Where and What Was Worcester’s Cripplegate?

 Ancient property deeds in the Cathedral Library have much fascinating information on the medieval City. An example is the frequent mention of a Worcester street by its now lost name of Cripplegate. This street led from the west bank of the old bridge towards St John’s Church. Its modern name is Tybridge Street, said to have been given around 1880, and it is notable today mainly for being a busy urban through-route. The old name has been given to Cripplegate Park on one side and to Cripplegate House at the western end. The street name Cripplegate survived until around 1880 and old maps often show it. The end of the street nearest to the river was sometimes called Turkey which is possibly a contraction of Tower Quay.

1769-engraving-of-worcesterA 1769 engraving of Worcester

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

The legal deeds often refer to properties belonging to Worcester citizens that are to “the Prior and Convent of Worcester”, a reminder that before the Reformation the Cathedral was not the home of a Dean and Chapter but of a priory of Benedictine monks. A Convent was not a community of nuns as it is today. The medieval word was originally ‘covent’ which meant an assembly of religious people either monks or nuns, and which is preserved in the well-known Covent Garden area of London. The Convent or Priory of Worcester had a garden on that side of the river, and much of the land was given for the use of the gardener. Of course the garden was of great importance as a primary source of food for the Priory.

A deed (catalogued B 1095) from the late thirteenth century records William Lovy making such a gift of land:

b1095Deed B1095

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

‘Gift to use of the Gardener of all that land with the houses built on it which he bought from Walter de Wygemore, citizen of Worcester, situated in Crupelgatestrete, between the land of Henry le Hunte and that of William le Dyssare; also one penny annual rent which he received from the said Henry; also a certain meadow there next to the aforesaid land which he bought from John de Bosco, which meadow is of the fee of the Bishop of Worcester’

Of course the original deed is in Latin but the spellings of the names are as they appear in the original. The spelling of Cripplegate is one of many variants to be found in the deeds. Note in particular the use of the letter ‘u’ instead of ‘i’. This spelling appears consistently in all the deeds dated to the thirteenth century and seems to have been a feature of spelling in the West Midlands region, probably reflecting the pronunciation at the time. The deed gives the Priory gardener the use of some land in Cripplegate and an adjoining meadow. This and other deeds of gift illustrate how land came into the possession of the church, and because the church was always there the land stayed in its possession. And so the church grew into a more and more powerful landowner.

Lovy may be from Old English meaning ‘beloved warrior’. Wygemore is of course modern Wigmore. The attached name Le Hunte could have meant ‘the hunter’ while le Dyssare was probably a ‘maker of dishes’. Bosco is the Latin form of de Bois, meaning ‘from the wood.’ An English equivalent is Attwood. These names were not inherited family names like surnames are today – but it is possible to see how modern surnames evolved from them.

It may well be asked why this road was called Cripplegate, but there seems to be no definite answer. Worcester City is known to have had eight gates in its defensive walls, but none were called Cripplegate. The old bridge had a gate in the middle but it was called Bridge Gate and probably did not exist before about 1320 when the bridge was rebuilt in stone. This would have provided some defensive means on the bridge, and we can perhaps get some idea of what it must have looked like from the gate tower on the bridge at Monmouth, which is of the same era.

detail-of-1769-engraving-of-old-bridge-gateA detail from the 1796 engraving showing the old Bridge Gate

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

It is worth noting that in the English of the thirteenth century the word ‘gate’ could also mean ‘street’. The deeds sometimes call it Cripplegate and sometimes Cripplegate Street and they appear to mean the same thing.

And there is some doubt as to the meaning of ‘Cripple’? It did not always mean a disabled person. It could also refer to a low opening or a narrow passage and might have been named from a feature of the landscape or how it once looked. We should not jump to conclusions!

Cripplegate was also named as a part of the ‘Royal Road’ through Worcester, presumably a route used by the King in his travels around England. Foregate Street and High Street are part of it on the east side of the river and Cripplegate on the west side. Another thirteenth-century deed (B 1090) mentions this:

b1090Deed B1090

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

‘Gift in free, pure and perpetual alms of all that messuage between the messuage which formerly belonged to Richard Prich and that formerly of William Fage, extending from the royal road called Crupilgatestrete to the garden of the Prior and Convent’

Richard Prich’s name probably shows his Welsh pedigree as it was a contraction of Ap Richard, ‘Son of Richard’. Fage may have been a Norman name. A messuage is usually a house with land attached. And the Royal Road led from Worcester on towards Hereford, seat of another Bishop with wealth enough to entertain His Majesty in a proper manner, and with power to forgive his sins!

Tim O’Mara

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