So why Tuly Street? - Jim Coulter and Terry Green (Newsletter No 14 2007/08)
There is quite a bit of history bound up in street names and a better understanding
of the history of a town can be gained by looking at their origin. Barnstaple has
some quite revealing examples. Of the main thoroughfares, High Street requires little
explanation and the Strand is clearly the riverbank, while Boutport Street is less
obvious. When the town was walled, this was the way that went "about the port", in
Old English: butan porte, the Old and Middle English 'port' meaning 'a town with
The curving line of Boutport Street echoes the course of the town wall. Newport was
the Bishop of Exeter's 13th century 'new town and market' set up to rival Barnstaple.
Cross Street was originally Crock Street and was inhabited by potters. Bell Meadow
is thought to be the 'bailey meadow', which was presumably grazing land outside the
town and somehow identified with the castle bailey, while Barbican Lane was probably
marked by an outwork of the castle, perhaps a tax gathering point for traders entering
or leaving the town by the route across Frankmarsh.
Litchdon Street commemorates the Iktun, the cemetery of Saxon Barnstaple. Bear Street
was the road that led to or away from the bar or barrier at the east gate of the
town (like Temple Bar in London or Bargate in Southampton). Magdalen Street lies
in the vicinity of the Cluniac Priory of St Mary Magdalen, which lay immediately
to the east of the town.
So what about that very odd name, Tuly Street?
A sixteenth century map of Barnstaple drawn by Bruce Oliver (Fig. 1) includes within
the precincts of the castle the location of King Olaf's well on a site now occupied
by the library and North Devon Record Office. Olaf, a scion of Norwegian aristocracy,
fought on the side of the English king Ethelred II in his wars against the Danes
in 1013. On his return to Norway he became king where his rule is mainly remembered
for converting that country to Christianity. In 1030 he was killed in battle and
from his grave, springs of water with healing properties flowed and miracles were
reported. He was declared a saint and his cult became widespread in Scandinavian
areas and in England too, especially in the 'Viking' parts. * There are over forty
ancient church dedications to Saint Olaf mainly in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, East
Anglia and the Western Isles of Scotland. In Devon there is one in Exeter and a chapel
at Riddlecombe. And in Barnstaple there was King Olaf's or St Olafs well. In the
course of time, Olaf's name became corrupted by the transfer of the final 't'of 'saint'
to give 'Tolaf which eventually became 'Tooley' or 'Tuly' as it remains today in
the name of Tuly Street.
(*Based on David Farmer: Oxford Dictionary of Saints)