A street by any other name – Gropecunt Lane – London – Brooklyn?

Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn NY © Ephemeral New York

Ephemeral New York posted today “a sweet story” about Love Lane in Brooklyn Heights (see image above). Contemporaneously, my friend Dr. Andrew Irving and I were walking in Brooklyn Heights the other evening after seeing the German film The White Ribbon, and while passing Love Lane, he told me the story about Gropecunt Lane in London.

Magpie Lane in Oxford, once known as Gropecunt Lane - Wikipedia

Gropecunt Lane was a street name found in English towns and cities during the Middle Ages, believed to be a reference to the prostitution centred on those areas; it was normal practice for a medieval street name to reflect the street’s function or the economic activity taking place within it. Gropecunt, the earliest known use of which is in about 1230, appears to have been derived as a compound of the words grope and cunt. Streets with that name were often in the busiest parts of medieval towns and cities, and at least one appears to have been an important thoroughfare.

Although the name was once common throughout England, changes in attitude resulted in its being replaced by more innocuous versions such as Grape Lane. Gropecunt was last recorded as a street name in 1561. – Wikipedia

The Virgin Queen Elizabeth the First’s reign commenced in 1558. I’m sure eradicating “cunt” from street names was on her shortlist.


The map above is described in a caption in Wikipedia as:

A 1720 map of Bread Street and Cordwainer wards included in a 19th-century edition of John Stow’s Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster. The routes of three extinct streets are highlighted in blue, Puppekirtylane on the left, “Grope Countlane” in the middle, and Bordhawlane on the right. The location is opposite the modern-day Mercers’ Hall. Little Fryday Street [sic] (Pissing Alley) is visible on the left. – Wikipedia

In David Carroll’s interview with comic book author Neil Gaiman @ Tabula-Rasa, Gaiman was quoted as saying:

I’ve been reading my way through a book on London street names — it’s fascinating, especially when you’re in the older parts. Each street name comes with a huge chunk of city, and of history. You discover that Love Lane was originally called Grope Cunt Lane, and you realise what kind of love was for sale in Love Lane. Apparently most major cities had a Love Lane, or a Grope Cunt Lane, or something, and it was always very near the cathedral, which I find interesting.Tabula-Rasa dot info

The Guardian UK also claims:

Those names survive, but others were so rude they were changed or disappeared altogether. ‘Sherborne Lane, near Cannon Street, was originally Shiteburn Lane, meaning shit house after the public lavatories in it,’ Mills says. The Corporation might also be less than keen on an alley off Cheapside called, er, Gropecunt Lane. – A street by any other name…
…might be easier to sell.
By Chris Partridge
Guardian UK

Oh well, it’s “sweet” to know that things weren’t always so quaint.


One response to “A street by any other name – Gropecunt Lane – London – Brooklyn?

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