West Yorkshire has a population of 2.1 million and covers an area of 787 square miles. It is characterised by industrial towns – some of the best known in the country – punctuated by contrasting landscapes, from the undulating beauty of Wharfedale to the rugged hills of the Pennines and the moorlands that inspired the Bronte sisters.
Manufacturing has a major presence in West Yorkshire, and some of the most successful firms are highly innovative, catering for specialist, hi-tech markets. Mass production of wool textiles might have declined greatly, but high quality cloth from West Yorkshire retains its unrivalled reputation around the world – James Bond’s suits are tailored from it!
Agriculture, mining and quarrying, retail, distribution and financial services are among the other important sectors, while accommodation, food and recreation are a notable growth area and received an exceptional boost when the Tour de France came to the county in 2014.
West Yorkshire has five universities, some of which are centres of research excellence and deeply engaged with regional business, playing a key role in economic regeneration. The county also has an excellent cultural life, from world-class productions at Opera North and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds to traditional monuments of music making, such as Huddersfield Choral Society and its annual “Messiah”. Huddersfield is also home to an annual Contemporary Music Festival that is globally admired. The Leeds triennial pianoforte competition is considered one of the three greatest in the world.
The West Riding – and now West Yorkshire – has one of the most strongly etched identities of all the English regions. Its dialect speech and its reputation for common sense and plain speaking are typified by the likes of author J.B.Priestley, the inventor Percy Shaw and the politician Harold Wilson. But the region has spawned many distinguished men and women in a variety of fields. They include Richard Oastler, who waged a tireless campaign against child labour; the scientist Joseph Priestley, who discovered the existence of oxygen; and the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle.
And the small West Yorkshire town of Todmorden has the distinction of having produced TWO Nobel Prize winners – Sir John Cockroft (physics, 1951) and Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson (chemistry, 1973).
Proof that West Yorkshire can be an inspirational place is provided by the writers and artists whose work is imbued with the county’s landscapes and the personality of its people. The Brontes are the best example, but more recent, quintessentially Yorkshire writers include Alan Bennett and Ted Hughes, and the artists are represented by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth (commemorated by an award-winning new gallery in her native Wakefield) and David Hockney, Bradford-born and probably Britain’s best-loved contemporary painter.