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The North-South Divide - Where is the line?


In 2007 we were asked to provide a map of where we thought the North-South dividing line lay for an exhibition at The Lowry gallery in Salford called "Myth of the North". Below is some information Danny Dorling provided to accompany the map.

About the line

The country is best typified as being divided regionally between the north and the south. Ideas of a midlands region add more confusion than light.

The line that separates the North from the South is fractal. The closer you look at it the more detail you see. It weaves between fields and houses. That such an exact line can be drawn is, of course, a fiction but it is also fair to say that moving from North to South is not that gradual an experience.

NS divide image

This is the line that separates upland from lowland Britain, the hills from the most fertile farmland, areas invaded by Vikings from those first colonised by Saxons. Numerous facts of life divide the North from the South – there is a missing year of life expectancy north of this line. Children south of the line are much more likely to attend Russell group universities for those that do go to University (and they often go to the North to study!), a house price cliff now runs along much of the line, and, on the voting map, the line still often separates red from blue.

In terms of life chances the only line within another European country that is comparable to the North-South divide is that which used to separate East and West Germany. This is found not just in terms of relative differences in wealth either side of the line, but most importantly in terms of health where some of the extremes of Europe are now found within this one divided island of Britain.

Where is it?

By county the North lies above the old counties of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire and ‘nips’ only into parts of some of those counties. Most of each of those counties, and all the areas of England below them, are in the South.

By constituency the North includes and lies above the new parliamentary constituencies of the Forest of Dean on the north bank of the Severn; includes West and Mid Worcestershire, Redditch, Bromsgrove (and hence all of Birmingham), Meriden, Coventry South and North East, Warwickshire North, Nuneaton, Bosworth, Loughborough, Rushcliffe, Newark, Bassetlaw, Brigg and Goole, Scunthorpe, Cleethorpes, ending at Great Grimsby and the south bank of the Humber.

This map shows the line created by using parliamentary constituency borders. Click the image for a more detailed map.

It would be possible to go further and split some of these constituencies in half. It would be possible to identify enclaves and exclaves along the border, but this would suggest too much of a rigid line, and the border does move, especially when a new motorway is built or train line to London improved.

Within the North are places that look and sometimes act (e.g. vote) like the south. Areas around the vale of York and Cheshire are contenders here – but they are still northern. Similarly there are parts of the south, especially within London that are very unlike much of the rest of the south, but they are still southern. Scotland and Wales are part of the North, despite having managed to eschew the Victorian attempts to label them North and West Britain respectively.

Danny Dorling

(from Sheffield, near the border, looking down on the South)