York­shire: A Lyri­cal His­tory of Eng­land’s Great­est County

by Richard Mor­ris Wei­den­feld & Nicolson, 304 pages, £25

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There’s no easy way to cat­e­gorise this bound­arycross­ing book.

It is in part a fam­ily story, where the ex­pe­ri­ences of Richard Mor­ris and his im­me­di­ate fore­bears pro­vide themes around which are wo­ven nar­ra­tives of his­tory, ar­chae­ol­ogy and life ex­pe­ri­ences. These range far and wide, the link be­ing roots in, or a base in, York­shire.

There’s a great deal of his­tory, but this is lyri­cal and po­etic rather than for­mal and chrono­log­i­cal. True, there are facts aplenty but there are also long pas­sages that are lit­er­ary rather than an­a­lyt­i­cal. Fur­ther­more, there’s no pre­tence at be­ing com­pre­hen­sive – thus al­most noth­ing on Sh­effield, Leeds or Hud­der­s­field, but a great deal on Hull, Brad­ford and York. Themes are some­times dark – such as the treat­ment of con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors in the First World War – and some­times light (a chap­ter on Robin Hood!).

It’s a per­sonal and fam­ily me­moir, a trav­el­ogue of York­shire and a re­view of his­tor­i­cal themes, with many bi­ogra­phies of peo­ple great and small, and an artist’s eye for land­scape and to­pog­ra­phy. Mor­ris is an ar­chae­ol­o­gist, com­poser, writer, bi­og­ra­pher and his­tor­i­cal re­searcher, and all of these di­verse tal­ents come to­gether mag­nif­i­cently in a learned and grip­ping ti­tle.

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