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Definition: Yorkshire from The Columbia Encyclopedia

former county, N England. From 1889 to 1974 it formed three counties, the East Riding, North Riding, and West Riding of Yorkshire. In 1974, Yorkshire was divided among the nonmetropolitan counties of Humberside, Cleveland, and North Yorkshire and the metropolitan counties of South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. All but North Yorkshire were later dissolved as units of local elected government, and the East Riding of Yorkshire was largely reestablished as a unitary authority in 1996. The East Riding of Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and South Yorkshire remain ceremonial counties under the Lieutenancies Act.

Summary Article: Yorkshire
From Brewer's Britain and Ireland


Formerly the largest county in England, bounded on the north by the Tees and County Durham, to the east by the North Sea, to the south by the Humber, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and to the west, over the Pennines, by Cheshire, Lancashire and Westmorland. After the Danes invaded in the 9th century they divided Yorkshire into three ‘ridings’ (see the RIDINGS OF YORKSHIRE), and the administrative divisions of the NORTH RIDING, the WEST RIDING and the EAST RIDING OF YORKSHIRE continued up to the local government reorganization of 1974. Yorkshire was then divided into the counties of NORTH YORKSHIRE, WEST YORKSHIRE and SOUTH YORKSHIRE, with most of the East Riding being lumped, along with northern LINCOLNSHIRE, into HUMBERSIDE. In 1996 Humberside was abolished and the East Riding restored.

Throughout all these changes Yorkshire has kept its own strong identity, its badge of the white rose (see House of York under YORK)-although in a 2004 poll the people of Yorkshire treacherously voted for the harebell as their county flower-and above all its county cricket club, perhaps the most ardently followed in England (Yorkshire fathers have been known to drive mothers in labour great distances so that their sons are born in the county and therefore entitled to play for its club).

In an England cricket eleven, the flesh may be of the South, but the bone is of the North, and the backbone is Yorkshire.

Sir Len Hutton (1916–90)

Yorkshiremen, more than other Northerners, are known for their forthrightness and taciturnity, although their great rivals over the Pennines have their own opinions as to the virtues of their neighbours:

Shake a bridle over a Yorkshireman's grave and he will rise and steal a horse.

Lancashire saying

While Yorkshiremen are more than content with their geographical situation, it has not always appealed to the pampered metropolitan soul, the Rev. Sydney Smith famously remarking:

My living in Yorkshire was so far out of the way, that it was actually twelve miles from a lemon.

Even today, there are those who share Smith's sense of disorientation when finding themselves in the county:

A huddle of cows are gloating in front of me. A gaggle of chickens is shrieking with laughter behind me. I am in hell. I am in a place called Yorkshire.

Johann Hari: in The Independent (1 October 2004)

A native of Yorkshire is sometimes referred to as a tyke (or tike), a long-established nickname (deriving from the OScand tik, meaning a ‘dog’ or ‘cur’), that appears formerly to have specifically denoted a clownish rustic of the county. The term has now mostly shed its derogatory implications, and appears to be mainly used by Yorkshiremen themselves with a certain suggestion of pride in their county and its gritty, no-nonsense character. Thus it is encountered (in plural form) in sporting contexts to refer to teams representing Yorkshire, especially its county cricket club (but see also BARNSLEY1 and LEEDS1). A headline such as ‘Tykes snatch last-gasp victory in Roses match’ would be certain to gladden the heart of any Yorkshireman.

The ongoing debate as to whether Robin Hood hailed from Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire resurfaced in the press in early 2004, with one correspondent handing down a decisive verdict:

As Robin Hood wore bright green clothes, had a band of merry, not gruff, men and gave his money away, there is no way he could have hailed from Yorkshire.

Steve Little: letter to The Guardian (24 January 2004)

Yorkshire itself remains untroubled by such barbs. Its attitude is summed up in an editorial of The Fryer, the organ of the Yorkshire Federation of Fish Fryers, which reacted to the proposed rationing of dripping in 1918 thus:

Animal fat for the dominant race. Animal fat for the dominant county within that race.

In cricketing terms Yorkshire is a ‘first-class’ county. Yorkshire County Cricket Club was founded at the Adelphi Hotel, Sheffield, on 8 January 1863, and was a founder member of the county championship when that competition was officially constituted in 1890. It is traditionally regarded as one of the two strongest county sides, along with Surrey, having won the competition on 31 occasions, but 30 of these successes came between 1895 and 1968, with one solitary championship (2001) since that date. Its famous players have included George Hirst, Wilfred Rhodes, Percy Holmes, Herbert Sutcliffe, Hedley Verity, Len Hutton (see PUDSEY), Fred Trueman (see STAINTON), Ray Illingworth, Geoffrey Boycott (see FITZWILLIAM), Darren Gough (see BARNSLEY1) and Michael Vaughan (the latter in fact a Lancastrian by birth). Yorkshire's home ground is HEADINGLEY Cricket Ground, Leeds. See also NORTH YORK MOORS and YORKSHIRE DALES.

come Yorkshire over someone, to

A 19th-century slang term meaning to cheat someone which derives from the stereotyping of Yorkshire people (see Yorkshire bite below).

Number One, Yorkshire

A nickname for the first house on the Great North Road in BAWTRY.

‘Old Woman in Yorkshire, The’

A folk song beginning:

There was an old woman in Yorkshire, in Yorkshire did dwell,

She loved her husband dearly and another man twice as well.

In order to have her way with the latter she makes a concoction out of marrowbones to make her husband lose his sight. Apparently overwhelmed with grief at his blindness, the old man begs his wife to lead him to the river so that he can drown himself. Once there he begs her to push him in, but dodges out of the way at the last minute, so pitching her into the water:

She swam until she floated unto the river's brim.

The old man took his walking stick and shoved her further in.

Yorkshire Association

An association formed in 1779 to petition Parliament to reduce political patronage. Conservatives regarded it as dangerously seditious.

Yorkshire bite

A 19th-century slang term for a greedy person, deriving from the stereotyping of Yorkshire people as mean and grasping.

Yorkshire compliment

A 19th-century slang term for a useless gift (and one that costs the donor nothing).

Yorkshire Day

1st August. The day was established in 1975 by the Yorkshire Ridings Society in reaction to the local government reorganization of the previous year that abolished the Ridings of Yorkshire and handed part of the county to Humberside.

Yorkshire Feast Song

An ode to music by Henry Purcell (1690), with a text by Thomas D'Urfey. It was written for the annual feast of eminent Yorkshiremen (many of them cloth merchants) resident in London, and the words celebrate the superiority of Yorkshire grit over metropolitan languor. Among other things the lyrics recount the birth of the Emperor Constantine in York and the role of Yorkshiremen in bringing over William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution.

Yorkshire fog

A species of grass, Holcus lanatus, with pink or white branched flower heads in spikes and downy leaves. It is tolerant of acid conditions and unpalatable to grazers except when young.

Yorkshire hog

An 18th-century term for a castrated ram.

Yorkshireman's toast

A traditional toast in the county:

Here's tiv us, all on us; may we never want nowt,

noan on us; nor me nawther.

Only pampered metropolitan souls (see above) should require a translation.

Yorkshire mixtures

A mixture of boiled sweets of different kinds, said to have come about when confectioner Joseph Dobson slipped and dropped a mixture of boiled sweets on the floor.

Yorkshire motto.

Hear all, see all, say nowt,

Eat all, sup all, pay nowt,

And if tha’ ever does owt for nowt,

Do it for thissen.

(thissen ‘thyself)

Yorkshire penny bank

A 20th-century rhyming-slang term meaning ‘an act of masturbation’ (Yorkshire penny bank = wank).

Yorkshire pole

A unit of measurement equivalent to 7 yards, as opposed to the normal pole (or rod or perch), measuring 51/2 yards.

Yorkshire Post, The

A daily newspaper founded as the Leeds Intelligencer on 2 July 1754. It adopted its present title in 1866. In November 1939 it absorbed the even older Leeds Mercury, which was founded in 1718. It is the second oldest daily newspaper in the United Kingdom, after the Belfast News-Letter (see under BELFAST) which first appeared in 1737.

Yorkshire pudding

A small puffy, light pudding made by baking batter, usually served with roast beef and gravy, and so comprising an essential element of England's national dish. George Borrow would have us believe that the Romany name for Yorkshire is Guyo-mengreskey tern, meaning ‘pudding eaters’ country’.

Yorkshire Rasputin, the

A nickname given to Bernard Ingham (b.1932), former journalist and Labour candidate, who was press secretary to Margaret Thatcher throughout her premiership. The name refers to the ‘Mad Monk’ who had such a sinister influence over the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, and was applied to Ingham (a Yorkshireman) because of his mastery of the ‘black arts’ of spin-doctoring.

Yorkshire Ripper, the

The media nickname for Peter Sutcliffe (b.1946), murderer of some 13 women over a five-year period from 1975. The name was based on that of Jack the Ripper, the unknown murderer of several prostitutes in the East End of London in the late 1880s, the term relating to the gross mutilation of the bodies. In contemporary rhyming slang, Yorkshire rippers denotes ‘slippers’.

Yorkshire stone

Another name for York stone (see under YORK).

Yorkshire terrier

A miniature long-haired terrier, with a ‘blue’ and tan coat. They are known familiarly as yorkies.

Yorkshire Tragedy, A

A Jacobean domestic tragedy, published in 1608 with Shakespeare's name on the title page, but more likely to have been written by Thomas Middleton. It is based on a real-life crime in which a man, repenting his depraved life, for some reason proceeded to murder his innocent wife and children.

Yorkshire tyke or tike

See above.

Yorkshire way-bit

A slang term, in use from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century, denoting a distance in excess of one mile. Way-bit means ‘wee bit’ (i.e. a short distance).

Yorkshire window

A type of sash window that opened horizontally, and not requiring counterweights. It is thought to have been invented by a Yorkshireman in the 17th century.

Yorkshire Witch, the

Another name for the Witch of Leeds (see under LEEDS1).

Copyright © Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005

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