Yorkshire is Yorkshire. It has been defined for more than a thousand years and will retain its identity even though politicians and civil servants have caused all sorts of confusion as to its borders over the last thirty or so years.
England’s largest county stretches from the Tees in the north to the Humber and to the south of Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster. East-west it extends from the coast to the Pennines and even beyond; at one point it is only ten miles from the Irish Sea. It contains one-eighth of the area of England and about one-tenth of the population. The West Riding alone is bigger than England’s second county, Lincolnshire.
It was almost certainly the Danes who first divided Yorkshire into three parts, thirds or thridings, which became the Ridings. The county town of the North Riding is Northallerton, of the West Riding Wakefield, and Beverley is the county town of the East Riding.
Geographically Yorkshire includes the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales, the North Yorkshire Moors, the Wolds, the Vale of York and the Plain of Holderness. Yorkshire’s rivers flow eastwards and southwards. Mickle Fell (2591 feet) is the county’s highest peak though Ingleborough (2373 ft), Whernside (2310 ft) and Pen-y-Ghent (2273 ft) are better known (The Three Peaks).
After the Romans left in 410 AD, the Angles first settled in what became the East Riding. Elmet in the West Riding was the last Romano-British state east of the Pennines to hold out against the invaders. The Danes captured York in 867 and the boundaries of Yorkshire are still essentially those settled by the Danes then, the Kingdom of York. This lasted until 954, Eric Bloodaxe being the last king of York. After that Yorkshire was properly part of the land of the Angles, England.
In the Ridings the Danish wapentakes took the place of the Anglo-Saxon hundreds. Yorkshire’s place names, speech patterns, the shapes of fields and roads and its people’s blood are inherited from the Romano-British, the Angles and the Viking ancestors. In so far, that is, that they weren’t destroyed by the Normans who, of course, added their names, customs, culture and blood to the mix.
Confusion exists because of the administrative areas created in the 1970s. The Heath government, which also blessed us with decimal currency and membership of the European Community, set up new administrative local government areas or ‘counties’ which do not correspond with county boundaries, not least in Yorkshire. South Yorkshire is the southern part of the West Riding. West Yorkshire is the industrial West Riding. North Yorkshire is the bastard child of part of the West Riding, North Riding and East Riding. Part of Yorkshire around Sedbergh was lumped with Westmorland, Cumberland and part of Lancashire to create Cumbria. Cleveland embraced the Middlesbrough area, the north Yorkshire coast and part of County Durham. Humberside was created though now no longer exists, but the administrative East Riding is not the geographic historical East Riding. Part of Yorkshire was shoved into Greater Manchester and the area around Barnoldswick was exiled to Lancashire. Bowes, Yorkshire was placed in a new pudding-shaped County Durham. As a result of these indignities Yorkshire’s identity was violated. Maps of ‘Yorkshire’ nowadays are usually in fact not Yorkshire proper at all but these wretched administrative areas. Even the National Trust, which ought to know better, gets it wrong.
The matter is further confused by the European Union’s region-making which lumps North Lincolnshire with the Yorkshire administrative areas and ignores those parts of Yorkshire in other administrative areas.
The Royal Mail’s post codes also confuse. Nowadays, unlike the skills of the Victorians in codifying things, there’s no joined-up organising. For example, some areas of the North Riding are given the TS code (Teesside), some DL (Darlington, County Durham), some in the West Riding have the code of Lancashire towns. There are other anomalies; Ilkley, in the West Riding, has a Leeds post code even though it is part of the Bradford metropolitan area.
So it is left to us as individuals, assisted by bodies like The Ridings’ Society and the Association of British Counties, to protect Yorkshire’s identity from ignorance and sloppiness which results in a sign as you leave Hull saying that you are entering the East Riding. Our historic counties endure as geographical entities despite the destructive and crass decisions of civil servants in London and Europe.
Yorkshire is Yorkshire. When the historic Yorkshire was butchered in 1974 for local government purposes, Yorkshire County Cricket Club made clear to all in Yorkshire proper that they were still in Yorkshire so far as Yorkshire cricket is concerned. Of course they are. The administrative counties will doubtless change again; they already have since 1974. But Yorkshire is Yorkshire. From shining sea almost to shining sea.
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