Since moving to London I’ve been thinking about Yorkshire a lot. It’s the place where I was born and grew up so naturally many of my memories are tied up there. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it when I was there, in fact I have always taken an unreserved delight in its natural beauty and friendly people, but from a young age the excitement of London always attracted me. I always knew that someday I would end up here, but for how long I wasn’t sure. The moving to London part was the only thing that you could say was planned but how I did it, when I did it, and what I would do once I arrived was left to improvisation.
I’ve been here for seven months now and although I’m really enjoying what London has to offer, there is a side to the city that can grind you down. Primarily I’m referring to the cost of living and how busy and impersonal it can be – it’s a common fact that people avoid eye contact like the plague, and a smile is received with great suspicion. It’s in my nature to smile at everyone who I inadvertently catch eye-contact with so from experience I can say approximately 1 out of every 9 people in London reciprocates a smile. Usually those who do are foreign.
The move to England’s capital has made me realise what I took for granted when I lived in Yorkshire but this isn’t the only reason why I’ve been thinking about my home more: seeing Yorkshire through the eyes of George Orwell in his novel The Road to Wigan Pier made me appreciate this region of Northern England even more. Although this book was written in 1937 it still packs the same political punch today as it did then, describing what it was like for Orwell leaving his job in Hampstead to travel north. The poverty may not be as extreme as what Orwell experienced all those years ago but the North-South divide still very much exists in today’s England.
If you’re wondering what the North-South divide refers to, it’s the economic and cultural differences between Southern England (such London, Oxfordshire, Surrey) and Northern England (Yorkshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and so on). The ‘divide’ can be felt through numerous features including: wages, house prices, social class, government spending, education and health – all of which are generally higher in the south.
It’s common knowledge for people living in the UK that a cultural and economic divide exists and it has been around since the Romans built a wall separating the North from the South. Symbols like the royal buildings and the parliament represent the wealthy South, and on the other side of the spectrum; factories, abandoned buildings, and rows of back-to-back houses are symbols of working-class life in the North. These are just a few establishments or buildings that perpetuate the segregation, and with this kind of stereotyping still prominent today it’s no surprise why many tourists in England don’t venture further up north. I am by no means saying that London and other regions in the south don’t suffer from areas of poverty, because they do, however that’s an entirely different divide that should be spoken about at a different time.
The South has always represented prosperity against a northern backdrop of economic struggle, and these differences have created further stereotypes pertaining to the people who live there. Quite often, Southerners are perceived as being pretentious, rude and snobbish by Northerners, and Northerners are perceived as being uneducated and uncivilised by Southerners. It’s sad and overwhelmingly flawed that such judgments can be attached to someone based simply on where they were bought up, but that is the case. Furthermore these stereotypes against Yorkshire people in particular have created a sort of defence mechanism whereby Yorkshire people have their own kind of ‘snobbishness’ which Orwell insightfully comments upon:
When you go to the industrial North you are conscious, quite apart from the unfamiliar scenery, or entering a strange country. This is partly because of the North-South antithesis which has been rubbed into us for such a long time past. There exists in England a curious cult of Northernness, a sort of Northern snobbishness. A Yorkshireman in the South will always take care to let you know that he regards you as an inferior. If you ask him why, he will explain that it is only the North that life is ‘real’ life, that the industrial work done in the North is the only ‘real’ work, that the North is inhabited by ‘real’ people, the South merely by rentiers and their parasites. The Northerner has ‘grit’, he is grim, ‘dour’, plucky, warm-hearted and democratic; the Southerner is snobbish, effeminate and lazy… Hence the Southerner goes north, at any rate for the first time, with the vague inferiority-complex of a civilised man venturing among savages, while the Yorkshireman, like the Scotchman, comes to London in the spirit of a barbarian out for loot. ~ George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier
As Orwell pointed out, there has been a long history of separation between both ends of England. You would hope that increased education and a seemingly more liberal attitude would have erased this but it’s difficult when institutions like the media and film industry are incredibly good at perpetuating it. Just look at any chick-flick with a clichéd storyline of an American girl falling in love with an Englishman and I can guarantee he will be from the South – the posh, Etonian accent is the usual giveaway. And how are people from Yorkshire usually represented? I’m not going to research this but my guess would be a farmer, chav, or convict (please don’t see this as me perpetuating more stereotypes).
I want to say ignore these stereotypes from the media: they only care about making money. Yorkshire has so much to offer, it’s not only the natural landscape and quaint stone cottages with gardens filled with painted gnomes and pretty flowers that make Yorkshire so appealing. It’s the people who are famously friendly and down to earth, and a part of this friendliness is wrapped up in the Yorkshire accent which is recognised as being one of the friendliest accents in the UK. We’ve all been in a situation where we are instantly made to feel welcome just by the sound of someone’s voice and you get that in Yorkshire:
All the Northern accents, for instance, persist strongly, while Southern ones are collapsing before the movies and the BBC – George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier
Some people might read this and say the Industrial Revolution injected a lot of prosperity into the North but once that industry fell into decline people were left out of jobs and many who could afford moved away for better opportunities. Today, we can see the same thing happening again, more and more people, particularly young people are moving to London because there are significantly less career opportunities in the North. It’s true that London is very competitive but at least there are jobs available even if they’re not the most desirable ones.
When the economy is booming the country’s wealth feels more distributed, however, since the grip of the 2008 recession the divide has flared up once again. It’s no secret that money gets pummelled into London in order to encourage foreign investment and tourism yet the north of England struggles to get government grants to build new buildings and projects which would help boost the economy and lessen the North-South Divide. The London Olympics was a prime example of how the South gets unprecedented exposure and regeneration – do you think the North benefited from the Olympics in any way? I don’t because only a minuscule percentage of the people who came to England ventured up there.
The North is under-represented so it needs you to use your own initiative by spending time to visit these regions. Ignore the stereotypes and make up your own mind. Take a leaf out of Orwell’s book, and it’s very likely that after spending some time there and getting to know the people you’ll realise how special it is, just like he did.
If it’s the people that make the place, then you can count on Yorkshire.
And just to prove that Yorkshire isn’t all slag-heaps and slums:
Bolton Abbey, one of my favourite places in Yorkshire.
Haworth, a picturesque village in West Yorkshire where the Brontë sisters lived.
The Ruins of Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Great Scar Limestone at Malham Cove.