Have you noticed the narrow alley between numbers 28 and 30 West Street, Warwick? It has been known as ‘The Jitty’ for as long as anyone can remember.
Paved in hard blue bricks, which are said to come from the old Warwick prison, the ancient alley runs under part of number 28 to cross the top of what is now a cul-de-sac called Monk’s Way, formerly Monk Street, to join Friar’s Street.
According to research by Unlocking Warwick volunteers, this was the poorest area of town in the mid-19th century with thousands of refugees from the Irish famines crowded into unregistered lodging houses. There were open sewers, and cholera, typhus and smallpox were rife.
Now the area has some of the most attractive properties in Warwick. Number 28 is an upmarket antiques shop. It used to be a dairy.
On the other side of The Jitty, number 30 West Street is now Torry’s the independent hardware store. According to the proprietor Sue Butcher, a hundred years ago it was the Manchester Arms public house before it became a shop.
A group of residents are researching the history of West Street. They report in their latest newsletter that Evelyn Harley who was born in West Street in 1929 remembers playing in the street and can recall the old hardware shop well. She was often invited there for tea.
It was occupied by ‘Mr. and Mrs. Osborne, their son Jeffrey and his grandmother. Mrs. Osborne ran the shop while Mr. Osborne used a mobile van for selling paraffin, candles, saucepans, brooms and other cleaning materials’.
Heather Cadbury of the West Street research group says in her newsletter, that the names Monk’s Way and Friars Street at the end of The Jitty hint at the early history of the area. There is a reference in 1679 to the east boundary of 30 West Street (now Torry’s) ‘being a lane to ground called The Fryers’. The House of the Dominican Friars in Warwick was founded in the mid-13th Century with the church there probably dedicated in 1268.
So The Jitty may be nearly 800 years old. According to dictionaries, ‘Jitty’, or ‘gitty’ is a colloquial word for a narrow passage mainly confined to the midlands; origins obscure. In the north it would be a snicket or a ginnel.