My Yorkshire: Stephen Miller from the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership on his favourite people and places.
Stephen Miller lives in Wakefield and works as a community officer for the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, which was set up to protect, preserve and enhance the Dearne Valley area.
What’s your first Yorkshire memory?
The River Wharfe is the location of my earliest Yorkshire memories. Summer trips to Bolton Abbey and Burnsall were regular days out with my family. We would have picnics on the riverbanks, fly kites, try a bit of fishing and attempt to race our inflatable dinghies.
What’s your favourite part of the county and why?
I’m really drawn to places where natural and human history collide to create something totally unique. The landscape of the Dearne Valley between Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster is a great example. The geology brought industries such as coal, glass and potteries, which have shaped the human history of the valley for generations and created a patchwork of landscapes.
Do you have a favourite walk or view?
Just a mile outside Barnsley town centre you can walk to the top of the old Barnsley Main spoil heap. It offers panoramic views down the Dearne Valley and north towards Wakefield and sits on the same site as the old Oaks Colliery, which in 1866 suffered the worst mining disaster in English history with the loss of 383 lives. It’s a moving experience to stand above the site of that terrible disaster and reflect on the impact it had. I am currently working on an exhibition about the disaster that will be at Experience Barnsley later this year.
What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, in Yorkshire?
My weekends often revolve around a good walk with friends. I’m also a big real ale fan and Yorkshire is blessed with some of the best breweries and pubs in the world, so the perfect day would have to end with a nice pint!
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?
I’m a boxing fan so would choose Iron Hague, British heavyweight champion, 1909-1911. Lots of people in Mexborough, where he was born, will tell you stories of this remarkable man. Hague was beaten by one of the top ten fighters of all time, Sam Langford, who said his punch was the hardest he’d ever taken. After retiring Hague fought in the First World War at the Somme and Passchendaele. He died in 1951 and is buried in Mexborough.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
Barry Hines wasn’t really a star of stage or screen but his works have certainly inspired some remarkable performances, from Kes to Threads. Sadly he passed away earlier this year but I would have loved to have met him and had the chance to discuss his work. He had a deep knowledge and connection to the landscape and people of the Dearne Valley and wrote about it in the most beautiful way.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?
No other county has such contrasts between urban and rural, ancient and modern and the variety of natural landscapes. I think the Barnsley borough reflects that diversity on a smaller scale, from heathland to former industrial sites and large urban areas to ancient woodland.
If you had to name your Yorkshire hidden gem, what would it be?
The Waterloo Kiln sits just outside Swinton near Rotherham and is an amazing survival. The kiln was built in 1815, the same year as the Battle of Waterloo, after which it is named.
Do you follow sport in the county and if so, what?
I’m a football fan and last season was great for many Yorkshire teams. It’s really exciting to see Barnsley, Huddersfield, Leeds, Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday all challenging in the Championship next season.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?
There are so many that it’s hard to pick just one! The Beer Exchange in Wakefield, the Little Alehouse in Harrogate and the newly opened Arcade Alehouse in Barnsley are all great places to enjoy a local ale.
Do you have a favourite food shop?
The Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite is brilliant; it’s also a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative. Amazing bread and cakes to take away and also the best bacon sandwich I’ve ever had.
Who is the Yorkshire person you most admire?
Maurice Dobson was born in Barnsley in 1912 and worked in the pits before fighting in the Second World War. He returned to the Dearne Valley to open a shop with his partner Fred Halliday which they ran as an openly gay couple from the 1950s until the 1980s; homosexuality was illegal until 1967. He was a fearsome, brave and passionate man who lived his life without apology or concession. His former shop is now a brilliant volunteer-run local history museum in Darfield.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had to visit one place, where would it be?
I would recommend an industrial heritage tour around South Yorkshire. It would be easy to combine visits to Elsecar Heritage Centre, Barnsley Main and a trip to the National Coal Mining Museum for their brilliant underground tour.
How do you think Yorkshire has changed, for better or worse, in the time that you’ve known it?
The Yorkshire I know has had more than its fair share of tough times, but that has created very resilient communities who are now looking forward and excited about the future. We need to use history to inform our future.