Yorkshire connections - Harold Wilson, Rievaulx Abbey and the Beatles


Harold Wilson, Rievaulx Abbey and the Beatles have one or two surprising links as uncovered by Dr Jill Adam

Our journey this month begins in Harrogate with a 50-year anniversary of a concert at the Royal Hall on March 8th, 1963. The concert was one of a number played in our great county (over 23 in that year) by one of the greatest pop bands of all time – the Beatles. They were supported at the Royal Hall by local bands Barry Corbett and the Mustangs, The Chinchillas and Ricky Fenton and the Apaches.

Three weeks before the Beatles played Harrogate, a Yorkshire alumnus - one James Harold Wilson – was appointed leader of the Labour Party, almost 47 years after his birth in Huddersfield on March 11th, 1916.It was Prime Minister Wilson who two years later in 1965 nominated the Beatles for an MBE, only to be followed by a rather negative personal mention in ‘Taxman’, George Harrison’s opening song to the 1966 album Revolver.

Although Harold Wilson’s connections with the Beatles may have waned in the decades that followed, his Yorkshire roots remained strong and when he retired from the House of Commons in 1983, he was made Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, after Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire where generations of his family had farmed abbey land until the mid-1800s.

Rievaulx Abbey is one of a large number of abbeys and priories founded across Yorkshire, many built after the Norman conquest of 1066 and many dissolved by Henry VIII almost 500 years later. The Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx was founded in 1132, after St Bernard of Clairvaux sent a colony of monks 881 years ago this month to establish monastic life in Yorkshire.

In its prime, Rievaulx was one of the largest and most important abbeys in the country, having sufficient resources for all aspects of the community’s life including fisheries, facilities for wool production, arable and pastoral land, woodland and mineral rights.

One of the most famous Abbots of Rievaulx was St Aeldred who wrote of the abbey ‘Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world’. Although written over eight centuries ago, these words could still apply to Rievaulx and indeed many of her sister abbeys today. Rievaulx remains one of the most complete of all the ruined abbeys in the country.

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It is this reference to abbeys, break-ups, ruins and remains that brings us full circle to the start of our journey of surprising connections. As with the dissolution of the abbeys, the reign of the Beatles as a band came to an end, in their case in 1970. Abbey Road, their 11th studio album was the last album to be recorded by them as a group. From their early presence in North Yorkshire to their dissolution years later, both abbeys and Abbey Road provide surprising connections to a rich Yorkshire history and heritage.

Dr Jill Adam is executive director of Level Partnerships and chairman of Harrogate International Festivals. She is also a trustee of the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust and a school governor.

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