Tuesday, 29 September 2009


My family is Northern way back, but we didn't spring out of the soil here. Within traceable records, there are comer-in from Kent and Birmingham, and lost in the more distant past, various bits of Northern Germany. Probably. Who cares? The point robustly made in True North is that we have always benefited from welcoming immigrants, and there is a wealth of books and pamphlets to prove that. I ,ade good use of Roisin Ban (White Rose), Corinne Silva's lovely photographic essay on the Irish in Leeds, with thoughtful essays by Brendan McGowan (Leeds Irish Health and Homes 2006). With Walt Whitman in Bolton by Paul Salveson (Little Northern Books 2008) opens a wistful American connection (lots of Northerners went to the States, including many Mormons and Mr Wrigley of saddleworth, immortalised (appropriately for a Northerner) by gum. In that context, Aspects of Barnsley vol 3 Wharncliffe Publishing 1995) has a great article by Brian Elliott called When Buffalo Bill Came to Barnsley (which he did, in 1904. Homeworkers UK provided me with a gentle and encouraging account of Indian-origin citizens of Leeds, Stitching Stories from Bihar to Beeston (Homeworkers Worldwide 2005) and Religion in Leeds edited by Alan Mason (Sutton 1994) added very useful material on other Asian groups as well as the city's famous Jewish community. Religion and Place in Leeds by John Minnis and Tevor Mitchell took the story on (English Heritage 2007) and City of Peace edited by Carol Rank (Bradford Libraries 1997) did the same for Bradford. Stass Paraskos by Norbert Lynton (Orage Press 2003) is a lively account of a very lively Cypriot painter and his time at Leeds College of Art which he much enriched. An Artist's Odyssey by Robert Waterhouse (Jean-Georges Simon Foundation 2005) tells the equally interesting story of the Hungarian artist Jean-George Simon who moved in exile to Ramsgill in Nidderdale.A Pedlar's Legacy by Patrick Beaver (Henry Melland 1981) tells the story of the Fattorini family from Italy and their creation, Empire Stores. Aspects of Leeds vol 1 (Wharncliffe Publishing 1998) has another good article on the Jewish community's history by Murray Freedman, a great expert on the topic. In Excited Times by Nigel Todd (Bewick Press 1995) tells the story of 'the people against the Blackshirts' during Sir Oswald Mosley's forays North in the turbulent 1930s. To Live it is to Know it by Alfred Williams and Ray Brown (Yorkshire Arts Circus 1987) leaves you in no doubt about the challenges facing new arrivals (and long-standing ones, too often) from the Caribbean. Far Headingley by David Hall (Far Headingley Village Society 2000) has an excellent microcosm of unusual newcomers to a well-off and intellectual Leeds suburb, including Prince Alamayou of Abyssinia who stayed with Arthur Ransome's family (see picture). J.B.Priestley's Yorkshire edited by W R Mitchell (Dalesman 1987) has some excellent passages by the sturdy old warrior on the benefit of German and Jewish immigrants to Bradford (among them the family of Michael Wharton, the Daily Telegraph's erstwhile Peter Simpson, who betrayed his origins with some nasty (however witty) comments about Asian immigration to the city. Finally Ebor: the Archbishops of York by A Tindal Hart (William Sessions 1986) unexpectedly showed the international richness of past occupants of that job. And now, Hooray!, we have John Sentamu.

Monday, 28 September 2009


Northern dialect and, equally interesting, patterns of speech (even when using standard English), have been hardy perennials for me during my time reporting from the region. I have a host of mentors from the great Joseph Wright, who rose from mill work aged six in the Bradford suburb of Idle (never so wrongly named as in his case) to become Professor of Comparitive Philology at Oxford University. His tradition lives on in the Yorkshire Dialect Society whose website www.ydsociety.org.uk is full of good things. Rather like him, Rev Joseph Hunter did a very good job with his The Hallamshire Glossary, republished by the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language at Sheffield University in 1983. Assorted copies of the centre's journal Lore and Language have added to my store of theories and facts. Another venerable authority is John H Wilkinson who published his Leeds Dialect, Glossary and Lore in 1924. Blatherskyte, gallehbawk, topful'a-throng...it's like a pudding full of plums.
In recent times, Dr Arnold Kellett of Knaresborough has been a marvellous source; among many others, he inspired Ross Raisin, the young Keighley writer whose novel God's Own Country (Viking 2008) plays excellent games with language. Dr Kellett's many books include Basic Broad Yorkshire (Smith Settle 1991), a fine summary, The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore (Smith Settle 1994), Ee by gum, Lord - the Gospels in Broad Yorkshire (Smith Settle 1996) and, if you want a very rapid skim, The Little Book of Yorkshire Dialect (Dalesman 2008). It really is little, but concise.

Poetry often gives a guide to language, and apart from Permanently Bard (Bloodaxe 1995) and anything else by Tony Harrison, I have made good use of Ian Duhig's Nominies (Bloodaxe 1998) and The Lammas Hireling (Picador 2003). I've already mentioned Lucy Newlyn below; another good poetess is Joan Ingilby (of Marie Hartley fame), for example her simply-named Poems (Smith Settle 1994).
Sir Herbert Read's famous memoir An Innocent Eye (Faber & Faber 1933, reprinted with an introduction by one of his sons, Piers Paul Read, Smith Settle 1996) stands re-reading again and again. So does a singular novel which raised my interest in speech is Sam Small, the Flying Yorkshireman by Eric Knight (Neville Spearman 1957). It's a cracking story too. I got my copy in Kit Calvert's shop in Hawes and it has a column on Knight by Willis Hall from the Yorkshire Evening Post tucked inside.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Buildings follow naturally from geology, and there is a heap more written about them. So far as my own part of the world is concerned, George Sheeran is an outstanding guide, both on the actual buildings and their history. I had only recently finished his Brass Castles, Ryburn 1993, when I saw a group of bearded gents rambling round our neighbourhood taking an interest in the buildings (which are mostly the work of Bradford woolmen, although nicked by Leeds since the end of the West Riding as an actual, rather than historical, entity). An enthusiastic younger man was leading them and to my great delight he turned out to be George Sheeran. His Good Houses Built of Stone, Allanwood Books 1986, is another marvellous account of buildngs in Leeds and Bradford, 1600-1800. The Buildings of Bradford, Tempus 2005, takes the story on for that city.
Over the other side of the Pennines, I learned a great deal from Charles Reilly and the Liverpool School of Architecture 1904-1933 by joseph Sharples, Liverpool University Press 1996. This was published to mark an exhibition about Reilly at the Walker Gallery. My younger son Olly was beginning to take an interest in architecture at the time, and books like this led to lively family discussions. The one thing we all agreed about was approving the striking cover. My copy has a leaflet about the exhibition inside, and thios slipped out before scanning just enough to look as though Reilly's fedora has somehow expanded out of the book. He did have a big head.
There are a lot of engrossing series about buildings, among which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner's Buildings of England, Penguin, various dates, contributors and in recent years updaters, stands supreme. The volumes on the Northern Counties are all good, as of course are the Victoria County Histories, again many dates, if you really want to delve and have lots of time and a big shovel. More accessible are the volumes in the paperback Lost Houses series, published by Jill Raines at various dates in the late 20th century. I've got the ones for the three Yorkshire ridings, Newcastle and Northumberald. Aah, for what has gone! The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England has also produced some Roll Royce books on the North, among which I treasure Rural Houses of West Yorkshire 1400-1830 HMSO 1986 (very very good on yeomen houses and low halls) and Houses of the North York Moors, HMSO 1987. Smith Settle's 3 volumes on Building the West Riding (plus North and East separately, all by Lynn Pearson, are all comprehensive, well-illustrated and readable. Published 1994-5.


There's nothing more fundamental than the ground we tread on, and its different forms in the North have done much to create the region's image - dark sandstone, or the evocatively named 'millstone grit', or the crumbling cliffs of the North Sea coast where stone gives way to what is little more than mud. True North makes a point of the way that other geologies have had less of a look-in historically: the shining white limestone of the scarp which runs through Yorkshire, taking in places such as Doncaster and Conisbrough as well as York; or the lovely warm red stone of Cumbria's Eden Valley. I love reading about stone. especially when the writers' are fellow-enthusiasts, which applies in all these books. The Building Stone Heritage of Leeds is another of my top titles: two academics potter round the city, discovering where McDonald's marble fascia comes from (down to the exact quarry in Italy) and the like. It's by Francis G Dimes and Murray Mitchell, published by Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society 1996, reprinted 2008. The Phil & Lit, incidentally, are a doughty crew who organise descents down Gaping Ghyll. I wouldn't dare go but my wife, a Phil & Lit council member, has - and she got a glass of champagne at the bottom.
Talking of caves, I enjoy curling up with caving guides such as this one: Northern Caves 1: Wharfedale and the North-East, by D.Brook, G.M.Davies, M.H.Long and P.F.Ryder, Dalesman Books 1988. The text is technical but exciting for all that, (I've illustrated the back of the book jacket here to add to that sense of potential drama) and some colourful historical references inch in, much as the potholers themselves do, underground. Anything by published by the Dalesman is to be recommended, Another short but fascinating potholing book is Yorkshire's Hollow Mountains by the former editor of the Dalesman, Bill Mitchell, Castleberg 1989. Again, anything by him is worth getting hold of. Like most visitors to the mountains, I also much enjoy watching the human flies on places such as Dow Crag above Coniston or the overhanging, Neanderthal brow of Kilnsey Crag in Wharfedale. Like the cave literature, a volume such as Yorkshire Limestone, edited by Graham Destroy and published by the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club. A final piece of fascinating erudition, combining geology with archaeology, is Prehistoric Habitation Sites on the Limestone Uplands of Eastern Cumbria by J and P J Cherry; a race to check stuff in advance of a British Gas pipeline. Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 1987. I bought this after doing the Coast to Coast Walk for my guide to that matchless path The Coast to Coast Walk, Aurum, 2006 & 2009. Cherry & Cherry illuminate the often bafflingly modest remains on this eerie plateau. Another walk-related book, more of a booklet really but a great little guide by an expert geologist is Geology, Scenery and History; a walk in Yewdale by Murray Mitchell (he of the Leeds building stone), Cumbria RIGS 2004.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Making it up

Fiction is mentioned many times in the book, and most of the significant works I've read are listed in the text. Here are some others. I've always like W.Riley's Laycock of Lonedale, Herbert Jenkins 1924, since my mother read me the opening sentence of its foreword: 'Laycock, Wainwright and Binns - these are common names in the industrial parts of the West Riding...' Riley was recently treated to that occasional honour of being rediscovered by an academic who called him 'a forgotten author.' Not by me, and not by many others who particularly remember his best-known book Windyridge, 1912.
Speeding up to current times, Climbers by M.John Harrison gives a great and not entirely traditionally dour and gritty view of the North, especially the climbers' cliffs scattered in odd places such as above laybys in the Pennines and Peak. Phoenix 1989. Lucy Newlyn's book of poetry, Ginnel, Carcanet 2005, has a distinctive and accurate feel for that great Leeds suburb, Headingley. She is a Northerner who has done well - now professor of English language and literature at Oxford University.

T'other side

I'd better not flaunt my bias, but it's entirely true to say that there's more Yorkshire in True North than the other parts of the North. Sorry. That reflects my time here, when the Guardian has been very well served west of the Pennines by David Ward and Helen Carter and the North East and Cumbria by Peter Hetherington. There is plenty on their patches in the book though, and this post concentrates on Lancashire sources. Paul Salveson has done a terrific job digging up the story of Lancashire's Romantic Radical, Allen Clarke - pen-name Teddy Ashton - of Bolton and Blackpool, in the book of that name, published by Little Northern Books 2009. Rather more conventionally, I lap up small books such as Explore Lancashire by Car by Jane Sterling, The Dalesman 1976.
Liverpool has a great literature, and also a small one. I've much enjoyed In the Footsteps of the Beatles by Mike Evans and Ron Jones, Merseyside county council 1981. Much more to come in this section, and cover pictures. I'm just Hoovering through a pile of book stuff in my office which doesn't have a scanner.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mysterious Mr Myers

There's a section in True North about the initially veiled correspondent to the Guardian from Hemel Hempstead who turned out to be Alan Myers, an exiled Geordie who is a fount of learning about the cultural history of the North East. My most prized work by him is the self-published North and SOUTH, which will involve you in quite a search I suspect. Let me know if you'd really like a copy and fail to get one, and I will see what I can do.

More accessible is Myers' Literary Guide to the North East, Carcanet Press 1995 which is an absolute mine of joyous detail on its subject, and one in which I have industriously burrowed, and from which, enthusiastically borrowed. Thanks very much Alan, and for all the postcards and emails, keeping me on the right, pro-north track. Check out Alan's additional bibliography; he has also written excellent articles for journals such as the late Northern Review.