The Civic Society column with David Winpenny

Kirkgate  an ancient route leading to what is now the Cathedral. (Copyright  David Winpenny)
Kirkgate  an ancient route leading to what is now the Cathedral. (Copyright  David Winpenny)

Do you have an odonym? This is not intended as a personal question – an odonym is the name of the street or road on which you live.

We can’t deny that street names are important; without them it would be impossible to find our way around.

Ash Grove, Ripon - the name perhaps belies the reality.

Ash Grove, Ripon - the name perhaps belies the reality.

An address is vital if you want to visit someone or somewhere you’ve never been before.

Even in these days of GPS, Google Earth and many online maps, we still rely on street names to help us get about.

In the distant past, when communities were small and the inhabitants did not travel very far from them, there was less need to have street names.

But even then, it seems, the habit of referring to people and their houses by their location was creeping in – ‘John next to the smithy’ or ‘Jane on the way to the church’ would have helped to distinguish them from other Johns and Janes. And, inevitably, these locations came to be known, perhaps, as Forge Lane and as Church Road.

Allhallowgate preserves the name of a long-lost church. (Copyrioght  David Winpenny)

Allhallowgate preserves the name of a long-lost church. (Copyrioght  David Winpenny)

In the north of England and in Scotland ‘church’ was more likely to be ’kirk’, and a street may well be called a ‘gate’ from the Scandinavian word ‘gata’, a street.

So Ripon’s Kirkgate was named, as were the many other Kirkgates around the north.

Church Road (though not Kirkgate) is on the list of the ten most-used street names in Britain, along with Church Street.

The others, in case you were wondering, are High Street, Main Street, Park Road, London Road, Station Road and Victoria Road.

The first two could be found at any time since at least the Middle Ages. So could Park Road, if it referred not to a public park but the grounds of a great house.

London Road, too, is of some antiquity.

Station Road and Victoria Road, though, betray their 19th Century origins.

Interestingly, they are the only two names in the top 50 most popular street names that can definitely be ascribed to a particular age.

Otherwise we find such old favourites as The Grove, The Drive, The Avenue and (as in Ripon) The Crescent – a list that betrays a certain lack of imagination in road-naming.

Queens Road and Kings Road (with or without apostrophes) and their equivalent of King Street and Queen Street (again we have both in Ripon) are popular. North Street (familiar to us) and South Street are listed in the top 50, though neither East Street nor West Street appears.

Mill Street and Mill Lane are likely to be old names; even New Street will probably have at least 18th Century origins, which suggests that a little more thought for the future might have been wise, though it may well be that the name was in popular use before it was officially sanctioned. Broadway may also have had similar origins.

All these are on the ‘most popular’ list.

More interesting, perhaps, is Windsor Road.

There is no evidence in the list as to why it is so much used.

In the vicinity of Windsor Castle and town it’s likely to have ancient origins, but a more widespread use of the name may well have come after the decision by King George V during World War I to change the name of his royal house to Windsor from the unpatriotic-sounding Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Ripon has its own Windsor Road, between Quarry Moor Lane and Harrogate Road. The roads in this part of the city were obviously named in a fit of patriotic fervour, as they also include King Edward Road, Balmoral Road, Princess Royal Road and Harewood Road. Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, was the daughter of George V and sister of Edward VIII and George VI; she married the Earl of Harewood in 1922.

Naming of roads is usually a matter for local councils, though estate developers will sometimes try to impose their own ideas when they lay out new roads. Sometimes the chosen names are quite neutral.

Trees are a good source of street names, so in Ripon we have Ash Grove, Oak Road, Elm Road, Beech Road, Sycamore Road, Rowan Close and the slightly more exotic Cypress Gardens.

A quick glance at any street map of any town or city will provide a whole arboretum of tree-inspired names.

References to matters of more-local significance are often popular. So in Ripon we find Wakeman Road and Curfew Road, Hornblower Close and Bellman Walk, all inspired by the city’s ancient traditions.

We also find Vyner Street and Newby Street as a nod to the local stately home and its family.

Often, too, streets take their names from something that was on the site before they appeared, or which has long vanished; Ripon’s Allhallowgate takes its name from a medieval church demolished centuries ago.

To this ancient example we might now add College Road, which still bears its collegiate name even though the college itself (if not its buildings) is now gone from Ripon.

Sometimes, though, councils choose apparently-random themes for street names.

You may remember Reggie Perrin in the television series living in Coleridge Close and walking to the station along Tennyson Avenue and Wordsworth Drive.

In Newport, Gwent, a musical official was obviously on duty when names for the Alway area were needed; British composers and musicians whose names appear on street signs there include Parry, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Elgar, Walford Davis, Delius, Sterndale Bennett, Handel, Dibdin, Greene, Goosens, Brain and Halle.

The neighbouring estate has naval heroes as road names, including Beatty, Howe, Benbow and Jellicoe.

Deciding on such matters must have provided some light relief to the general tedium of council meetings; let us hope that people who live in Sterndale Bennett Road fully appreciate the honour done to them – and to the eponymous composer – with this unique odonym.