Monday, 30 July 2018

Yorkshire Day 2018

The 1st August is Yorkshire Day, which was founded in 1975 by the Yorkshire Ridings Society to celebrate and campaign to restore the ancient administrative divisions of the County of the Broad Acres, in the wake of the local government reorganisation which had seen their abolition. There were of course three Ridings historically, North, East and West – the word Riding is derived from a Danish word ‘thridding’, meaning a third. The East Riding of Yorkshire was revived as a unitary authority in 1996, albeit with slightly altered boundaries, in 1996.

However here at Hull History Centre we know that there was a Fourth Riding, created by novelist and feminist Winifred Holtby (1898–1935). The fictional South Riding of Yorkshire lends its name to and is the setting for Holtby’s great, posthumous novel published in 1936.

Photograph of Winifred Holtby [L WH/9.9.1.03.01g]

Holtby’s archive was given to the City after her early death by her literary executor and great friend Vera Brittain. Among the archive is a manuscript map of the South Riding. Even in rough outline it presents a familiar landscape; only the names are not what we expect.

Map of the South Riding [L WH/8.8.6.01a]

Holtby’s South Riding lies on the north bank of the great Leam Estuary. At the heart of the estuary is the City of Kingsport – “blank cliffs of warehouses, stores and offices…powdered from the fine white dust of flour-mills and cement works.” Beyond Kingsport stretches the “bare level plain” of the South Riding, miles of “patterned country, the corn ripening to gold, the arsenic green of turnip tops, the tawny dun-colour of the sun-baked grass” – not too different from what we see in Holderness this summer.

Apart from Kingsport being Hull there are other equivalencies: the county town of Flintonbridge is Beverley; Hardrascliffe is Bridlington; and the centre for much of the story, the insular seaside town of Kiplington, is Withernsea. Sunk Island inspired the bleak, decaying farming community Cold Harbour, and on the east coast of the South Riding sit the twin villages of Pidsea Buttock and Ledsea Buttock, with “ancient and honourable” names, whose inspiration were places like Hornsea and Skipsea.

Throughout the novel, the landscape of the real East Riding is reflected in the fictional South Riding. But it is not idealised; the South Riding isn’t a Shire or a Narnia. It feels like a real place, as it was in the 1930s and still recognisable today.

So if you want to mark Yorkshire Day with a good read or a good watch, you can borrow the novel and the DVD of the 1974 adaptation with Dorothy Tutin from the History Centre!

Martin Taylor, City Archivist

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