Gipsy Castle Lane, Hay-on-Wye

Gipsy Castle Lane, Hay-on-Wye

The road leading west from St Mary’s Church has the curious name Gipsy Castle Lane. The Gipsy Castle in question was a cottage, probably named in mockery.

The 1841 census refers to Gipsey Cottage and the 1851 census to Gipsey Castle, both occupied by a labourer and his family. The building was on Sir Joseph Bailey's estate. Ordnance Survey maps from 1929 onwards referred to it as Gipsy Castle. It still stands, enlarged and modernised, near the lane’s western end.

Various place-names which include Gipsy or Gipsies are found in Wales and England but usually they refer to a field, i.e. a place gypsies habitually used. Gipsy Cottage in Hay could be understood as “house occupied by a gypsy” but is more likely to be a disparaging name, meaning “cottage fit only for a gipsy” (dilapidated or untidy). The change from Gipsey Cottage to Gipsey Castle adds to the mockery!

Genuine gypsies were not welcomed in Gipsy Castle Lane. A man described as a “gipsy”, David Warner of Newbridge-on-Wye, was fined 10 shillings in August 1915 for camping in the lane!

There are other examples of "Castle" being applied ironically to a small, unimpressive house. A property in Cusop, east of Hay, gained the name Mouse Castle, possibly as it was once small or mouse-infested. The use of “mouse” and llygoden in English and Welsh place-names is fairly common. There is another Mouse Castle, alias Castell y Llygoden, in Llanblethian (Vale of Glamorgan). Brecon had a Mouse Street, alias Heol y Llygoden, which is now apparently Mount Street.

About the town’s name:

Hay, often known locally as “The Hay”, derives from Old English gehæg or its Medieval English form hay (originally “a fence”, later “area within a fence”), probably referring to an area enclosed within the castle. Hay is also occasionally recorded in Latin form as Haia taillata and Sepes Inscisa (12th century), meaning “cut hedge/cut fence” of uncertain significance. The Welsh form Y Gelli (“the grove/the woodland”) is recorded from c.1400, with the very occasional later addition Gandryll, i.e. candryll (“'shattered, shivered, ruinous”), not quite the same meaning as taillata and inscisa, and it may be a mistranslation of the Latin qualifiers. 

With thanks to Richard Morgan, of the Welsh Place-Name Society

Postcode: HR3 5EB    View Location Map