Are you a proud Tyke or is this name an insult to Yorkshire folk?

The Yorkshire Society is a not-for-profit organisation that celebrates and promotes all things Yorkshire.

By Yorkshire Society
Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 10:30 am

With this in mind we thought we would explore the cultural references behind the term ‘Yorkshire Tyke’.

A familiar name for a Yorkshireman (but strangely, not usually for a Yorkshirewoman) which is still often used by people from other areas of England, most especially Lancashire, is a Tyke.

What does the word Tyke actually mean?

The archetypal image of Yorkshire Tykes

Like many words in Yorkshire and Northern dialect it originated from Old Norse tika where, curiously enough for its present gender orientation, it meant a female dog or bitch, especially a mongrel good at catching rats.

But it came to be used in medieval times for a naughty or mischievous boy or urchin.

Over the years - certainly by the 17th and 18th centuries – its meaning became more localised to include not just the inhabitants of Yorkshire but also from Tyneside.

A Tyke was rough, unkempt, combative, but also sly, shrewd, and also careful with money (another alleged Yorkshire attribute) – a tight Tyke.

Mike Bahre of Barnsley FC in action at Oakwell in February 2019. The club is nicknamed the Tykes

By the 19th and 20th centuries it became more often used for inhabitants of industrial Yorkshire, most especially the old West Riding.

It was used most frequently for the horny-handed sons of toil from the mines, forges and mills that for many decades were the wealth creators of Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

To be a True Tyke you had to be born in Yorkshire but you could be an adopted Tyke if you lived here long enough, even if not eligible to play (until relatively recently) for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Rugby club Leeds Tykes, seen celebrating their 2005 Powergen Cup title here, have proudly taken on the Yorkshire nickname

Even Yorkshire dialect became sometimes known as Tyke – and if you spoke with a strong Yorkshire accent and used the dialect of your part of Yorkshire you would be accused of ‘talking Tyke’.

A notable book by Austin Mitchell and Sid Waddell published in 1971 was entitled Teach Thissen Tyke – a Beginners’ Guide to the Language of God’s Own Country.

By this time, a new sense of pride had long found its way into the White Rose County.

Leeds University Students Rag Week magazine, filled with schoolboy rude jokes and cartoons, as early as 1927 called itself The Tyke magazine, with subsequent editions simply called Tyke or Tyke Leeds Rag. Bradford CAMRA Real Ale group’s magazine is proudly known as the Tyke Taverner, whilst Tykes’ Stirrings – https://tykesstirrings.org.uk/ – is the quarterly magazine of West Riding folk musicians, song and dance groups “read by people as far afield as the US and Australia; even by one or two in Lancashire”.

Barnsley Football Club is affectionately nicknamed The Tykes, Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Club has recently renamed itself the Leeds Tykes and there is a Yorkshire Tykes Angling Club.

Is the word Tyke now respectable? Well – not quite.

Tyke still has associations with alternative, subversive and rebellious ideas and lifestyles, cocking a snoot at the establishment, hierarchies and formalities.

If it’s no longer associated with flat caps, clogs and traditional working class values, then with allotments, green ideals, tramping nearby moors, and real ale.

What does the word Tyke mean to Yorkshire folk?

Something to celebrate or be proud of – or a relic of the past?

Learn more about the society’s work on their website, theyorkshiresociety.org

To celebrate the society’s 40th anniversary, they have suspended the individual membership fee of £20 so you can join for free until December 31 via the website.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.