Names of Leicester
The street layout in Leicester has remained largely unchanged since medieval times, although there have been some noticeable alterations. Quite a few of the ancient streets were destroyed in the construction of the Shires Shopping Centre and St Nicholas Circle. Those which do survive often retain their original name (although usually somewhat corrupted) but a few have changed names completely. Using a medieval map of Leicester, it is possible to work out the meanings of these names.
Some of the simplest names to understand are those which are named after the place they lead to. For example Belgrave Gate and Humberstone Gate. It is worth pointing out at this stage that “Gate” in this case does not mean gate. It comes from the Scandinavian “gata” meaning road. Other roads named like this include Braunstone Gate and Abbey Gate (leading to the Abbey). Northgates and Southgates are roads leading to the North and South of the city. Church Gate is so named because it leads to St Margaret’s Church, and Gallowtree Gate led to the Gallows, which were situated on London Road.
Friar Lane and Grey Friars were named after the Franciscan Friary. The friars there wore Grey Habits. Black Friars Street, originally Black Friars Lane, was named after the Dominican Friary where the friars wore black habits.
Some streets take their name from churches located nearby. St Martins is named after the Cathedral. St Nicholas Circle and St Nicholas Place, both modern, are named after St Nicholas’ church. St Margaret’s Way is named after St Margaret’s Church. St Georges Street (and St Georges Way) are named after St Georges Church.
Some of the roads are named after the markets that used to take place there. Horsefair Street is a perfect example of this. First Recorded in 1489 as “le horsefeyre” it is named after the horse market that took place there. Some streets in Leicester used to be named after markets set there. High Street was known in 1334 as “forum porcorum” which means Pig Market. It was later called “Swinesmarket”. Silver Street was known as “Sheepsmarket”, with an obvious meaning.
Many of the names are created in other ways. The following list gives the meanings of names. We cannot guarantee that these are all correct, but we have checked with our sources as much as possible.
Bishop Street – The land in this area outside the eastern wall of the city was owned by the Bishop of Lincoln. This road, running alongside the old line of the city wall is named after the owner of the land it runs through.
Holy Bones – this small road running behind Jewry Wall and St Nicholas Church is thought to have been named when some unknown graves, believed to be Roman, were found on the road. The word Holy is used because the road runs near St Nicholas Church. However, the reason for the name of this road has long been argued over.
High Cross Street – This road was first recorded as “altem crucem” (Latin for High Cross) in 1392. Leicester’s High Cross was situated here for a long time. A market was held here weekly.
Loseby Lane – Named after Henry de Loseby, who held the land there around 1300.
Close Lane – This road was first recorded in 1552, when the town’s archery butts
(practise targets) were located here.
There are many more roads which we will be adding to the article soon. However, many of the other roads in the city have modern names, with no history.
Article by Daniel Spencer