Where does the north of England begin? The debate has been raging for decades.  But what if I told you the question has already been answered – specifically, by the techno-slash-art project the KLF.

In 1991, the band – then going under the name “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” – recorded a ten minute song called “It’s Grim Up North”. The majority of the song consists of town names being delivered in a Scottish monotone over a pulsing techno beat, listing towns that are “are all in the North”.

If the KLF says it, who are we to argue? I’ve taken the song lyrics – using Wikipedia’s interpretation of ambiguous lines (so “Cheadle Hulme” not “Cheadle” and “Hulme”, but “Accrington” and “Stanley” not “Accrington Stanley”) – and, ignoring the fact that Leigh appears twice, mapped them all.

So, what is in the North?

The first thing you’ll notice is that “the North” doesn’t actually go all that far north. Barrow-in-Furness is the only Cumbrian town to appear, and there is not a single settlement in the North East: no Newcastle, no Middlesbrough, no Hartlepool, no Berwick.

By and large, the KLF’s North is the M62 corridor. Rugby league land. Roses territory. Lancashire and Yorkshire, basically. And not even all of Yorkshire – North Yorkshire barely gets a look-in, and Hull is the only East Riding settlement to appear. (At the time “It’s Grim Up North” came out, Hull was part of the unloved Humberside)

On the other hand, there’s quite a lot of Cheshire, even though many beyond the Tees sniff at its claims to Northernness. Lincolnshire gets a look in too, with three towns (all part of former Humberside), as does Derbyshire with two. Here’s the full historic county breakdown:

  • Cheshire: 10
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Lancashire: 30
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Yorkshire: 24

Number of places mentioned from each historic county.

It looks like the Red Rose of Lancashire is victorious once more.

But the historic county boundaries don’t bear much resemblance to the modern day ones – especially in the part of the country the song covers. Lancashire and Cheshire have been chopped up, as Merseyside and Greater Manchester broke away; Yorkshire has been cut into four parts; and towns like Barrow-in-Furness and Warrington have been traded from one county to another.

Going by today’s county borders, the picture is a bit different.

  • Cheshire: 9
  • Cumbria: 1
  • Derbyshire: 2
  • Greater Manchester: 13
  • Lancashire: 12
  • Lincolnshire: 3
  • Merseyside: 5
  • East Riding of Yorkshire: 1
  • North Yorkshire: 4
  • South Yorkshire: 4
  • West Yorkshire: 15

Number of places named from each modern ceremonial county.

West Yorkshire comes out on top now, with Greater Manchester and the rest of Lancashire close behind. These are all fairly urban areas (many of the Lancastrian towns are either on the fringes of Manchester or along the M65 motorway around Preston and Blackburn). More rural regions like North Yorkshire and the East Riding are largely ignored.

A few more interesting facts: the northernmost town mentioned is Scarborough, the easternmost is Cleethorpes, the southernmost is Nantwich and the westernmost is Barrow-in-Furness.

If you average the co-ordinates of all the places mentioned, you end up just outside Rochdale Town Centre, which means the town probably has a good claim to being the most Northern place in the North.

The most populated place on the M62 that’s not mentioned is Liverpool, while the smallest place that is mentioned (not including windy Ilkley Moor) seems to be Pendlebury.

Anyway, I felt bad for the towns of the North East and Cumbria that the KLF never mentioned, so in their honour I’ve composed a fourth verse:

Birtley, Whitby, Whitley Bay,

Darlo, Boro, Hartlepool,

Kendall, Keswick, Windermere,

Norton, Stockton, Seaton Carew,

Amble, Alnwick, Berwick on Tweed,

Ripon, Richmond, Redcar, Thirsk,

Manors, Byker, Jesmond, Shields,

Tyneside, Wearside, the Lakes are also in the North.

Should the KLF ever reform, they’re welcome to this. And don’t worry about royalities – I know money’s a bit tight.


 

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