The race to South Riding: Winifred Holtby or Ford Madox Ford?

Who got there first?

The fictional South Riding of Yorkshire is so associated with Winfred Holtby it is seen as her invention. Yet Ford Madox Ford cited the South Riding in Parade’s End, years before Holtby.

For Holtby the real East Riding was too close to home. Her mother was its first female alderman, Holtby lived there for a while, and the shenanigans of East Riding council provided much of the story line for South Riding. So the South Riding did a good job for Holtby —  though not quite good enough to avoid a rift with her mother.
For Ford the phrase illuminates a single sentence:
‘The mother an admirable woman, but from the South Riding. Soft, therefore, and ample.’
In Parade’s End (and possibly elsewhere) Yorkshire folk regard southerners as softies. A soft Yorkshireman (or woman) therefore, almost by definition, had to come from the South Riding. It’s a neat and succinct description from Ford. Worth inventing a whole county for. But did he? In A Mirror to France  Ford wrote
‘… most of the country from La Manche to the South Riding of Yorkshire is really France’
Thus raising the possibility that Ford simple got it wrong. He didn’t realise there was no South Riding. With most authors one could immediately dismiss this notion but with Ford – whose grip on ‘facts’ could be tenuous – the possibility remains open. Ford, whose Parade’s End is full of ‘valuable ambiguities (to use Graham Greene’s phrase) has contrived to leave us with one more.

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