1. Governance
September 14, 2016

Peakdon: One hundred years of the independent people's republic of south Yorkshire

By Jonn Elledge

Yesterday I wrote a blog explaining why calls for a Yorkshire-based devolution deal seemed misguided to me. A part of my argument was that Sheffield is already well advanced with plans to do its own thing.

If it seems that Sheffield is being a tad ungrateful to the county that bore it, then, it’s worth noting, this is nothing new. The city has stood slightly apart from the rest of Yorkshire for at least a century.

In 1919, the social geographer C.B. Fawcett published “Provinces of England: a study of some geographical aspects of devolution”. This book – which naturally enough took post-war Britain, and indeed the world, by a storm – outlined his proposals for regional government within England.

You can find copies of the book online, which is exciting, as it comes with maps:


Look at the north of England. There’s a Yorkshire region centred on Leeds. But there’s also a separate “Peakdon” region centred on Sheffield.

It’s the smallest of the proposed regions, and takes its name from the area’s two biggest geographical features: the Peak District and the River Don. Here, as a comparison, is the modern Sheffield City Region:

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Map courtesy of Bassetlaw council. Image: Getty.

Here’s what Fawcett had to say about Peakdon when explaining why it deserved its own region:

About half-way between Leeds and Notting- ham is Sheffield, situated in a side valley on the east of the broadest part of the southern Pennines. The town at the entrance to this valley is Doncaster, that at the junction of the chief tributary dale is Rotherham; and from it there is no easy route through the upland; hence the natural nodality of Sheffield is very small.

But Sheffield had exceptionally favourable local conditions for the early development of its iron and steel industries; the growth of those industries led to the concentration here of a large population; and the economic demand for good communications between this industrial district and other areas of dense population has led to the construction of roads and railways through the southern Pennines in spite of the formidable physical obstacles, so that Sheffield is now an important railway centre and has acquired a very considerable artificial nodality.

This has enabled it to become the effective focus of a small region, which includes most of the High Peak District and the greater part of the area drained by the river Don, and has a population of nearly one and a quarter millions. The character of its industries marks it off very clearly from the Leeds and Nottingham districts, and emphasises the distinctive character of this region, which we have marked off as the province of Peakdon.

So Sheffield separatism has clearly been a thing for a hundred years or more. I did say the Yorkshire Party was on a hiding to nothing.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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