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 situations, their 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 extent, population, &c., of each of these divisions, as given in the Census Returns of 1881, are as follow
Acres. Persons. Males. Females. Inhabited Increase of population Houses. between 1871 and 1881. North Riding 1,361,664 346,147 174,674 171,473 68,954 52,869 East Riding 750,828 310,830 154,986 155,894 64,722 42,864 York City 1,979 54,198 25,787 28,411 11,582 10,402 West Riding 1,768,380 2,175,134 1,063,319 1,111,815 450,280 344,319 Yorkshire 3,882,851 2,886,309 1,418,716 1,467,593 595,488 449,954
The North Riding, which more immediately concerns us in the present volume, occupies the northern portion of the county, extending from the river Tees, which separates it from Durham, almost to the walls of York, and from the borders of Westmoreland to the shore of the German Ocean. A glance at the map will show that this Riding, in common with the rest of the county, embraces three distinctly marked natural districts, each possessing its own characteristic scenery and vegetation and distinctive geological strata. On the west is a broad band of mountains and moorlands; on the eastern side is another belt of hills and moorlands; and between these lies the Plain of York, extending from the river Tees to southern confines of the county.
The scenery of these eastern moors is generally of a dreary unattractive character, but in some of the river valleys, especially in Eskdale, Ryedale, and the valley traversed by the Whitby and Pickering Railway, there are many highly picturesque and beautiful prospects.
Between these two belts of moorland lies the great Central Plain, or Vale of York, described by Chevalier Bunsen in somewhat extravagant language as "the most beautiful and romantic vale in the world, the Vale of Normandy excepted." In geological sequence this level band rests on the Triassic or New Red Sandstone series, and to these softer strata the plain owes its fertile soil and external configuration. Throughout its whole length from the Tees to the Don there is scarcely an eminence that reaches 200 feet. A portion of this great level, stretching from the base of the Hambleton Hills past the town of Thirsk and the river Codbeck, is distinctively known as the Vale of Mowbray, from the great Norman barons that formerly owned it.