Where is "The North"?

Since the dawn of time the great north-south divide has fuelled endless bar-room banter and driven road sign makers to near insanity. The burning question has always been, where does this divide fall, where exactly is the north, and how far south do you have to be to be considered a southerner.

The iconic blue North-South motorway signs.

The difficulties of mapping social divides

Previous attempts to definitively chart the north-south divide have focussed on behavioural keys amongst the population by asking divisive questions such as:

  • Do you know what a Parmo is?
  • Do you like chips with your gravy?
  • Will you be eating tea or having dinner around 6pm?
  • Do you know what a ginnel is?
  • Do you prefer your sandwich filling in a bap, bun, roll or breadcake?

However, until such time that vital questions like “Do you eat growlers or pork pies?” is included in the census, then small sample sizes and such subjective questioning make the results inconclusive.

Segmenting the UK by population levels

Using the powerful geographical tools at our disposal, we at Beacon Dodsworth have decided to face this challenge head-on and equally and fairly divide the country into a north and south. Using the Territory Management function from our Prospex GIS – which we normally use to divide sales areas amongst field teams by value, or population – we set out to divide the country into two distinct areas of equal population. As a national project we created boundaries at postcode area level (the first one or two letters in a postcode) to give a good indication without overwhelming us with detail, whilst population figures came from our P2 People & Places geodemographic data. Our first attempt gave us the map shown to the right.

With London and surrounding areas being so populous, it would seem that “The North” starts a little bit further south than you would think when we look at a population-based divide. So we decided to look at a couple of alternative models (the maps below), one where we create three equally populated territories, with a “midlands” area expanding from a central point in the country. Finally, we looked at a north, south, east, west split to try and create a model that more-closely matches people’s preconceptions of the UK’s social geography.

So where does "The North" begin?

Fortunately, our mathematical approach was just a bit of fun as I’m not sure any of our models are entirely suitable for national segmentation. If you live in Cambridge for example, do you consider yourself to live in the North as our first model suggests? Our more complex models also raise some serious questions; For example is Enfield really where the Midlands begins?

This exercise was a valuable test of our GIS' territory manager and its ability to calculate large quantities of data in order to build territories of equal value out from a fixed starting point. However, I don’t think we’ve managed to definitively answer the question: where is "The North"? I guess we’ll leave that up to the Friday night scholars in their local drinking establishment and we await their peer-reviewed findings in due course.



The north south divide if it was a simple 50:50 population split.

Using population figures to drive a 3-way split of the UK.

North, south, east and west equal split by population numbers.

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