The York Insider: Reclaim the names!

I love old names, and the streets of York have some crackers.  Meandering round the back lanes, who could fail to be amused by Ogleforth or bemused by Jubbergate?

Not an instruction, sadly, but a corruption of Ugel's or Owl's Ford

It's a pity then, that so many others have fallen by the wayside, and been replaced by much blander epithets.  Some changes, such as deprostituting Gropecunt Lane into the more widely acceptable Grape Lane, were perhaps understandable.  Others though were sanitized for no good reason.

I'm not sure who was responsible - for simplicity I'm going to blame the Victorians - but a delve into local history (such as the excellent Snickelways of York) reveals many examples*.  Blossom Street was once Ploxwangate, or the ploughswain's road.  Ignorance is bliss, though, I suppose, and if you never knew of the formers, I suspect you wouldn't think much about the latters.

What I do find strange is where the arbiters of road-sign justice didn't obliterate the evidence of the butchery.  Many of the old names live on below the new one, with a parenthetical "Formerly...".

Above the Wetherspoons pub near Micklegate Bar, a road sign says:

NUNNERY LANE (Formerly Baggergate Lane**)

On the walk from the Yorkshire Museum to York Minster, you'll find another:

DUNCOMBE PLACE (Formerly Lop Lane)

In the heart of the city, one of the aforementioned snickelways has suffered the same fate:

LUND'S COURT (Formerly Mad Alice Lane)

And, not too far away, the belt-makers have been sanitized by the clergy:

CHURCH STREET (Formerly Girdler Gate)

Now, I should make it clear I don't hate every single one of the name changes.  One or two involve pretty minimal loss:

COLLEGE STREET (Formerly Vicars Lane)

And I would even go as far as to say that I prefer the new name of this street to the old one:

COFFEE YARD (Formerly Langton Lane)

However, these are exceptions, and to give them credence lets the perpetrators off the hook.  I could cite quite a few other examples of good street names being replaced by dull ones.

If the old name had simply been usurped by the new and never publicized again, it wouldn't be so bad.  Only the historians would know.  Instead, the binomial signs make stark what's been lost.  Turning uniqueness into homogeneity, it's the historical equivalent of local shops being replaced by chain stores on the high street.

So it's time to make a stand; time to do something about it.  The only solution is to print out replica signs of exactly the correct size as the existing ones, but with only the old names on them.  Then, at night, with speed, stealth, and ladders, we shall go out and amend every wronged road.

Once that's done, we can move onto the street names that no-one can see have been lost.  Spen Lane will revert to Aspingail, Minster Gates to Bookbinder's Alley, and Lady Peckett's Yard to Bacusgail.

And when that's done, we can go for the jugular and reclaim the city itself.  Yorkers, let's get out there and put the ee-by-gum back into Eboracum!




*I should add that some of them are pretty spurious.  One website states that Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate derives its name from "a local custom of whipping small yelping dogs called Whappets" which I love as an explanation, but strongly suspect is absolute cobblers.

**Though this is tautological: 'gate' and 'lane' both mean the same thing.
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