What’s on : Lectures

Northerners: A history from the Ice Age to the 21st Century

27 Apr 2022
Start time
2:30 PM
The Yorkshire Museum
Brian Groom
Northerners: A history from the Ice Age to the 21st Century

Event Information

Northerners: A History from the Ice Age to the 21st Century
Brian Groom

This illustrated lecture is based on the book of the same title to be published in April 2022 by “Harper North”, a new imprint of “Harper Collins”.

Northerners could hardly be more topical, given tensions over Brexit, the “red wall” and forces threatening to drive the country apart. This book lays out the dramatic events that have played out in the north – waves of migration, invasions and battles, its impact on European culture and the global economy, its struggles to assert its identity as modern Britain emerged. It explores what northernness means in the 21st century and the crucial role the north can play in Britain’s future. The story is told through people, famous or not, who have built the region. Fundamental as the Industrial Revolution was, there is far more to the north’s history. At least six emperors ruled from York. Northumbria was for a time Europe’s leading cultural and intellectual centre. Border wars with Scotland occupied 1,000 of the past 2,000 years.

Brian Groom is a journalist, formerly assistant editor and political editor of the Financial Times and editor of Scotland on Sunday. Originally from Stretford, he was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford. Brian Groom now lives in Saddleworth, in the south Pennines.

This event will be held in the Tempest Anderson Lecture Theatre in the Yorkshire Museum at 2.30pm, doors open 2pm.

Member’s Report

Brian Groom has had a long career as a journalist working for the Financial Times. A northerner himself, a product of Manchester Grammar School and Oxford University, he is known as a journalist and leading expert on British Regional and National Affairs. He now lives in Saddleworth in the South Pennines, and this is his first book.  It has been rated as Book of the Week by the Times Newspaper.

In his lecture Brian Groom set himself the task of introducing his audience to a wide-ranging tour through the history of the home of Northerners that he defined loosely as being between Hadrian’s Wall and somewhere around the river Trent. In accordance with his promise, he described the first known hominid settlers from Star Carr in East Yorkshire and took us through the waves of settlers who have come to the area ever since, from the Pre-Roman, Roman, Anglian, Viking or Danish, Norman and so on until the present day. His view is that the Kingdom of Northumbria in Saxon times saw the region have greater influence on British culture and indeed on northern Europe than it has ever enjoyed since. He went on to describe the varying fortunes of the region during the ensuing periods of monastic settlement, agricultural wealth, dynastic civil war, religious reformation, Tudor attempts at centralisation, rebellion against such attempts, decline after the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century and improved fortunes once industrialisation took hold.

The lecture raised many more questions than could be answered in the time frame and more recent developments, like the arrival of post war immigrants, the decline of the economic prosperity in parts of the north and the results these have had or might have on the local people in the future had to be left largely unexplored. Nor did the lecture cover Northern culture in much detail; for example there was no mention of the role of the nineteenth century non-Conformist chapel or music, choirs, orchestras and bands in the formation of a northern identity. There was a nod to workplace solidarity as a catalyst for the growth of identity and the growth of the Trade Unions and mention of voting patterns across what have become known as the Red Wall towns in recent parlance. These issues are covered in much more detail in the book than could be done in a lecture.

A question was asked by a member of the audience about dialect and speech patterns, but Brian Groom said he was not really qualified to answer that.  We were left intrigued, wanting to know more, but still not clear about how ‘northerness’ might be defined, either by northerners themselves, or by others wishing to categorise them. It would be useful to know what our political leaders think that ‘levelling up’ of our region might consist of. Perhaps it is good to recognise that our diversity is too hard to pinpoint!

The lecture was illustrated in a light-hearted manner and covered a great deal of history in a short space of time.  For more analysis you might need to read Brian Groom’s book of the same title to satisfy your curiosity. It is described by Sebastian Payne, author of Broken Heartlands, as a ‘panoramic, authoritative and beautiful read; Brian Groom has written the book everyone who wishes to understand the north of England must read’. You will have 432 pages in which to find out!

Sarah Sheils