You don’t expect people to die as a result of floods in summer in Yorkshire but that happened this year. Torrential rain on three occasions caused severe problems particularly in the Sheffield, Doncaster and Hull areas (as well as elsewhere in the country). For those who lost relatives and friends nothing will, of course, ever be the same again.


These events are, fortunately, rare, but not unknown. In the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, 270 people died when a dam burst. The Ouse flooded with devastating consequences in 1947, and when the east coast was inundated in 1953, 307 drowned. But it’s easier to keep a sense of proportion when your house was not under water and as a result you can’t live in it for months. That must be awful.


Sheffield Wednesday swimming pool!


 James Herriot (Alf Wight) always took his dog with him when he visited farms and other premises in the country around Thirsk. It was the natural thing to do. Now the state veterinary service, Animal Health, has banned vets from doing so. This follows a complaint by ‘a member of the public’. It was ‘a member of the public’ who reported Charles Kennedy for smoking out of a train window. Who are these frightful people who police our every move?


Texts for today (AP Herbert):


‘Let’s find out what everyone is doing. And then stop everyone from doing it’.


‘People must not do things for fun. We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any Act of Parliament’.


Late summer in England means county shows, the Proms, the grouse season and, yes, the start of the football season. Leeds United? Don’t ask.


The East Riding was the first part of what would later become Yorkshire to be settled by the Anglo-Saxons after the Romans left in the fifth century. The Angles came up the Ouse and the Derwent from the Humber. The land was fertile, the climate similar to that to which they were accustomed. The area became Deira and there must have been something of a no-man’s-land, a frontier, between it and the Romano-British Elmet to the west. The invaders weren’t Christian and most of the native British were killed - in what would today be called ethnic cleansing - unless they were able to escape west. By the seventh century Deira and Elmet were part of the kingdom of Northumbria, literally the land north of the Humber.


Rivers were, of course, major barriers until recent times. That is why they became boundaries. The Ouse is the boundary between the West and East Ridings. The Derwent marks the division between the East and the North Riding. The Ure separates the West Riding from the North. Today as one speeds over the Ouse bridge on the M62 or crosses the river at Boroughbridge, no thought is given to how difficult it used to be to overcome physical boundaries like rivers and mountains.


We went to Spurn Head. ‘Don’t bother; there’s nothing there’, I was told. ‘It’s like going back fifty years’, they said. It is; that is part of its charm. Shops shut at lunchtime, there are telegraph poles and birds congregate on the wires in neat rows, sometimes two deep. Lunch at the Blue Bell café cost a third of the price you would pay in Leeds or at a National Trust property. But don’t expect fancy coffee. We bought their Poacher’s Pickle and are still enjoying it.

Holderness, east of Hull, was, like the Cotswolds and East Anglia, prosperous in medieval times and its legacy is a number of simply magnificent parish churches. The greatest is St Patrick’s, Patrington, not for nothing known as the Queen of Holderness. Patrington pre-dates the Conquest. The church was built in the 14th century in the Decorated Gothic style. No effort was spared to build a church of almost cathedral proportions for what must have been a small population. It has been described as England’s finest parish church though there are many contenders for that title. Today it is clearly a living church cherished by its congregation.

Spurn Head Lighthouse

There is an article about the East Riding in The Counties, the newsletter of the Association of British Counties. It refers to the big skies there and how the light is different. The light is different. It was particularly brilliant at Spurn Head. Like I remember it was at Cape Cod. There are more clear days than further west though overall it is colder. The North Sea, of course. The article notes that too often the East Riding is side-lined and forgotten when Yorkshire is characterised as the Dales or the industrial West Riding. The article points out how much the East Riding has to offer. I thought the same as I drove through Bishop Burton and later saw York Minster from twenty miles away when I was on the Wolds above Market Weighton. But let’s keep it a secret. Have you seen Haworth or Skipton on a sunny weekend?

Skipton Arcade


We are now watching the seventh and last series of the West Wing. We began watching it in the last century. We’ve now seen over 150 episodes. It is the best drama I’ve ever watched on TV. The script is excellent, the acting first-rate, the sets brilliant, it is in turn funny, exciting and thought-provoking. It shows America and Americans at their best, moral, decent and well-intentioned. The Land of the Free. Just as I hate finishing a book which I have enjoyed so, similarly, I don’t want the West Wing to end.


On 11 July over 2,000 people attended a service at York Minster to remember 26 soldiers who have been killed in Iraq. They were members of the 19 Light Brigade based at Catterick. 130 soldiers who were seriously wounded were also honoured. Relatives of those who died were there as were hundreds of service personnel who gave thanks for their safe return to the civilised world. A photo in the Yorkshire Post showed buglers from the 2nd Battalion, the Rifles, playing the Last Post in front of the Great West Window.


In a letter to the Yorkshire Post, P Wade of Barnsley wrote:

‘One wonders how recent history might have been affected had it been traditional for the Prime Minister’s children to enter into military service, rather than the Royal family’s’.


Edward Smith is a butcher in Barnsley. He is 63 and used his redundancy money to start his business. Mr Smith is in serious trouble. He breaks the law every day and the local council is considering prosecuting him. Why? Does he sell contaminated meat? Does he steal from his customers? Does he smoke in his shop? None of the above. He, prepare yourselves, sells meat to his customers in pounds and ounces because that is what they ask for. And understand. Rotherham Borough Council wants to confiscate his scales because they break the Weighing Equipment (non-automatic weighing machines) Regulations 2000. I know, it’s disgraceful, isn’t it?


Following his first-rate William Pitt the Younger, William Hague’s biography of William Wilberforce has been published by HarperCollins. The first sentence of Chapter 1 sets the tone: ‘The pedigree of William Wilberforce was impeccably Yorkshire’. The family could trace its line to the small town of Wilberfoss near York. A Wilberfoss was said to have slain Harold Hadrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. William Wilberforce himself was born in 1759 in the family home in the High Street in Hull and went to Pocklington School and Cambridge. A Christian, principled, conservative and rich man, he dedicated his adult life to the abolition of slavery. This year, 2007, is, of course, 200 years since that abolition.


Statue of William Wilberforce


Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Poly in old money) is offering a degree course in Northernness. We’ve been here before (qv Diary April 2001). The course will be led by Professor Tony Collins who, according to the BBC – honestly, this is true – has studied the role of rugby league in northern life. Better than work, isn’t it? The University says that the course has already attracted interest from as far away as, wait for it, Essex.


I enjoyed a story told by Jack Dodd of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland, in a letter to the Yorkshire Post. Some years ago an old schoolfriend of Geoff Boycott met him in their native Fitzwilliam. ‘What are you doing these days?’, she asked. ‘I captain England’, said the great man. ‘That’s nice’, she said. ‘What at?’