Centuries-old pub ‘The Black Boy’ gets new name over ‘links to racism’

‘We had to take this step ... to become a truly anti-racist organisation’ says Greene King

Daniel Keane
Tuesday 07 September 2021 10:20
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Centuries-old pub ‘The Black Boy’ renamed due to 'racism'

A centuries old village pub has a new name this week, after brewery Greene King was moved to change it following the Black Lives Matter protests.

The historic Black Boy, in Shinfield, Berkshire, is now the Shinfield Arms — a change that has been welcomed by race campaigners, if not by all regulars and locals.

The brewery said there had been complaints over the old name’s “connotations of slavery and oppression”.

The decision to rename the pub was backed by Reading’s Alliance for Cohesion and Racial Equality. Earlier this year, Victor Koroma, the group’s general manager, explained that the change was necessary because the historical connotations of the name were “offensive”.

He said: “I think that we (the Black community) would love to see it go and have a decent name on what is a public amenity rather than to keep harping back to the days that will hopefully never come again.”

Greene King’s managing director Wayne Shurvinton said there was a “perception today that the old names were linked with racism”, and the chain “knew we had to take this step if we wanted to continue on our journey to become a truly anti-racist organisation”.

Historians have proposed a number of different explanations for the origin of the ‘Black Boy’ name. A book entitled ‘The history of the Parish of Shinfield, Berkshire’, written by a former Naval commander Douglas Doble and published in 1961, suggests two possible ways in which the name could be linked to slavery, Berkshire Live reported.

The first possible explanation is that two men living in the Coley Park area of Reading had kept slaves and had links to Jamaica, according to the book. Another could be related to an image of a Black boy smoking a long pipe which was used by tobacconists during the 18th century.

Other historians claim the ‘Black boy’ was a nickname for King Charles II in reference to his dark hair and complexion. He is reported to have stayed in Shinfield during the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651.

Dr Halima Begum, director of The Runnymede Trust, told The Independent: “We commend Greene King’s efforts to address this issue in a sensitive manner.

“One can imagine how distressing it is for black families to walk past a sign like this with all its connotations of slavery and oppression, and in particular what this does to the self-esteem of our children and the questions this raises about their place and belonging in society, in the historical context.

“Greene King’s efforts to address this issue in an appropriate and sensitive manner sets an important precedent on how Britain can reconcile with some difficult histories.”

The new name was chosen in a poll of over 7,000 people that suggested three new names for the pub: ‘The King’s Rest’, ‘The Merry Monarch’ and winner ‘The Shinfield Arms’.

The renaming of the pub comes as part of Greene King’s inclusion and diversity strategy. Last year, the company’s historic links to slavery were exposed through a University College London (UCL) database of slave profiteers, prompting the firm to pledge “significant investment” in Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

When the UCL database was revealed in June 2020, Nick Mackenzie, the CEO of Greene King, admitted the company’s links to slavery were “inexcusable”. It was reported that Greene King’s 19th century founder, Benjamin Greene, received the equivalent of £500,000 in compensation for his West Indies plantations after abolition.

The brewery said it also planned to change the names of two other pubs named The Black Boy, both in Suffolk.

Some locals were less enthusiastic about the name change. Commenting underneath the pub’s Facebook post announcing the change on Monday, one woman wrote: “So sad hundreds of years of history gone. What a horrible name.”

Mr Mackenzie said there is “not a consensus” on the historical origin of the name but many people who had been consulted felt it was “offensive”.

He continued: “It is important to acknowledge our history but just as important to work proactively to eradicate racism in our society today.

“We’ve thought long and hard and feel this is the right thing to do.”

The Shinfield Arms pub declined to comment on the name change when approached directly by The Independent.

It is believed there are around 70 pubs named ‘The Black Boy’ in the UK. In February, The Independent reported how JD Wetherspoon would not be renaming its pub named ‘The Black Boy’ in Newtown, Wales as they believe it is the historic name for a chimney sweep.

A Wetherspoon spokesperson said the company had received no complaints from customers about the name.

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