Where does ‘The North’ begin?

It’s one of those Pub debates which my colleagues are currently arguing about.

Various semi-humourous suggestions like “The M4” or “Watford Gap” – but practically and culturally speaking? I’m not sure. I know that when you get to Leeds there’s still a whole lot more “North” above you.

As a Midlander I’ve always mentally drawn a line approximately running from Wrexham to Boston:

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 15.46.51

…so that Stoke is “almost north”.

But I wonder how accurate that really would be perceived to be?

18 Replies to “Where does ‘The North’ begin?”

  1. 1) Watford Gap service station 😉

    2) If you could do a survey, the line would start where people start saying bath with a short a rather than a longer a.

    3) Where chips are fried in lard rather than vegetable oil.

    1. I thought the Watford Gap was in Watford, and that “the North begins at the Watford Gap” was in the same class of hyperbolic statements as “wogs begin at Calais”.

  2. The Watford Gap is only about 20 miles south of Leicester and that’s The Midlands…which is almost the north and almost the south…

    I think a lot of people assume The Watford Gap is in Watford…

  3. That seems about right to me. Certainly I lived just North of that line and always thought of myself as “Northern”. Watford Gap is then where the “South” begins and the Midlands ends (Leamington Spa being just South which seems about right).

    Your area is roughly Northumbria at its peak.

    Of course its all more complicated than that. The real fundamental difference is those bits of England that were Norse and those which weren’t. I’ve always been happier in Norse areas.

  4. I think of Cheshire and Derbyshire as being in the North and Staffs and Notts as the Midlands. I think my wife treats anything south of Co Durham and Cumbria as not quite The North.

  5. The answer depends enormously on whether one wants to know where “The North” starts in comparison with “The South”, or whether there’s “The North”, “The Midlands” and “The South”, or even the full set of regional destinations to choose from.

    If forced to create a dichotomy, I guess I’d use a sweeping “U” shape: running between Chester and Ellesmere Port in the West, then putting most of Staffordshire in The North before bending back upwards to the Humber, so Grimsby is in The North but Lincoln isn’t.

    If I’m allowed “Central England”, I’d probably say “The North” started with Liverpool, Manchester, the M62 corridor and Humberside.

    If using road-sign regional destinations, it might be worth reflecting on the presence of signs to “The NORTH” at Scotch Corner. (-8

  6. There was a rather good 2-part documentary about this on Radio 4 earlier this year; the programme synopses indicate where the academic involved reckoned the line on being, and the programme itself – if you can find cached copy of it – covered how its path was arrived at. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dht1z .

    1. Plays on iPlayer. 🙂

      Quote re: one of the contributors – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Dorling

      > In commenting on a map produced by Dorling showing the North-South divide in the United Kingdom,[5] Simon Jenkins described Dorling as “geographer royal by appointment to the left”.

      …and lo, he appears to be defining the line in terms of “health advantage”, “voting” and “the head on beer”.


  7. This also reminds me of one of the best lines in the first series of the rebooted Doctor Who, with Christopher Ecclestone – and it arrived in the first episode…

    [Rose] Why do you sound like you’re from the North?
    [The Doctor] Lots of planets have a North!

  8. Watford Gap services is in the gap in the hills next to the village of Watford, Northants (pop 224 [2001]) as opposed to the other place in Hertfordshire (pop 79726 [2001]).

  9. I think where “The North” starts depends on the side of the Pennines. The North-West is normally taken as Manchester / Liverpool and north from there.
    If you go ENE along the M62 from North Manchester, you get to Leeds, which is a long way south of the North-East, which is County Durham and Northumbria.

  10. There are other oddities about people’s understanding of British geography. For example, Heading due North from Bristol (and ignoring the Bristol Channel), where do you first meet the sea? Guess before you look at a map!

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