My Yorkshire: Professor Joann Fletcher

Immortal Egypt with Joann Fletcher.
Immortal Egypt with Joann Fletcher.
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Professor Joann Fletcher was born in Barnsley in 1966, and works in the department of archaeology at York University. She is also a best-selling author, a popular broadcaster both on TV and radio, and is currently presenting Immortal Egypt on BBC2.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Playing in the parks around Barnsley, especially Locke Park with its iconic tower which has been recently restored and reopened and which offers some spectacular views across South Yorkshire’s countryside. My late mother used to take me there when I was very small, and when my younger sister Kathryn came along, I’d push her in her pram.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

It’s hard to decide between the stunning countryside around Barnsley where I was born and grew up, or the spectacular coast between Filey and Scarborough where I spent my childhood holidays. So it has to be both.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

A perfect weekend would involve time with my family on the beach at Scarborough or Filey, combined with a busman’s holiday in the fab museums at Harrogate, Barnsley or York, and perhaps a bit of retail therapy in Leeds. My partner Dr. Stephen Buckley and I share a lot of the same interests – in fact, we met when he came to an Egyptology talk I was giving in Leeds. Someone said to me the other day that “We met over a mummy” would be a marvellous title if I ever wrote my autobiography, and I think they’re right.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

Castle Headland, Scarborough – both for the walk and view. The castle is a place that I love, and I go there often. It was a fort in Roman times, and was probably used as a look-out spot even before then, so the history of the place goes back for millennia.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

I don’t know much about sport, but I recently attended a fantastic Egyptian-themed dinner (thrown by Beverley Rotary Club) with Dr Assem Allam, Egyptian-born owner of Hull City Football Club, and he turned out to be a fascinating chap.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

It would be either Judi Dench or Sean Bean. Dame Judi can play just about anything, and always does it so superbly well. And Sean Bean……well, he ticks all the boxes for me. I love his accent, I could listen to him talking with my eyes closed, and it would send shiver up and down my spine.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?

Barnsley’s new museum, although with more than 65,000 people through the door in the first few months of opening, I suppose it isn’t all that hidden. The place is a history of what made Barnsley, right from the earliest times up to today, and I think that it is a hugely dynamic space. If you haven’t been yet, then go!

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Its people - Yorkshire folk have always retained a real sense of identity and an enormous pride in where they come from. Plus it has the very best of everything, and nowhere else can really compare.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

Well, the restaurant at Brooklands (in the Holiday Inn) in Barnsley is always very good, as are Silks’ Fish & Chips in Scarborough. I don’t think that there’s anything quite like enjoying lovely piping hot fish and chips when you are by the sea. They just taste wonderful, what a combination.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

For the better I think. Of course our countryside and places like Scarborough and York have always attracted tourists – but towns and cities like Barnsley and Leeds have also improved immeasurably in recent years. I also think the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ team have done so much good here, certainly raising Yorkshire’s profile world-wide. More power to their collective elbows, I say.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

My late mum, Susan Fletcher, no question. She was a marvellous woman, a brilliant and wonderful lady, and when I announced, at about the age of six, that I would like to be an Egyptologist, she didn’t turn a hair or tell me not to be so foolish. She just said: ‘If that’s your ambition, then go for it’. She and dad even sent me off to Egypt, with an aunt, when I was 15-years-old, and I’ll never ever be able to tell them how much I appreciated their backing and support.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Enormously. Other than my family, I have two great passions in my life, Egypt and Yorkshire, which we combine in the ‘Egypt in Yorkshire’ Project based at the University of York. Over the last quarter of a century we’ve found numerous (if sometimes completely unexpected) connections between these two amazing places, going back over two thousand years and right up to the present day.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

I do love the views of the Yorkshire coast created by the Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw and currently by Ian Mitchell – very different styles of course, but both brilliant at evoking a real sense of place triggering all kinds of memories.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

That’s a tough choice – but it would have to be York Minster, both for the incredible beauty of the actual building and the historic importance of the site over the last 1,800 years. In many ways it really feels like ‘the beating heart’ of Yorkshire. Some [people find it hard to believe that York was, for many years, right at the centre of the Roman Empire. It was a phenomenally important place.

As a historian, if you could bring back one person to talk to, and to find out more about them, who would it be?

I don’t have to think about that – it would be Cleopatra, who was an amazing individual. Any woman who could keep the Romans at bay for 20 years has to be pretty clever, eh?