Arguably one of the epicentres of modern civilisation, it should come as no surprise when in search of historic sites, travellers naturally think of England. Northern England has been an influential contributor to the nation’s rise, with a rich and stark history.
Where History has so Many Stories to Tell
Northern England before it was North England was home to fierce and martial Celtic tribes who were invaded and subjugated by Romans; later divided into the ‘North Country’ following Norman invasion of William the conqueror, notable for his genocidal ‘Harrowing of the North’. People from ‘North Country’ and their rich land resources eventually played a revolutionary role on the world stage as the heartland of the Industrial Revolution in England in the 1800s.
New wealth created through industry, particularly in the East and West of Northern England, was a vivid contrast to the relative poverty of the remaining areas. This quickly gave rise to social movements, weaving revolutionary tales around the many ancient and historic sites dotting the cities, towns and countryside of Northern England.
Northern England has a unique story all its own, which incorporates its spectacular landscapes, its areas of industry and economy, and its people. This rich social, architectural, environmental and political history can capture the imaginations of the ‘inner historian’ in all of us – making any trip to Northern England a comprehensive history lesson.
Ancient Borders in Carlisle
No visit to Northern England is complete without journeying to its most northern reaches. Standing on the border with Scotland, you look out across the still-proud rise of Hadrian’s Wall. First started in 122 AD, Hadrian’s Wall extended across the country; from the banks of the River Tyne, to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. It is hard now to fathom defending the northern limits of England could warrant such extraordinary efforts from the Romans, but the wall and its guardians highlights the fierce, fighting spirit and culture of the local tribes on both sides of the border, as well as the Roman occupiers.
Carlisle is also home to a garrison castle which is said to have given rise to the creation of the much-loved but slightly macabre Scottish song, ‘Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond’. It was rumoured to be sung by a Jacobite prisoner who knew he would never see Scotland again.
Yorkshire’s Bloody Civic Battles
The Grand Old Duke of York,
He had 10,000 men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
Then he marched them down again.
Some attribute this well-known children’s song to a particularly bloody battle in the War of the Roses, known as the Battle of Wakefield and consequently, Richard III’s demise. Incidentally, this may also be what the mnemonic poem to remember the order of colours in a rainbow refers to (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain), Shakespeare too was inspired to write about Richard III’s story.
From Roman or Norman sites, embrace the bloody battles of Yorkshire past. Retrace the steps of many a traitor or Yorkist king on guided walking tours, taking in York’s often violent history; encompassing historic sites such as the castle and the stunning power and grandeur of the York Minster cathedral.
Also known as St Peter’s, York’s cathedral is renowned as one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe and was designed from 1220 to be the greatest cathedral in the kingdom. It was built on the remains of the Basilica, the centre of a Roman fortress, although the first Christian Church on the site dates back to 627.
The Rise of Industry explained in Beamish
Understanding how the people and resources of Northern England influenced and shaped their times is perhaps best understood at the Beamish Open-Air Museum. Described as the “Living Museum of The North”, it is located at Beamish, near the town of Stanley in County Durham.
The museum provides examples of everyday life in urban and rural North East England in the early 20th century. You are able to explore the 1900s Town to understand how families lived in the years leading up to the First World War, or visit the Pit Village, showing rural life in the early 1900s. The 1900s Colliery shows a critical part of the North’s history, where you can undertake a guided tour and experience the reality of life for underground miners, which at one point employed over 150,000 Northern men and boys in 304 mines around the Durham area.
Retrace your steps further back in time by visiting Pockerley Old Hall where you can ride on the Pockerley Waggonway as they did in the 1820s.
The 300 acre Beamish estate contains an enormous collection of artefacts, livestock, working vehicles and equipment including the old Beamish Tramway.
No trip to County Durham is complete without a visit to Durham Cathedral and Castle. The castle is an ancient Norman fortress situated behind the Cathedral, former residence of the prince-bishops of Durham. Take in the magnificence of the finest example of Norman architecture in England and one of the first structures to qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Great Products, Fine Shops in Chester
Visit Chester and you will find the distinctive architecture of the Rows. These two-tiered medieval galleries boast some of the finest shops in the city. Records show the Rows have existed since the late 13th century. The black and white half-timbered buildings have been gradually rebuilt and renovated with most of the current buildings being of Victorian or Edwardian design. If you close your eyes, it is easy to imagine the work of local makers, and later, products from Northern England’s great fabric mills displayed in the shop windows.
Pathways to Industry
The development of canals and rail, from the 18th century, connected Northern England with the rest of the country, creating vital links to support large-scale industry.
These very practical pathways remain today, providing some of the most extraordinary vistas and examples of engineering feats in the country. If you only take one journey along the rail viaducts of Northern England, then take the Settle-Carlisle Railway trip, across the Ribblehead Viaduct. This trip runs from the Yorkshire Dales, almost to the Irish Sea. As you cross the Ribblehead Viaduct you feel as if you are flying, looking down below at the people, roads and walkways who are all staring up, transfixed, as you journey past.
Birth of Industrial Cities
Manchester, and nearby Liverpool, gave birth to the industrial revolution. Manchester still wears the scars for its part in the industrial revolution. If you look closely you’ll see the dark shadows of the coal smoke on the stones of the buildings even when you walk the streets today. Their grey cast takes on a new dimension when you realise it tells the tale of a time that completely altered the course of modern man, and set up many of the practices we still see as integral to how we operate industry and business today.
No visit to Manchester is complete without a trip to Chetham’s Library. This 17th century library is believed to be the oldest preserved library in England and is open to the public without appointment. During school terms, this library features concerts performed by pupils at the adjacent School where they take advantage of the extraordinary acoustics and medieval atmosphere to show you a side of Manchester you may not think to see if you just focus on its more recent, industrial history.
Transported through Time
The historic sites of Northern England are a journey through the ages, linked with threads which clearly show how events that occurred in Northern England have shaped contemporary England, and indeed the world. Take a trip through the historic sites of Northern England and let yourself be transported through time.