‘no mean city’
Whan tha can sey Castle ‘Ill, that’rt ‘ooam, lad!
The Promised Land
The Setting for the Gem that is Huddersfield
I am a Yorkshire lad, and proud of it. I was born and bred in Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Riding is an old term derived from thriding or third. When I was a boy, the term ‘boy’ was used only to describe a child that had just been born and was male. Thereafter boys were called ‘lad.’
There was something special about being a lad because it identified you as part of the noble tribe of Yorkshire folk who were, it is commonly known, a special breed, blessed by God to possess the broad acres and placed in God’s scheme of things somewhat ahead of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
We spoke a language of a different order than other mortals. Broad Yorkshire, a true dialect, is derived from Old Scandinavian.
English Yorkshire Norwegian
Play lake leike
Flea lop loppe
Fist nieve neve
Child bairn barn
Yorkshire folk were different from the rest of the British islanders, having originally come ashore in order to perpetrate a reign of terror among the inhabitants. We managed that all right, and then settled down to plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, tend sheep and cattle, prettify the place in general, and propagate our unique genes and culture.
Some became jealous of us. This is especially true of those dwelling to our west on the gentle slopes of the Pennines and on the flatlands that reach the Irish Sea. Their envy even extended to efforts to copy our dialect. They failed in this because they couldn’t manage to reproduce true Yorkshire vowels. Yorkshiremen say “Ovver thee-ah,” whilst Lancastrian can only achieve “Ow-vurr thurr.” Even to this day, Yorkshire vowels are the shibboleths that prevent upstart Lancastrians from passing themselves off as their betters.
Yorkshire has had a lot of history, most of it is too well known to require a second telling here. It involves cricket; a game probably invented by Yorkshiremen since no one else plays it quite as well. The sad fact is that for several years now the Yorkshire cricket team has gone soft to let someone else have a chance at winning summat. I know that some will have a hard time believing that, in spite of the reputation that Yorkshire folk have for generosity, fair play, and even self-sacrifice, should the cause demand it.
William the Conqueror didn’t like Yorkshire people. He considered them rough and independent. We’d not argue with that. After all, we had managed without a king for a very long time and things were going well enough for us without him sticking his oar in. But, he had this unification bee in his bonnet and wanted to combine the British kingdoms into one big one and call it England. All we wanted was to be left alone. But would he? He would not! He sent his armies up here and they knew they had been in a fight. He took our determined resistance hard and so in a fit of pique went on to decimate our homeland. After slaughtering almost all the Yorkshire folk, he planted sheep on our hills and moors, and went back down south.
To this day, Yorkshire folk don’t trust anyone from London, and that is plainly the fault of King William, otherwise known as William the Conqueror, the Duc de Normandie.
What William didn’t know was that we were making a comeback. When he thought of Yorkshire, he thought of sheep. After decimating the population of the Broad Acres, he set sheep loose to graze among the ruins, on the moors, and homesteads. But, whilst his sheep were foraging among the scrubby grasslands we were quietly breeding and raising new generations to think for themselves, to be independent, suspicious, resolute, stubborn to the point of pig-headedness, dour, and taciturn, unless we had something to say, and intently harbouring nasty-minded suspicions about anyone who comes from the South, a throw-back to William who came to Yorkshire from that direction.
Yorkshire folk are well known for being blunt, and are especially helpful if you want to know your shortcomings, which information is not only delivered as a complimentary service, but also with the imperative sense of Divine Mission.
Yorkshire was more or less determined by geographical considerations. Lots of things about Yorkshire have to be understood against a background of more or less. In spite of someone writing a book about it, there is no South Riding. Had Sheffield ever been considered as rising to the prominence it did, there would almost certainly have been a place made for a fourth riding, even though the arithmetic would not have worked as well.
To the West Riding, whose western boundary lies beyond the western slopes of the Pennine Chain overlooking Lancashire, a permanent reminder to its denizens that they had overseers of a superior kind, was granted the honour of becoming the finest worsted weavers in the world, overtaking those who had plied their craft in East Anglia in earlier, less enlightened times.
The chemical industry reached its maturity there also, as many a crumbling building that fell foul of their foul fumes mutely attest. Net curtains lasted an average of six months in houses within a five miles radius of Huddersfield’s chemical factories. Heavy engineering, made possible simply by the strength of back and arm of Yorkshiremen, developed in the growing urban townscapes.
The West Riding is synonymous with hard work. Its towns and village spread in places where there was little room for sprawl, and so they stood shoulder-to-shoulder back-to-back, and even on top of each other, to fit themselves into too little landscape for too many people, and too many mills and other places of labour. People could not live without them, for bread does not grow on trees, but as they helped the folk survive, they exacted a grim toll in return. But the day came when the factories did not need as many workers, and they threw them out coldly.