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Yorkshire is the largest traditional county of Great Britain, covering some 6,000 sq. miles (15,000 km²) with a population of some five million. It is bordered by County Durham (along the River Tees), Lincolnshire (along the Humber), Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire (along the Pennines), Westmorland and the North Sea and is traditionally divided into West, North and East Ridings (from Old Norse þriðing, "third part", a legacy of the area's ninth century Scandinavian settlers). The county town, York, is not part of any riding.
In modern terms, a large part of Yorkshire together with a small part of Lincolnshire forms the English Region of Yorkshire and the Humber, and is itself divided into several administrative counties. Yorkshire was never a single administrative county.
The emblem of Yorkshire is the White Rose of the House of York, and there is a Yorkshire Day celebrated on 1 August. Amongst the celebrations there is a Civic gathering of Lord Mayors, Mayors and other Civic Heads from across the county and convened by the Yorkshire Society, in 2004 it was held in Leeds and in 2005 it was held in Bradford. The people of Penistone will be hosting the Civic gathering in 2006. There is also an "anthem" for the county in the form of the folk song "On Ilkla Moor Baht'at" (on Ilkley Moor without a hat).
In early Anglo-Saxon times, Elmet, a British (Celtic) kingdom around modern Leeds/Sheffield, held out against the invading English (Angles) for long enough to ensure that the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria on either side developed separately.
Note the use of the word "Angles". "Saxon" is often used as though it is simply an abbreviation for "Anglo Saxon" - but the Saxons settled in southern England, not the Midlands or North. In Yorkshire (or even as far north as southern Scotland, see below) the local Anglo Saxons were Angles.
Elmet eventually succumbed, and all of what is now modern Yorkshire became the Anglian ("English") kingdom of Deira. Later, Deira merged with (also Anglian) Bernicia to form the English Kingdom of Northumbria. At its greatest extent, Northumbria stretched from the Irish Sea to the North Sea and from Edinburgh down to Hallamshire (the district around modern Sheffield, where the names "Hallam" and "Hallamshire" are still used for - amongst other things - hospitals, pubs, and radio stations).
In Viking times, the Danes occupied the southern half of Northumbria (but not Bernicia) to create the Danish city and kingdom of Jorvik (the Danish version of Roman "Eboracum") from which stem the names of York and Yorkshire ("Eurvicscire" in the Doomsday Book).
After around 100 years of Yorkshire independence, the English crown nominally regained sovereignty, and Yorkshire became again part of Northumbria - which was now an almost-independent earldom, rather than a separate kingdom. Even as late as the centralising Tudors the monarch ruled the former Northumbria at arms length - via the Council of the North based in York.
Various small boundary changes happened over the years, but a shakeup in 1974 (see below) was more fundamental. Yorkshire councils lost administrative control of most of their territory west of the Pennines (Saddleworth to Greater Manchester, parts of Craven and Bowland to Lancashire, and Dent/Sedbergh to Cumbria), some chunks in the northeast (to County Durham and the new Cleveland) and the southeast (to the new Humberside). Internally: the North Riding became North Yorkshire, swallowing the East Riding; and the West Riding lost a chunk to North Yorkshire, and was split into West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire. Within twenty years, many of these changes had been reversed: in particular, the East Riding emerged again, and Cleveland and Humberside disappeared. Also several towns and cities became "Unitary Authorities".
Today, the southern boundary of Yorkshire is not much different from the ancient one formed by the River Don and the River Sheaf. However, Sheffield has expanded southwards, crossing these rivers and absorbing several Derbyshire villages. The Yorkshire boundary still marks the start of the North of England, with strong traces of the old Anglian/Danish amalgam of character and dialect which once made it so different from southern (Saxon) England - though it is related to the areas of Anglian Mercia in the modern East Midlands which were also ruled by Danes, though for a shorter time.
When, in 2005, the people of the North East England region voted to reject the proposition that their regional assembly become an elected body, plans for a similar referendum in the Yorkshire and the Humber region were shelved, and the regional assembly remains an unelected body.
Apart from these there were the Ainsty wapentake surrounding the City of York (not part of any riding). Lesser boroughs were Yorkshire isolates; Richmondshire and Allertonshire in the North Riding, Hallamshire in the West Riding and Hullshire in the East Riding.
In 1974 the local government system was reformed, with the bulk of the area being split between:
South and West Yorkshire are termed metropolitan counties, as they cover mostly built-up areas. Additionally, small portions were ceded to the control of Cumbria (Sedbergh Rural District), Lancashire (Bowland Rural District, Barnoldswick, Earby, and part of Skipton Rural District), County Durham (Startforth Rural District) and Greater Manchester (Saddleworth).
In 1986 the county councils of West and South Yorkshire were abolished, and in 1996 Cleveland and Humberside were broken up into districts, which became independent administrative counties (unitary authority areas) in their own right, as did an expanded City of York. The bulk of the Yorkshire part of Humberside became known as the East Riding of Yorkshire, with Kingston upon Hull being independent.
For ceremonial purposes the districts previously covered by Cleveland now fall in the ceremonial counties of North Yorkshire and County Durham, and the districts previously covered by Humberside now fall in the ceremonial counties of East Riding of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
Much of Yorkshire remains in the following four ceremonial counties with a Lord Lieutenant appointed to each:
"Tyke" is now a colloquialism for the Yorkshire dialect as well as the term some Yorkshiremen affectionately use to describe themselves, especially in West and South Yorkshire. "Tyke" was originally a term of abuse given by West Yorkshire people to Londoners, because they thought their speech made them sound like yapping mongrel dogs (tykes). Londoners turned this around and used the term to describe Yorkshire folk. The social stereotype of a Yorkshireman has a tendency to include such accessories as a flat cap and a whippet, although these fashions were started in London, and were brought to Yorkshire by the engineers and workmen who came when the railways were being built out from London in the early 19th century. Among Yorkshire's unique traditions is the Long Sword dance, a traditional dance not found elsewhere in England. More recently, Yorkshire has been home to its own genre of techno music, Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass.
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