Once in Yorkshire, forever in Yorkshire

For several thousand folk, Yorkshire Day can be a poignant occasion, provoking a sense of loss, resentment and peaceful resistance. They are The Exiles, those who were banished across alien borders when parts of the county were lost in local government reorganisation, 30 years ago. John Woodcock reports

There is a part of Lancashire that is forever a prickly white rose. Likewise, for all the best efforts of Oldham Metropolitan Borough across the Pennines, they can't take the largest part of it out of Yorkshire, as events this Sunday will confirm.

It is 30 years since Whitehall civil servants flourished their pencils and in the name of local government reorganisation, in places crossed out more than a thousand years of history.

Mapmakers have since done their bidding. In most modern atlases you'll find chunks of geographical Yorkshire exiled in foreign parts.

For a time the scandal was more far-reaching, but at least north Humberside has been reclaimed by the old East Riding, and for ceremonial purposes at least, Yorkshire again represents more than 300,000 souls who were maroooned in that artificial enclave called Cleveland.

In a few hapless areas elsewhere, however, there remains a sense of lost heritage. The redrawn administrative borders banished West Craven and Bowland into Lancashire, despatched the Sedbergh area of the Dales into Cumbria, and left Bowes and surrounding villages languishing under the yoke of County Durham.

What to do about it? In some parts folk are philosophical and see no point in fighting border wars. So long as they feel secure about their roots, what does it matter that bureaucrats chose to move them?

Even if others are reluctant, Geoff Hoyle, a feisty 83-year-old despite his dicky heart, feels obliged to fight on behalf of around 50,000 Yorkshire folk who find themselves on the wrong side of ancient boundaries which were redrawn in 1974.

He is fighting their cause through organisations such as the Campaign for True Identity and Unite Craven. He's bombarded town halls and government departments with protest letters, and in what passes for subversion west of Skipton, where he lives, has helped erect signs on roads like the A56. They inform drivers that whatever their maps may be telling them, they are not in red rose territory but crossing the original border of Yorkshire.

As Yorkshire Day approaches, he has written to the Yorkshire Post to restate what for him is a passionate case – not always fully-supported by others.

He would have liked to celebrate August 1 with the help of the town crier of Barnoldswick – the largest place to switch sides when West Craven was moved to Lancashire – but the chap has now moved to Cornwall.

Not to worry. "We must not forget," says Hoyle's letter to us, "the unwavering spirit" of the thousands who were forced out of the county and resettled in alien lands. "Their Yorkshire Day will have a special poignancy. The rest of us should help these people return to the fold to make Yorkshire whole once more.

"Their experience shows that we can't take our county for granted. If we do nothing it could well disappear from the map of England."

That's stretching it, of course, especially as the government at the time of the '74 changes made it clear they were for administrative purposes only and that the ancient or geographic counties had not been abolished.

That's all very well, retorts Hoyle and others, but the reality is that some organisations don't make such distinctions and after all this time, tend to acknowledge only the administrative borders.

"The situation has become so confused and misleading, some people are no longer sure where they live. We need stability, an official recognition that the old boundaries are permanent and confirm where people really belong."

They are in no doubt in Diggle, Denshaw, Delph and Dobcross, some of the townships and villages within the former Saddleworth urban district which, along with West Riding county council, disappeared in 1974.

Today, Saddleworth, which can trace its links with the County of York to Norman times, is by far the largest district, in acreage, within Oldham Metropolitan Borough.

That, in theory, puts it in the original Lancashire, except that few among the 25,000 on Saddleworth's electoral roll acknowledge the red rose. On the contrary, the Saddleworth White Rose Society bitterly resents Oldham's domination and claim on it, counters proudly on its website that "Saddleworth is in Yorkshire!", and on Sunday will be making its annual point even more forcefully than usual.

It can also claim some other telling psychological victories.

In addition to being in the phone directory for North-East Manchester, Saddleworth numbers now also appear in the one covering Huddersfield and District. When local people insist on giving their address as Saddleworth, Yorkshire, not everyone gets the point, among them utility companies. A bit of friendly persuasion is sometimes called for, explains Society member Doug Branson.

"They used to fob us off with the excuse that as we were part of Oldham Metropolitan Borough, the computer wouldn't accept our Yorkshire addresses. When that happens now, people say to them, fine, we'll switch to a supplier who will.

"There's usually a pause and back they come to say, sorry, we can do it after all. It's amazing what can be achieved through applying a little commercial pressure."

Ideally, Saddleworth would like to break away from Oldham's control, and become part of a new rural authority serving Pennine areas within Yorkshire.

That, for the moment, is a dream, but Yorkshire Day certainly isn't. This year's is an extra special event, aimed partly at those who are newcomers to the area.

On a playing field in Uppermill there will be four hours of entertainment featuring local brass bands, displays detailing the history of Saddleworth, stalls selling Yorkshire plaques and other merchandise, and the reading of the ancient Yorkshire Declaration of Integrity.

Yorkshire flags will fly, and shops and businesses have been invited to decorate their windows with a suitably white-rose theme.

It is, says the organisers, "a strong, clear statement that the people of Saddleworth are proud to be Yorkshire folk".

Those in the gas and electricity companies may be dismissive sometimes, and new maps don't help, but there are those in high places who appreciate the campaign.

"The fact that Saddleworth is still part of the historic West Riding of Yorkshire is extremely important." Who said that on September 3, 2004?

Only the Prince of Wales.