"The county too great for words”. Thus Arthur Mee described the old West Riding of Yorkshire in his original preface to this guidebook to the historic county, first published in 1941. In many ways, that still holds true today, despitealmost seventyyears of change brought about by the War, new roads, industrial and housing redevelopment, new methods of agriculture, and new county boundaries.
Celebrating Yorkshire as it was in the 1930’s, Arthur Mee’s alphabetical anecdotal ramble, complemented by over 160 period illustrations, is a fascinating period piece, giving a snapshot of the county as it was before half a century of change altered its face forever.
In Arthur Mee’s affable company we tour the pre-1974 county, taking in Doncaster, Leeds, Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough, Bradford ("The City of the Golden Fleece”) Huddersfield ("Wool and Worsted Town”) Wakefield ("A city full of surprises”) Sheffield, the capital of the steel age, and Barnsley, set in its smoky valley of pits.
The West Riding as Mee saw it was a busy place, with viaducts, bridges, and forests of high chimneys, with brass foundries, linen factories, paper mills, and iron and steel forges. Yet it is not simply the chronicle of innumerable towns and villages, churches, castles, and halls that makes this book such a rich historical pageant. It is also the Yorkshire characters we meet on every page. Not just the obvious characters, such as The Brontes, Len Hutton, Herbert Sutcliffe and Squire Waterton, but also soldiers, such as Sir Thoma Fairfax, and others whose names ring with the clang of distant sword blades, the Cliftons, The Percys, and the Nevilles. Not to mention the lesser known figures, such as Dr Fothergill, the Wensleydale Quaker who drove round London with his 16-stone coachman, John Gully, the pugilist, who once drew a crowd so large that the rumour spread that the French had landed and the militia was turned out, and the amazing "Walking Powell” of Horsforth, who tramped from York to London and back in just 138 hours in 1773.
Essential reading for all those who know and love the county, this facsimile of Arthur Mee’s West Riding of Yorkshire will appeal both to those who are familiar with his remarkable work, and those who have come to see Yorkshire’s grand, gritty, and glorious landscape afresh through his eyes.