are gifting £300 to all households on Black Boy Lane as a sweetener to help them make the switch, whilst recognising this is almost certainly an overpayment. Postcodes and house numbers will not change.

Halfway down the street is another recent council imposition, a clump of planters acting as a Low Traffic Neighbourhood filter. Only buses and a small number of exempt vehicles are allowed through with no favours for local traffic. You can imagine how ultra-furious this must have made some residents of Black Boy Lane - their road severed and renamed for seemingly senseless reasons by a council they never voted for.

It won't surprise you to hear that Black Boy Lane has cropped up in both the Daily Mail and Daily Express in recent days, although they didn't quite go so far as calling it London's wokest street. Discourse on Twitter has also been abrasive - why are they wasting money on this I'm not offended why is anyone offended it's pompous virtue signalling you're rewriting history FFS! Those in favour are conspicuous by their general absence.

The council are holding drop-ins at the local community centre all this week to assist residents affected by the change. I'm glad I'm not the one hosting as I imagine it's more likely be a touchstone for local friction than a source of useful advice. For a flavour of the arguments check out the message boards of the Harringay Online forum, although you may lose the will to live before reaching the bottom of page 77.

The Black Boy pub shut in 2012 having already been renamed before it closed, and now it's taking a local street name with it. You'd never call a street Black Boy Lane today, which is perhaps the best argument for renaming it but by no means a conclusive one. Whether you're celebrating today or screaming into the abyss, La Rose Lane is London's newest street name and a reminder that nothing's ever black and white.

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