Malcolm Barker: Are we tight-fisted Tykes or secretly generous givers?

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FROM the never-never land called Yorkshire and Humber comes a threat to Yorkshire folks’ hard-won reputation for, well, downright meanness and curmudgeonliness.

According to a report from a body known as Involve Yorkshire & Humber, volunteers in the county during a single year gave £100bn worth of their time to charitable and voluntary work.

Involve Yorkshire & Humber also proclaimed that community and voluntary organisations, known in bureaucratic jargon as the Third Sector, brought in an income of £1.62bn in one year, which presumably represents the sum accrued in the form of grants, donations and gifts.

That other figure of £100bn is staggering. It would occupy too much space to print it fully with all the noughts, as was once the style demanded by The Yorkshire Post. It may have been arrived at by some statistical means, but not surely by a mass poll of volunteers? A man firing a steam engine on a preserved railway, or a lady rattling a tin would hardly take kindly to being asked to put a price on their time.

The computed figures are truly eye-watering, especially to those of us brought up in the belief that the true spirit of Yorkshire was expressed in the lines:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt,

Eat all, sup all, pay nowt,

An’ if ivver tha does owt for nowt.

Do it for thissen...

It is not difficult to make a case for believing that Tykes take a certain pride in their reputation for being canny with their money.

There is, for example, the notorious Yorkshire coat-of arms depicting a fly, a flea, a magpie and a flitch of bacon, believed to have been first drawn by Thomas Tegg in London in 1812. The accompanying explanation goes:

A fly will tipple with anyone, so will a Yorkshireman. A flea will bite anyone, so will a Yorkshireman. A magpie will chatter with anyone, so will a Yorkshireman. A flitch of bacon is never good for anything till it has been hanged up; no more is a Yorkshireman.

Elsewhere in the country, this would probably be taken as exceedingly unflattering. However it has survived because it is repeatedly included in books, including Yorkshire Whys, Wherefores, Whats and Whens by Roy Ulyett (Dalesman Books 1987), Yorkshire Dialect Classics by Arnold Kellett (Dalesman, 2005) and the same author’s Yorkshire Dictionary (Smith Settle, 1994). The conclusion must be that there is considerable regard in the county for Mr Tegg’s sally.

It is as though we do not really expect to be admired, but do appreciate that respect for the ethos of the Ridings is sufficient. Bill Bowes, the Yorkshire and England fast bowler who once skittled Don Bradman for a duck, and later wrote about cricket for the Yorkshire Evening Post, recalled that the great Championship side of Yorkshiremen led by Brian Sellers did not expect to be liked, but enjoyed respect shown for their professionalism.

I was born in Whitby, but spent early boyhood years outside the county. I was brought up to relish canniness, though, and we had an exemplar in the family in my paternal grandfather, William Groves Barker, editor of the Whitby Gazette. He was actually decorated for thrift, being appointed MBE for his work for the National Savings Movement.

Grandad still fell short of the likes of Old John Mealy-Face of Thirsk, who ensured that his flour was not pilfered by pressing his face in its surface before leaving home, and ensuring that his countenance fitted the indentation on his return. There were plenty of acts of neighbourly generosity in Whitby. We lived near Mr Storr, a keel-boat skipper, and our storm-porch was often filled with prime cod landed that morning, or live crabs clicking around on their claws.

However, we suspected that true Yorkshire meanness reached its apogee in the West Riding. This was confirmed when a comparative newcomer from Bradford announced he would no longer be joining us for dominoes at the Cutty Sark. He thought he had been short-changed, for when he counted his money before going to bed he found himself a penny light.

Fortunately, his separations from Russell and Wrangham’s fine ale did not last long. On our next visit, the landlady produced a penny found under the table where we had been sitting.

Overall, it seems unlikely that Involve Yorkshire & Humber’s report will erode Yorkshire’s perception of itself as unwilling to lavish its brass. It may have put that to the test by charging £39 a copy for its report.

These of us who prefer to keep our money safely trousered may reflect with pride that the idea behind our national dish was saving money. Remember? “Them as eats maist pudding gets maist meat.” A good stuffing of Yorkshires left little room for the joint. Sithee!

Malcolm Barker is a former editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post.