It’s been more than 500 years since Yorkshire and Lancashire officially called it a day, but tensions between the two counties continue to simmer. In the red corner, Jeanette Winterson makes the case for Lancashire’s innate superiority and, in the white corner, Nigel Farndale stands up for Yorkshire.
In praise of Lancashire:
Oswaldtwistle, 1764: illiterate spinner James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny, a loom that did the work of eight men. Man-chester, 1781: Richard Arkwright opened the world’s first steampowered mill. Some 100 years later, Oldham—Oldham! was spinning more cotton than France and Germany put together. Cottonopolis Manchester, Bury, Darwen, Burnley, Blackburn, Rawtenstall, Oldham was changing the world.
In 1830, the world’s first twin-track, timetabled, ticketed railway opened, between Man-
chester and Liverpool. And, in running neck and neck with London for Britain’s first telephone exchange, Lancashire has a lot to answer for.
Bureaucratic boundary changes in 1974 chopped Lancashire into bits of Cumbria, Cheshire, the new mini-state of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and God knows what. We even got given some of Yorkshire, like a woolly jumper in a second-hand clothes sale. Such chaos makes it difficult to write about Lancashire as a continuity. But you can’t rewrite history. The Beatles came from Lancashire.
When I was growing up in Accrington, we all knew that our bricks from the Nori brickworks (yes, it is iron backwards) had gone to build the foundations of the Empire State Building. Next time you visit New York City, think Accrington. My mother played Kathleen Ferrier songs on the piano. She was the telephonist from Preston who became one of the most famous contraltos in the world, but was never too fancy for a hospital recital. And don’t forget Gracie Fields. When she finally retired to Capri, she said she loved the place because it was like Rochdale with a coast.
Manchester bands are so many I can’t list them all, but there’s The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Joy Division, Morrissey, Georgie Fame, Oasis, the Bee Gees, Buzzcocks, Elbow (I love Elbow). I don’t suppose you can call the Hallé Orchestra a Manchester band, but…
The University of Manchester has 23 Nobel Prize winners; Sir Andre Geim and Sir Konstantin Novoselov won in 2010, having discovered how to extract graphene from graphite. Graphene is the world’s first two-dimensional material (if you don’t include Yorkshiremen) it’s 100 times stronger than steel and 1,000 times stronger than Yorkshire Tea.
We could talk about Alan Turing, computers and the Enigma Code, or Pendle and the world’s most famous witch trial, in 1612. A few years later, on that same stark, strange hill, George Fox had a vision and founded the Quakers. No Quakers, no chocolate. Thank you, Lancashire.
We could recall the Pankhursts and Votes for Women. Marx and Engels. The first Trade Union Congress. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, made at Blackley. We might be surprised to learn that our present Queen remarked that she should like to retire to the Ribble Valley (not the Dales she’s got enough tea towels).
And then there’s the brass-necked, Lancashire cheek of the Mayor of Blackpool visiting Paris in the 1880s, looking at the Eiffel Tower and thinking: ‘We’ll have one o’ them but wit’ fish-tank at bottom.’ Yes, those Nori bricks built the base of the famous Blackpool Tower Aquarium. Further along the coast, would you want a world without Eric Morecambe? He changed his name to match his home town. Life without Victoria Wood? And the Wigan-born Sir Ian McKellen? No Gandalf? Are you kidding?
Three cheers for Lancashire hotpot and crumbly Lancashire cheese. Hooray for Eccles cakes! And what about fish and chips? The first fried-fish shop was in London, but Britain’s first chip shop is thought to have started out in Oldham.
Lancashire, with its black dry-stone walls, its deep cloughs and vertical waterfalls, its steep hills and dropped valleys, its plain, low terraces and industrial brutalism, is not a post-card but a place I love, for its energy and its alchemy. It was the Lancashire biologist Sir Richard Owen who coined the term ‘dinosaur’. He’d just come back from Yorkshire.
Jeanette Winterson’s latest book is ‘The Daylight Gate’ (Hammer)
In praise of Yorkshire
The problem with Lancashire, if you face the thing squarely, is that it’s not Yorkshire. Not all counties can be Yorkshire, of course, but Lancashire suffers from this unfor-tunate truth more than most, on account of its close proximity to God’s Own County*.
Indeed, this cruel circumstance of geo-graphy has left Lancashire with such an inferiority complex some might say chippiness that it feels the need to big itself up all the time by claiming there is a rivalry between the counties. There is no such thing. In fact, Yorkshire is barely aware of its small, unwashed neighbour to the west.
Lancastrian touchiness seems to date back to the 15th century, when the House of York trounced the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses. And it can’t have helped that that war has continued by other means since then on the cricket field, with York-shire producing some of the finest players the game has ever known (Hutton, Trueman, Boycott et al) and becoming the most successful team in English cricketing history with 31 County Championship titles. (Lancashire had an embarrassing gap of 77 years between wins, from 1934 to 2011.) Even Lancashire’s fine county ground, Old Trafford, is no longer within the county boundaries, which must be painful for supporters.
On the subject of sport, if a unified York-shire had been an independent country in the 2012 Olympics, it would have finished 12th in the medal table, with seven gold medals, two silver and three bronzes won by Yorkshire athletes. Lancashire? One gold, one silver that would have given it equal 46th place with the Dominican Republic.
Perhaps Yorkshire’s sporting prowess is something to do with the county having once been a separate kingdom (in the 9th century, its capital was York, or Jorvik). Lancashire, meanwhile, is barely even a county, having been cobbled together from surrounding ones as an afterthought some time in the 12th century. It can’t even lay claim to its own flag of a red rose on a white background, because the town of Montrose in Scotland registered it with the Flag Institute first. The Yorkshire Post is the only regional newspaper that is also a national. Can anyone name a Lancashire paper?
Even culturally, Lancashire comes a poor second to Yorkshire. How many artistic sons and daughters of Yorkshire can you think of off the top of your head? David Hockney, Ted Hughes, Delius, the Brontës, Henry Moore, Alan Bennett the list is a lengthy one. Lancashire? George Formby.
It might be that Lancastrians have been too busy indulging themselves to achieve things. That great Yorkshire writer J. B. Priestley once contrasted his compatriots with neighbouring Lancastrians, whom he considered to be addicted to throwing their money around on seaside holidays. This, he insisted, was not a Yorkshire habit: ‘We are quieter, less given to pleasure and more self-sufficient, I think, than the people at the softer side of the Pennines.’ But it’s curious that Lancastrians like holidays so much, because 1) it rains there all the time and 2) its beaches are filthy. Last year, Scarborough was rated excellent by the Good Beach Guide.
Blackpool was given a Mandatory, meaning 95% of water samples taken did not exceed 2,000 E. coli per 100ml. And when the Tour de France committee was searching for a scenic and challenging route through the North of England, it took one look at Lancashire and carried on going to Wharfedale and Swaledale. As for architecture, Yorkshire can offer Castle Howard and Fountains Abbey, among many other achingly beautiful buildings. Lancashire has the set of Coronation Street.
But Lancashire needs to move on. It must look to the things it has going for it. Most of it now has electricity and running water, for example. Many of the natives have also learned to ride bikes. And they do have the cricket commentator David Lloyd, better known as Bumble. He’s so funny and lovable, you’d almost think he was a Yorkshireman.
Nigel Farndale’s latest novel is ‘The Road Between Us’ (Doubleday)
* A term coined by Country Life in 1995. It has since been adopted as the unofficial slogan for Yorkshire and now appears on souvenir mugs and teacloths across the county.