Where Scribes Bookshop is now, on the corner of Great King and St David Streets in Dunedin, there was once a notorious flat, called the Shambles. It was well known for it’s parties and as a location to go to continue drinking once the pubs had closed.
It’s not entirely clear from where the name of the flat originated: it may have been the shambolic nature of the place itself, or it may, as has been suggested by a former resident, been named for a place in Manchester of the same name.
Shambles is an old name and derives from Viking word Shamel apparently meaning ‘bench’, ‘booth’ or ‘shelf’ and the name is found in many places in the UK where there are market places.
This is a quintessential medieval street with upper storeys of buildings stretching out across the street precariously towards each other. The street was once a flesh market (hence also being known as Flesshamel) – that is, a street of butchers. Livestock were slaughtered in the streets and it’s been suggested that it is this resulting mess that provides the word shambles with its contemporary definition. In fact the OED gives three definitions: 1) a mess or muddle, 2) a butcher’s slaughterhouse, 3) a scene of carnage.
Reports about the Shambles in Dunedin, of parties and exploding pans of golden dough boys from the 1950s and 60s, suggest the OEDs third definition may be most approprite for explaining the name of our Great King Street residence.