Yorkshire is the largest of our English counties, and in commercial enterprise, mineral resources, and population, one of the most important in the kingdom. It is situated about the centre of the island of Great Britain, with natural and well-defined boundaries of mountains, rivers, and sea, as will be seen from the map which accompanies this volume. Measured between its most extreme points, Caldron Snout, on the borders of Westmoreland, and Spurn Head, at the mouth of the Humber, its length is a little short of 130 miles; but its average length from north to south is about 80 miles; and from east to west about 90, The circuit of the county is about 460 miles, comprising within it an area which exceeds the united areas of Lincolnshire and Devonshire - the two counties which most nearly approach it in size - by upwards of 600 square miles.
The difficulty of administering the law over so wide a district necessitated, at an early period, the division of the shire into three parts, called Trithings or thirds, corrupted in later times into Ridings, and named, from their situations, North, East, and West Ridings. Each Riding has a separate Lieutenancy, Magistracy, Clerk of the Peace, Treasurer, and other public officers and courts; but all of them are amenable to the superior courts held for the whole shire at York Castle, within the bounds of the city of York, which is also a county of itself. Under the Local Government Act of 1888, each riding is a separate administrative county for all purposes of the Act.
The East Riding, with which we are alone concerned in the present volume, is the smallest of the three ridings, being little more than one-half of the size of the North Riding, and bearing a still less proportion to the West Riding. Its total superficial extent, according to the Ordnance Survey, is 750,828 acres, and its population at each decennial enumeration since 1801 is exhibited in the following table
Date 1801. 1811. 1821. 1831 1841. 1851. 1861. 1871 1881. 1891. East Riding. 111,192 133,975 154,643 168,891 194,936 220,983 240,227 268,466 309,429 341,442 (Exclusive of the City of York.)This Riding occupies the south-eastern part of the county, and measures between its extreme northern and southern points 51½ miles, and crosswise from the spot where the Wharfe empties itself into the Ouse to Flamborough Head 48 miles. It has for its boundaries the river Hertford and the Derwent, which divide it from the North Riding as far down as Stamford Bridge, and from this point by the high road leading to York; the Ouse which separates it from the West Riding; the Humber which limits it on the south, and the German Ocean which bounds it on the east.
This Riding is less conspicuously marked by the bolder features of nature than the rest of the county. On the western side, the surface is low and flat, forming part of the vale of York, once an inland sea, which, in process of time, was filled up by materials brought down by the rivers from the neighbouring hills. Eastward of this plain are the Wolds, or chalk hills, the most interesting natural feature in this part of Yorkshire. They stretch from Flamborough Head westward to near Norton where they sweep towards the south, and extend to Ferriby, on the banks of the Humber. They differ widely in character and appearance from the hills of the North and West Ridings. They consist of successive swells or undulations, which attain nowhere a greater elevation than 800 feet, and are generally under cultivation. From some of the higher points extensive prospects of the surrounding country are obtained; but the absence of woodlands renders the scenery in many places tame and unattractive. At Flamborough Head, the eastern termination of the Wolds, the chalk cliffs rise to a height of 159 feet, and near Speeton to 450 feet. The greatest elevation is attained at Wilton Beacon, which is 808 feet above the level of the sea. These Wolds cover about 376 square miles, and are about 15 miles wide in the central part of the chain. The total thickness is about 800 feet. The chalk is of a closer texture and harder nature than that found in the south of England, and is in many places quarried for lime burning. It contains many varieties of fossil shells and sponges, of which a fine collection has been made by Mr. Mortimer, of Fimber.
Eastward of the Wolds, the land sinks into a level plain, which extends to the coast. Considerable portions of this low level were formerly under water, as is shown by the names of the towns Hornsea, Skipsea, Withernsea, Kilnsea, but the mere at the first-named place is the only lake now left.