Back in the UK staying near Leeds, the capital of the North of England in the county of West Yorkshire also known as Gods Own Country. I find myself returning to my roots, in an area where I lived for my first 21 years, all be it for 6 weeks. I remember it being a grey, miserable industrial city with huge daunting buildings and tower blocks of flats; a strange accent missing out letters in words and sounding very lazy or sadly lacking in education. Today accents in the UK are revered and not like the past when it would discourage employers, today could actually be the tipping point of success. Speaking the Queen’s English is no longer a requirement of the BBC!
Leeds today is an influential city with lots going for it. Historically it was a major centre for the production and trading of wool in the 17th and 18th century. During the Industrial Revolution Leeds developed into a major mill town with engineering and iron foundries also became important industries in the area. Today after London Leeds is the largest legal and financial centre.
I find myself walking round the city looking up and admiring and feeling proud of my English heritage and the survival of so many of the old Georgian and Victorian buildings. Though many of the places I remember, such as The Ceylon Tea Centre, Betty’s Tea Shop where my grandparents would take us as a treat, Schofields and Lewis’s departmental stores, and many more, have long gone, the old buildings stand tall and proud along side with the 20th and 21st century innovative architecture. There’s been a massive regeneration converting old buildings into bars and restaurants, a surge of vintage shops and lots of start-ups.
Leeds over the last few decades has become a thriving city. It feels affluent and not too troubled by the UK economic climate. Yes there are people sleeping on the streets stuffed into their sleeping bags surrounded by empty cups and food supplied by passersby and the local Feed the Homeless charity.
It’s difficult to say which shops are thriving as they no longer provide plastic bags to take your purchases home in, in an attempt to reduce wastage. When I was younger all bags were paper and easily recycled and put to use. The only store I see taking advantage is Primark. This cheap clothes store aimed to supply poorly made, poor quality to keep costs down has become a success story of the high street allowing people to keep up with fashion changes without breaking the bank. However, the other side of the story is that they source some of the merchandise from the poorest of countries, like Cambodia, where a monthly wage is less than $140 (£107) a month, staff working in large industrial type buildings with corrugated roofs, no air conditioning, poor work conditions, hence Primark can keep their costs down.
I’m enjoying my visit, especially the friendliness of the people. Everywhere I go people smile, make eye contact, and chat. To be able to hold a conversation in English with English speakers is so refreshing after being in foreign lands for so long. I’ve had all sorts of conversations finding out one lady’s husband got very sick in India and never ate another curry, or the lady who was on holiday in Malta, tripped and broke her arm, needing an anti DVT injection to be allowed to fly home, or the man in the Post Office who went round the back to fetch his passport to impress me with the number of country stamps he had amassed, and the lady who said a baby would grow up ‘mad as a box of frogs’ because her mother was playing with her and keeping her engaged, and many more.
Yorkshire isn’t just about Leeds, there’s the countryside and lots of villages and other towns. My favourite is Harrogate, an old spa town where the well off used to holiday to take the waters.
Between Leeds and Manchester is Hebden Bridge, a quirky small market town voted the 4th funkiest town in the world, with it’s upstairs downstairs houses where space is limited because of it’s steep valleys and lack of flat land. Houses are built on terraces with 4 or 5 storeys. The upper storeys face uphill and the lower storeys face downhill with their back wall against the hillside. The upper 2/3 storeys would be one house and the lower storeys another.
There’s history and culture at Temple Newsam, a stately home which was first mentioned in the Domesday Book. It’s a beautiful Tudor-Jacobean mansion famous as the birth place of Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary Queen of Scots, who was hanged for treason. Wander around the 10s of rooms over 3 floors, filled with collections of Chippendale furniture, paintings, furniture, fabulous wallpapers, silver wear listening to the audio guide one of the lady’s maid! There’s nothing like English history!
A reminder of the dangers of mining such as the memorial to the 7 who died in the flooding of Lofthouse Colliery, petting farms for children to close up to farming animals, hedgerows, fields, lots of bridle walking paths, etc