The form of the county is irregular, but the greatest length across the county in a straight line is from the projecting point called Spurn Head, on the south-east, to the junction of the counties of Westmorland and Durham on the northeast, a distance of about 124 miles. In the opposite direction, from the junction of Lancashire and Cheshire on the south-west to the port of Whitby on the north-east coast, the breadth is about 90 miles.
Yorkshire has in it several small shires and dales, but is most commonly divided into three Ridings- the North Riding, the East Riding and the West Riding- and the two small shires of the city or York and town of Hull, which are reckoned with the East Riding. The chief shires in the West Riding are Craven in the north-west and Hallamshire around Sheffield. The Ridings are likewise called North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and West Yorkshire and are for many purposes shires by themselves, having their own lords-lieutenant, militia, members of Parliament, coroners, registrars and justices of the peace, but there is only one sheriff for the whole of Yorkshire.
The Ainsty of the city and shire of York was formerly a district independent of the Ridings; it now constitutes a wapentake of the West Riding for civil purposes, but for parliamentary purposes it is united with the North Riding.
The West Riding of Yorkshire has for its bounds East Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, and is altogether inland; it is greater than any English shire; its area is 2,669 square miles, or 1,770,359 acres, and its population in 1861 was 1,507,796, and in 1871, 1,874,611, viz.:-males, 924,176; females, 950,436: so that as a shire it is the third in population, coming after Lancashire and Middlesex.
The North Riding, the second in size of the Ridings of Yorkshire, is bounded on the north by the river Tees, which separates it from the county of Durham; on the west by the county of Westmorland; on the south-west by the West Riding, from which it is partly separated by the river Ouse; on the south-east by the river Derwent and the East Riding, the North Sea being its eastern boundary. The greatest length from north to south is about 50 miles, which diminishes in one part to about 20: and from west to east it is 85 miles long: it comprises an area of 1,361,664 acres, the West Riding and the counties of Lincoln, Norfolk and Devon only exceeding it in extent; in 1861 its population was 245,154; in 1871, 291,589; in 1881, 346,260, viz. males, 174,897, females, 171,363 and in 1891, 368,237. The number of inhabited houses in 1891 was 13,366.
The East Riding is the smallest of the Ridings of Yorkshire, and is bounded on the north and north-west by the North Riding and the river Derwent, on the east by the North Sea, on the south by the Humber, and on the west by the Ouse and the West Riding; its length from east to west is 45 miles, and from north to south about 35 miles, but on the coast from Filey to Spurn Head is 50 miles; it comprises an area of 750,828 acres. The population in 1871 was 209,505 and in 1881, 315,460, viz. :- males, 156,929 and females, 158,531, and in 1891, 399,412. The number of inhabited houses in 1891 was 84,571. In comparison with the other Ridings of Yorkshire and counties of England, the East Riding stands nineteenth in size, though only twenty-seventh in population.