06 October 2022

York: where the streets are
gates, the gates are bars,
and the bars are pubs

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate … is this the longest name and the shortest street in York? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout this week and last, my prayer diary on this blog each morning has been looking at churches throughout the city of York, including churches, chapels, meeting houses and the cathedral or York Minster.

But York is also the home of some rather curious street names, such as Blossom Street and the Shambles.

Today, the curiosity value of these names causes many tourists to stop for selfies. But their true meaning and derivation probably made many of these names sound less romantic in the ears of the mediaeval residents of York.

The Shambles actually reflects the ‘flesh shammels’ or meat shelves used by the butchers who sold their meat there.

Blossom Street was not chosen as a name to spare the blushes of the nuns living in the Bar Convent, but is a corruption of the original Ploughswain Street.

Perhaps the most curious street name is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, which is also the shortest street in York and one of the shortest streets in England. This street links Colliergate to Pavement and the Stonebow, and runs behind Saint Crux parish hall, the site of one of York’s mediaeval churches. Nearby are Saint Saviour’s Church and Saint Saviourgate.

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate runs behind Saint Crux parish hall, the site of one of York’s mediaeval churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The name of Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is first recorded as Whitnourwhatnourgate in 1505, and it later appears as Whitney Whatneygate. The alternative names Salvey Rents and Salvegate are also found in 17th and 18th century documents.

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is just long enough for its street sign. It is not only one of the shortest streets in York, but it is also, perhaps, one of the strangest, for this street has only three addresses: Numbers 1, 1a, and 1½.

The present name could mean either ‘nothing at all’ or ‘neither one thing nor the other’ in Middle English, although a plaque on the east end of Saint Crux parish hall suggests it means ‘What a Street!’

In the Middle Ages, local lore says, this was the site of the city’s whipping post and stocks and unceremonious correctional wife beatings, and that this explains the ‘Whip’ part of the name. Some say it derived from whipping dogs who would steal meat from the butchers on The Shambles. Others say the name probably has a derisive origin and has nothing to do with whipping vagrants and vagabonds, nagging wives or errant dogs.

The word ‘Gate’ occurs regularly at the end of street names in York – a practice that seems to have been adopted in Milton Keynes too when new streets were being named. The word derives from the Norse gata, meaning ‘street.’

Many placenames in York have Norse roots, and the nearby street names include Colliergate and Fossgate. Other streets named gate include Walmgate, Goodramgate, Coppergate and Mickelgate.

If this is all confusing, the gates and gateways that allowed access to the city through its surrounding fortification walls were called ‘bars’. There is a joke about York: ‘the streets are called gates, the gates are called bars, and the bars are called pubs.’

The street was widened about 1750 with the removal of some houses built against the east end of Saint Crux Church. A map of York in 1850 shows Fossgate, Pavement and Saint Saviourgate as narrow streets meeting in a tight corner at Saint Crux Church. But Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate was too small to name. The alley was repaved with York stone in 1984 with help from York Civic Trust.

Saint Crux Church was demolished in 1887, but No 23 The Shambles, which adjoins Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, incorporates some of its north wall. All that remains of the church is Saint Crux Hall, which serves as the parish hall of All Saints’ Church, Pavement.

Coffee Yard actually leads to a coffee shop beside Barley Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

And there are other unusual names around the city too.

Pavement was the first street in York to be paved. Goodramgate was named after the Viking leader Guthram. Skeldergate too was named after a Viking leader. Ogleforth derives from the Norse meaning ‘a ford haunted by an owl.’ Swinegate was where pigs were kept. Gillygate was named after nearby Saint Giles Church. Micklegate is not named after Saint Michael but means ‘Great Street.’

Mad Alice Lane, also called Lund’s Court, is named after Alice who murdered her husband.

I certainly liked the sound of Coffee Yard, and it actually led to a coffee shop beside Barley Hall, where we both had coffees.

As for Patrick Pool, it too is little more than a lane, a shortcut to the market. But in the mediaeval period it was a much longer street, stretching into what is now Swinegate. Here too, the origins of the name are obscure, although the word ‘pool’ suggests a pond or boggy area. Some sources suggest the street was built over the remains of the Roman baths that collapsed and created a pool.

But, perhaps, that’s too much to swallow.

Patrick Pool … did the remains of the Roman baths collapse and create a pool? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

For Cross Kevin Street, the shortest street in Dublin, see HERE

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Thursday 6 October 2022

Saint Clement’s Church, at the junction of Scarcroft Road and Nunthorpe Road, was built in response to Victorian housing expansion in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship William Tyndale (1536), Translator of the Scriptures and Reformation Martyr with a Lesser Festival.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week, I am continuing last week’s theme of reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed in mid-September.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Saint Sampson’s Church on Church Street, near Saint Sampson’s Square, lies across the line of the wall of Roman Eboracum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

William Tyndale (1494-1535) was born in Gloucestershire ca 1494, and studied first at Magdalen Hall (now Hertford College), Oxford, and then at Cambridge. He became determined to translate the scriptures from the Greek directly into contemporary English but was thwarted by the Bishop of London. He settled in Hamburg in 1524, and never returned to England.

When the first copies of his translation arrived in England in 1526, it was bitterly attacked as subversive by the ecclesiastical authorities. He spent much of the rest of his life making revisions to his work, but also writing many theological works. His life’s work proved good enough to be the basic working text for those who, at the beginning of the 17th century, produce became the Authorised Version of the Bible.

He was arrested in 1535 and imprisoned in Brussels on charges of heresy. He was strangled and then burnt at the stake on this day in 1536. His last words were, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.’

Luke 11: 5-13 (NRSVA):

5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

The Bedern Chapel is behind No 27 Goodramgate and for centuries belonged to the Vicars Choral of York Minster (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Bedern Chapel, Saint Saviour’s, Saint Sampson’s, Saint Clement’s, York.

The Bedern Chapel, behind No 27 Goodramgate, was the precinct of the Vicars Choral of York Minster from the 13th century. The word bedern derives from the Early English bede (prayer) and ærn (house). Today, few of the original buildings remain and the surviving Bedern Hall and chapel are surrounded by 20th century developments.

From 1252 until 1936, the Vicars Choral were the priests who maintained the daily pattern of prayer and worship in York Minster as deputies to the senior canons in the cathedral chapter. The 36 canons to whom they were attached were mostly absentees, living in prosperous parishes or even on papal duty and church errands overseas.

The Vicars Choral in York were the first in England to be formed as a college with their own precinct in Bedern, close to the Minster. They sang the cathedral’s 10 daily offices and drew much of their income from Chantry income or bequests to sing masses for the affluent dead.

Led by the Dean of York in a brief but impressive ceremony, new vicars were inducted in Bedern Chapel. They were selected by Dean and Chapter, and college members were self-governing, choosing their own custos or warden (the Sub-Chanter) and accepting his rules including those confining new members to the precinct until they had served six months.

At the height of their prosperity, in the 1380s, the vicars held extensive estates. The Bedern vicars formed a strong community, dining together once a day, usually at 5 pm, and had social links with the monks of Saint Leonard’s Hospital.

Written records witness many moments of indiscipline over the years, including brawling, riotous drinking, carrying swords and promiscuity – although having a regular mistress seems to have been treated with some leniency.

Saint William’s College was founded in 1461, bringing competition for chantry income. The Reformation eroded their income and damaged collegiate life and ecclesiastical function. Endowed masses for the dead were suppressed in 1547, and from 1548 priests were permitted to marry, further destabilising collegiate life. Elizabeth I’s injunction in 1561 forbidding married clergy to live with their families on cathedral or college premises hastened the dispersal, and communal dining ceased in 1574.

Nonetheless, the Vicars’ Choral continued for almost 400 further years, albeit in curtailed form. However, the remaining vicars ceded their rights in Bedern in 1868, although they continued to own the chapel.

With so many Minster services to lead, the vicars did not at first have their own chapel. However, Thomas de Otteby and William Cotyngham, both Vicars Choral, funded one themselves, and their chapel was completed in 1349. It was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Katherine, and it was consecrated by the Archbishop of Damascus, a suffragan of York.

The chapel was well furbished, with six stained glass windows and a marble altar consecrated in 1393. However, both donors died before its completion. Guided by their custos, the vicars appointed a chaplain from their number to pray daily in the chapel for the souls of the donors.

The chapel was extended in 1400, refurbished three times in later centuries and damaged by fire in 1876. The last induction of Vicars Choral was held in the Bedern Chapel in 1919. It was near derelict and no longer a place of worship when it was stripped and the roof and walls were lowered. A closing service was held in 1961.

The stained glass survived Puritan iconoclasm and remained in good order till 1816 when it was removed to furnish another church. However, the glass was placed in storage and its whereabouts are now unknown. The chapel is now as the workshop of the York Glaziers’ Trust.

The passage from Goodramgate into Bedern marks the gateway to the college of the Vicars Choral. The surviving hall is the last in a succession. The City Council sought to a university charter for York in 1641 and again in 1648,with the Bedern having a role similar to an Oxford college.

During the Civil War, Saint Peter’s School was damaged in the siege of York in 1644, and the school moved into the Bedern, remaining until 1730. At different times, other schools occupied parts of Bedern, including an orphanage, a ‘ragged’ school, a Sunday school for girls and the Bedern National School.

Meanwhile, the hall was divided into tenements, and was used variously as a glass works, meat pie factory, bakery and pork butcher’s. Prostitution was widespread in the area, and in 1843, 33 prostitutes were recorded in Bedern alone. Bedern’s impoverished Irish population rose during the Famine from seven in 1841 to 1,130 in 1851.

The City Council bought the land in the Bedern area in 1970, flattening all but the then derelict hall and the chapel. Following an archaeological survey, the hall of the Vicars Choral was painstakingly rebuilt.

The last induction of Vicars Choral was held in the Bedern Chapel in 1919 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Sampson’s Church on Church Street, near Saint Sampson’s Square, also had links with the Vicars Choral of York Minister. The church lies across the line of the wall of Roman Eboracum, and is dedicated to Saint Sampson of York, the only church in England with this dedication.

The first church on the site was probably built before the Norman Conquest. A fragment of an early 11th-century cross has been found in the wall of a house on Newgate, within the former churchyard. The foundations of a Norman wall have also been found underneath the church.

The church is first mentioned in 1154, and from 1394 the advowson belonged to the Vicars Choral of York Minster. The church was gradually rebuilt in the 15th century, the south aisle was rebuilt in the 1400s, and the north aisle dates from the 1440s, while the west tower was rebuilt in the 1480s.

There was a plan to merge the parish with that of Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, in 1549. Although this did not happen, Saint Sampson’s gained two bells from Saint Helen’s.

The tower was damaged during the English Civil War in 1644, and the Parliamentarian troops later destroyed most of the monuments in the church. The pre-Victorian features of the church include the east window of the north aisle, some roof bosses, the bell-frame and bells, the north and south doors, the piscina, and various monuments.

Most of the church was rebuilt by Frederick Bell in 1845-1848, and a vestry was added. The tower survived, but was reduced in height, although it was heightened again in 1910.

Saint Sampson’s Church was listed as Grade II in June 1954. But the church closed in 1969, and many of its fittings were removed. However, it was restored by George Pace, and in 1974 it reopened as a ‘drop-in centre’ for people who are over 60. Pace inserted a mezzanine floor over the north aisle to give space for offices, and placed a kitchen in the south aisle. The sanctuary was converted into a chapel, with a reredos from All Saints’ Church, Falsgrove.

Saint Saviour’s Church, on Saint Saviourgate, is also known as Saint Saviour in the Marsh (Ecclesia Sancti Salvatoris in Marisco). The former parish church is a Grade II* listed church.

The church was founded in the 11th century but the current building dates from the 15th century. The parishes of Saint John, Hungate, and Saint Andrew, St Andrewgate were united with Saint Saviour’s in 1586.

The north and south aisles were rebuilt between 1844 and 1845 by Richard Hey Sharp. In 1871, the roofs were painted light buff, ornamented with blue, crimson and gold. The pews and west gallery were re-stained and varnished. The old reredos was replaced with a new one by T Gibson Hartley. A brass corona was suspended in the chancel, and the nave fitted with brass standards. The piers and arches of the arcades were stripped of whitewash, and the stonework was redressed.

A vestry was added on the south side in 1878 by Walter Green Penty to replace an older vestry on the east side.

The church was declared redundant in 1954, and the parish united with All Saints’ Pavement. The Harrison and Harrison organ was moved to Saint Stephen’s Church, Acomb, but was later destroyed by fire. Saint Saviour’s is now used by the York Archaeological Trust.

Saint Clement’s Church, Clementhorpe, is the only one of the four churches I have selected this morning that continues to function as a living church today. It stands at the junction of Scarcroft Road and Nunthorpe Road, just outside the city walls and close to Millfield Road where I was staying last month.

The mediaeval parish of Saint Clement embraced an area beside the city wall known as Clementhorpe in 1070. For 60 years, Saint Clement’s Church was an integral part of the Benedictine nunnery of Saint Clement founded by Archbishop Thurstan in 1130, serving both as the priory church and the parish church.

It was the first monastic institution established in the North of England after the Norman Conquest and served successive generations in York for over 400 years. But this was also the first monastic house to succumb at the Tudor Dissolution, and was surrendered on 31 August 1536.

The Priory Church reverted became a parish church once again, was spared destruction, and continued for the next 50 years. However, it fall into ruin and the parish was united with Saint Mary Bishophill Senior within the Walls in 1585. The stone from all the buildings was removed in 1745 and used to repair the city walls.

The parish remained derelict until it was given new life during the Industrial Revolution. Dove Street, Swann Street and Dale Street were built in 1823-1830 and new houses were built on the lower portion of Nunnery Lane and at Saint Clement’s Place.

The arrival of the railway in 1839 created a demand for new houses in the area. This demand increased when Terry’s chocolate factory was built in 1864, followed by the carriage and wagon works (1867) and the York Confectionery Co (1870-1880).

Canon George Marsham Argles, who became rector in 1871, saw the urgent need for a separate church for the densely populated areas in his fast growing parish. The foundation stone of the new Saint Clement’s Church was laid on 16 October 1872, and the church was consecrated in 1874.

The church was designed by the York architects JB and W Atkinson with later stained glass by JW Knowles and interior carvings by Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson (1876-1955) of Kilburn.

Saint Clement’s had become the principal church of the parish by 1876, superseding Saint Mary Bishophill which was transferred to the parish of Saint Mary Bishophill Junior in 1885.

The church has many fittings from Saint Mary Bishophill Senior, demolished in 1963, including monuments, charity boards and two mayoral boards. Saint Clement’s has been a Grade II listed building since 2000.

The Revd Simon Bray, acting Archdeacon of York, is priest-in-charge of the parishes of Saint Chad’s, Saint Clement’s and Saint Andrew’s Bishopthorpe. Sunday services in Saint Clement’s are at 9 am, with the Eucharist on the first Sunday of the month.

Saint Sampson’s Church has become a ‘drop-in centre’ for people over 60 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Thursday 6 October 2022):

The Collect:

Lord, give to your people grace to hear and keep your word
that, after the example of your servant William Tyndale,
we may not only profess your gospel
but also be ready to suffer and die for it,
to the honour of your name;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr William Tyndale:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Mission in a Crisis.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Father Rasika Abeysinghe, Priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala, Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the work of theological institutions across the Anglican Communion. May they be supported as they train the next generation of clergy and church leaders.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Saviour’s is used by the York Archaeological Trust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saint Clement’s Church was designed by the York architects JB and W Atkinson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)