Ridings of Yorkshire: Looking at the historical boundary of Yorkshire 50 years on from Local Government Act of 1972

Fifty years ago, corners of Yorkshire were seemingly ceded to neighbouring counties while other parts took on new names. Paul Kirkwood sees the how fight for the county’s integrity continues. Plus, in our special report on pages 14 and 15, we look at the the impact of boundary changes brought in on April Fool’s Day 1974.

When is a county not a county? That was the question that arose on April 1, 1974 which marked the implementation of the Local Government Act of 1972. The historical boundary of Yorkshire, consisting of the three Ridings centred on York, stayed in place but local government areas were redrawn.

The jurisdictions of the four new county councils, namely South, West, North and the East Riding of Yorkshire (renamed Humberside) no longer fully coincided with the extent of the Ridings, casting some places on the fringes of the historical county into new administrative areas.

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Among the changes, a corner of the North Pennines transferred to County Durham, Sedbergh to Cumbria, part of the Forest of Bowland to Lancashire and Saddleworth to Oldham Metropolitan Borough.

The sign for Yarm, proudly in the North Riding of YorkshireThe sign for Yarm, proudly in the North Riding of Yorkshire
The sign for Yarm, proudly in the North Riding of Yorkshire

Ridings committee member Nigel Wilkin, of Yarm, was one of those people living in the hinterland of the county that found themselves within a new administrative area, in his case Stockton-on-Tees Borough.

“In 1974 I was photographed as a 13-year-old with my brother in front of a large stone that the Yarm sign stands above which for donkeys years said ‘Yarm’ then underneath ‘North Riding of Yorkshire’. I remember walking past that stone day after day when I went to school north of the river. Then the sign disappeared and it took until 2017 to get it back in place. The fact that it describes the Riding as historic doesn’t mean that it’s no longer there but that the Riding has a great history,” he recalls.

“The Ridings are about identity and place. We should all have real pride in where we come from, be it Yorkshire, Durham, Lancashire or wherever. I feel so passionate about the issue particularly when people who should know better turn around and say, ‘Oh no, you live in such and such now. Your town was in Yorkshire’.

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“Well, no. As far as I’m concerned it still is. It’s a fact rather than my opinion that I continue to live in the county. Yarm is part of a county which is a geographical place with a long history. It just happens to be administered by a non-Yorkshire council. Place and council are entirely different but co-exist together.”

Nigel’s feelings continued to run high into parenthood when he registered his daughter’s birth. The original certificate specified the birthplace as Middlesbrough, Cleveland.

“With a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and speaking politely and respectfully to people I got the address changed to Middlesbrough, Yorkshire. But why should we have to fight for that? If national government in 1974 had made a clear delineation between local government areas and perhaps called them councils rather than county councils then we wouldn’t have the confusion we have now.

“In the days of Cleveland and Humberside [names used for parts of the Ridings from 1974 to 1996] I used to compare Yorkshire to Europe. You might not necessarily say you’re passionate about your county but what if suddenly the UK became a zone of Europe and lost its names of England, Scotland and Wales. Places are where you come from and are so desperately important.”

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Nigel is far from the only person with such passions. Fellow Yorkshire Ridings Society committee member and founder of the Association of British Counties in 1990, Michael Bradford, wrote a book titled The Fight of Yorkshire.

“It was an attempt to explain the reactions of people up and down the county to a sense of dislocation they felt without moving house and their resistance to the changes,” he says.

Another member, Ross Patterson, published a book three years ago called The Yorkshire 600 in which he plots a 600-mile road trip around the Ridings border.

Meanwhile, celebrity astrologer Russell Grant is an advocate of historic counties and has written a book about them.

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The YRS was formed in the wake of the local government reorganisation to make it clear to people that, as the government stated in 1974, the Ridings and other historic counties continue to exist despite the political boundary changes. The YRS continues to make its point to this day, in particular campaigning for more road signs to denote Ridings boundaries.

Another key aspect of its work is the promotion of Yorkshire Day, one of several county days across the UK.

It’s been held on August 1 every yearsince 1975, originally to commemorate theRidings boundary. YRS members chose this date as it was the day when Yorkshire soldiers who had fought at the Battle of Minden in Germany during the Seven Years War in 1759 picked white roses as tributes to their dead comrades.

Members gather at four York Bars, belonging to each of the Ridings and the City of York, to hear the Yorkshire Declaration of Integrity pronounced in English, Old English and Latin.

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A less arcane perpetuation of historic counties including the Ridings is their continued adoption by some sporting bodies. Amateur football is organised by the Football Association according to the historic counties with competitions like the West and North Riding County Cups keeping the Ridings flag flying high.

The edges are more blurred when it comes to cricket. The Yorkshire Cricket Board, which supports the grassroots game, encompasses today’s county council regions.

The YRS is addressing the situation by paying for cricket coaching at Headingley for Saddleworth School in Uppermill and Settlebeck School in Sedbergh which lie outside the administrative counties. Meanwhile, Sedbergh School stages home fixtures for both Cumbria and Lancashire county cricket clubs.

The ultimate cricketing conundrum perhaps faces players at Todmorden cricket club.

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The border between the West Riding and Lancashire follows the former course of the River Calder and the Walsden Water, right through the cricket pitch and town hall. Nowhere can there be greater divided loyalties.

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