The North of England

Lecture 17—The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales

England is a nation of regions. The wild Pennine Hills in the north—Wuthering Heights country—are one of the must-see stops in your travels. Here, cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, and York were industrial dynamos in the 19th century—and the National Railway Museum in York is one of Professor Allitt’s top-rated destinations for visitors.

Click on GREEN links to visit the highlighted location in Google Maps. Hover over BLUE text for more information about that item.

Visiting Liverpool in North England

Liverpool is a port whose River Mersey opens onto the Irish Sea. It has a long history of trade with the rest of the world. Cotton from the American South poured into Liverpool before moving to the textile towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 boosted this trade—it was the first railway in the world to have locomotives running at 30 mph.

All the most distinctive buildings in today’s Liverpool are from the early 20th century. A dignified cluster at the waterfront is known as “The Three Graces.” The first of these “graces,” the Port of Liverpool Building, was opened in 1907, in the era of King Edward VII. It’s a spectacular mix of styles that goes by the name of Edwardian Baroque,” blending a dome reminiscent of St. Paul’s Cathedral with the columns of a Greek temple, all on a Wagnerian scale.

Nearby is the Royal Liver Building, from 1911. It’s an office block but it’s historically important because it is generally recognized as the first reinforced concrete building in Britain.

The Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals in North England

Cathedrals of North England
Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, St. James Mount

Two buildings most deserving of your attention are the two cathedrals, Anglican and Catholic, standing half a mile apart along the aptly named Hope Street.

The Anglican cathedral was begun at the same time as the Three Graces, at the high-water mark of England’s imperial self-confidence. Designed by a very youthful Giles Gilbert Scott and consecrated in the 1920s, its neo-Gothic style makes it look much older than it is.

North England
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, based on a design by Giles Gilbert Scott

The Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral was intended to be a rival in scale to its Anglican counterpart. Archbishop Downey, the Irish-born leader of Liverpool’s Catholics from the 1920s to the 1950s, wanted it to be the best and biggest church in the world. Unfortunately, the harsh economic realities of the Great Depression, when the building started, made it impossible, and the building came to a stop when the second World War began.

Another start in the 1950s faltered, so it wasn’t until 1967 that the final work was done, 34 years after the foundations were laid, and according to yet another design, this time ultra-modernist. It looks like a cross between a vast Native American tipi and a spaceship with a crown on top. In fact, one of its nicknames is “the Pope’s Wigwam.”

Traveling to Manchester

Manchester England
Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian, neo-Gothic municipal building in Manchester, England. Designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse, the town hall was completed in 1877.

In the early 1800s, Manchester had no representation in Parliament. The wave of fear that had swept through Britain after the French Revolution had led to the passage of repressive legislation against workers’ “combinations.” Agitation for political reform after 1815 led to great demonstrations. At one, on St. Peter’s Fields in 1819, a pro-reform demonstration was attacked by mounted soldiers. Fifteen demonstrators were killed and several hundred slashed and maimed. On the site was built  Free Trade Hall, center of a great 19th-century movement to get rid of tariff barriers. Unfortunately, Free Trade Hall is now a hotel, though its mid-Victorian façade has been preserved, and gives you a fine sense of the civic pride that went into its construction.

Manchester’s Town Hall, built in 1877, has been cleaned and looks marvelous. Inside, in the Great Hall, a series of Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Ford Madox Brown tell the story of the city. To tour the building is to discover a wonderful, almost fairyland quality to its staircases and hallways, all of which have been decorated far beyond what’s necessary, in the name of civic pride.

Traveling North from Manchester

Traveling in North England
The Ribblehead Viaduct carries the Settle–Carlisle Railway across Batty Moss in the Ribble Valley at Ribblehead, in North Yorkshire, England. The viaduct was built by the Midland Railway in the 1860s and 1870s. It is the longest and the third-tallest structure on the Settle–Carlisle line. Wikipedia

From the great industrial cities, drive northeast into the Pennines, being sure to stop off for an hour or two at Haworth, the village where the Brontë sisters spent most of their lives.

Here, on a wild stretch of moorland, an hour to the north, you’ll come to the starkly beautiful Ribblehead Viaduct, an object rich in history. It was built in the early 1870s when the Midland Railway company was looking for a way to extend its lines all the way to the Scottish border. At Ribblehead, they quarried local stone, made and fired their own bricks in makeshift kilns, and built the viaduct, completing it in 1875. To build it, a workmen’s settlement of nearly 2,000 people and 170 houses sprang up, of which only archaeological traces now remain.

Not far away, close to the Pennine Way, is the waterfall, Hardraw Force. The catch is that it stands on private land and the only way to get to it is through a pub, Green Dragon Inn, where you have to pay a small entry fee. It’s worth the price, however, because the waterfall has created a dramatic semi-circular overhang, where softer rock has eroded faster than the limestone band at the top.

 The Ancient City of York

City of York in North England
Roman wall and the west corner tower of Eboracum. The top half is medieval. Wikipedia

The great ancient city of the English North is York. Archaeological findings show it to have been occupied for thousands of years, and it was already an old settlement when the Romans built a fort there, named Eboracum, in AD 71.  It was the center of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, but was overrun by the Vikings in AD 866. They called it “Jorvik,” which is now the name of a museum that mixes genuine artifacts from local excavations with costumed re-enactors.

Medieval remains are as clearly visible in York as in any other British city. An old crooked street, the Shambles, has a fine series of medieval and Tudor-era buildings whose upper floors are larger than their ground floors, so that they appear to lean toward each other over the narrow passage. The preservation of their exterior gives visitors a good sense of what medieval streets looked like.

Last, but not least, York is the home of the National Railway Museum, a mecca to enthusiasts who still grieve over the disappearance of regular-service steam locomotives in 1968. I can’t praise it too highly and it’s certainly the best museum of its kind in the world.

The Border Country Between England and Scotland

North England Border with Scotland
For 500 years, until the English and Scottish crowns were united in 1603, Carlisle Castle was the principal fortress of England’s north-western border with Scotland. English Heritage

From York, go north—all the way up to the border country between England and Scotland. For centuries, the border was contested ground. Warlords from both sides, English and Scottish, fought back and forth, and some towns changed hands, repeatedly. To make matters worse, organized bandits, called “Reivers” from the border country, attacked the lands to their immediate south, creating a situation of chronic fear and uncertainty. The word “bereaved” comes from this experience: It means “having suffered an attack by the Reivers.”

Carlisle Castle is a red sandstone fortress that stood on the front lines of the border wars for centuries. Founded by King William II in 1092 and built up over the centuries until it was immensely strong, it endured a succession of sieges during the Wars of the Roses. It was often used as a prison, and intricate wall carvings still visible there are thought to be the work of either the prisoners themselves or of bored prison guards.


Interactive Map of All Locations in North England Mentioned in This Lecture

Suggested Online Reading About North England

Paul Fyfe, “On the Opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway 1830
Discover the Historic City of York
The Debatable Land by Graham Robb review – the lost world between Scotland and England
The Border Reivers – The Curse 


Images Courtesy of:
Liverpool, Anglican Cathedral, By calflier001 (LIVERPOOL ANGLICAN CATHEDERAL SEP2012) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, By Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons
Manchester Free Trade Hall, By Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway (The Free Trade Hall) [CC BY 2.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 (
Roman Fortifications in Museum Gardens York, Kaly99 at the English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons