The city centre of York is a labyrinth of streets, made up of paths, ginnels, snickelways and alleys, winding together in a higgledy-piggledy nonsense that makes little or no geometric sense. York flat out refuses to prescribe to any geographic pattern, and it is all too easy to get a little lost once in a while. There is absolutely no shame in getting your gates and your bars mixed up. It can be very confusing, even as a resident.
(Note: the term ‘gate’, used at the end of street names in York is a derivation of the Viking word ‘gata’, meaning street. Not to be confused with ‘bars’, which are the historic gateways to the city.)
Today’s Obscure York takes a look at the origins of the names of some of the streets in York. In a city rich with almost two thousand years of history, many external factors have contributed to the founding, construction and naming of the highways and byways.
Historically, Blossom Street was known as Ploxwangate, from Ploughswaingate, meaning ‘the street of the man who repairs ploughs’. Following the corruption of the language over the years, Ploxwan became Blossom.
Meaning ‘at the booths’, Bootham refers to the booths that were used as a weekly market, arranged and run by the monks of nearby St. Mary’s Abbey.
Taking its name from the Viking words for king and street (Konugr and straet), Cuningstreta was the original street, making King’s Street, or, eventually, Coney Street.
Named for David Le Lardiner, son of John Le Lardiner, Royal Lardiner for the Forest of Galtres. Davygate was the site of the courthouse and prison for the Forest, which lies to the north of the city.
Once belonging to the 9th century Viking king Guthrum, Goodramgate’s name is a derivation of that original owner.
Linking Petergate to Swinegate, Grape Lane was once a very dark alley, inhabited by prostitutes and other nefarious characters. Originally called Grapcuntlane; grap coming from the Old English, meaning ‘grope’. The name has since been bowdlerised, as has many others across the country, as it was once a popular street name.
Originally Brettegate, meaning ‘the street where the Britons live’ (Britons meaning the Celtic Britons in Viking times), it was renamed Jubbergate in the 14th century, when the area acquired an increased population of Jewish settlers.
Not a street, but rather the name of a patch of land, the site of York Racecourse. Rather macabrely, this is so-called because it was the marshy land where knaves or felons were executed.
Derived from the Scandinavian name, which means ‘the ford haunted by an owl’. Why, it is unsure, but I’d love to know.
here are two theories as to the origin of ‘Stonegate’. One is that it literally means ‘stone-paved street’. Another is that it was named because the stone used to build York Minster was carted up the street. It is known that Stonegate marks the course of a Roman road with the legionary fortress called the Via Praetoria.
There are also, to confuse things further, a few forgotten, or ‘lost’, street names in York. Some are simple, some are brow-furrowing, and some are just plain weird.
Beggergate was the original name for Nunnery Lane, indicating the multitude of vagrants that waited outside the Bar Convent for ‘donations’.
Cargate, meaning ‘the marshy street’, ran from the end of Coney Street, to King’s Staith.
Hartergate, the present Friargate, originally belonged to a Viking named Hjartar.
Ketmongergate was the original name for St. Saviourgate, before the church was built. It meant ‘the flesh-sellers street’.