Gropecunt Lane  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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,<ref name="Harbenp164"/> 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.

Toponymy

Variations include Gropecunte, Gropecountelane, Gropecontelane, Groppecountelane and Gropekuntelane. There were once many such street names in England, but all have now been bowdlerised. In the city of York, for instance, Grapcunt Lane—grāp is the Old English word for grope—was renamed as the more acceptable Grape Lane.

The first record of the word "grope" being used in the indecent sense of sexual touching appears in 1380; "cunt" has been used to describe the vulva since at least 1230, and corresponds to the Old Norse kunta, although its etymology is uncertain.

Prostitution

Under its entry for the word cunt, the Oxford English Dictionary reports that a street was listed as Gropecuntlane in about 1230, the first appearance of that name. Organised prostitution was well established in London by the middle of the 12th century, initially mainly confined to Southwark in the southeast, but later spreading to other areas such as Smithfield, Shoreditch, Clerkenwell, and Westminster. The practice was often tolerated by the authorities, and there are many historical examples of it being dealt with by regulation rather than by censure: in 1393 the authorities in London allowed prostitutes to work only in Cocks Lane, and in 1285 French prostitutes in Montpellier were confined to a single street.

It was normal practice for medieval street names to reflect their function, or the economic activity taking place within them (especially the commodities available for sale), hence the frequency of names such as The Shambles, Silver Street, Fish Street, and Swinegate (pork butchers) in cities with a medieval history. Prostitution may well have been a normal aspect of medieval urban life; in A survey of London (1598) John Stow describes Love Lane as "so called of Wantons". The more graphic Gropecunt Lane, however, is possibly the most obvious allusion to sexual activity.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Gropecunt Lane" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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