Northern England

Northern England
North of England
Nickname(s): The North, North Country

The three Northern England regions shown within England, without regional boundaries.
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country England
Largest settlements
  Total 14,414 sq mi (37,331 km2)
Population (2011)
  Total 14,933,000
Time zone GMT (UTC)
  Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)

Northern England, or North of England, also known as the North or the North Country, is the northern part of England and one the country's three principal cultural areas, along with the Midlands and Southern England. Geographically, the area roughly spans from the River Trent and River Dee to the Scottish border in the north.

Northern England roughly includes three statistical regions: the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. These have a combined population of around 14.9 million and an area of 37,331 km2 (14,414 sq mi).

During antiquity most of the area was part of Brigantia — homeland of the Brigantes and the largest Brythonic kingdom of Great Britain. After the Roman conquest of Britain the city of York became capital of the area, called Britannia Inferior then Britannia Secunda. In Sub-Roman Britain new Brythonic kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd ("Old North") emerged. The Angle settlers created Bernicia and Deira from which came The Kingdom of Northumbria and a Golden Age in cultural, scholarly and monastic activity, centred on Lindisfarne and aided by Irish monks.[1] Norse and Gaelic Viking raiders gained control of much of the area, creating the Danelaw. During this time there were close relations with Mann and the Isles, Dublin and Norway. Northumbria was unified with the rest of England under Eadred around 952.

After the Norman conquest in 1066, the Harrying of the North brought destruction, and the Normans did not reach Carlisle until 1092, so much of the area was not included in the Domesday Book.

A Council of the North was in place during the Late Middle Ages until the Commonwealth after the Civil War. The area experienced Anglo–Scottish border fighting until the unification of Britain under the Stuarts.



Concepts of the North take account of perceived "northern" regional accents. Experts on historical dialects categorise as northern the area north of a line that begins at the Humber estuary, and runs up the River Wharfe and across to the River Lune in north Lancashire.[2] However, the linguistic elements that traditionally defined this area, such as use of doon instead of down and substitution of -ang noise in words that end -ong (lang instead of long), are now prevalent only in the more northern parts of the region; these linguistic features may reflect a more modern interpretation of where the line sits today. As speech has changed, there is little consensus on what defines a "northern" accent or dialect.

Many people in Yorkshire and north Lancashire omit certain sounds from sentences in casual speech, such as saying "I'm goin t'shops" or "I'm going to shops" as opposed to "I'm going to the shops." The word "the" is often not used in UK northern dialect.


St Bees Head, the most westerly point of Northern England

The north of England may also be considered as the area (from coast to coast) surrounding the Pennines, an upland chain often referred to as "the backbone of England". This stretches from the Cheviot Hills on the border with Scotland to the Peak District. The areas defined were formerly dominated by heavy industry and mineral extraction and processing. Combined with the characteristically wild, hilly landscape of the region, this has led to the popular belief, mainly by those from the south of England, of it being "grim up North". However nowadays this expression is mostly used comically, and spelt, for effect, "grim oop north". Northern England contains the most upland and mountainous landscape within England, with the Pennines dividing the west and east, the Lake District mountains in Cumbria, the North York Moors in North Yorkshire and the Cheviot Hills in the far north. The region also contains the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike which rises up to 978 m (3,209 ft) in the Lake District.

It is an area of contrasting landscapes. There are several urban belts, many of which join to form one larger belt that runs from Liverpool to Leeds along the M62 corridor, then south to Sheffield along the M1 corridor. There are further agglomerations in the north-east and east of Preston. Around 11 million people live in the area covered by the Northern Way, most in its largest cities Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bradford, Hull and Manchester.

Government Office Regions

The north might also be considered to include the three former Government Office Regions of North East England, North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber. This area consists of the ceremonial counties of Cheshire, Cumbria, County Durham, East Riding of Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire, plus the unitary authority areas of North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. The regions also hold the North of England Inward Investment Agency which is a UK government sponsored agency that represents two Regional Development Agencies in north England: Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and One Northeast (ONE).

Additionally, some areas of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have been administratively associated with the north. Towns in the High Peak borough of Derbyshire are included in the Greater Manchester Built-Up Area, due to their close proximity to the city of Manchester, and before this the borough was considered to become part of the Greater Manchester Statutory City Region. More recently, the Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire, Bolsover, and Derbyshire Dales districts have joined with districts of South Yorkshire to form the Sheffield City Region, along with the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire, although for all other purposes these districts still remain in their respective East Midlands counties.

There has also been some debate surrounding whether Stoke-on-Trent in the north of midlands county Staffordshire is considered to have a northern identity, to the point where Labour Party member Alastair Campbell and Deputy Leader of the city's council Abigail Brown put forward the idea of Stoke-on-Trent labelling itself the 'gateway to the north'. [3] This was partially fulfilled when it and the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Staffordshire Moorlands districts of the county joined with several Cheshire boroughs to form the Northern Gateway Partnership in late 2015. [4]

Historic counties

Alternatively, the North might be considered to comprise the seven historic counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Northumberland, Westmorland, County Durham, Lancashire and the three ridings of Yorkshire, West, North and East.


Northern England is sometimes defined to coincide with the ecclesiastical Province of York, which is overseen by the Archbishop of York. The Province includes the Isle of Man, which in ecclesiastical terms is the see of Sodor and Man; it also includes in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham the north Midland county Nottinghamshire. A comparable definition in Roman Catholic terms would be the Province of Liverpool.[5]


The Romans called an area similar to northern England "Britannia Inferior" (Lower Britain) and it was ruled from the city of Eboracum (modern York).[6] The Brigantes occupied the region between the rivers Tyne and Humber. The sub-capital held sway over the rest of the land north of there, which included for a brief period the part of the Scottish lowlands between Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall.

After the arrival of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, the north was divided into rival kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira. Bernicia covered lands north of the Tees, whilst Deira corresponded roughly to the eastern half of modern-day Yorkshire. Bernicia and Deira were first united as Northumbria by Aethelfrith, a king of Bernicia who conquered Deira around the year 604.[7] An area east and west of the Pennines was divided into two Celtic kingdoms, Rheged (Cumbria and Lancashire) and Elmet (West Riding of Yorkshire).[8] The north of England forms a large part of the Hen Ogledd, Welsh for 'Old North'. The north-west of England still retains vestiges of a Celtic culture, and had its own Celtic language, Cumbric, spoken predominately in Cumbria until around the 12th century.

Parts of the north and east of England were subject to Danish control (the Danelaw) during the Viking era, but the northern part of the old Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, remained under Anglo-Saxon control.[9] Viking control of certain areas, particularly around Yorkshire is recalled in the etymology of many place names and surnames in the area. Anglo-Norman aspirations in the Pale of Ireland have some roots in the Viking forays on the Irish Sea and the trade route which ran from York and crossing the Edinburgh-Glasgow area in Scotland, to Dublin in Ireland.

Historically the north was controlled from London by the Council of the North, based at the King's Manor, York, set up in 1484 by Richard III.[10] However the major decisions affecting the north of England have been made entirely in London since this institution was abolished in 1641.[11]

As the centre of the industrial revolution, northern England has long been characterised by its industrial centres, from the mill towns of Lancashire, textile centres of Yorkshire, shipyards of the north-east to the mining towns found throughout the north and the fishing ports along both east and west coasts. However, whilst much of the south and east of England has in general prospered economically, the north and west have remained relatively poor; consequently there are currently many government-subsidised urban regeneration projects happening across northern towns and cities, aiming to redress the lack of private investment in the area. Five of the ten most populous cities in the United Kingdom lie in the north.

The picture is not clear-cut, however, as the north has areas which are as wealthy as, if not wealthier than, fashionable southern areas such as Surrey. Yorkshire's "Golden Triangle" which extends from north Leeds to Harrogate and across to York is an example, as is Cheshire's Golden Triangle, centred on Alderley Edge.[12] Lancashire, for example is a county of contrast, with some areas having some of the lowest property prices in the country, whilst the towns of Lytham St Annes and Clitheroe have wealthy reputations. Equally, counties such as Cornwall share the relative economic deprivation often associated with parts of the north.


The flat cap stereotypically associated with Northern England and still worn today.[13]

The North of England is often stereotypically represented at events or stage performances through the clothing worn by working-class men and women during the 19th and early 20th centuries,[14] especially by those working in factories, mines and farms. Men would often wear a collar shirt or grandfather shirt, and trousers with a waistcoat or jacket along with a flat cap.[15] Women would wear a dress, or a skirt and blouse, with an apron on top as protection from dirt; in colder months they would often wear a shawl.[16] If not wearing leather lace-up shoes, some men and women would have worn English clogs, which were hardwearing (especially in factories with machinery)[17] and would therefore last a long time. As a result of wearing them for periods of time, a type of folk clog dance referred to as clogging was intricately developed in the north.[18] Traditional morris dancers in the North West of England would also wear clogs when morris dancing. Clothing was modest but respectful and consisted of plain material such as cotton or wool produced from the factories in the area. The clothing worn at the time has inspired fashion today, including the flat cap which is still worn by some men,[19] and clogs which are today made out of lighter materials and have evolved into other forms such as clog sandals and heels. It has also inspired songs such as "She's a Lassie from Lancashire" by Florrie Forde.


Many religions are present in northern England, with Christianity remaining the largest since the Early Middle Ages; its existence in Britain dates back to the Roman era and its Celtic Christianity. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne played an essential role in the Christianisation of Northumbria, after Aidan from Connacht founded a monastery there as the first Bishop of Lindisfarne on the request of King Oswald.[20] It is known for the creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels and remains a place of pilgrimage.[21][22] Paulinus, as part of the Gregorian mission, became the first Bishop of York. It was at the Synod of Whitby that calculations of Easter were brought into line with Roman calculations.

In the modern day, the three main forms of Christianity practised are Anglicanism, Catholicism and Methodism. In terms of ecclesiastical administration of the Church of England, the entire north is covered by the Province of York, which is represented by the Archbishop of York. Likewise, with the exception of parts of the Diocese of Shrewsbury, the North is covered in Roman Catholic Church administration by the Province of Liverpool, represented by the Archbishop of Liverpool.

There is a sizeable Muslim population in the North, which ranges from zero per cent in many rural areas to 19.4% in Blackburn with Darwen.



Football is the most popular sport in the north of England, and has many big clubs including four of the most successful teams in the country, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City and Manchester United. Northern clubs have won the English league title 77 times, which is more than double the number of wins achieved by the rest of the country, taking into account that The Football League predominantly featured Northern and Midland clubs during the league's first two decades. Large Northern clubs are usually well supported. The largest football stadiums in the north are Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium (Manchester), St James' Park (Newcastle), Stadium of Light (Sunderland), Anfield and Goodison Park (Liverpool), Bramall Lane and Hillsborough (Sheffield), Elland Road (Leeds) and Riverside Stadium (Middlesbrough).


The sport of rugby underwent a schism in 1895 when many teams based in Yorkshire, Lancashire and surrounding areas broke away from the Rugby Football Union and formed their own Rugby League.[23] The disagreement that led to the split was over the issue of professional payments, and "broken time" or injury payments.

The north contributed to a powerful Rugby Union team in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s who beat the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies. Former players include Bill Beaumont, Will Carling and Rory Underwood. But more recently the region's club sides have become relatively weaker, with association football, cricket and Rugby League being cited as more popular across the region.[24] Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons play in the English Premiership, whereas Yorkshire Carnegie, Doncaster R.F.C. and Rotherham R.U.F.C. play in the RFU Championship.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is the largest indoor spectator sport in the UK with crowds often attracting thousands on a weekly basis and topping the attendance of cricket matches.[25] Some of the most successful teams in the country such as the Sheffield Steelers, Manchester Storm and Nottingham Panthers hail from northern England and all compete in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the highest level of ice hockey in the UK. Other northern clubs have also seen success in recent years in lower-level leagues such as the Manchester Phoenix and the Blackburn Hawks.

On 23 February 1997 northern rivals Manchester Storm and the Sheffield Steelers played in an Ice Hockey Superleague game (league now defunct) to a sold out crowd of 17,245 at the then-named NYNEX Arena setting the highest attendance of an ice hockey game in the UK.[26] Although this record has not been broken, the formation of the new Elite Ice Hockey League set its highest attendance figure of 9,037 in December 2015. Again, this record was set by two northern clubs: the Sheffield Steelers vs. Nottingham Panthers at the Sheffield Arena.[27]

See also



  1. "Historical background to The Golden Age". Golden Age of Northumbria. Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  2. See, for example, John Wells, Accents of English Volume 2, pages 349–350, or Peter Trudgill, The Dialects of England, pages 39–41
  5. Royal College of St. Alban, Valladolid – The five provinces of England and Wales
  6. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII, London: Cambridge University Press, 1970: p.706
  7. D. P. Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, pages 60–61.
  8. "Kingdom of Elmete". Heartland. 24 October 2007. Archived from the original on 28 March 2008.
  9. "The Old English word Dene ‘Danes’ usually refers to Scandinavians of any kind; most of the invaders were indeed Danish (East Norse speakers), but there were Norwegians (West Norse [speakers]) among them as well." —Lass, Roger, Old English: A Historical Linguistic Companion, p.187, n.12. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  10. Richard III Timeline
  11. King's Manor Tudor and Stuart
  12. McClean, Malcolm (2007), To the edge: entrepreneurial secrets from Britain's richest square mile, ISBN 978-1-84112-782-8
  19. White, Belinda (25 January 2013). "Best of the high street's collections". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  20. "The Religious History of Lindisfarne". Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  21. "The Easter Walking Pilgrimage to Holy Island". Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  22. "The history of The Gospels". Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  23. Fagan, Sean (2008). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia (PDF). National Museum of Australia. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-876944-64-3.
  24. Eykyn, Alastair (4 May 2011). "BBC Sport – Rugby union in the north of England is dying". BBC News. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  25. "'ICE HOCKEY IN BRITAIN ATTRACTS MORE PEOPLE THAN YOU THINK . . . SOME CROWDS BEAT CRICKET'". sportingintelligence. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  26. "Manchester Storm - 1996-1997". Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  27. "RECORD CROWD WATCHES STEELERS PANTHERS". Elite Ice Hockey League. Retrieved 31 March 2016.


Further reading

  • Holder, Judith (2005) It's Not Grim Up North. London: BBC Books ISBN 0-563-52281-X
  • Maconie, Stuart (February 2007). Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North. London: Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-191022-8
  • Turner, Graham (1967) The North Country. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode
  • Wainwright, Martin (2009) True North. London: Guardian Books ISBN 978-0-85265-113-1
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