My grandfather, Ted, was a proud Yorkshireman (despite the fact that he was actually born in Southampton, Hampshire). He was wont, when feeling particularly patriotic towards his county, to adapt the famous Cecil John Rhodes quote about being born English to Yorkshire. “To have been born in Yorkshire is to have won first prize in the lottery of life,” he would extol.
I too was born in Yorkshire and while South Africa has been my home and held my heart since I was but a few months old, this great English county continues to resonate in my soul and my DNA. My childhood was filled with visits to Granny, Grandpa, cousins, aunts and uncles abroad, during these stays there was strawberry picking and seaside outings, walks on the moors, pubs and pub lunches, Tetley’s Bitter, hilarious comedy shows, long and tiring plane trips and tearful goodbyes. When my mother and I began researching her family tree in 2002 these visits included trips to archives and towns in the East Riding of Yorkshire; a place we refer to as our Mesopotamia. Yorkshire fills me with intense pride, not only because it is so much a part of my family and our history, but because of its natural beauty, upright people and their get-it-done attitude.
This came home to me earlier this year when I received a press release announcing that McLaren, the British supercar maker, would be opening a new carbon composites technology centre in Sheffield, Yorkshire. The centre will be operational from 2019. I loved the fact that McLaren’s new Senna road car, a vehicle I doubt I will ever drive, was designed by Harrogate-born Rob Melville. One branch of our family still calls Harrogate home to this very day.
While Yorkshire isn’t home to McLaren – that distinction belongs to Woking in Surrey – this got me thinking about South African-born Formula One hero Jody Scheckter (who used to drive for McLaren), which evolved into famous South Africans like Nelson Mandela, Caster Semenya and Chris Barnard, and then into renowned Yorkshire folk such as the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne; William Wilberforce; Captain James Cook; Joseph Priestley and (my personal favourite) Sir Patrick Stewart, aka Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
I perused the internet and was reminded that the coastal town of Whitby in Yorkshire was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula; that the last witch burning in England took place in Pocklington in East Yorkshire back in 1630; that Sheffield boasts the world’s first football club (formed back in 1857); that MP William Wilberforce – who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade – was born in Hull; that the KitKat chocolate bar hails from Yorkshire; and that international treasure Dame Judi Dench grew up in the enchanting city of York. And of course Yorkshire can lay claim to Mel B (aka Scary Spice from the Spice Girls), Yorkshire pudding, Marks & Spencer and the world’s first steam locomotive (courtesy of Matthew Murray in 1790).
All this served to remind me of why I celebrated my 40th birthday by getting a Rose of York tattoo. As they’d say in Yorkshire: “That’s proper champion, that.”