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The South Riding

There never was a South Riding. There was a north, east and a west, but no south.
A “riding” is a Viking term for a third & the Vikings had quite a lot to do with Yorkshire’s history. The area I live in was once in the administrative area called the West Riding, it is now called South Yorkshire. Who cares, its all Yorkshire? This is my part of the world. Welcome to the South Riding of Yorkshire.

The West Riding easily outgrew the east and north in terms of industry and productivity. The West Riding included the major industrial cities of Leeds and Sheffield, not to mention textile towns Bradford, Huddersfield and the coal mining areas of Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. The North Riding of Yorkshire had Middlesbrough, York and the whaling port of Whitby, whilst the port of Hull and fishing towns of Scarborough and Bridlington were the mainstays of the East Riding.
The West Riding was becoming too big, too populated and too cumbersome to govern from the modest provincial administrative capital of Wakefield. The major cities had become metropolitan boroughs and were largely self autonomous. Clearly something had to be done. As usual the politicians misread the minds of the electorate and squandered millions of pounds. Remember the new county of North Humberside which doesn’t exist anymore?
In 1974 the boundary commission created a new county called South Yorkshire. The county got off to an inauspicious start with coal and steel strikes, thousands made redundant, hundreds of factories and coal mines closed and the pollution and effluent from the mines and steel mills were poisoning the rivers for miles around and nobody was doing anything about it. Large areas of the new South Yorkshire were laid to waste. The landscape around Barnsley was one of pitheads and slag heaps. Sheffield’s east end and Rotherham’s west side was a drab collection of rusty factory roofs and chimneys belching out carbon deposits and waste gasses all over surrounding area. One unscrupulous company in Penistone even flushed it’s acid tanks in the upper river Don killing everything downstream immediately. British Tissues at Oughtibridge cleaned it’s dye tanks and released the wash in the river Don. We used to have a sweep on the bus home from college to bet on which colour the river would be. It ranged from lime green, blood red, sky blue to banana yellow or even pure white.


Sheffield became synonymous with fine cutlery and high quality steel for such diverse products as razor blades, umbrellas and wire ropes. More recently the Sheffield and Rotherham steelworks have specialised in automotive and aerospace product, making turbines for massive ships, commercial and military aircraft. Engine parts are manufactured which are found in the Ford Ka to the Mercedes Benz, from McClaren to Canadian combined harvesters and opencast mine dragliners. There was a cost though. The pollution and industry was what the whole world didn’t see.
It was said that even the sparrows coughed, such was the smoke and dust floating in the Sheffield air. Sheffield steel was widely acclaimed as the best in the world, infact the first stainless steel was inadvertently discovered in Sheffield giving rise to the city’s reputation for making the finest rust free cutlery in the world.
Amid all this industry and subsequent pollution there were places of beauty and of interest but in reality the wildlife struggled badly against this devastating attack on their environment. Several species of animal and plantlife disappeared from the landscape for over 100 years. 35 years ago began the beginning of the end of the industrial revolution; the mills have nearly all gone, the pits have all gone and the landscape has slowly reverted to it’s natural state. The biggest change in the last 10 years however is in the quality of the rivers, most especially the Don. The Rother was once officially the most polluted river in Europe. In the Don where once only the occasional gudgeon or minnow survived, washed down in a flood from the rivers Loxley or Rivelin, are now brown trout & grayling, surely the most accurate barometer of pollution amongst all freshwater fish species.