Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C Levitt (Pen and Sword £12.99)

I DO love a book that makes the claim in its preface that York is “the most important city in the north of the country since Roman times.” To back up this statement, the author takes us through a couple of millennia of fighting and settlements, change and adaption.

The book starts with the prehistoric cultures that left us the round barrow sites of the Bronze age: ancient burial mounds in which archaeologists have found great clues to early life.

There are chapters on the Romans, including their struggles with the Brigantes, and on the Anglo-Saxons, whose settlements (lasting some 400 years) were established in places like Rudston on the Wolds and West Heslerton.

It was the Anglo-Saxon Edwin who established the church in York named St Peter, first as a wooden structure and later in stone. It is these  titbits of information that show how we know about the past and which I find fascinating, like the story of workmen in 1644 who uncovered the relics of the blessed St John who had been interred in the floor of Beverley Minster in 1197. In a  chapter called “The Anarchy,” we learn of  a terrible time when “the barons had oppressed the countryside, ravaging the crops, sacking villages, in order to maintain their private armies.” 

Surprisingly, it was during this period that several major abbeys in Yorkshire were established including Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx. As if the early middle ages weren’t tough enough, the plague followed in the later middle ages. It left many a medieval village abandoned in its wake, as labour was short and landowners increased pastureland and agricultural labour decreased. 

You can still see the traces of one of these abandoned villages at Wharram Percy in the Wolds.

The book is not short of mentioning key Yorkshire folk who influenced the bigger world, from John Harrison, who revolutionised marine voyages with his first sea watch or marine chronometer, to the great aviator Amy Johnson and  Henry Asquith, a former Prime Minster who was born in Morley, Leeds.

So for a really good overview of the history of our great county, you need look no further than this informative and thorough book.

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