Who put the Cank into Cank Street?

Tour Leader: Steve Bruce

21 June 2022

Do you know Every Street in Leicester?  We do! – thanks to the Blue Badge guide Steve Bruce, who led us on a city-centre tour to explore the stories behind Leicester’s street names.

Of course, Every Street runs along one side of Town Hall Square and it was named for the cries of the horse-drawn cab operators that used to ply their trade there.  Steve explained that many of the streets’ names have more obvious origins, for example telling you where they lead to (Humberstone Gate), activities that used to take place there (Horsefair Street), or commemorating people or events that were in the news when someone had to come up with a name (Wellington Street).  Quite often, the people commemorated were the owners of the land the streets were built on.  For example, Bishop Street – also beside Town Hall Square – recalls a Mr Bishop, who owned this area outside the town walls before it began to be developed in the late 1700s.  Another example is the group comprising Rutland Street, Belvoir Street and Granby Street.  They were built on land belonging to the Dukes of Rutland, whose home is at Belvoir Castle and whose heir takes the title Marquess of Granby.

Beware that the obvious explanations are not always correct!  Many of Leicester’s street names end in “Gate” but this usually does not refer to an actual gate.  Instead, it dates from when our area was occupied by Danish settlers, whose Norse word for a road was gatan.  On the other hand, Eastgates (by the Clock Tower), Southgates and Northgate Street do all mark the locations of old gateways into the medieval town.  (The fourth entrance was at West Bridge.)  A short street at the back of the marketplace is called The Jetty but, despite the pub sign of a sailing boat that hung there for many years, the name is probably a corruption of the local word “jitty” meaning a narrow alley.

Street names can reveal the past history of the city.  Silver Street once housed many silversmiths.  Bond Street was formerly called Parchment Lane and both names refer to the manufacture of paper.  Nearby is Butt Close Lane.  Fearing invasion by Catholic powers, Elizabeth I ordered that all men and boys should practise archery each week and this street was close to site of the archery butts.

The tour was titled “Who put the Cank in Cank Street?” and Steve offered us a choice of explanations.  It might refer to the “kink” along the length of the road.  There was also a Cank Well there – the site being marked by a small brick in the pavement outside the entrance to St. Martin’s Square – so the name could be connected to the Cornish word for a water channel or to a Yorkshire dialect term for the gossiping that probably would have gone on in the queue!

Steve provided lots of fascinating information beside the snippets here, which will add interest to future visits to Leicester, and many of his examples can also be applied to other places.  We hope he will lead us on a different tour next summer so look out for that!