Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Grape Lane, Whitby, and the Collecting of Gropecunts

I have a thing for place names, and collect some of the more interesting ones by visiting them. One of my favourite subsections relates to trades.  There was a time we were more straightforward, and our language was salty and earthy and salt of the earthy, and just as there were Shambles, and Milk Streets, and Silver Streets, and Wine Streets, there were also Gropecunt Lanes.


This is my home Gropecunt: Nelson Street in Bristol - now famous for its urban art - which was once called Haulier's Lane. And before that, Grope Lane. And before that - in the time of topographer, William Wyrcestre, who measured the city in 1480 - Gropecunt Lane. 



Another early specimen in my collection was Parsons Street in Banbury, where I lived in 1990.  It bore this name as early as 1410, but 77 years previously, had been known as Gropecunt Lane. 


Then there's Magpie Lane down the road in Oxford, between Oriel and University Colleges. In the 17th century there was an alehouse there that used a magpie as its sign, hence the name - although this was changed to Grove Street in the late 19th century, before reverting back to Magpie Lane in 1927.

For connoisseurs of Gropecunts, the mention of a Grove Street or Lane is like the ringing of a bell is to Pavlov's dogs. And indeed, if we wander a little deeper into Oxford's past, we soon discover that on John Speed's map of 1605, Magpie Lane, aka Grove Street, is Grope - or Grape - Lane.  And when we go back to the 13th century, we find ourselves in Gropecuntelane.  



This street sign in Union Street, Wells does most of the explaining itself. 

'Known as Grope Lane in medieval times, altered to Grove Lane by 1821 and changed to Union Street in 1834.' 


Except that it was actually known
as Gropecuntelane in the 13th and 14th centuries.


In nearby Glastonbury, the area to the right of 14th century St Benedict's Church - now St Benedict's Close - was recorded as Grope Lane in 1425 and Gropecunte Lane in 1290.   



In Norwich, Opie Street near the Castle, described as a turpis vicus in 1333, was in 1305 called Gropekuntelane.

In fact, there are two examples in Norwich. The dual carriageway. Grapes Hill, was, after trade moved outside the city walls, known as Gropecunte Hill.  



I was very pleased the week before last to be able to add a new lane to my collection: namely, Grape Lane, Whitby, the former home of Captain James Cook, who lodged in a property there whilst serving his apprenticeship. 







Rather less cluttered from this other end, I think. 


Not a lot of documentary evidence, apparently, but the suggestion that it is the street formerly known as Grapcunt Lane. 

PS. For an amusing take on changing sensibilities around street names, take a look at the kerfuffle around the attempt to change the name of Tickle Cock Bridge in Castleford, Yorkshire.  

1 comment:

  1. hmm... narrow, convoluted, and inviting... semi-quiet lanes. ^..^

    ReplyDelete