Literally just a map of every town in the lyrics to ‘It’s Grim Up North’ by the KLF

Finding images of the KLF is surprisingly hard, but on the right is Jimmy Cauty, one half of the band, playing the Big Chill festival in 2005. Image: Getty.

Where does the north of England begin? The debate has been raging for decades.  But what if I told you the question has already been answered – specifically, by the techno-slash-art project the KLF.

In 1991, the band – then going under the name “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” – recorded a ten minute song called “It’s Grim Up North”. The majority of the song consists of town names being delivered in a Scottish monotone over a pulsing techno beat, listing towns that are “are all in the North”.

If the KLF says it, who are we to argue? I’ve taken the song lyrics – using Wikipedia’s interpretation of ambiguous lines (so “Cheadle Hulme” not “Cheadle” and “Hulme”, but “Accrington” and “Stanley” not “Accrington Stanley”) – and, ignoring the fact that Leigh appears twice, mapped them all.

So, what is in the North?

The first thing you’ll notice is that “the North” doesn’t actually go all that far north. Barrow-in-Furness is the only Cumbrian town to appear, and there is not a single settlement in the North East: no Newcastle, no Middlesbrough, no Hartlepool, no Berwick.

By and large, the KLF’s North is the M62 corridor. Rugby league land. Roses territory. Lancashire and Yorkshire, basically. And not even all of Yorkshire – North Yorkshire barely gets a look-in, and Hull is the only East Riding settlement to appear. (At the time “It’s Grim Up North” came out, Hull was part of the unloved Humberside)

On the other hand, there’s quite a lot of Cheshire, even though many beyond the Tees sniff at its claims to Northernness. Lincolnshire gets a look in too, with three towns (all part of former Humberside), as does Derbyshire with two. Here’s the full historic county breakdown:

  • Cheshire: 10
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Lancashire: 30
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Yorkshire: 24

Number of places mentioned from each historic county.

It looks like the Red Rose of Lancashire is victorious once more.

But the historic county boundaries don’t bear much resemblance to the modern day ones – especially in the part of the country the song covers. Lancashire and Cheshire have been chopped up, as Merseyside and Greater Manchester broke away; Yorkshire has been cut into four parts; and towns like Barrow-in-Furness and Warrington have been traded from one county to another.

Going by today’s county borders, the picture is a bit different.

  • Cheshire: 9
  • Cumbria: 1
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Greater Manchester: 13
  • Lancashire: 12
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Merseyside: 5
  • East Riding of Yorkshire: 1
  • North Yorkshire: 4
  • South Yorkshire: 4
  • West Yorkshire: 15

Number of places named from each modern ceremonial county.

West Yorkshire comes out on top now, with Greater Manchester and the rest of Lancashire close behind. These are all fairly urban areas (many of the Lancastrian towns are either on the fringes of Manchester or along the M65 motorway around Preston and Blackburn). More rural regions like North Yorkshire and the East Riding are largely ignored.

A few more interesting facts: the northernmost town mentioned is Scarborough, the easternmost is Cleethorpes, the southernmost is Nantwich and the westernmost is Barrow-in-Furness.

If you average the co-ordinates of all the places mentioned, you end up just outside Rochdale Town Centre, which means the town probably has a good claim to being the most Northern place in the North.

The most populated place on the M62 that’s not mentioned is Liverpool, while the smallest place that is mentioned (not including windy Ilkley Moor) seems to be Pendlebury.

Anyway, I felt bad for the towns of the North East and Cumbria that the KLF never mentioned, so in their honour I’ve composed a fourth verse:

Birtley, Whitby, Whitley Bay,

Darlo, Boro, Hartlepool,

Kendall, Keswick, Windermere,

Norton, Stockton, Seaton Carew,

Amble, Alnwick, Berwick on Tweed,

Ripon, Richmond, Redcar, Thirsk,

Manors, Byker, Jesmond, Shields,

Tyneside, Wearside, the Lakes are also in the North.

Should the KLF ever reform, they’re welcome to this. And don’t worry about royalities – I know money’s a bit tight.


 

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.