Yorkshire is one of the biggest counties in England and South Yorkshire makes up one part of it, the others being North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and The East Riding of Yorkshire.
Obviously it's strange to have four little counties making up one big one but both Yorkshire and the North/South/East/West parts claim the title of 'county'. In a way this arrangement mirrors the way in which England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are separate countries which make up one big 'country', the UK. Maybe it's a British thing.
South Yorkshire is in the northern third of England and borders Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, West Yorkshire, The East Riding of Yorkshire and North Yorkshire.
In 1974, South Yorkshire became one of the six Metropolitan Counties of England, which meant having its own regional council to administrate certain public services. The main cities and towns of this metropolitan county were Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley. In 1986, these types of council were abolished but the areas are still used in government statistics.
Before 1974, Yorkshire was divided into three areas, called the North, East and West Ridings of Yorkshire. The current county of South Yorkshire could then be found in the area known as the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The Trans-Pennine Trail, a multi-user route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, passes through all four of the main cities and towns in South Yorkshire.
The area was a mixture of agricultural, coal mining and manufacturing industries, although the mines are largely no longer active. Recent history saw Yorkshire playing a major part in the events surrounding the miners' strikes of the 1980s and the once famous steel industry of Sheffield has been greatly scaled down.
Key Cities and Towns
Sheffield is the biggest urban area in the county and locals like to boast that, like Rome, it's built on seven hills! It is the fourth biggest city in England and is a useful gateway to the Peak District, which is only five miles from the city centre (one third of the city is inside the Peak District National Park).
Sheffield is famous for its steelworks and silver manufacturing industries. The steel industry has been associated with Sheffield since the 18th Century and both crucible steel and stainless steel were invented there. The 12,000-horsepower steam engine River Don was built in the city in 1905 and, although retired to a museum, is currently the most powerful working steam engine in Europe. Regarding silverware, there has been an Assay Office in Sheffield since 1773.
During the 1970s, the political wind in Sheffield blew strongly to the left and the area became known as the 'People's Republic of South Yorkshire'. Sheffield City Council was led by David Blunkett, who flew a red flag over the council headquarters. Mr Blunkett went on to become an MP and cabinet minister in the post-1997 Labour government.
Due to its production of munitions, Sheffield suffered targeted bombings during World War II and a lot of its architecture now dates from after that period. One of the stories of the air raids is told here.
Sheffield also has some sweeter memories, being the birthplace of Bertie Bassett1 (the production of liquorice allsorts has taken place in the city for over 100 years) and Thornton's Chocolatiers.
Famous sons and daughters of Sheffield include Helen Sharman (astronaut), Michael Palin (writer/performer/traveller), Sean Bean (actor), Prince Naseem Hamed (boxer) and Sebastian Coe (athlete)2. A number of musicians and bands come from the city, including Pulp, Joe Cocker, Def Leppard and the Human League.
Doncaster is one of the oldest market towns in England. It was the site of a Roman fort and has a stretch of Roman road running through it. The Romans knew Doncaster as 'Danum'.
Two famous steam engines were built in Doncaster: the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard. The latter still holds the world record for the fastest steam traction engine, which was set on 3 July, 1938 on the East Coast Main Line between Grantham and Peterborough.
Doncaster has a racecourse and the St Leger, the oldest classic horse race, is run there every year. The first air display to be held in the UK took place at Doncaster racecourse in 1909.
Nearby is Conisbrough Castle, which has one of the best-preserved Norman keeps in England. This was used as a setting in the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.
The new Robin Hood Airport recently opened near Doncaster, on the site of the old RAF Finningley airbase. Finningley opened in 1936 and had a runway of just under two miles. It closed in 1996.
Famous people from Doncaster include Kevin Keegan (footballer), John Parr (singer), Lesley Garrett (soprano) and Jeremy Clarkson (TV presenter). Sir Douglas Bader, who was decorated for his service as an RAF pilot during the Battle of Britain, despite having had both legs amputated years earlier, was also born in the town.
Rotherham has been a market town for 900 years and also has Roman origins.
It has a country park (Rother Valley) and the ruins of a Cistercian monastery dating back to 1147 (Roche Abbey). There is also Magna Science Adventure Centre, which has been created on the site of an old steelworks. It has lots of hands-on activities, which include operating a JCB digger.
Near Rotherham is Wentworth, which boasts the 18th-Century Wentworth Castle Gardens. It appeared on the BBC's Restoration series, and the presenter, Griff Rhys-Jones, described it as 'one of the nation's most sublime parkland estates'. The Gardens are now part of a major project to save it. The estate has over 26 listed monuments and also cares for National Plant Collections of magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias.
From a social perspective, it is interesting that Rotherham has a higher than average number of unpaid carers, ie, people looking after relatives or friends who are ill or elderly. On the 2001 census, Rotherham came 14th in this category out of 376 local authority areas in England and Wales. The town is also often named as the place with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the UK.
Well-known Rotherham folk include William Hague (former leader of the Conservative Party), Paul Shane (actor), The Chuckle Brothers (comedians), David Seaman (footballer) and Jive Bunny (music producers).
Barnsley's main industries were coalmining and iron production and it grew rapidly during the Victorian era. Its May Day Green market dates from 1249.
Although born in Sheffield, the railway engineer Joseph Locke moved to Barnsley when he was five and the town still celebrates his story. Locke studied under George Stephenson and was involved in building the country's railway network. He was also an MP and became the President of the Institute of Civil Engineers.
The television and radio interviewer Michael Parkinson is from Barnsley.
Life in South Yorkshire Today
According to the census of 2001, the population of South Yorkshire has fallen over the past decade. Many residents are apparently moving to the south-east of England to find employment. In 2001 the population figure was 1,266,338.
Although some of the steel production has ceased, South Yorkshire still has, on average, more people employed in manufacturing compared to the rest of the country.
In 2005, the average cost of a house in Yorkshire was £141,188.