Yorkshire – God’s Own County

Yorkshire flagThis flag for the region of Yorkshire was designed by Michael Faul, Editor of Flagmaster, the journal of the Flag Institute.  It shows the cross of St. George, the historic symbol of England, with the vertical band off-centre to the left, in the format adopted by most Scandinavian countries. This reflects the fact that Yorkshire is part of England, but also that it has close ties with Scandinavia, having been settled and ruled by Norwegians and Danes in the 8th and 9th centuries. The white rose is shown on a blazing sun, called “rose-en-soleil” in heraldry, which is the Royal badge of the Royal house of York, the last member of which to rule England was Richard III (1483-1485). The new flag has been adopted by the Campaign for Yorkshire which is campaigning for a Yorkshire parliament.

THE county of Yorkshire – from where the Stockdale/Stockdill surname principally emanates – is known to all true Yorkshire folk as “God’s Own County.” It is sometimes also referred to as “the Texas of Britain.” This is because it is the largest county in Britain and it has been said that Yorkshire contains more acres in its broad shires than there are words in the Bible. I am not aware that anyone has ever actually managed to confirm this, but it is a fact that Yorkshire people will tell you with pride.What is unchallenged is that for centuries Yorkshire has had within its boundaries around 10% of the population of Britain and this is still true today, the present population being around five-and-a-half million.

Yorkshire folk have always been adventurous and have travelled the world, exporting their culture with them. So, the number of people who can boast Yorkshire ancestry is undoubtedly many millions more than actually live within the county boundaries today. Yorkshire has had more than its share of the famous, including the great 18th century explorer Captain James Cook, who charted the Pacific and Australasia during his epic voyages, and in the world of literature the celebrated trio of sisters, the Brontes, who achieved eternal fame with their novels.

Stretching from the Pennines – the mountain chain known as the “Backbone of England” – in the west to the east coast and the North Sea, Yorkshire is a microcosm of Britain in its huge diversity of scenery. Mountains, wild moorland, limestone scars, rocks of millstone grit, bubbling streams that become foaming rivers, sprawling valleys and dales, rolling wolds – all are contained within its boundaries. Two of Britain’s finest National Parks, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales, are glittering gems that attract visitors from all over the world.

Yorkshire has more castles, magnificent ruined abbeys and monasteries and great stately homes than any other county of Britain – but, then, Yorkshire folk believe they have more of everything! Though the majority of the county is rural and pastoral, much of West Yorkshire is densely populated and heavily industrialised, the great twin cities of Leeds and Bradford once being one of the centres of the world’s woollen industry, while the city of Sheffield in the southern part of the county was famous for its steel.

Yorkshire was the scene of many of the most tumultuous and turbulent events in English history. The Romans occupied what to them was a wild and inhospitable land and there are still Roman roads and other remains to be seen. Then Yorkshire became part of the independent Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria until the next wave of invaders, the fierce Vikings from Scandinavia, came across the North Sea to conquer the land and make it part of the Danelaw. The Vikings found Yorkshire so large and unruly that they divided it into three administrative areas known as Ridings, East, North and West, a riding deriving from the Norse word, “thriding,” literally meaning a third part.

It was at Stamford Bridge, near York, in 1066 that Harold Godwinson, last Anglo Saxon king of England, defeated his brother Tostig who had rebelled against him with the aid of a Danish army. Harold slew both his own brother and the Norse king Hardrada. While still celebrating victory, he heard that William of Normandy had invaded Sussex. Marching his tired and reluctant army rapidly back south, he met William at the Battle of Hastings on what was to become the most seminal date in English history, October 14 1066. Harold fell in the battle, William the Conqueror triumphed and the Conquest of England was complete.

Subsequently, Yorkshire suffered appallingly at the hands of William I in 1069 when, tired of the rebellious behaviour of his wild northern subjects, he embarked on the infamous “Harrying of the North.” In a campaign of fire and sword, he laid waste to the countryside and it was said there was not a town or village left standing between York and Durham. Thousands of people and animals were slaughtered and lay dead by the wayside with nobody to bury them. It took decades for Yorkshire to recover from this terrible massacre.

More momentous events took place during the Wars of the Roses from 1455-1485, culminating in the defeat of the Yorkist monarch Richard III by the Lancastrian usurper Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII. During the Civil War between Charles I and the forces of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell, Yorkshire was divided. The industrial towns of the West Riding and the port of Hull were for Parliament, while the rest of the county mostly sided with the king.

Perhaps because of this long history of struggle and conflict, the Yorkshire character is generally regarded by outsiders as stubborn and independent. I can do no better than quote the Halifax author, Phyllis Bentley, who gave this description in the Shell Guide to England in 1973…..

“The Yorkshire people are by reputation robust in physique, though not especially handsome, efficient and vigorous in their undertakings, blunt in speech and rather well satisfied with themselves. They dislike excessive expressions of emotion and are cautious with strangers, but once they accept you they are staunchly if soberly faithful. They prefer practice to theory. Above all, they are extremely independent. An Abbot of York wrote to Henry VIII: ‘There be such a company of wilful gentlemen within Yorkshire as there be not in all England besides.’ In Queen Elizabeth I’s days the men of Halifax were spoken of as behaving ‘after the rude and arrogant manner of their wilde country.’ It would be rash to suggest that Yorkshire folk have changed much since those days, and this applies to the women as well as to the men. A Yorkshire person has a strong backbone; lean on it but do not try to bend it.”

All true-born Yorkshire folks would utter a hearty “Hear, hear!” to that!

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