Heritage > Counties > England


North Yorkshire England's largest county covering 3,212 square miles which includes part of the Pennines, the Vale of York, the Cleveland Hills and the North Yorkshire Moors.

The administration centre of the county is to be found in the town of Northallerton, the famous ancient city of York, the resorts of Harrogate, Scarborough and Whitby are just a few more of the main locations in the county.

With a population of just over 700,000 most of North Yorkshire is moorland. This provides the perfect terrain for the traditional agricultural pursuit of Sheep farming although cereal crops, coal mining, dairy production and electrical goods all contribute to the county's coffers. In the boom years Wool from Yorkshire was on a par with Cotton from Lancashire as Britain's biggest export revenue earner. Those days are gone now and the newer industries are taking more of a hold.

The famous cathedral of York Minster is just one of many fine examples of English architecture to be found in this vast county.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: York comes originally from the Latinized Celtic Eboracum, meaning the estate of Eburos; to this was added the wic (dwelling) termination by the Angles, producing Eoforwic. This was rendered as Jorvik by the Danes to become York.

Name first recorded:1050 as Eoferwicucir.

County Town:YORK The Jorvik Viking Centre takes you on slow-moving carts back through time - smells and al. St Williams College is HQ of the York Brass Rubbings Society and a fine half-timbered building you can visit by horse and cart too! It was Charles I's Royal Mint and printing press. A unique city.

County Rivers: The principal rivers - the Ouse and its tributaries the Swale, Ure, Nidd, Wharfe, Aire, Calder, Derwent and Don - flow east into the Humber.

Highest point: Mickle Fell at 2,591 feet.

Yorkshire's local government:

EAST RIDING: Is governed by two unitary councils of Kingston upon Hull and East Riding for the main part with a two-tier system operational in the far north where a swathe of the East Riding stretching from Filey to Norton is two-tier by North Yorkshire County Council, with Filey and Hunmanby coming under Scarborough and the rest under Ryedale Council. In 1996 a new ceremonial county of the East Riding of Yorkshire was created which omitted Filey, Norton and other historic East Riding towns but included the West Riding's Goole!

NORTH RIDING: Has two-tier local government for most of its vast lands with North Yorkshire County Council and the five districts of Hambleton, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and lastly Teesdale which along with Durham County Council provides local government for the Lune and Stainmore Forests areas of the North Riding. The three unitary authorities of Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton on Tees (shared with County Durham) provide services for the heavily populated northeast corner of the North Riding.

WEST RIDING: Primarily administered by the nine large Metropolitan Boroughs of Bradford, Barnsley, Calderdale, Doncaster, Kirklees, Leeds, Rotherham, Sheffield and Wakefield. But the northern part of the West Riding is two-tier with North Yorkshire County Council and Craven, Harrogate and part of Richmondshire operating in unison. Sedbergh in the far northwest is administered by Cumbria County and South Lakeland Councils. A large block of Yorkshire called the Forest of Bowland, Earby and Barnoldswick is governed by Lancashire County Council plus the Ribble Valley District Council for the former and Pendle District Council the latter. Saddleworth in the far west of the West Riding is under the unitary Oldham (Lancashire) Metropolitan Borough. Goole is governed by the burghers of the East Riding unitary council.

The local landscape

The largest county in the land - so large it had to be divided by the Danes for administrative purposes into its ancient divisions called Ridings, or 'thridings' (third parts). Between them the North, East and West Ridings account for roughly an eighth of England's land area and a tenth of its population. In general terms, the North Riding, stretching in a ribbon across the county from the Pennines to the North Sea, can be said to be predominantly pastoral; the West Riding, running from the Pennines southeast, is industrial; and the East Riding, running between them to the Humber Estuary, is given over primarily to arable farming.

The shape of this county, in the north-east of England, is like a ragged square, pulled down a little in its lower left hand corner. Within the boundaries of the three Ridings is amazing scenic variation.

The Pennine mountains, grey-white limestone peaks reaching upwards of 2,000 feet, provide the county's western boundary. In the south can be found millstone grit deposits, fringed with the large coal measures which make up some of Britain's largest coal fields, while in the northeast, the North York Moors composed of the considerable Cleveland Hills provide a bastion against the growing encroachment of the North Sea.

The large central plain, called the Vale of York, in the middle of Yorkshire comprises rich alluvial soil suitable for all kinds of farming.

Local Towns and Villages


CAPITAL - NORTHALLERTON An old posting town with many staging inns to prove it. The long curving main street broadens into a busy market place with many Georgian buildings in evidence.

HAWES The largest livestock market in the north takes place in this small town. Home to Wensleydale cheese introduced by Cistercian monks but taken over by farmers after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A cheese-making factory was set up in 1897 which you can visit. The Wensleydale Creamery Museum gives another sort of flavour of rural life in the early 1900s.

HELMSLEY The heart of the moors and one of Yorkshire's fairest market towns on the banks of the Rye. West of the market square lies the gaunt 13th-century ruin of Helmsley Castle and two miles away stands the fabulous 12th-century Rievalux (pronounced Reevo) Abbey.

MIDDLESBROUGH Iron ore was discovered here in 1850 in the Cleveland Hills and this dying village was transformed. Steel-making followed in 1875, then engineering and by the 1970s the largest petrochemical industry in Europe. Housing estates, shopping centres and factory chimneys predominate.

PICKERING The story goes that a woad-painted warrior lost his ring here and found it in a stomach of a pike, hence 'pick-a-ring'. That's a nice touch. An important staging post between York and Whitby in the 1700s, the White Swan was a resting place before the bone-shaking journey across the moors. Red pantil roofs advertise Smiddy Hill once the old cattle market place. Fantastic 15th-century murals grace the walls of St Peter and St Paul's Church.

SCARBOROUGH 'Are you going to Scarborough Fair?' serenaded Simon and Garfunkel, and in medieval times traders came here for the 45-day fair. Mineral waters were discovered in 1620 followed closely by the first seaside resort. Oliver's Mount provides a super view over this 'great fischar toune' as one 7th-century angler put it.

WHITBY Herring still comes in to this port to be sold fresh in markets across moors and dales. 200 years ago it was whale blubber that reeked all over the town.






CAPITAL - BEVERLEY The sign above the Push Inn shows the market place at around 1800 and really little has changed except for traffic. The Corn Exchange is now the Picture House - the oldest cinema in use in England. St Mary's Church and Beverley Minster are ecclesiastical gems with the world's largest collection of carvings of medieval musical instruments.

KINGSTON-UPON-HULL (otherwise known as Hull) Was badly hit during bombing raids in World War II and has been re-built as a modern and Great Yorkshire City as its slogan trumpets. It developed after the war as one of the country's largest ports (running for seven miles down the north side of the Humber) and with the largest fishing operation in the land. The dock and old town have been tastefully redeveloped and there is a fascinating Town Docks Museum highlighting Hull's dockland heritage.






CAPITAL - WAKEFIELD Important weaving and dying centre as far back as the 13th century and grain market. The city centre has its Bull Ring with modern shops and the cathedral has the tallest spire in Yorkshire at 247 feet.

HARROGATE Home of the tea room - the first was opened in 1919 by Frederick Belmont and known affectionately as 'Betty's'. Novelist Agatha Christie was discovered here staying incognito (having disappeared for 10 days). A Hollywood film Agatha with Dustin Hoffman was filmed on location here.

HUDDERSFIELD Boasts the envy of many sporting clubs with its magnificent new MacAlpine Stadium.

LEEDS Once proud textile centre but still a bustling shopping centre with many grand Victorian buildings. From a market stall here one Michael Marks went on to conquer the high streets of the land with M&S.

PONTEFRACT The liquorice for the famous Pontefract cakes- a-crown size pastilles - is no longer grown here, but local firms still produce the tasty treat with the emblem on top.

SHEFFIELD The best indoor swimming pool facilities in the country are at Pond's Forge, and the city hosted the World Student Games in a blare of publicity. It is also the home of peerless, stainless British cutlery!

SKIPTON Marvellous medieval castle. Barges can be hired here to travel the canal. Close by are the five-rise locks at Malham and the rare double arch bridge at East Marton - not to be bypassed!










Todmorden (partly in Lancashire)

Places to Visit

Allerton Park, Nr. Knaresborough

Brodsworth Hall, Doncaster

Broughton Hall, Skipton

Castle Howard, York

Duncombe Park, Helmsley

Fairfax House, York

Fountains Abbey, Ripon

Harewood House, Leeds

Newby Hall and Gardens, Ripon

Nostell Priory, Wakefield

Red House Museum, Gomersal / Batley

Ripley Castle, Harrogate

Castles of Yorkshire


January 6: the traditional Haxey Hood Game, which has been played for around 700 years, is held in Haxey, near Doncaster.

Mid-February: The Great St Valentine's Fair, Leeds.

May: The World Dock Pudding Championships take place at Hebden Bridge at Mytholmroyd Community Centre. The local delicacy is precooked and brought to the competition in a jar or dish. It is made of dock leaves, nettles, oatmeal, onions, butter and seasoning. The dock pudding is then heated through along with bacon and eggs to form part of a traditional Yorkshire breakfast. The dock leaves used are Polygonum Bistorta and not the common cow dock.

April: Competitors set off the Royal Oak public house in Ossett on a Coal Carrying Championship.

April: Harrogate Spring Flower Show. The autumn flower show in September is also worth a visit at the great Yorkshire Showground; plus a competition to find the world's heaviest onion.

Late April: Three Peaks Race, Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Mid-May: The old custom of the Planting of the Penny Hedge takes place in Whitby.

Mid-June: Harewood Classic Car Show, Harewood House, near Leeds.

June: Beverley International Folk Festival.

Late June/Early July: Bradford Festival, one of Britain's largest street and community festivals.

July: Great Yorkshire Show, Harrogate.

Mid-July: Harrogate Cricket Festival, annual festival featuring a county championship match and the Cost Cutter Cup knock-out competition.

Late July: Ryedale Show, full agricultural show at Welburn Park, Kirkbymoorside, near York.

Early August: Old Gooseberry Show: held at St Heddas School, Egton Bridge has been going for 150 years and was created to find, surprisingly enough, the heaviest gooseberry, some as large as tennis balls!

August 1: Yorkshire Day.

Late September: Scarborough Angling Festival, shore and boating competitions at the North Sea coast resort.

Mid October: Autumn Steam Gala on the North York Moors Railway, Pickering station.

Famous names from the region

Legendary literary figures of 19th-century England, the BrontÎ sisters - Anne, Charlotte and Emily - were born at Thornton, near Bradford. Haworth, the pretty town in the Worth valley where the parsonage home of the sisters is located, is portrayed in the film version of Emily's classic Wuthering Heights.

Emmerdale, the long-running television series about life in a small Yorkshire town, is shot on location in Esholt and the nearby town of Otley.

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett's story about an arrogant orphan girl who is sent to a Yorkshire mansion, was filmed partly at Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, and Allerton Park, outside Knaresborough. The film stars Maggie Smith. Location shooting for the long-running TV series Last of the Summer Wine was done in Holmfirth.

Artist David Hockney was raised in Bradford, and there is the 1853 Gallery housing the world's largest collection of his work at Saltaire.

Playwright Alan Bennett was born in Leeds and is one of its most famous sons.

Alan Ayckbourn has resided in Scarborough for the past 20 years and has premiered 47 of his own plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Film and stage actor Tom Courtenay was born in Hull as was Amy Johnson, CBE, the British aviator.

Mother Shipton was a seer extraordinaire. Her cave at Knaresborough is really spooky.

Popular chat show host Russell Harty.

Captain Cook sailed from Whitby to discover the east coast of Australia. His statue is housed in the town.

Cook might not have discovered Australia if it had not been for the invention of the chronometer by another Yorkshireman, John Harrison.

Actor Charles Laughton, of many classic black-and-white films from the 1930s - 50s including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was born in Scarborough, the son of an hotelier.

Dracula author Bram Stoker was so inspired by the dramatic setting of the clifftop graveyard at Whitby while on holiday there, that he used it for one of the scenes in his classic horror story.

Probably Yorkshire's most extraordinary celebrity wedding ever was when Headingly hero Fred Trueman's son married Hollywood heroine Raquel Welch's daughter at Bolton Priory.

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