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

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

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