Northerners: A History – from the Ice Age to the Present Day by Brian Groom - review by Gordon Marsden

Gordon Marsden

Blast Furnaces, Black Pudding & Bede

Northerners: A History – from the Ice Age to the Present Day


HarperNorth 432pp £20

Brian Groom’s answers to the questions ‘Where is the north?’ and ‘What is a northerner?’ allow him to avoid clichés about Hovis land and hills and to include the northern diaspora. He skilfully uncovers the North’s outwardness – the confidence to roam worldwide with goods and inventions, and to explore, settle and trade. In 1911 my grandfather Fred, aged twenty-five, left the Marsden family cobbler’s business in Bakewell to become a boiler engineer on a ship trading in the Med and beyond, sending back postcards to his sister from his ports of call, including Egypt, Suez and Odessa.

Groom also understands the North’s inwardness – the resistance in Tudor times to religious change, the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace (‘the largest popular revolt in English history’) and the Catholic gentry families in Lancashire sheltering priests from Elizabeth I’s Protestant regime. That inwardness extends to the sometimes bloody-minded rivalries between northern towns. Groom whirls us from 19th-century ‘Liverpool gentlemen’ in shipping and finance looking down on ‘Manchester men’ earning mucky money from smoky mills to battles played out on football terraces across the North, often sharpened by class and religion. The proud identity football gave industrial towns was highlighted in 1888, when half of the twelve founding members of the Football League came from Lancashire.

Groom provides vignettes of the six Roman emperors who spent time ruling from York, including the mixed-race Septimius Severus and Constantine the Great, hailed as emperor by his troops in York in 306. He says of the Romans’ network of forts and roads that their ‘impact on the

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