“Yorkshire” by Professor Richard Morris

The new book entitled just “Yorkshire” has received much praise and has been Radio 4’s book of the week. The Author Professor Richard Morris met with the Augustinians to explain how the book came about and to tell the story of some of content.

Richard had some discussion with the publishers about the title of the book.  Would the title sell the book? In the end a sub-title “A Lyrical History of England’s Greatest County” was added.

Some surprising facts were given. Among them are that more people live in Yorkshire than live in the whole of Scotland, or Norway, or even New Zealand. Today’s Yorkshire was the ancient kingdom of Deira plus a bit, so we once had a king.

Richard’s own family history weaves through the book. Scarborough was always a favourite family haunt and he rejoiced that the first geological museum in the world, the “Rotunda” was established there. One chapter of Richard’s book looks at spaces under the ground. His Grandfather was a hard rock miner. He mentioned the important “dark matter” research being undertaken today deep in Boulby mine.

Another theme Richard discussed was the way Yorkshire looks eastward. In war our enemies came from that direction, for example the Vikings and Germans; and in peace we looked to the east to trade, for example in the Baltic, and even as far as Afghanistan. The Humber Keel boat is structurally very similar to a Viking longboat.

The Humber and its tributaries reach far into the county and allowed many inland towns to build up a thriving trade.  He gave Selby as an example, and showed an amazingly detailed 1450 map of the Goole area painted on calf skin.

This brought Richard to his love of maps. Maps are power he said. He particularly likes the tile maps made by a number of railway companies. He noted that many of the area names of today were made popular by the railway, if not invented by them, for example the North Yorkshire Moors.

People are also important in the book and Richard discussed conscientious objectors and their treatment. He also talked about scientists George Cayley, William Smith, and William Scoresby. This discussion led to the sadness that William Scoresby was a whaler as well as a scientist, and whaling from Whitby and Hull helped to almost annihilate the North Atlantic Right Whale.

Another sadness was the loss in World War One of two of Yorkshire’s young music composers who would have been destined for greater fame. On a lighter note Richard said that, of course, Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman, and there are many Yorkshire references to him.

The Prior Garry Sunley asked Bro John Walker to give the vote of thanks.  He thanked Richard for a fantastic evening. He added that another book by Richard, “Churches in the Landscape”, had long been a favourite of his.