The Idea of Yorkshire

You might need to be sitting down for this. It’s a bit of a shock, and it made me feel quite queasy when I heard about it.

 

Did you know it might be the case that Yorkshire does not exist? Yes, I know, unthinkable. It may be that it exists only in the Platonic ideal, say, or as a perfect thought in the mind of God. God’s Own County, whose history can be traced back to within nano-seconds of the Big Bang, may be no more than a collective dream of something better than the humdrum of motley human existence.

 

The proposal for this thesis arose as a result of thinking about government boundary changes, an exciting field for fertile rational debate and a regular subject of passionate and informed conversation across the nation. But take, for example, this anomaly: that until it became a Unitary Authority in 1996, the city of York (happy 800th, by the way) was part of North Yorkshire County. This immediately raises questions about the status of West and South Yorkshire, since the capital had originally been found at the meeting point of the three Ridings, at once within all and none.

 

Yorkshire owes much of its history to the Danish and Vikings, although before them it was part of the Kingdom of Deira. King Aelle was the first recorded Anglo-Saxon King in 559 AD before it merged with Bernicia to form the greater region of Northanhumber. The name, however, is derived from the British people who lived there before the invasion, generally transcribed as “Deywr”.

 

The Romans had founded York (Eboracum) in 71 AD as the northern capital on the boundary of Brigantes’ territory, until their garrison was recalled to Rome around 412 AD. The Angles colonised and subjugated the area soon after and when Northanhumber was finally stabilised the capital was at Eoferwic, formerly Eboracum. Over time and through numerous bloody invasions, the name transformed to Yorvik, then York.

 

The Danish dominance and later the harrying of the North no doubt influenced the development of Yorkshire identity. Historic county boundaries were established by the Norman administration, and based largely on Anglo-Saxon shires, including Yorkshire (hence the infamous Norman role of Sherriff, or shire-reeve).

 

None of these entities are real, in that they are all ephemeral to the eye of History: but what we call “real” in these parts are the (North, East and West) Ridings and the Ainsty, long abolished but living on in the hopes and dreams of true-born Yorkshire men and women. I share their pain, being a native daughter of Middlesex which ancient desmesne suffered the same fate of abolition in 1974 and was parcelled out between Surrey and so-called “Greater” London. We know it still exists, in the shadows, biding its time. It still has a cricket club, as does Yorkshire, so it must be true.

 

The outside edge of Yorkshire remains more or less intact, beyond occasional boundary issues. How it is broken up internally is in the end an administrative matter reflecting but minimally on the soul of the shire. While it may no longer exist in its ancient form according to the clerks and scribes, I respectfully submit, in response to the controversial thesis proposed above, that Yorkshire is as real as any great idea, such as liberty, equality, peace or justice.

 

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