Where there’s muck, there’s brass”

Yorkshire Peak District villageThis Yorkshire saying may point to an empty stereotype or it may contain some truth about the hardy inhabitants of England’s North, an enduring concept in the minds not only of Englishmen but of many around the globe, who are familiar with the people of this county. Yorkshire inhabitants are characterised as honest and forthright but at the same time as stubborn, slow, and tight-fisted. The people of Yorkshire tend to view inhabitants of the South of England – anywhere south of Watford proverbially – as snobbish and unfriendly. Such a divide comes of a long history of rebellion and independence: Yorkshire was the site of a Danish kingdom in the 800s and 900s and after that, part of the region of Northumbria which enjoyed considerable freedom from the English Kingdom of Wessex.

God’s Own County, as it is fondly and only half-jokingly referred to, is divided into four separate counties – South, West, and North Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire. It is the largest county in the United Kingdom and has long drawn visitors with its scenery, its history, and its local culture. It is a dramatic landscape, which has given birth to great and evocative literature such as Dracula and Wuthering Heights. Ruined abbeys cling to cliffs or lie secluded amongst green fields of immeasurable beauty. Castles and stately homes dot the land alongside quaint farming villages that seem lost in time.

York is arguably Yorkshire’s most popular destination: a leafy and historic city, its old centre is a cobblestone journey into the past and its Minster one of the world’s great cathedrals. Another popular historic town to visit is pretty but twee Harrogate. England’s first spa town, it was at the height of fashion from the 18th to early 20th centuries and possesses elegant architecture from these periods. For those who like to get out into nature and hike, cycle, or ride, Yorkshire has wonderful national parks: The Yorkshire Dales rise and fall in limestone hills, taking in the Pennines, often called the backbone of the country; the North York Moors is a stunning landscape of purple flowering heather, peat bogs, dreamy woodland, and, as the moors drift on to the coast, high cliffs like deep bites out of the land.

Aside from the country’s considerable natural attractions, its cities are fascinating and modern. Bradford is home to a diverse community, with high numbers of Indian and Pakistani immigrants, giving the city a unique flavour. It has interesting museums and lots of curry houses. The home of the Brontë sisters can also be visited in nearby Haworth.  Leeds has a lively cultural scene set against the backdrop of historic architecture, dating back to the city’s industrial past. Sheffield likewise has rich industrial heritage but is known as the most cosmopolitan city in Yorkshire. These latter cities in particular are driving Yorkshire further in the tourism market, reinvigorating a region that was dependant upon the now largely defunct cotton, coal, and steel industries.

While in Yorkshire, try a Sunday lunch of roast beef, vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding. The latter is a small savoury puff made from a batter and it is as dear to hearts of Yorkshiremen as pizza Margherita is to the Neapolitans. There’s also Yorkshire Parkin to try, a ginger cake with a difference in that its recipe also includes oats. It is traditionally made around Guy Fawkes' Night but it’s so good that it’s available throughout the year. The region is also famous for liquorice, particularly in Pontefract, Wensleydale cheese, and a few different kinds of beer such as John Smith’s and Theakston’s Old Peculier, the perfect accompaniment to a lazy summer cricket match in England’s beautiful North.

Writer:  Leah O'Hearn

Evidence for the prehistory of Yorkshire is limited but there are a few important sites such as Star Carr, a Mesolithic site, near Scarborough. More is known about the the early Bronze Age inhabitants of Yorkshire: the Brigantes and Parisii tribes of the Celts. Under the Romans, the Brigantes retained control and became a client state of Rome. They were led by Cartimandua and her husband Venutius, but when Cartimandua left her husband for another man, Venutius rallied armies against her and the Romans. He took control of the kingdom but his rebellion was put down by the Romans, who finally seized complete power over Brigantes territory. York was named as the joint-capital of Roman Britain and its power grew to such an extent that the Emperor Septimus Severus ruled the entire empire from there for two years. In addition, Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor in the city in 306AD.

A number of small Celtic kingdoms ruled Yorkshire from the 400s until the Danish Vikings invaded and set up the Kingdom of Jorvik in 866AD. After around a hundred years, Danish power declined and Norway took control. The kingdom came under the rule of the fiercesome Eric Bloodaxe, whose bloodthirsty rule eventually encouraged his subjects to submit to the Kingdom of Wessex, thus uniting England for the first time. Although the territory of Yorkshire came under the jurisdiction of Northumbria, this region retained significant degrees of autonomy.  Local customs and laws, which were by now Norse in nature, were respected and allowed to remain.

Harold II of England fought Harald Hardrada of Norway and his brother Tostig, who were mounting an invasion in the north. After successfully defeating them, he turned his army south to fight William the Conqueror in the Battle of Hastings, which he subsequently lost. The resulting Norman Conquest was initially a dark time for Yorkshire, which revolted against the invasion in 1069. They appealed to Sweyn II of Denmark for help in restoring York, but the Normans acted first. They razed York to the ground and then proceeded to mete out the same treatment to fields, livestock, and farming equipment from York to Durham. This became known as the Harrowing of the North. The armies then salted the fields, rendering them useless for almost one hundred years afterwards causing famine and death on a large scale, a cycle which repeated itself later in the 1300s when the area was hit by the Great Famine and the Black Death.

The War of the Roses took place in the 1400s when King Richard II was overthrown leaving two branches of the House of Plantagenet, the House of York and the House of Lancaster, to fight it out. Some of the battles in this series of civil wars took place in Yorkshire, and the rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancaster has continued until this day.

In 1536, Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a programme of religious reform that provoked resistance in Yorkshire particularly and led to an uprising called the Pilgrimage of Grace. The county retained its ambivalent attitude to the crown during the English Civil War: some areas were stoutly royalist and yet others, such as Hull, turned their backs on the king. The Battle of Marston Moor was fought in 1644 between the Roundheads (the parliamentarians) and the Cavaliers (the royalists), and ended in the former gaining control of the North of England.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the primary industries of Yorkshire, wool, steel, and mining, continued to develop and brought prosperity to the region. However, as the cities grew and the Industrial Revolution told hold in the 1800s, there were increasing problems with overcrowding and sanitation. Steel production was a particularly gruelling process of long working hours and unpleasant conditions. The centre of the steelworks industry in Sheffield also proved to be one of the centres for the development of trade unionism in the UK.  In the 1970s and 80s Yorkshire was again at the centre of dissent, with industrial action flaring up after the closure of mining pits. Since then Yorkshire has had the task of reinventing itself. Tourism is now a major industry across the county, as well as finance, which is particularly centred on Leeds.

Writer:  Leah O'Hearn

Click on the link to download your 23-page PDF version of YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER.  It covers the districts of  the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, East Riding and Sheffield.