Literally just 21 great street names from York

The Shambles. Image: Peter K. Burian/Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate

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.

The Shambles

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.

Skeldergate

Another Viking name. Street of shield makers.

Pavement

Possibly because it was the first street in the city to be paved. While we’re on the subject:

Stonegate

A street paved with stones.

Swinegate

The street where pigs were kept.

St Saviourgate

The street with a church called St Saviour’s.

Peaseholme Green

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.

Goodramgate

Named after some bloke called Guthram.

Gillygate

After St Giles’s Church.

Feasegate

Fehus means “cow house”. Don’t ask me.

Ogleforth

“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.

Davygate

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?

Walmgate Bar

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.

Jubbergate

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.

Jewbury

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.

Micklegate

“Great Street”. Great as in “big”, not great as in “awesome”. Still, it’s pretty great, so.

Bootham

Probably something to do with booths, meaning “shacks”.

Aldwark

Dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. Ald as in “old”, wark as in “earthworks”. Probably means a fortification.

The Stonebow

Absolutely no clue, but seriously, what a cool name. Sounds like a medieval superhero.

UPDATE: York native and Guardian uber-nerd Jim Waterson explains:

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

 
 
 
 

So why is Peterborough growing so quickly?

Peterborough Cathedral. Image: Jules & Jenny/Flickr/creative commons.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

The 2001 census put the population of Peterborough at 156,000. Some time before next spring, it’s projected to pass 200,000. That, for those keeping score, is an increase of about 28 per cent. Whether this makes it the fastest growing city in Britain or merely the second or the fourth – the vagueness of Britain’s boundaries means that different reports reach different conclusions – doesn’t really matter. This is a staggering rate of growth.

Oh, and since austerity kicked in, the city council has had its grant from central government cut by 80 percent.

Expansion on this scale and at this rate is the sort of thing that’d have a lot of councils in our NIMBY-ish political culture breaking out in hives; that seems to go double for Tory-run ones in Leave-voting areas. This lot, though, seem to be thriving on it. “I think the opportunity in Peterborough is fantastic,” says Dave Anderson, the city’s interim planning director. “We’re looking at growing to 235,000 by the mid-2030s.”

More striking still is that the Conservative council leader John Holdich agrees. “I’m a believer in ‘WIMBY’: what in my back yard?” he says. He’s responsible, he says, not just to his electorate, but “to our future kids, and grandkids” too – plus, at that rate of growth, a lot of incomers, too.

All this raises two questions. Why is Peterborough growing so quickly? And what can it do to prepare itself?

If you’re a little uncertain exactly where Peterborough is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Until 1889, the “Soke of Peterborough” was an unlikely east-ward extrusion from Northamptonshire, far to its south west. Then it was a county in its own right; then part of the now-defunct Huntingdonshire. Today it’s in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares a metro mayor, the Conservative James Palmer. When I ask Holdich, who’s giving me a whistlestop tour of the city’s cathedral quarter, to explain all this, he just shrugs. “They keep moving us about.”

Sitting on the edge of the Fens, Peterborough is, officially, a part of the East of England region; but it’s just up the road from East Midlands cities including Leicester and Nottingham. I’d mentally pigeonholed it as a London-commuter town, albeit a far flung one; but when I actually looked it up, I was surprised to discover it was closer to Birmingham (70 miles) than London (75), and halfway up to Hull (81).


The more flattering interpretation of all this is that it’s on a bit of a crossroads: between capital and north, East Anglia and the Midlands. On the road network, that’s literally true – it’s where the A1 meets the A47, the main east-west road at this latitude – and railway lines extend in all directions, too.

All of which makes Peterborough a pretty nifty place to be if you’re, say, a large logistics firm.

This has clearly contributed to the city’s growth. “It has access to lots of land and cheaper labour than anywhere else in the Greater South East,” says Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities. “Those attributes appeal to land hungry, low-skilled business as opposed to higher-skilled more knowledge-based ones.”

That alone would point to a similar economy to a lot of northern cities – but there’s another thing driving Peterborough’s development. Despite being 70 miles from the capital, the East Coast Main Line means it’s well under an hour away by train.

In 1967, what’s more, the ancient cathedral city was designated a new town, to house London’s overspill population. The development corporation which owned the land and built the new town upon it, evolved into a development agency; today the same role is played by bodies like Opportunity Peterborough and the Peterborough Investment Partnership.

The city also offers relatively cheap housing: you can get a four-bed family home for not much over £200,000. That’s fuelled growth further as London-based workers scratch around for the increasingly tiny pool of places that are both commutable and affordable.

The housing affordability ratio shows average house prices as a multiple of average incomes. Peterborough is notably more affordable than Cambridge, London and the national average. Image: Centre for Cities data tool.

It’s made it attractive to service businesses, too. “London has probably played quite a big role in the city’s development,” says Swinney. “If you don’t want to move too far out, it’s probably one of the cheapest places to move to.”

The result of all this is that it has an unusually mixed economy. There’s light industry and logistics, in the office and warehouse parks that line the dual-carriageways (“parkways”) of the city. But there are also financial services and digital media companies moving in, bringing better paying jobs. In a country where most city economies are built on either high value services or land-hungry warehousing businesses, Peterborough has somehow managed to create a mixed economy.

Peterborough’s industrial profile: more services and less manufacturing, and more private and fewer public sector jobs, than the national average. Image: Centre for Cities.

At the moment, if people think of Peterborough at all, they’re likely to imagine a large town, rather than the fair-size regional city it’s on course to become. Its glorious 12th century cathedral – the hallmark of an ancient city, and at 44m still by far the highest spot on the horizon for miles around – is stunning. But it’s barely known to outsiders, and at least twice on my tour, the council’s communications officer proudly announces that the Telegraph named her patch as one of the best towns to live in within an hour of London, before adding, “even though we’re a city”. 

So part of the council’s current mission is to ensure that Peterborough has all the amenities people would expect from a settlement on this scale. “What the city needs to do is to adopt the mind-set of a slightly larger city,” says Anderson. Slightly smaller Swansea is developing a new music arena, of the sort Peterborough doesn’t have and needs. He frets, too, about retail spend “leaking” to Cambridge or Leicester. “Retail is now seen as a leisure activity: in the core of the city it’s important that offer is there.”

To that end, the early 1980s Queensgate shopping centre is being redeveloped, with John Lewis giving up a chunk of space to provide a new city centre cinema. (At present, the area only has road-side suburban multiplexes.) There’s major office, retail and housing development underway at North Westgate, as well as work to improve the walking route between the station and the commercial centre, in a similar manner to Coventry.

Fletton Quays. Image: Peterborough Investment Partnership.

Then there’s the city’s underused riverside. The council recently moved to new digs, in Fletton Quays, on the far bank of the River Nene from the centre. Across the river from the Embankment, the city centre’s largest green space, it’s a pretty lovely spot, of the sort where one might expect riverside pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating – but at the moment the space is largely empty. The Fletton Quays development will change all that, bringing more retail space and yes, new homes, too.

Jobs in Peterborough are unusually distributed around town: in many cities, most jobs are in the central business district. Image: Centre for Cities.

The big thing everyone agrees is missing, though, is a university. It already has the University Centre Peterborough, where degrees are provided by Anglia Ruskin University. The plan is for the site – a joint venture between ARU and Peterborough Regional College – to go its own way as an independent institution, the University of Peterborough, in autumn 2022. That should help provide the skills that the city needs to grow. A growing student population should also bring life and cash to the city centre. 

How big could Peterborough get? Could its enviable combination of good location and cheap housing and grand ambitions combine to make it the modern equivalent of Manchester or Liverpool – one of the great cities of the 21st century?

Well, probably not: “I think the optimum size for a city is probably about 250,000,” says Holdich. But that’s still a whole quarter bigger than now, and the council leader even discusses the possibility of refitting his dual-carriageway-based-city with some kind of light rail network to service that growing population. Peterborough’s not done growing yet.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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