York, England

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate: ‘What a street?!’

Whip ma Whop ma Gate 5
- Paul Appleyard

What is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate?

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it thoroughfare in York city centre. The short stretch of raised pavement runs past St Crux Church and connects Colliergate with Shambles and Pavement Street. Barely wide enough for two people to pass shoulder to shoulder, this tiny street (proudly one of York’s shortest according to its plaque) is not only a testament to York’s rich heritage but also acts as a source of local folklore.

Whip ma Whop ma Gate
- deltrems

Tiny by Nature, Big by Statue

While Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate may not be the narrowest street in York – due to the removal of some houses built against the East end of St Crux Church and its widening around 1750 – it is certainly the smallest in terms of length. Stretching just a few metres, the street's diminutive size only adds to its quirky appeal. Also, what Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate may lack in size, it more than makes up for in charm. As you stroll along the ‘York Stone’ path – inlaid in 1984 – the historical architecture, complete with timber-framed façades and mullioned windows, transports you to a bygone era. It's a place where you can escape the modern world, if only for a moment, and immerse yourself in the beauty of York's past.

Whip ma Whop ma Gate 1
- Dave Collier

Origins of Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate

The name ‘Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate’ is a delightful tongue-twister, but its origins remain shrouded in mystery. First mentioned in 1505 as ‘Whitnourwhatnourgate’ and later as ‘Whitney Whatneygate’ it is believed that the name originally translated to ‘what a street?!’ and at one point: ‘neither one thing nor the other’.

Other idolised theories quickly devolved over time however, linking the name to something more physical. One claimed that the name alluded to a local landlord who could ‘whip’ up pints in a timely fashion. Another was that in the Middle Ages the street served as the location for the city's whipping post and stocks, where criminals would be taken to be punished, hence ‘Whip-Ma’. Along the same lines, others posit that it was due to the whipping of dogs who stole from the butchers on The Shambles. But another important thing to note is that ‘gate’ is actually derived from the Danish Viking word ‘gata’, meaning ‘street’. Therefore, the ‘gate’ in Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma (and other places such as Coppergate and Walmgate) refers to ‘street’ as opposed to an entry point. But whatever its true origin, the name adds an air of intrigue to this already enchanting locale.

You can learn more about Viking influences in York at the Jorvik Viking Centre.

Whip ma Whop ma Gate 4
- Matthew Cackett

Wife Beatings at Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate

Along the same physical lines, other name suggestions claim that Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is derived from the phrase ‘whip my whores’. This refers to the lawful mediaeval practice whereby husbands were allowed to discipline their wives publically if they were not behaving accordingly. It involved chasing their wives down the street (the wives would get a head start) whipping at them with an instrument that was not allowed to be longer than a yard or fatter than their thumb. People would gather to watch the punishment and aid in shaming the woman, which was all part of the practice. Despite the association with the name, there is no actual evidence that this despicable law was carried out at Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, thankfully!

Whip ma Whop ma Gate 2
- Kev Cook

Our Thoughts…

For anyone exploring the historic city of York, a visit to Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is a must. It's a place where history, legend, and whimsy intersect. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a lover of quirky tales, or simply someone seeking a low-walled funky street-sign-adorned backdrop for photos, this tiny through-way ticks all the boxes and is an experience that captures the essence of York's enduring charm.

So, when you find yourself in the Viking City, take a leisurely stroll down Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, smile at its name, embrace its quaint beauty, and allow the stories of the past to wash over you like a gentle Yorkshire breeze.

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Trails in York - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of York.

Whip ma Whop ma Gate 6
- Adrian Pink