A narrow alley or lane between houses
Vennel occurs in street-names throughout much of Scotland, including the Glasgow Vennel in Irvine, the Boat Vennel in Ayr, Friars Vennel in Dumfries, Northgate Vennel in Peebles and The Vennel in Edinburgh. The word derives from French venelle, meaning 'little street', and is found in Scots texts from the fifteenth century onwards. In the Charters of the City of Edinburgh, there are references to 'the comon venale callit Sanct Leonardis wynde' (1439) and in the Calendar of Writs preserved at Yester House, we find mention of 'a venelle called Leichwynd' (1471).
'accused of cursing and biting of his mother-in-law ... in the common vennell'.
The Burgh Records of Glasgow for 1577 note the complaint that:
'the skynnaris wennal is sa hoikit (full of holes) that na persoun may pas',
and the Burgh Records of Edinburgh for 1674 note that:
'the vennalls and closes within the said burgh shall not ... be obstructed ... with the ... building of any foir (front) stairs'.
From the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, we also learn of the ruling:
'that the back gettis and vennellis be all closed' in order to maintain 'better defence of the town'.
Matters relating to the building, design and uses of vennels frequently appear in historical records, but they also feature in the modern day. As recently as April this year, in a discussion of a new housing development, The Berwickshire Advertiser reported:
'the building control committee asked that the design of the vennels between the house units be reconsidered so that they are closed rather than open ... in order to avoid problems created by wind blowing through the gaps between the buildings in adverse weather conditions'.
This Scots word of the week was written by Dr Maggie Scott.
Originally published 21st May 2007.