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The Story of the Yorkshire Flag

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

My good friend and Yorkshire author, Colin Speakman has written an article for The Real Yorkshire Blog on the history of the Yorkshire Flag.

Wherever you go in Yorkshire sooner later you’ll see that blue flag with a white rose displayed proudly from flagpoles not only in places such as White Wells on iconic Ilkley Moor, but from church towers, town halls, pubs, shops, garages, in gardens of private houses - and just about everywhere.

So what it is all about and how did it happen?

The White Rose of York is of course an ancient symbol of purity. The white rose - “the mystical rose of Heaven” - with its religious connotations, was used by Plantagenet supporters of the House of York in the 14th century.

White roses were also reputedly worn by soldiers of Yorkshire regiments at the Battle of Minden on August 1st (now Yorkshire Day) - in 1759 in memory of their fallen comrades. The present “white double heraldic rose with green sepals and gold centre” design is based on the stylised emblem used in tapestries and illustrated manuscripts throughout medieval and Tudor times.

This in turn was almost certainly based on the ancient Rosa Alba Semi-Plena white shrub rose, still grown in Yorkshire and elsewhere.

But the flag itself on its dark or pale blue background is fairly recent, designed sometime in the 1960s but only adopted in 1975 when the newly formed Yorkshire Ridings Society made use of the flag to help safeguard the names and identity of the ancient Yorkshire Ridings abolished in controversial local Government boundary changes in 1974.

It now forms key part of The Yorkshire Society brand and identity.

After a Yorkshire farmer was summoned but not prosecuted some time afterwards for displaying the flag allegedly without planning permission, on July 29th 2008 the Society had the Flag officially registered by the UK Institute of Flags. From then onwards it has become an official flag of Yorkshire which can be legally displayed in public on any occasion, just as you can the union jack or the red and white cross of St. George.

So why has the flag become so popular in Yorkshire?

First of all, it is not political – and unlike the Union Jack or St George’s flag has not been hi-jacked by any political group for their own purposes. Secondly, in a very real sense it is the Peoples’ Flag suggesting the immense pride by whoever displays it has in belonging to and being in Yorkshire as a region of England. It has in a real and valued sense become part of our Yorkshire identity and togetherness, celebrating our rich, shared culture, one which is not about exclusiveness, but one which, whatever our background or birth heritage, is about belonging.

At a time like the present when so much seems transient and uncertain, where so much change is taking place to our lives, a need for a sense of our history and past in which our present is rooted, has never been so strong. Recent events have highlighted the limitations of an over-centralised state in which decisions taken by politicians and remote bureaucrats hundreds of miles away can seem out of touch and ineffective. Many people feel it is essential to ensure at least some decisions that affect our lives are taken closer to home, by people who share our experience and values. The White Rose flag is a sign of the need for change.

So wear the white rose and wave the blue and white flag with pride as it symbolises all that is strong and resilient about Yorkshire and its people, the beauty and variety of our region, but also its inclusive character and its resilience.

It therefore truly a symbol of hope to help us emerge from these most troubled times.


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