Yorkshire has a history that goes back thousands of years, so it is no wonder the county is overflowing with historic sights, interesting artefacts and heritage masonry. 

Before learning about what architecture you can find in England’s biggest county, let’s dive into its history

The history of Yorkshire

Yorkshire, situated in the north of England, was first inhabited by Stone Age farmers in 3,000 BC, followed by those in the Bronze Age and then the Celts. 

However, it wasn’t until the Romans arrived in 71 AD that the thick forest covering the huge expanse was transformed into forts and cities. 

After the Romans came the Vikings, which changed the face of Yorkshire’s cities again during the eighth century. 

By the 13th Century, there were many towns in Yorkshire, including Leeds, Northallerton, Doncaster, Barnsley, Richmond, Scarborough, Sheffield, Hull and Pontefract. 

Over the next few centuries, it was hit by the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses, and famine. However, industry started taking over by the 16th Century, especially in Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax and Sheffield.

Both industry and population growth accelerated in the 1800s, with textile, steel and coal sectors forcing Bradford, Sheffield, Hull, Leeds and Keighley to expand rapidly. 

Over the decades, facilities such as public parks, libraries, sewers, water pipes, and railway stations were built. By the early 20th Century, the government started constructing council houses. 

Many areas of the county were bombed during the Second World War, destroying buildings in the cities. 

From the 1950s, lots of people from Asia and the West Indes moved over, making Yorkshire one of the most multicultural counties in the country. 

What does its history mean for its architecture?

As a result of its eclectic history, Yorkshire – which is now divided into North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and East Riding – has great examples of different architecture over the centuries. 

Visitors will be able to see Roman ruins in the village of Aldorough, York and Whitby, the gothic architecture of York Minster, stone cottages in its traditional villages, and signs of Victorian industry in Leeds. 

Everywhere you turn, there’ll be an example of a different period of history, from the 1970s architecture seen throughout Sheffield to extremely modern buildings, such as the Bright Building in Bradford

Some of the best examples of heritage masonry in Yorkshire

  1. York Minster

Without a doubt, York Minster has to be one of the most spectacular buildings in the whole county. 

The mediaeval structure was constructed over 250 years, with the church, which was designed to be the greatest in the country, finally opening in 1472. 

Unfortunately, parts of the building went up in flames several times in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries. This has meant the Gothic construction has had to face ongoing repair work to ensure it stands the test of time. 

The stone used to maintain the site is mainly magnesian limestone, which is sourced from a local quarry in nearby Tadcaster. The stone is particularly rare and, in fact, there is only one seam of it that runs from County Durham towards Nottinghamshire. 

Even more interestingly, stone for the Minster has been quarried from Tadcaster and the surrounding area since the mid-13th century!

It is important these buildings are regularly maintained by heritage builders to ensure they last as long as possible, as they offer a key insight into the country’s past. 

  1. Ripon Cathedral 

Ripon Cathedral is another important landmark in Yorkshire, with its history spanning 1,350 years. While several churches have been destroyed since then, work began on the present building in the late 12th century. 

More work has been done on the cathedral, including the widening of the nave and the installation of choir stalls. 

In 1936, Ripon Minster became Ripon Cathedral, and not long after, Sir George Gilbert updated the building in his famous neo-gothic style. 

Therefore, visitors will be able to see examples of several types of architecture at Ripon Cathedral. 

The stone taken for the 12th and 13th-century work is a type of sandstone, while magnesian limestone was used later on in the construction of the cathedral… why not see if you can spot the differences on your next visit!

  1. Leeds’ Victorian buildings

Thanks to the rapid growth of industry in the 19th and 20th Centuries in Leeds, it is home to some spectacular examples of Victorian architecture

For instance, the Corn Exchange, with its huge glass dome roof, was built in 1864. The Grade-I listed building was once somewhere for merchants to buy corn, but it is now full of independent retailers and food outlets. 

Kirkgate Market is also synonymous with Leeds, with the Grade-I listed building having been around since 1857. It was the first covered street in Leeds, and still remains one of the biggest indoor markets in Europe. 

Shopping here is a truly sensory experience, with sights, sounds and smells hitting visitors every way they turn. Its gothic facade is also impressive, so make sure you see the market in all its glory from the outside, as well as indoors.

Leeds’ Victoria Quarter Arcades is certainly worth a visit if you want to see Victorian architecture at its finest. Frank Matcham came up with the drawings for the retail site to house two streets, an arcade and the Empire Theatre. 

Designed in 1900, the Arcades still stand proud in Leeds, and have been updated with a stained glass roof, which remains the largest stained glass window in the UK. 

Other places to visit if you want to see what Leeds was like in its glory days are the City Varieties Music Hall, which opened in 1865; Leeds Grand Theatre, which dates from 1878; and the impressive Town Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1858. 

Rocks used in the construction of such sites were mainly gritstone (which is a type of sandstone and can be seen in places like Kirkstall Abbey and Harewood House), limestone and different types of sandstone. Red brick is also very much in evidence, particularly in the southern parts of the city.

Later, newer building methods saw the introduction of steel and concrete, as well as Portland stone, a type of limestone that dates all the way back to the Tithian age of the late Jurassic period.

  1. The quaint village of Haworth

To really discover what Yorkshire’s traditional villages are like, head to Haworth. 

Home of the Bronte sisters, Haworth, in Airedale, does not look like it has changed much over the two centuries. Cobbled streets, stone cottages, and rolling hills all remain, with the picturesque village having retained its charm for all these years. 

Fans of the writers might be able to recognise some of the scenes from their famous poems and books, which include Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and, of course, Jane Eyre. 

The Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley, which used to belong to local millionaire HI Butterfield in the Victorian period, is also well worth a visit, with the period mansion having been completed in the 1880s. 

As you stroll your way around, you’ll find yourself surrounded by millstone grit, of which there are three main types: sandstones, millstones and mudstones, all of which are relatively tough and gritty. This rock was formed around 315 million years ago during the late Carboniferous period.

  1. Yorkshire’s dry stone walls

In contrast to seeing whole villages having remained the same over a couple of hundred years, you can also see remnants of buildings and boundaries. 

Dry stone walls can be spotted throughout the county’s countryside, with many people believing they have survived here for centuries. 

The 5,000 or so miles of dry stone walls are thought to have been constructed by farmers who wanted to separate livestock, and cultivate their land.