It was on the 1st of August 1834 that the Slavery Abolition Act came into force thanks to the efforts of William Wilberforce, a Yorkshireman.
We cannot underestimate what courage it took to bring down a financial system built on the broken and bloodied backs of our fellow human beings. Due to his protestations and those of his supporters, 800,000 enslaved people were set free. It is a joyful coincidence, that Yorkshire Day should take place each year on that day.
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I have lived for all but three years within the boundaries of the county and would not change that for anything. It has been the greatest privilege of my life. No matter where in the world I go, if I am asked where I am from, I instinctively reply... Yorkshire.
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Irish blood may be in my veins, but it is a Yorkshire heart that gives me life. Having travelled the length and breadth of this country, there is something utterly wonderful and unique about Yorkshire. Often, we take living here for granted. The beauty, diversity, friendliness and tolerance, make it a special place with special people.
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Yorkshire people are different. We can be stubborn and obstinate, but our hearts are open and on the whole, we would help anyone in need. There is a terrier spirit about us and we are often ready for a fight when we see injustice. Take us on at your peril. History is littered with the accounts of blood spilled on battlefields such as Stamford Bridge and Orgreave.
It is only right that we celebrate the great place where we are blessed to live. Yorkshire Day was founded in 1975 by the Ridings Society as a protest movement against the local government reorganisation of the county. In one fell swoop, thousands of acres of the county had been renamed Humberside, Lancashire, and Cleveland, stripping the local people of a thousand years of heritage. It took 20 years for the powers that be to see common sense and reinstate East Yorkshire. Not that it should end there. As it says in the Yorkshire Declaration that is read out in celebration, Yorkshire is three Ridings and the City of York, with these Boundaries of 1134 years standing.
I for one would like to see the Ridings reinstated back to their historic boundaries. Give us back Saddleworth, The Forest of Bowland and Middlesbrough. We are an ancient county that deserves to have our historic borders.
Such an ancient and historical shire as ours needs to have political recognition. We deserve to have devolved powers, with York as our capital. Never forget that the economy of Yorkshire is equal if not greater than that of Scotland and bigger than that of Wales. We have a clear sense of identity, culture, language and purpose. We are more than a county and if we were on the continent of Europe, would be considered a viable country. In fact, Yorkshire has a bigger population than eight countries in the EU. I am amazed that it was an SNP Member of Parliament who argued that it was offensive to suggest that a region of England had the same status as Scotland. How wrong and arrogant he was.
Yorkshire has unique needs, that only a self-governing county can take care of. It was the historian and poet Sir Herbert Read who said that Yorkshire was an island cut off from the rest of England by rivers, fens, mountains and moors. We are a distinct geographical area, with a distinct culture and heritage, that self-determination and financial control would enhance. It is so desperately wrong for decisions about our future to be taken in London.
Putting another rail line from Leeds to Manchester, won’t put things right in our county. Having a bike race once a year isn’t going to put us on the world map. Yorkshire is greater than that. If Boris wants to do something for this county, then now is the time for him to give us our own referendum on a Yorkshire Assembly. This week, as we celebrate all that is good in Yorkshire, we should shout loud and strong that we are not a northern backwater where men drink warm beer and keep whippets.
There is so much to be proud of in this county. We have castles, abbeys, minsters and churches galore. Our food is more than just Yorkshire pudding and fish and chips. We can boast about some of the finest restaurants in Britain. Film-makers flock here to use the glorious landscape as a backdrop. Yorkshire has produced some of the world’s finest writers, musicians and actors.
Yorkshire is more than a county. It is a living legend where history meets the future and the wildest ideas can be turned into reality. However, our greatest asset is not the land on which we stand, but the Yorkshire people who stand upon it.