It was Yorkshire Day on 1 August. That meant something to some of us I am sure. Its origins are found in a protest against local government reforms in 1974 which had the effect of altering local boundaries and in particular impacted on the historic Ridings which in effect disappeared as local government entities. The “Yorkshire declaration of integrity” is read – four times, one for each Riding and one for the City of York –
“That Yorkshire is three Ridings and the City of York, with these Boundaries of 1141 years standing (in 2016); That the address of all places in these Ridings is Yorkshire; That all persons born therein or resident therein and loyal to the Ridings are Yorkshiremen and women; That any person or corporate body which deliberately ignores or denies the aforementioned shall forfeit all claim to Yorkshire status.”
Since then it has progressively become less of a protest movement and more of a celebration of all things Yorkshire, history and heritage, manufacture and trade, food and farming, cities and shire, Yorkshire ways and Yorkshire folk.
The 1st of August is also the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834. This, in large part, the product of the lifelong mission of William Wilberforce, a son of Yorkshire. Born in Hull in 1759, raised in the city he later represented in Parliament, his life’s work was the ending of slavery. He died in 1833.
There is some irony in the fact that this week the UK government confirms its will to work to address modern slavery. The most recent Home Office estimates suggest there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, with 45 million estimated victims across the world.
In her statement on the first anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, quoted by the BBC, Prime Minister Theresa May said –
“From nail bars and car washes to sheds and rundown caravans, people are enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity.
“Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances, believing they were heading for legitimate jobs, are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused.
“Innocent individuals are being tricked into prostitution, often by people they thought they could trust. Children are being made to pick-pocket on the streets and steal from cash machines.”
In that first year there had been just 289 modern slavery offences prosecuted – but a 40% rise in the number of victims identified.
In Hull, a public subscription in 1834 funded the Wilberforce Monument, a Doric column topped by a statue of Wilberforce, which now stands in the grounds of the city’s college near the much visited Queens gardens. His birthplace was acquired by the city in 1903 and Wilberforce House was opened as Britain’s first slavery museum. In 2006 the Hull University established the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation in a building next to Wilberforce’s birthplace.
Do we need a modern day William Wilberforce? Perhaps we do?