Yorkshire is a surprising place of stark contrasts. My home, the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire, was once a hub of industry including engineering and tailoring factories. Today’s emphasis is on banking, insurance, shopping and eating. Leeds is home to my detective, Kate Shackleton who trod the mean streets and drove her car along winding roads in the 1920s. Kate’s sleuthing takes her across the broad acres of Yorkshire, popularly known as “God’s Own County”.
Much remains the same since the 1920s. Upper Wharfedale is a favourite spot, around the village of Hubberholme with its Norman church. The writer J B Priestley described the village as the “smallest, pleasantest place in the world”.
The old county boundaries were the North, West and East Ridings, ‘Ridings’ from the Old Norse word thrith or third. During the industrial revolution, towns and cities in the West Riding drew men, women and children to work in mills and factories. They migrated from outlying districts as handloom weaving became a skill of the past. Traces of those long ago days and the weavers’ cottages can still be found in places like the village of Heptonstall.
Bradford, once the wool capital of the world, retains many of its fine Victorian buildings including those built by German merchants in the nineteenth century in the area known as ‘Little Germany’. The Bradford Wool Exchange is now home to booksellers Waterstones, perhaps the finest setting for a bookshop anywhere in England. It’s where I launched the first book in the Kate Shackleton series, Dying in the Wool.
Courtesy Creative Commons Sirenuk
Mill owner Titus Salt made his fortune from alpaca wool. He created a model mill and village for his workers. The main street is named Victoria, in honour of his monarch. Other streets are named for his many children, with superior houses reserved for over-lookers and managers. Salt believed that maintaining a healthy, happy workforce, and providing them with church, hospital and school, would pay dividends. And so it proved. He insisted on a ‘dry’ village. A bar and restaurant reminds visitors of the old prohibition against alcohol, calling itself Don’t tell Titus.
A modern entrepreneur, the late Jonathan Silver, turned Salt’s Mill into a gallery, housing the work of artist David Hockney. The town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts an annual arts festival.
Photos of Salts Mill courtesy of Lindsay Attree
One of the pleasures of living in Yorkshire is easy access to the countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty. The moors and dales are on our doorstep, and free for all to enjoy. It wasn’t always so. Early twentieth century industrial workers from the smoky towns, desperate for fresh air on their Sunday off work, fought for the right to roam, leading to the establishment of hundreds of miles of footpaths and rights of way.
An idyllic walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park starts in the village of Malham, with a walk to Malham Cove and a climb to spectacular limestone pavements. Scenes for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed around Malham.
A footpath leads to Janet’s Foss (or Force) waterfall, modest by the scale of some waterfalls but with a magical quality. In A Death in the Dales, Kate Shackleton’s niece picnics by a similar waterfall, Catrigg Foss.
Another favourite spot of mine, and the setting for Murder on a Summer’s Day, is Bolton Abbey, an area owned by the successive dukes of Devonshire, the Cavendish family. The family made their money from the dissolution of the monasteries, from timely deaths and propitious marriages. Bolton Abbey is the name of the ruined priory and of the surrounding area. A delightful walk through ancient woodland, on the banks of the River Wharfe, was first opened to the public in 1810. Stepping stones across the Wharfe are a great attraction for families on a day out. But take care! The river is dangerous.
In Britain, we are never far from the sea. My haunts are Scarborough, Filey and Whitby. A former whaling port, Whitby’s skyline is dominated by St Hilda’s Abbey. The town was home to Captain James Cook, eighteenth century explorer, navigator and cartographer. The parish church of St Mary is reached from the old town by 199 steps. Its churchyard inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. Twice-yearly, the town hosts a hugely popular festival for Goths.
Whitby inspired me to write Death at the Seaside. It was a pleasure to research in Whitby Library, which must have the best view of any library in the world.
Escape to the countryside and to the coast was a welcome diversion for Yorkshire factory workers whose working hours were long and arduous and living conditions overcrowded and insanitary. Perhaps the tough life contributed to the Yorkshire character. Inhabitants are said to be straight-talking, cautious about spending money, yet with no time for miserliness.
Being born in ‘God’s Own County’ creates a sense of pride. An old joke might best describe this state of mind: Never ask a man if he’s from Yorkshire. If he is, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, you’ll only embarrass him.
This blog was first published in July 2016 in German and English at: www.genussliga.de