Our city of York was founded by the Romans sometime around 71 AD, naming it Eboracum. The name is likely to have been derived from Celtic words meaning ‘place with Yew trees.’ Yet, as the Roman civilisation fell into disrepair, so did many of these Roman built towns. By the 4th century York’s fate was sealed. It is thought with York’s vast amount of ruins it could barely function as a town anymore and few people could inhabit it. A good amount of years passed, 627 to be exact, until York gained itself a bishop, a cathedral and what is conceived to be a bishop’s palace thrown in all for good measure.
The revival for this little Northern town, led by an Anglo-Saxon leader, was back on. By the mid-9th Century York was flourishing with a population of about 2000 and a handsome Danish name too, Jorvik. 866 was the year for our Viking ancestors establishing most of Northern Britain as theirs. Quickly, York became the capital of this newly founded kingdom. With a town flourishing with trade from the likes of wool merchants, potters and blacksmiths. All these craftsmen were able to call these ‘gates’ home. You see, unlike the U2 song, these streets do have names and our first point of call is to explain that ‘gate’ doesn’t mean gateway at all. It is derived from the Danish for ‘street.’ So that’s our history lesson over for now. Let’s look at the exciting topic of nomenclature and a few of York’s interesting gate-names.
If this was a pub quiz, I’d probably provide you with a multiple choice answer to guess what this street name has derived from as so many options have been given. For the shortest street with the longest name in Great Britain, its history provides much contention. The plaque on St Crux Church refers to it as Whitnourwhatnour Street from 1505, meaning in a “Carry On” type way: What a Street! However, some say Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma means ‘Neither one thing nor the other’.
Because the street is so short, it runs around the back of the church and towards the alley that meets the Shambles. Which ever way you look at it, just don’t stand in front of the street sign itself as there’s always a tourist trying to take a picture!
This is the street (not gate) where the Foss is, that’s York’s other river by the way. But wait, it’s not such a rubbish fact when we delve a little deeper into this murky ditch. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, it is thought the river’s name comes from the Latin, fossa, meaning just that. Ditch.
However, our Scandinavian heroes settled here providing many names in old Norse. The old Norse word Fos, means impetuous and is linked to waterfalls. So have a little think about that when walking past our friends at Ambiente Tapas and Loch Fyne, which are either side of York’s very own waterfall.
Not unusually, this largely Georgian architectural street has its name dedicated to a patron saint, St Giles. The patron saint of hermits, no less. Which is why when pronouncing the street, it shouldn’t be pronounced with a hard ‘G’ as in garden, it ought to be announced with a J, like you would gin!
Even though the street is outside of the bar walls of York, it forms much of the city’s historic legacy. The siege of 1644 left much of the York’s streets outside of the walls, damaged and in ruins. Which is why the street looks far more modern than other parts of the city. Resourceful, innovative and popular describes equally Gillygate’s independents such as; Love Cheese, Toner and Co and The Gillygate Pub. Become a valued customer anywhere on here and you may also follow in the footsteps of St Giles.
Micklegate is taken from the old English word Mickle meaning ‘great’ or ‘main’ – meaning Micklegate was probably York’s most important street. Even now with Micklegate Bar arching over the top serving as the gateway, you can see how important a sight this was for visitors or enemies when approaching on route from London.
At least six reigning monarchs passed through this gate, some managed to keep hold of their heads, Richard Plantagenet (Richard III’s father) and Richard Neville (The 5th Earl of Salisbury), including others, were not so lucky after the part they played in the battle of Wakefield during the battle of The War Of The Roses. Their heads were put on spikes atop of Micklegate Bar for all to see.
Treachery and a considerable amount of years aside we’ve luckily moved past the idea of The Micklegate Run, where many consider the run of bars almost like a contest to see how much drinking can get done. With places like Micklegate Social, Skosh and Partisan as well as the location for Micklegate Soapbox Run, Micklegate’s past and present can share a unity.
Whether you live here, or just occasionally visit, York’s past is dedicated to us all. A legacy can live on through names just as much as those which are held within a story. We are as much a part of its past as its future. To recount the city’s rich heritage by quickly venturing down York’s famous cobbled streets, through hidden snickets and wondering what a Bile Bean is, is so important for creating all our own future histories. Happy adventures!