York is a lovely city, especially if you like Vikings, or Richard III, or old trains in a big shed.
However, there’s one even better reason to visit York. It has, definitively, the best street names in Britain. Here are 21 of them.
Let’s start with the best. This one’s tiny – only a few metres long, so there’s barely room to get a long enough street sign on there.
Nobody seems to know where the name comes from. It might be because it’s not really a street or a square, with the name meaning “neither one thing nor the other”. Or it might stem from being the place people tied up their whippets while they went off to do their shopping. Which sounds stupid to me.
The “gate” bit, incidentally, is going to pop up a lot so let’s explain that now. It doesn’t mean gate: it actually, reflecting the city’s Viking links, comes from the Norse for “street” (“gata”). The actual gates, in the actual city walls, are not called gates at all, even if they have the syllable “gate” in their name, but are instead called “bars”. Bloody Vikings.
A narrow medieval street packed with over-hanging timber-framed buildings; if you’ve been to York, you’ve almost certainly been to the Shambles too.
Anyway, the name is nothing to do with the vaguely shambolic air of the buildings. Shambles comes from “shammels”, an ancient word for “shelves”. It used to be named “Fleshammels”, meaning “flesh-shelves”. Lot of butchers down here, once.
Another Viking name. Street of shield makers.
Possibly because it was the first street in the city to be paved. While we’re on the subject:
A street paved with stones.
The street where pigs were kept.
The street with a church called St Saviour’s.
Used to be a meadow where peas were grown. The word “pea”, incidentally, is a back-formation from the word “pease”, which was originally singular; the plural was “peasen”. At some point people got bored and/or confused, started using “pease” as the plural, and so assumed pea was the singular. Anyway: the pease pudding from the nursery rhyme is basically pea soup.
What was I talking about again? Oh yes, York.
Named after some bloke called Guthram.
After St Giles’s Church.
Fehus means “cow house”. Don’t ask me.
“A ford haunted by an owl”. Seriously, WTF was wrong with these Vikings?
Mad Alice Lane
It’s actually called Lund’s Court these days, but the old name is still there on the signs too. Anyway, it’s named after a local woman who, after being repeatedly beaten up by her husband, eventually lost it, murdered him and because the justice system is run by blokes promptly got herself hanged.
There’s a great Tarantino movie waiting to happen here, I feel. In the meantime, you can get walking tours of York from a woman claiming to be Mad Alice, which seems an eccentric thing to do but there you go.
This one’s baffling so I’m outsourcing it to the Secret York website:
“The Forest of Galtres was a 100,000 acre royal forest stretching to the very edge of medieval York. Its court and prison (for prosecuting poachers and the like) was located at Davygate, a name that commemorates David Le Lardiner, son of the forest’s game keeper.”
But… why would you name an entire street after the son of the bloke who looked after the place to which they street led? Just… what?
The bar is the gatehouse. The gate is the street. The name seems to have developed from Walbegate, which might have referred to a bloke called Walbe.
Was once “Brettegate”, meaning “Briton Street”, probably a derisory reference by the town’s Viking rulers to the city’s small, indigenous British community. Later became Jubretgate – perhaps in reference to a Jewish population – and finally Jubbergate.
This one is upsetting literal: site of a Jewish cemetery.
In 1190, a series of anti-semitic riots ended in the slaughter of around 150 people – the city’s entire Jewish population. It was one of the worst acts of anti-Semitic violence committed anywhere in medieval Europe.
I’m not going anywhere with this, but I feel it’s the sort of thing we should know about.
Anyway, something happier.
“Great Street”. Great as in “big”, not great as in “awesome”. Still, it’s pretty great, so.
Probably something to do with booths, meaning “shacks”.
Dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. Ald as in “old”, wark as in “earthworks”. Probably means a fortification.
Absolutely no clue, but seriously, what a cool name. Sounds like a medieval superhero.
UPDATE: York native and Guardian uber-nerd Jim Waterson explains:
1950s town planning decision to create entirely new street, thanks. pic.twitter.com/Bz1ItgowCY
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) October 31, 2018
Anyway. Go to York immediately. Look at some street signs. Yuu won’t regret it, I promise.
Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.
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