By Corinne Yeadon, Being Better
Yorkshire is often affectionately and proudly referred to as “God’s Own Country,” however this reverential nickname seems reserved for the splendour of the Yorkshire Dales and Moors rather than its urban towns and cities. The perception then appears to be of crime and destitution. Yorkshire is not without areas of deprivation and hardship, although areas elsewhere in England have their share. Arguably in areas in the South, the chasm between “the haves and have nots” is significantly wider.
My home town of Keighley never fails to factor in the “Worst Places To Live” irrespective of being equidistant from the buzzing city of Leeds and The Dales. Haworth is also on our doorstep and has all the romantic wildness and beauty reflected in the novels of the Bronte sisters. West Yorkshire has had some bad press over the years and is nowhere near as upscale as its North Yorkshire
counterpart but retains genuine appeal and hosts magnificent buildings echoing more affluent times.
Manchester city centre has reinvented itself, transforming urban decay and dilapidated buildings into luxury living spaces, high-end shops and swanky restaurants. There are numerous crumbling textile mills in the Bradford district aching to have life breathed into them, however, they do provide authenticity for the filming of gritty dramas such as “Peaky Blinders.”
The gem that is Salts Mill, situated in Saltaire, successfully provides a hub of artistic creativity in combination with a site of social and political historical importance. I was delighted that my daughter elected to rent a mill cottage to introduce her partner to the “civilised delights” of Yorkshire. Unfortunately, the trip proved less than successful in smiting his preconceptions of Yorkshire being an unruly place inhabited by barbarians. Salts Mill was closed due to Coronavirus and prior to arriving in Saltaire, he was witness to a young man riding a horse bareback, attempting to negotiate the drive-thru of a well known fast-food chain while someone was battering on his car window asking for money. While the experience proved perturbing, it was an absolute reflection of the impact of inequality and desperation faced by many in Yorkshire towns and not unfamiliar to those of us aware of poverty-driven behaviour. My daughter’s endeavours to showcase Leeds as a thriving, cosmopolitan city were quashed by the image of someone trotting through the centre with a ferret on a lead, which I can genuinely say I have never seen in all my fifty years plus of life in Yorkshire.
While justifying, defending and championing my beloved Yorkshire, this led to the discussion of perceptions often clouding the reality. My husband, who lived in London during the 1980s, recalled a friend planning a visit to Yorkshire to meet up and the utter terror from his parents, They held genuine beliefs that, in winter, wolves would come down from the hills and cross frozen rivers to terrorise local villagers. Just to qualify, both parents were teachers. While hilarious, it seems in some ways the north/south divide remains.
Perceptions work both ways. Dropping off a Christmas present of fancy Fortnum’s preserve to a farmer relative and explaining I had been to “that there London” he looked at me and with genuine confusion, concern and curiosity asking, “Why would you want to go there?”
I am not blind to the problems and social issues affecting Yorkshire and the neglect of forgotten towns but there exists an unapologetic honesty and brutal authenticity. Communities pulling together and trying to be better, the strength, resilience and determination of the people are what make Yorkshire worthy of its deity nickname.