It takes all sorts to make history

SCHOLARLY research questioning the extent of King Henry VIII’s control over the white rose county won its academic author the coveted Yorkshire History Prize last month.

But according to Michael Bradford, secretary of the Yorkshire Society, anyone supposing the award to be the exclusive honour of the historical elite is mistaken, with winners as varied as a farmer’s wife and a bank clerk.

“We are finding that more and more people are interested in history, including the history of their own town and family,” he said.

“We want to emphasise that the past is not just for those who have studied history formally for a degree.”

To encourage people to join historians proper in unearthing Yorkshire’s rich history, the Yorkshire History prize was established 14 years ago when the West Yorkshire County Council granted the society 5,000.

Over the years the winning entries have ranged from essays on Percy Shaw, of Halifax, who invented the “cat’s eye” reflecting road studs, to the evacuation of Leeds schoolchildren at the outbreak of the Second World War and Catholic women in Yorkshire from the time of the Reformation in 1536 until the Civil War in 1642.

The list of prize-winners is also varied.

This year’s winner was academic historian Dr Tim Thornton of Huddersfield University, who won this year’s long historical prize for challenging the common view of historians that a 1541 visit to York by King Henry VIII sealed his dominance over the county.

Phyllis Crossland, of Oxspring, near Penistone, won the competition’s long essay prize in 1999 for her vivid account of the changing nature of life in the parish of Hunshelf, near Penistone, from 1700.

She picked up another prize this year for her original work on the changing valley of Little Don from rural land to the emergence of the sooty, steel-driven town of Stocksbridge by the mid-19th century.

She said: “When I lived near there in the 1940s it was a busy, smoke-filled town, but when I was researching into history I discovered that in 1700 there wasn’t even a place called Stocksbridge.

“I love the academic life – I’m always reading history books, but I’ve been a farmer’s wife, brought up three children, done farm work and driven tractors.”

Now 80, Eric Webster, from Halifax, won in 1994 with his work, which focused on a report into the terrible sanitary conditions in Halifax in the 1850s, a state of affairs that led to the vast social and health changes over the next 50 years.

The former navy engineer said yesterday he was now planning to write a long essay on the industry of the Calder Valley to enter in next year’s competition.

To enter next year’s competition, contact Prof Barrie Dobson on 01904 613500 or Michael Bradford on 0113 2752439. The closing date for entries is May 1.

alex.buller@ypn.co.uk