The streets of York, too, have some wonderful names. The Shambles, for example, was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon word Fleshammels meaning ‘flesh-shelves’ – the shelves that butchers used to display their meat. Indeed, back in the day, this was a street filled with butchers’ shops. The back of the shops would have been slaughterhouses, and the prepared meat was then displayed at the front.
The narrowness of the street kept the buildings in the shade, away from direct sunlight, meaning the meat on display could stay fresh for longer. And you’ll notice the natural slope of the street. When butchering took place, the guts, offal and blood were thrown into the street gutters (known as runnels) which helped it wash away after a rainfall. In 1885 there were 31 butchers shops along here, although today it has become a charming tourist street with quaint gift shops (and no offal to be seen, thank goodness!).
Not far away is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, one of the shortest – and most ridiculously named – streets in England. The name is first recorded in 1505 as Whitnourwhatnourgate, and later appears as Whitney Whatneygate, and this could mean either “nothing at all” or “neither one thing nor the other” in Middle English.
Related reading for history lovers: Legends of the Fjords: Discover Norway’s Viking Connections