Posted by: episystechpubs | October 22, 2014

Editor’s Corner: A Shambolic Holiday

The first time I heard the word “shambles” was in reference to my room, when Mom looked in and saw it needed a cleaning. More recently, we stayed at someone’s house and she referred to it as “shambolic,” and two days later we were in York, England, and ran into an entire area called “The Shambles,” pictured below. We were told, during our evening tour of York, that people weren’t very inventive with their names of streets in the 1400s. Castlegate is the street leading to the castle, Fishergate is where the fishmongers are, Swinegate is where you could buy three little piggies, and Grope Street (now Grape Street) was where you could buy…well, company for the evening.

So why “The Shambles”? Was this street particularly messy?

The Shambles, York, England

The answer is this: the word has evolved to mean a chaotic scene, a mess, or a disaster (like my room as a kid), but it does have an older meaning which will tie this all together. First, here are the newer definitions of shambles, from Merriam-Webster:


(noun, plural but usually singular in construction)

· a (1):a scene of great destruction <the imposing entrance … is a shambles and inside the quadrangle the great aula is demolished from a direct bomb hit — J. G. Gray>

: the result of great destruction: wreckage, wreck <have not cleaned up the shambles of bombing — Ruth Benedict><this buxom ball of fire makes a shambles of decorum — Irving Kolodin>

: the state of being wrecked <the bombers left the city in shambles>

· b: a place of mass slaughter or bloodshed <the bridge instantly became a shambles, every officer and man on that key position being either killed or wounded — Russell Grenfell>

· c (1): a scene of great disorder <the apartment became a shambles — S. J. Perelman><conference this year was an utter shambles chaired by an elderly lawyer who apparently could neither speak nor hear — A. F. Buchan>

(2): great confusion: mess <their ideals are vanity and illusion and their pretended moralities a shambles — Irwin Edman>

Before I tell you what “shambles” used to mean, I will give you one more hint. As you walk along this street you may notice hooks along the overhangs of the different stores. These are from the time the street was named, when “shambles” meant slaughterhouse. The word “shambles” also came to mean meat market and “shamble” was the name of the table where meat was exhibited for sale.

If you look back at the photo, you can see that in the middle of the street there are some trough-like low points: this was so the blood from the shops could easily flow downhill and away from the shops. It ended up in the river and at the Golden Fleece pub. The river and pub are still there—thank goodness the meat and the smells are gone!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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