Is Hull really in Yorkshire? A brief history of the boundaries and identity of God’s Own Country

City of contrasts: Hull in September 2017. Image: Getty.

I’ve argued the case previously that Yorkshire will always be consumed by in-fighting, and that to be united it needs a common enemy. On this great day last year, CityMetric stress tested my theory, publishing, from the safe distance of London, its official ranking of the Great Cities of God’s Own Country. This improvised explosive device ripped through Twitter leaving chaos and mayhem in its wake, just at a time when a Chris Grayling had united us.

But among all the “My city is better than yours” comments there was actually a thread of unity. An editor’s note at the bottom of article informed us that its author was based in London and was originally from Hull, neither of which facts did it any favours. Nor did the inclusion of Grimsby in and exclusion of Middlesbrough from the ranking: Grimsby has never been in Yorkshire while ‘Boro has. Including Hull in the listing was controversial enough, but ranking it number 1 was the final straw.

All this got reader Bob Melling so wound up he felt the need to draw a map explaining the geography of Yorkshire.

(His first tweet about the article was too sweary to include here.)

The prominence of Hull at the top brought back to mind one of the most controversial questions of my life time. Is Hull actually in Yorkshire?

Historically, Yorkshire was a huge county so large that it was split into three sections, known as “ridings”. (Told you we don’t get on.) The west was the largest, and contained all the big cities, as well as the Pennines all the way up to Sedbergh. The North Riding was a little smaller and a much less populated region of the Dales, the Moors and the Vale of York. Middleborough was the only conurbation. The East was the smallest of the Ridings, covering the land between York and the North Sea; its sole city was Hull. The Ridings met in York, the city at the heart of the county, which stood separate from all three.

The West, North and East Ridings of Yorkshire. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In the 1970s, the Ridings were put out to pasture, and the county of Yorkshire was carved up yet again. Three counties emerged with Yorkshire in their names: North, West and South. At the same time, fat was trimmed off the edges. Saddleworth went into Greater Manchester, Sedbergh into Cumbria. Lancashire made a land grab win the west, and to the north Durham expanded its borders over the River Tees.

These were small tweaks in low population areas: bigger occurred along the North Sea coast, where a lot more people live. Two new counties, Cleveland and Humberside, were created. Their aim was to create local authorities that would bring together the industrial towns and cities around the Tees and the Humber.

The 1974 Yorkshire counties, plus Cleveland and Humberside. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

This worked well around the mouth of the Tess, where the towns of Hartlepool, Billingham, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar were brought together to form Cleveland. They were geographically close and the old natural barrier of the river was served by multiple bridges, liking the communities together in to a single economic area.

Humberside was less of a success. The industry around the Humber mirrored the Tees with ports, steelworks and petrochemicals. But these were more dispersed along 40 miles of wide estuary, which wouldn’t be bridged until Humberside was 7 years old. Its borders strayed far from the river, enclosing over 3,500km2 – 10 times of the size of Cleveland with only half the population.

Cleveland became a pseudo metropolitan region; Humberside was just another, nondescript county and the locals weren’t happy. North of the river, they didn’t like being ripped out of Yorkshire and lumped with the Lincolnshire yellow bellies.

The rest of Yorkshire, the bits that got to keep the name, couldn’t give a toss. Yes they had lost their four corners: Saltburn, Spurn, Saddleworth and Sedbergh were gone. But the heart of real Yorkshire continued on proudly without them. To this day supporters of Yorkshire football teams remind Hull and Boro fans with chants of “Yorkshire Rejects, Yorkshire Rejects”.

Yorkshire in 1974 showing the bits of the Ridings that didn’t stay within the county. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually the 1974 boundary changes were revisited, and in the late 1990s Humberside was divided up into four unitary authorities. Hull went independent; the rest of the north bank became the “East Riding of Yorkshire”, which is laying it on very thick if you ask me. The south bank did something else. I don’t really know what because it isn’t Yorkshire so, frankly, who cares?

The shame of the Humberside years were over. Hull’s relationship with the rest of Yorkshire was restored.

Except it wasn’t.

It was like that occasion your long term girlfriend thought it was time your relationship took a break. Then four weeks later she decided that she really wanted to get back together, and you thought that this wasn’t a good idea, yet a fortnight later you were a couple again which you had apparently agreed to, but you have no memory of doing so.

…what do you mean that never happened to you?

Anyway, Hull shook off the shackles of Humberside expecting to be greeted with a warm welcome, only to find a cold shoulder. Speak to people in North, West and South Yorkshire and many of them probably won’t even recognise Hull as in Yorkshire.

If this all sounds a bit odd, even petty, it’s because it is. But there may be an underling cultural reason for this failed reunification.

I blame the BBC.

Go on, admit it, you didn’t see that coming.

Sticking with the name Radio Humberside for the BBC local station hasn’t helped. The station opened in 1971 thus predated the county by three years, which was reason enough for them to keep the name. If you actually listen to the station the presenters talk of broadcasting to “East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire”, but you still hear national BBC broadcasters refer to Hull as in “Humberside”, because that name is still alive in the corporation.

Then there’s cricket. The glue of Yorkshire’s sporting culture is the mighty Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The BBC provide coverage on every game and Jonathan Doidge, their commentator, is kept very busy providing updates to the county’s local radio. The five station names the fans hear every hour are Leeds, Sheffield, York, Tees and Humberside.

TV has had an even bigger impact. Until early this century, the BBC’s regional television broadcasted to West and South Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire, which mapped directly with the ITV regions. The output all came from Leeds. However, in 2002 the BBC announced that it was building a new whizzy internet-ready studio in Hull, and forthwith it’s region would be split in half. Two versions of it regional news programme Look North would be broadcast, from Leeds and Hull respectively.

The great fanfare that came with this new venture was contained within its broadcast area: the rest of Yorkshire didn’t notice. The absence of news from Grimsby, Hull and Lincoln did not register. No one stopped to wonder why the big Rugby League derby between Hull KR and Hull FC wasn’t covered. The county’s main source of news quietly stopped talking about Hull.

In 2017 Hull was the UK’s City of Culture. I live in York, 40 miles away, and there was nothing – zero – about it on my BBC regional news. I kept track of what was going on there and mentioned it to friends. None of them had any idea what was happening in Hull.

To the vast majority of Yorkshire, Hull is out of sight and out of mind.

ITV can also be dragged into this argument. Back in the days of three channel telly, the non BBC station was highly regionalised with strong local broadcasters which created a regional identity. Yorkshire Television (YTV) was a powerful cultural force which gave us Emmerdale and Countdown, not to mention Richard Whitely, so we’ll pretend I didn’t. The evening news programme Calendar presented by the erstwhile Whitely, was far more popular than the BBC’s equivalent. Yorkshire TV felt like our telly. It was a uniting force even though its broadcasting area included the whole of Lincolnshire.

Yet this unifying force did not reach the north of the county. Middlesbrough has never received its local TV from Leeds: their feed is from Newcastle, and their ITV channel was the brilliantly named TyneTees. This formed a region and gave it a local and national identity.

TyneTees first broadcast in 1959. The concept that Middlesbrough and Teesside were culturally in the North East rather than Yorkshire was firmly in the public conscious by the 1974 boundary changes. This goes some way to explaining why the questions of Middlesbrough’s status within Yorkshire is less contentious than Hull’s.

The ITV regions in 1974. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The ITV regional TV companies started to buy each other or merge after legislation changes in the 1990s permitted it. Eventually, the result was one company, and the old brands lost their on-air identities in 2002. TyneTees and Yorkshire TV were no more – coincidentally at the same time as the BBC split its Yorkshire region in two.

It’s easy to underestimate the cultural power of regional TV. Last year my TV automatically retuned itself to a different transmitter. Rather than receiving my signal from Leeds, I found myself watching Newcastle’s output, and being too lazy to do anything about this, I became familiar with events in Hexham, Haltwhistle and Hartlepool.

This had an impact on me. I visited the Great Exhibition of the North a 100 miles away in Newcastle and Gateshead solely because I saw it on regional TV. How many more of Hull’s City of Culture events would I have attended if I was repeatedly seeing them featured on the news?

With the demise of local TV broadcasting and the rise of worldwide streaming services, it will be interesting to see whether the cultural identity of our regions can be maintained in the coming years. Will anything provide a region-wide cultural glue? A One Yorkshire devolution deal would certainly help. Sport has the potential to do this, but sports teams often represent cities, and even the traditional county-based game of cricket is foolishly trying a city based tournament in 2020.

However, cycling has given Yorkshire’s identity a shot in the arm through the visit of Tour de France in 2014. Creating the Tour de Yorkshire as a legacy event in 2015 built on that success. Since then, the race has crisscrossed the county with huge crowds of locals turning out to cheer on the riders. It has reached almost every city and town in Yorkshire, with one notable exception. You guessed it: Hull.

In the last 20 years Hull has done a fine job of raising its profile on the national and international stage, mainly through the remarkable success of its football team Hull City, whose meteoric rise began when they moved to a new stadium built by the City Council. But locally, within Yorkshire, they will continue to be viewed as the black sheep of the family.



In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.