From Elmet to the Leeds City Region: the Anglo-Saxon origins of England's north-south divide

A fictional king in the north: the historical precedents for Game of Thrones' Robb Stark were the real kings of Elmet and Northumbria. Image: HBO.

The medieval world has a powerful hold over our modern imaginations. We continually revisit this murky period of history in fictional frolics such as Game of Thrones and stirring series including The Last Kingdom. Echoes of the so-called “dark ages” even carry as far as today’s politics – particularly when it comes to discussions about devolution.

Indeed, as Westminster begins to relinquish political powers to England’s newly-formed city regions, some have claimed that these territories should be defined by historical precedent, rather than administrative practicalities.

But how close are we to our medieval roots, and are our connections with the past really strong enough to influence modern-day decisions? To find out, we need to take a closer look at what’s left of the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking kingdoms of yore.

Ancient Elmet

The Leeds city region. Image: Harkeytalk/Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the most obvious links between past and present can be found simply by looking at the names of places on a map. Take, for example, the Leeds city region – one of the first regions to be granted new powers over transport and skills development.

This region encompasses the villages, towns and cities between Harrogate in the north, Barnsley in the south, Bradford in the west and York in the east, with Leeds at its heart. But it’s not the first time Leeds has been the centre of a regional power base; it was also at the core of the early medieval kingdom of Elmet.

A map of the Old North, based on information from Celtic Culture by John Koch Notuncurious/Wikimedia Commons.

This shadowy kingdom was under the control of Celtic rulers, who spoke a language akin to Welsh. It was later conquered by Edwin, an Anglo-Saxon king, in the 7th century and became part of his empire. Today, the kingdom is recalled in place names, and the parliamentary constituency of Elmet and Rothwell.

Yet despite these geographical similarities, this connection is tenuous – the modern Leeds city region also encompasses parts of North Yorkshire that would not have been in Elmet. And it’s unlikely that administrators had the medieval kingdom in mind when they were drawing the boundaries.

Pursuing the past

To find a more convincing connection between modern politics and medieval monarchs, we need to go beyond mere borders and explore cultural, political and genetic links. For instance, the advocates of Yorkshire devolution trace their heritage back to medieval times – and even earlier. There’s certainly some evidence to support their longstanding connection with the region.

The People of the British Isles project analysed the DNA of more than 2,000 people whose grandparents came from the same rural areas. The resulting genetic groups have been compared with 7th-century kingdoms, indicating some local stability in population over many centuries. What’s more, these ancestral links hold cultural and political force: a recent study showed how much “Yorkshireness” is still a key element of the identity of those living in the county.

We can trace Yorkshire’s political identity back to the days of Edwin, a highly successful Anglo-Saxon king. Edwin belonged to the ruling dynasty of the Deirans, whose power base originally lay in eastern Yorkshire. Edwin expanded into the west of the county and overshadowed his northern Northumbrian neighbours, the Bernicians. He also established looser control over other parts of Britain. Not merely a warrior, Edwin was baptised in York and venerated as a saint. After his death, the Deirans lacked a strong champion. They were dominated by their northern neighbours and absorbed into a greater Northumbrian kingdom.

The original Northern Powerhouse

The Kingdom of Northumbria. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bordered to the south by the River Humber, the Kingdom of Northumbria encompassed northern England and some parts of southern Scotland. Dating from the 7th century, it is said to be the first concrete instance of the North-South divide: the early medieval writer Bede described separate spheres of Northumbrian and southern English politics.

This northern Anglo-Saxon kingdom fragmented during the turbulence of the Viking Age. The core area was gradually incorporated into England, while the northern districts became part of Scotland. Nevertheless, Northumbrian identity evolved into a northern separatism that recurred in later times. This in turn generated a sense of northern cultural difference that is familiar today; “pies and prejudice”, in Stuart Maconie’s words.

But while large kingdoms were liable to disintegrate in turbulent times, local and regional networks have tended to remain relatively stable. They formed the building blocks of larger political units and some, like Yorkshire, went on to become modern-day counties.

A key question for modern politics is how the new devolution deals will complement these deeply-rooted identities. The case of Yorkshire highlights the tension between the new city regions, the old counties and an ancient northern identity. Medieval allegiances could be multi-layered, and encompass local, regional and national loyalties. The same balance is at stake in the modern devolution agenda.The Conversation

Fiona Edmonds is a senior lecturer in Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.