One of the older thoroughfares in the City, Gilwell Street probably owed its early existence to the fact that one of the old town’s main water supplies was to be found there. Who or what the “Gil” element refers to is less clear, but it is worth remembering that before Drake brought us water from the moor –and even for many people, sometime after that – wells were the main source of fresh water. There is even a suggestion that the location of St Andrew’s Church, and the area that old Plymouth developed around, was largely determined by the position of local wells “that were of a more or less public character”. So wrote Worth in 1890, adding that “private wells were also numerous”.
It is of course quite possible that the “Gil” element is an indication that this was Gil or Gill’s well. The name Gill is generally either a reference to a narrow pebbly rivulet in a ravine, or it is a diminutive of Gilbert and there is evidence to suggest that the Gills of Devonshire have owned lands in this county since the reign of King Stephen in the first half of the twelfth century.