The largest county in England, is bounded to the south by the Humber (which formed part of the ancient dividing line between northern and southern England), to the north by the Tees, and extends east–westwards from the North Sea into the Pennine hills, corresponding to lands settled by Halfdan's invading Danish army after 876. They divided it into three ridings (‘thridings’) for easier administration, the meeting‐place for the north riding being at the Yarles tree (probably near Thirsk), that for the east riding at Craikhow (near Beverley), and possibly York for the west riding; the subdivisions called wapentakes took their names from the meeting‐places of their courts. The Danes were by no means the first European settlers: Eboracum (York) had been provincial capital of the Romans' Britannia Secunda, 6th‐cent. Angles had formed the nucleus of the kingdom of Deira, and some Norse immigration had occurred in the west from Lancashire and Westmorland. After the Norman Conquest, William's ‘harrying of the north’ left devastation, reflected in the Domesday survey. The might of the Norman barons was symbolized by their castles (Knaresborough, Richmond, Scarborough).
York and Beverley's decline in the Tudor wool trade was the West Riding's gain, and it became one of the three major regions of the English cloth industry; Sheffield's cutlery industry was well established, Hull became one of England's busiest outports, and Whitby a coaling port. Yorkshire's integration into national life steadily increased. Defoe found early Georgian Yorkshire endowed with thriving market towns (Doncaster, Ripon, Richmond), though he was more impressed by its horses and stone bridges than its spas. But the pace of industry was increasing, aided by improvements in the road network, canals to implement an already extensive river system and accelerated enclosure; the east and north ridings remained predominantly agricultural or moorland, but the west riding was transformed, since it sat at the northern edge of a huge coalfield that additionally contained iron. Leeds became the principal seat of woollen manufacture, Bradford the centre of the worsted trade, and Sheffield the focal point of the iron and steel industry, all experiencing massive increases in population and associated social problems. The advent of the railway in the 19th cent. (including the heroic Settle–Carlisle line) opened up some once isolated places while York developed into an important railway centre. In the remaining decades before local government reorganization (1972), when the ridings were swept away, traditional industries (textiles, coal, iron and steel) declined, but the strong sense of community barely wavered. A separate country to many because of its intense local patriotism—cricketers born outside Yorkshire were long ineligible to play for the county—the blunt‐spoken, thrifty inhabitants retain an identity that many other shires have lost.
Subjects: British History.