An A-Z Journey Around Britain

27 Leeds


I was once invited into the dressing room of Leeds United Football Club. Howard Wilkinson was the manager. He was not present. I stared at a diagram behind the head of the man who was talking and saw two long arcs of blue ink meet a cross near the top of a whiteboard.   Howard Wilkinson left Leeds United and became the technical director of English football.   Moments, such as when I stood in front of that whiteboard, can make a man bitter.

Leeds, though, should not be judged on the basis of crude long ball football tactics. The high status West Yorkshire Playhouse has managed to combine success and an uncompromising repertory. It also does fine work for the community. The University is successful and prosperous. It has a good central location and its architecture has helped the City retain a gothic style that has been lost in other English cities. The splendour is not consistent because of the investment in office blocks for the 25% of the population that work in finance. Trendy shops have followed. So parts of Leeds are dreary but these can be avoided. All it takes is a short walk.

65% of Leeds District is green belt, and the City is twenty miles from the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The Leeds Country Way is a circular 62 mile walk, and no point on the walk is further than seven miles from the City.

Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Also near is Kirkstall Abbey, which was built at the end of the 12th Century and housed Cistercian monks. The Abbey was painted by Turner. The Abbey cannot be criticised for failing to redeem a dull Harry Potter film. The ruins of the Abbey are close to the River Aire and near Headingley, so Rugby League and cricket fans might be tempted to visit. Leeds Rhinos, the Rugby League Club, is as successful as the football team is a failure.   Leeds is the third biggest city in the UK but, because of mistakes by football entrepreneurs rather than the dim wits of Howard Wilkinson, Rugby League remains popular in the City.

50% of the UK manufacturing industry is within a two hour drive of the City. While Liverpool suffered under Thatcher, Leeds made economic progress. It may or may not be an irony that the Headquarters of what used to be the Benefits Agency was located in Leeds. The building has a brutal matchbox style and has been nicknamed The Kremlin by locals. Elsewhere there is economic relief denied those on benefits. The Victoria Centre is the finest shopping arcade in the North of England. The Victoria Hotel is a pub that was saved from demolition by local activists and it has been acknowledged by the Leeds Civic Trust which said that it had ‘splendid Victorian features’ and that it made ‘a valuable contribution to City life.’ It serves a decent pint, too.

The good news continues. Despite the close presence of the Pennines, Leeds is one of the driest cities in Britain. For rare wet days it has the largest indoor covered market in Britain. There were two cholera outbreaks in the 19th Century but that was a long time ago.

Next week, ‘Scouse not British’, Liverpool

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.



3 Barnsley












The people from Barnsley think their town is right grand. More than anywhere, people are reluctant to leave. Barnsley voters believe in community identity. They elect Labour MPs with 60% of the vote. The existing metropolitan borough was formed in 1973 and has always been Labour controlled.

My best man was from Barnsley. He pronounced the word water so it rhymed with batter. Today the accent is not so distinct. Local pride has suffered. Barnsley once produced the finest beer ever. ‘Barnsley Bitter’ would emerge like yellow milkshake and then settle into pure white cloud over a golden horizon. Whitbread Brewery abandoned it to reduce costs and sabotage the British palate for future exploitation. Barnsley learnt that community spirit and identity have limits when dealing with corporate power.

Similar limitations were exposed in the Miners Strike of 1984 when Thatcher defeated the miners. Her victory required working class collaboration. Ordinary people were divided by uneven prosperity and, like the guests at Abigail’s Party, infected by raw aspiration.  Even my best man changed. He took me to a wife swapping party. Somehow I escaped.  Loyal to tradition but knowing the worst of themselves and others, Barnsley folk understand what exists outside and what they could have been.

Although mining communities were noted for social conservatism, Women Against Pit Closures began in Barnsley. This year the Experience Barnsley Museum honours the strike. In the Battle Of Orgreave, 8000 policemen faced 4000 miners. The right and the left argue about the numbers.

Orgreave was outside Barnsley, as were all the mines. The miners lived in Pennine villages. Most still live there but they are not miners anymore. The villages are battered by post-industrial poverty.

Workers inside Barnsley have a different history. When travel between London and the North expanded, Barnsley enabled travellers to rest, eat, drink and shop. The Royal Charter of 1249 permitted Barnsley a Wednesday market day. The market, regarded as the best in Yorkshire, now opens six days a week. In the 18th Century the Industrial Revolution brought to the town linen weaving and glass making.

The splendid Town Hall is made of Portland Stone and has a 145 feet tower. The building resembles Stormont. Both are classical but puritan monuments affected by history. As darkness arrives, the tower of the Town Hall is lit blue. Locals are suspicious of anything poncey. They claim that the mayor has bought a sun bed.

Radio station, We Are Barnsley, has the recommended Northern Soul And Tamla Show. The Arctic Monkeys, studied music at Barnsley College. Barnsley also has a rap group called Yes Sir. If they ever become famous, P Diddy will have an identity crisis.

Brian Glover was a Barnsley actor. He played a schoolteacher who imagines he is Bobby Charlton. Barnsley, though, has a football team. Few in Barnsley would favour Manchester United.

Unemployment in the last two years has risen by 13%. Like most urban centres, Barnsley has a Jobs And Business Plan. The good news is that Acorn Brewery has revived Barnsley Bitter.

Next week – Belfast


Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here.