Quite a lot to be honest!
Imagine a world without Northern England. It would be a dull place devoid of The Beatles, iconic suspension bridges, daft footballers, and railway lines. Prior to the late 1970s, we were the manufacturing heart of the world. We built bridges, ships, made cutlery and built the world its locomotives and carriages. Today, most of what manufacturing capacity we had has been eviscerated by London-centric governments and globalisation. Prior to the mid 1980s, we kept most of our country’s power stations ticking over and our houses warm, before they closed down the pits and started importing its coal.
Before anyone flippantly answers the question by shouting ‘roads’, I would like to say that to some extent you may be right. However, there has been a lot more things Northern England has done to make the United Kingdom and the rest of the world a good place to live. Both culturally and materially.
Before I continue, feel free to put the kettle on: this is going to be one hell of a list! Please note that none of these are in any particular order.
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1. Built the Sydney Harbour Suspension Bridge: Opened in 1932 and constructed by Dorman Long and Co. Ltd, Middlesbrough.
2. Kickstarted the UK’s motorway revolution: the first motorway class road in Great Britain was the Preston Bypass, which opened in 1958. In 1973, the M62 in its present form opened, with great engineering feats including Scammonden bridge.
3. Built the world’s first inter-city mixed traffic railway: from Manchester (Liverpool Road) to Liverpool, in 1830. It is still in regular use as Transpennine Express’ route to Liverpool Lime Street, though from Manchester Victoria.
4. Popularised sea bathing and seaside resorts: Scarborough is often hailed as the UK’s first modern day seaside resort.
5. Introduced professionalism into sport: the Northern Union – now known as Rugby League was formed at The George Hotel, Huddersfield in 1895, with clubs breaking away from the Rugby Football Union. The Football League before then was formally created at the Royal Hotel, Manchester in 1888, following the 1885 legalisation of professionalism in Association Football.
6. Birthplace of the Co-op: the Rochdale Pioneers formed the vanguard of our original Big Society, with a shop on Toad Lane in 1844. Today, as the fully consolidated Cooperative Wholesale Society, it now boasts a number of shops, funeral parlours, and banks. In recent times, the Cooperative’s chemists have been sold to Bestway and its travel agencies were sold to Thomas Cook. (Which in turn went bust with most of their branches being acquired by Hays Travel).
7. Challenged its southern counterparts at Association Football: most trophies have been won by Northern sides, with Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton the North’s most successful sides of all time – and throughout the UK as well.
8. Built part of the new Wembley Stadium: the new Wembley Stadium was built using steel from the now closed Tata Steel Redcar plant. Inside the hollow structure of the arch is a number of Middlesbrough shirts.
9. Nurtured two of the most successful bands in the world of pop music: Liverpool brought us The Beatles, whereas Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the Isle of Man brought us The Bee Gees.
10. Spawned two successful soap operas: Manchester is indelibly linked with Coronation Street, first broadcast on the 09 December 1960. On the 16 October 1972 came Yorkshire Television’s Emmerdale Farm, still popular today with ‘Farm’ dropped from the title since 1989.
11. Popularised Greyhound Racing: the spiritual home of greyhound racing was Kirkmanshulme Lane, Belle Vue, where William Gentle began the sport in 1926. It remained in use till the summer of 2020. Since the demolition of their Hyde Road Stadium in November 1987 – and the loss of its subsequent venue, the Belle Vue Aces speedway team moved to the new Kirkmanshulme Road stadium a short distance away.
12. Created Britain’s first popular music programme: from 1964 to 1968, BBC’s Top of the Pops started life in a former church on Dickenson Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock, before moving to Television Centre, London. Less said about its pioneering presenter the better.
13. Led the way in European Football Competitions: Manchester United was the first English club to lift the European Champions Cup in 1968, whereas Liverpool dominated European competitions from 1971 to 1984. Leeds United also did pretty well in the Don Revie era though never got to win European honours.
14. Brought us the present day F.A. Challenge Cup trophy: today’s F.A. Challenge Cup trophy is a replica of an original trophy made by Bradford jewellers Fattorini’s in 1911. This was also the same year when Bradford City lifted the F.A. Cup.
15. Partly responsible for the James Bond theme: its composer Barry Gray was born in Lancashire.
16. Indirectly responsible for The Bash Street Kids, The Three Bears and Little Plum: the creator of both Beano strips, Leo Baxendale was born in Preston, Lancashire.
17. Home to the world’s first digital computer: the Ferranti Mark I was built in February 1951 and operated by the University of Manchester.
18. Created the modern day police force: Bury born Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police force in 1829 which paved the way for similar forces across the United Kingdom. Police officers are often known collectively as ‘bobbies’ thanks to Sir Robert Peel’s instigation.
19. Gave birth to the modern trade union movement: the United Kingdom of Alliance of Organised Trades was formed in Sheffield in 1866. Two years later, the Trades Union Congress was formed in the Mechanics’ Institute on Princess Street, Manchester.
20. Gave birth to the Campaign for Real Ale: four Mancunian drinkers formed CAMRA in 1971 after their disillusionment of incumbent keg ales and lack of variety. It is often claimed that the birthplace of CAMRA was The White Lion in Hyde, a popular town centre pub, once owned by Robinsons Brewery.
21. Pioneered modern day out of town shopping: though the USA had her retail parks from the 1950s and 1960s, it was Yorkshire based store chains Morrisons and ASDA which popularised out of town shopping in the UK. Early units were either purpose built sheds or converted from cinemas and cotton or woollen mills.
22. Operated Britain’s first stage carriage bus service: 195 years before Diamond Bus North West began operations in Greater Manchester, John Greenwood operated Britain’s first bus service. It ran between Salford and Pendleton in 1824. Most of Diamond Bus North West’s – and First Greater Manchester’s Vantage bus routes into Bolton, Leigh, Atherton, and Worsley follow part of that pioneering bus route.
23. Birth of the world’s first industrial estate: between 1898 and 1911, Trafford Park reinvented itself from being a rural pocket to a purpose built industrial estate, well connected with the Manchester Ship Canal.
24. Home to the world’s oldest brass band: Stalybridge Old Band, founded in 1809 and still active today. They also played in what was known as The Peterloo Massacre, a seminal moment in the advancement of British democracy.
25. Birthplace of the song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’: Stalybridge was the birthplace of the popular song written by Jack Judge in 1912.
26. Britain’s first National Parks: the Peak District and Lake District have Britain’s first National Parks. Both were formed in 1951.
27. The literary genius of Alfred Wainwright: many a rambler or hiker would be familiar with his works on Lake District walks and his illustrations. Besides extensive local knowledge, another lasting legacy of his is the Coast to Coast Long Distance Path from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay.
28. Britain’s first and best known long distance path: created in 1967 was the Pennine Way from Edale to Kirk Yetholm.
29. The World’s First Test Tube Baby: Louise Brown, delivered by Dr. Patrick Steptoe in 1978 at the Royal Oldham Hospital.
30. The home of PG Tips: our favourite monkey adverts involving pianos wouldn’t have surfaced without the formation of Brooke Bond, whose first shop was in… Ashton-under-Lyne.
31. Split the atom: in 1917, the atom was split by Ernest Rutherford at Victoria University of Manchester. Several years on, this would necessitate the dawn of nuclear power and form a bit part of the Cold War.
32. Change the way we would see our skies: the pioneering Jodrell Bank radio telescope in Goostrey, Cheshire enables us to find out about quasars, meteors and other celestial bodies.
33. The world’s first publicly funded park: Birkenhead’s Park opened in 1847 and inspired New York’s Central Park.
34. Revived Neil Sedaka’s career: we have the legendary Strawberry Studios in Stockport to thank for his second coming with the Laughter and Tears LP. The backing band and production values were pretty good too. When Neil Sedaka asked the band why they couldn’t record great songs for themselves, they became 10cc and cemented another place in music history.
35. Built the Eiffel Tower: the rivets of Paris’ most famous landmark came from Park Bridge Ironworks.
36. Gave the world cheap and cheerful railbuses that saved rural lines from closure: whatever you say about the Pacer family of diesel trains, they saved numerous rural and urban lines from closure by British Rail. Most of the Leyland National-derived trains were built in Workington, whereas some were built by Andrew Barclay in Kilmarnock and Walter Alexander in Falkirk.
37. Played an important part in creating a multi-billion pound video gaming industry: the story of video gaming history goes beyond the Video Game Crash, Atari and Nintendo. A lot of what is now today’s multi-billion pound industry has its roots in Sheffield (Gremlin Graphics, Alligata), Manchester (Ocean, A&F Software), Liverpool (Imagine, Psygnosis) and Bridlington (Task Set).
38. Gave us Channel Four’s first television programme: apart from Paul Coia’s continuity, the first voice on Channel Four was Yorkshire Television’s very own Richard Whiteley. The programme, still running to this day (now with Nick Hewer at the helm), is Countdown.
39. Also the UK’s first Breakfast Television programme: before Breakfast Time and TV-am set the pace in 1983, Good Morning Calendar was the UK’s first effort at television news, chat and cornflakes. This was a morning version of Yorkshire Television’s Calendar news programme aired in 1977.
40. Introduced the UK to televised darts, Shove Ha’penny and bar skittles: once again with have our friends at Yorkshire Television to thank. The late Sid Waddell, before being a noted darts commentator (and creator of Jossy’s Giants) produced Fred Trueman’s The Indoor League. This daytime television programme introduced many viewers across the UK to traditional pub games.
Before I go…
Do you have any more suggestions to our Forty Things That The North Gave Us? Do you wish to elaborate on our existing list? Feel free to comment, either with a mug of Yorkshire Tea or PG Tips, or a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. As to whether you would do or not, we are not particularly mithered.
S.V., 13 October 2020.