Today is Yorkshire Day, a strange mix of a masonic marketing jamboree and a civic event for Yorkshire pride. However, let us take this opportunity to celebrate what Yorkshire has given us instead of scaring people into thinking that the cultural heritage is at risk. Yorkshire, England’s largest historic county at roughly 3 million acres of land, home to the world’s oldest football club and inventor of the Yorkshire pudding can claim an important role in British and World history, literature and arts. As well as the numerous battles fought and decisions made on Yorkshire ground, men and women from the area have gone on to do great things.
So here are just a few of the figures from Yorkshire that have built a reputation in literature and arts, and secondly, politics and history.
David Hockney. Born 1937, Bradford.
One of the most influential British artists of the modern era, David Hockney has had an ever changing career mixing media and pushing boundaries. Attending first the Bradford Grammar School and then the Bradford College of Art before moving to London’s College of Art, the young Hockney announced the birth of British Pop Art in the groundbreaking Young Contemporaries exhibition. His work, drifting away from Yorkshire, became focussed on the landscape of California and the inhabitants of the Golden State. In the early 1990s an old schoolfriend of Hockney’s called Jonathan Silver encouraged him to return to Yorkshire, requesting a painting of Silver’s arts project in the early stages of reinvigorating Bradford’s Salt’s Mill. This painting, with its bright yellows and bold reds, prefigured Hockney’s glorious return to painting the Yorkshire landscape. His series of paintings, recording the changing seasons in Yorkshire’s countryside and catching moments of weather have become hugely popular after the recent Royal Academy: Bigger Picture exhibition. The return to Yorkshire, inspired by Silver’s request, has meant a huge range of new work by Hockney in film also. The trees of Thixendale and Easingwold transform through High Definition film into winter, then summer and an infinite range in between. The ‘coming home’ Hockney experienced, revisiting the locations which made up his childhood, has been heralded as a renaissance in his works.
Alan Bennet. Born Leeds, 1934. & Alan Ayckbourn. Born 1939, Hampstead.
The two Alan’s of Yorkshire, one a Leeds boy and one a Londoner who moved here to work with the Scarborough Library theatre aged just 17. Their careers, approach and work could not be more different, though their subject matter often overlaps. The working classes aspiring to be middle class, the familial being the backdrop to both of their careers. Where Bennet has pursued the academic, working in poets and paunchy schoolmasters, Ayckbourn has followed the ‘low’ art end of the spectrum. His plays are often personal but accessible, ‘easy’ yet understated and sometimes obscuring a deeper point with their soap style language. This perhaps goes some way in explaining why he is the most performed living playwright and the second most performed playwright of all time, after Shakespeare. His works, manuscripts and documents have recently been donated to the Theatre, Film and Television department at the University of York. Bennet on the other hand, has worked in TV, film and adaptation as well as acting in his own works for the BBC. His acclaimed series of monologues called Talking Heads, possibly his most famous work before The History Boys and the successful film adaptation that followed, allowed him to become a household name. Sneaking into the mainstream by creating a seemingly populist TV series, his work was pushing the parcel in terms of the discussion alcoholism, old age and homosexuality on main time broadcasting. In a reversal of Ayckbourn’s travels, Bennet escaped Yorkshire for London and has lived there permanently for the last 30 years.
The Brontë Sisters. Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848) and Anne (1820-1849). Born, Thornton/Hawthorn near Bradford.
The three Bronte sisters (yes three) Charlotte, Emily and the lesser known Anne were born in Haworth in West Riding. Although all three were authors in their own right, Charlotte and Emily have gone on to be amongst our best loved writers. Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is considered the zenith of the English Gothic novel featuring the famous Byronic hero, Heathcliffe who has lived inside of the book’s imagination, but has received an afterlife in a variety of media. Charlotte Bronte’s best loved novel is “Jayne Eyre”; together with her masterpiece Villette, she has contributed two of the greatest novels to the Victorian canon. They spent most of their lives in Yorkshire in their father’s house which had an enormous library, providing endless inspiration for their creative work. The parsonage at Haworth is now a monument to the three sisters and is a pilgrimage for many Bronte fans across the world.
Guy Fawkes. Born 1570, York. Died 1606, Westminster.
On a dark and stormy night in 1570 on Stonegate, Guy Fawkes, the most famous traitor in history, was born. Surprisingly his parents and grandparents were good church-goers in the Church of England, and Guy was accordingly baptised in St Michael le Belfrey opposite York Minster. After his parents died he sold his estate in Clifton and embarked on a military career against Catholic Spain. Soon however, he converted to Catholicism himself and, appalled at James I’s handling of papists in Britain, plotted to overthrow him. And the rest they say, is history.
James Cook. Born 1728, Marton (Now Middlesborough). Died 1779, Hawaii.
More famous for being killed by Hawaiian natives than any other of his achievements, Captain Cook was born in Marton in Yorkshire and spent his childhood here. Unable to find work in his home town, Cook moved to Whitby and joined the merchant navy. Cook went from strength to strength and quickly joined the Royal Navy and embarked on a series of expeditions. His most important work as in the discovery of Australia and Hawaii, as well as circumnavigating New Zealand.
Herbert Asquith. Born 1852, Morely. Died 1928, Sutton Courtenay.
Asquith was born in Morley, West Yorkshire and was educated in a boarding school near Leeds. However, he soon was relocated to the City of London school and won a scholarship to Oxford to study classics. History has made Asquith into controversial prime minister. On the one hand he pushed through the all important liberal reforms. On the other, he opposed women’s suffrage until 1917 , despite popular support for giving women the vote in his own party. During the First World War, Asquith headed the national government, however was immensely unpopular in government circles. Famously, Asquith turned up dressed for a golfing weekend when Haig and Kitchener wanted to discuss the Somme offensive. His poor handling of the war led Lloyd George to manoeuvre against him and oust him in 1916 to become head of a new coalition government.