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

 
 
 
 

What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.