Cornwall is celebrating after being granted minority status - but what of other English counties' claims to independence?
From Berkshire to Yorkshire, our writers go back to their roots...
Thursday 24 April 2014
By Rhodri Marsden
Anyone daring to get over-emotional about the Cornish pasty has evidently never encountered the Bedfordshire Clanger. It's a suet pie – and if that weren't enough (and I'm guessing it might not be), well, get this – it's a main course and a dessert in one, with meat up one end and jam up the other. Hang on, there's more. We've got Luton Airport, which has accidentally bestowed upon Luton more minicabs per head of population than anywhere else in the UK. Not only that, between Whipsnade Zoo and Woburn Safari Park we've probably (although not definitely) got more elephants per square mile than you have. Suck it up, haters! Visit Cardington Hangars, because Take That rehearsed there once. Sit on Ampthill's Greensand Ridge and hear music from Milton Keynes Bowl, if there's a gig on, and if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Walk around Stewartby, repeating the mantra: "This place dominated British brick production for the best part of a century." Scoot up Dunstable Downs, all 243 metres of it, and stand there looking in the direction of Leighton Buzzard and thinking "Is that Leighton Buzzard? Yes, I think it is." Yes, Bedfordshire has it all, AND ALSO LEIGHTON BUZZARD.
By Gillian Orr
Berkshire, or the Royal County of Berkshire as we all go around calling it, is one of the oldest in the country. Not only was it the scene of many historic battles in the Civil War but, due to Eton College being located here, it means just about every Prime Minister and royal of note has stolen their first kisses and taken their earliest sips of cider in our distinguished county. But if people think Berkshire is just a place for snobs and toffs, don’t forget we are also responsible for glorious Slough, the setting for The Office. And therein lies Berkshire’s beauty. What other county can boast having such varying landmarks as Wernham Hogg Paper Company and Windsor Castle nestled within its quarters?
By Lisa Markwell
Bucks should not be seen as the decorative buckle on the commuter belt, oh no. It may be home to the picturesque Chiltern Hills and have the odd bend of the Thames within its boundaries, but within it is a threatened species. It deserves minority status to protect the very important and at-risk residents of a proper home county: the gin’n’Jag set. The numbers of these creatures, who rise before dawn and hit the M40 in their company cars, to toil at management consulting all day before coming home for a stiff drink and a glance at the Telegraph crossword, are dwindling. But it is they who keep Buckinghamshire’s wine bars in business, the golf clubs ticking over, and the personal trainers (who Mrs G’n’J utilises between school drop off and teeth-whitening sessions) busy. We want them to keep going for ever, like Bucks’ other attractions – Bekonscot, the model village that has barely changed since it opened in 1929 – and the grammar schools that still proliferate. We can’t expect Pinewood Studios to be our only calling card (although, in fairness, it is more glamorous than the other residents the county accommodates – Noel Gallagher and Jamiroquai among others). And apologies if we are now sounding needy, but our minority status is only cemented by being the county that nearly, but not quite, includes such luminary addresses as Silverstone, Bletchley, Windsor… I could go on. Even Slough (of “Come Friendly Bombs” fame) is just over the border.
By Chloe Hamilton
When you think about it, Cambridgeshire already has minority status. We have our own sport (apparently they punt in Oxford, too, but at the wrong end of the boat), our own language (A keeping room? Anyone? Yep, that’s right, it’s a fancy word for living room) and even our very own, very glamorous Duke and Duchess. To hell with leeks, soda bread, haggis and pasties, our national food is the delectable Fitzbillies Chelsea bun or, for the very brave, boiled sausages in milk. We also make most of our money selling cheap tat to tourists, like any good principality should. If minority status was granted, our head of state, some library eccentric, would ride around town on his bike admonishing students for not wearing their gowns, and enforce incongruous laws such as holding May Balls in June rather than May. In fact, I think the government should go right ahead and make Cambridgeshire the country it quite clearly is. Anything to get one up on The Other Place.
By Alistair Dawber
There isn’t much support in Chester, Warrington, Knutsford and Crewe for the Peoples’ Popular Front for the Liberation of Cheshire (PPFLC), but perhaps there should be. Much like Scotland argues in the context of its oil, there’s so much money swimming around (footballers in the north of the county, farmers in the south) that Cheshire must surely be better off keeping its cash rather than transferring it elsewhere. It has its own mining industry (salt – or at least it used to), and huge revenues could be generated by taxing all the trains that come up the West Coast Mainline and to on to various places from Crewe station. Don’t be surprised if support for the PPFLC soars in the years to come.
Britain's loveliest and prettiest county: Keswick in Cumbria (David Iliff)
By Chris Blackhurst
If any county is deserving of separate status it is Cumbria. Britain’s loveliest and prettiest, home of Beatrix Potter, John Ruskin and William Wordsworth, Cumbria is closer to heaven than it is to London. With the fells, lakes, and tarns of the Lake District at its core, Cumbria has no issue with identity. Bounded by the sea on one side and the majestic Eden Valley on the other it has its own dialect, cuisine, ales, customs, sports and wildlife. All it is lacking is independent governance. Where would you rather be, in the smog shuffling along in the crowds at Chelsea Flower show, or breathing in the clean, pure air at the Grasmere Sports, watching the fell running, Cumberland Wrestling and hound-trailing? Likewise, would you prefer the view from Westminster Bridge or Tarn Hows? The latter, every time.
By Will Gore
Picture this… Gaining independence will be only the first battle for Derbyshire; then will come the internal debate about the future of Derby itself. City-dwellers there may resent the county’s name change to Peakland and the retention of government in tourist-friendly Matlock. But when civil order reasserts itself, Peakland will become a powerhouse – its industrial heartland in the south; glorious hills and productive pasture to the north. Oatcakes and Bakewell tart will feed hungry mouths at the end of hard-working days; wells will be dressed in thanks for the county’s liberation. And should governments of little Lancashire or yapping Yorkshire, jealous of Peakland’s wonders, send their armies they will be met by sturdy uplanders atop the Dark Peak, their guns loaded with local lead. This is our dream: get out of the trough; climb the peak.
By Sophie Robehmed
Ah, Devon, you beautiful beast. Your rolling green hills, magnificent moors and stunning, jagged coastline attracts countless visitors, migrating families and retirees, far and wide. You gave birth to literary greats, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Ottery St. Mary), a leader of the British Romantic movement whose most famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is studied, again and again, by literature students worldwide, Charles Kingsley (Exeter), whose novel,Westward Ho!, led to the north Devon town with the same name – the only place name in the British Isles that contains an exclamation mark! – and Agatha Christie (Torquay), the bestselling author of all time. Your luscious landscape also inspired the likes of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ted Hughes, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Arthur Conan Doyle (that’s right, you could forget The Hound of the Baskervilles and Sherlock-cum-Benedict Cumberbatch mania without Dartmoor). You even determined a globally recognised geological era – the Devonian period. Oh, and by the way, you (probably) also introduced the world to a cream tea and the hallowed pasty (according to discovered historic documents), maybe even clotted cream and saffron cake. So stick that in your Saint Piran’s special edition pipe and smoke it, Cornwall.
By Mark Leftly
Finally, we Bournemouthians would have our revenge. Bournemouth was the public’s choice to be awarded city status in a 2012 competition to mark the Queen’s Diamond jubilee. Instead, the trio promoted to the top rank of urban settlements were Chelmsford (really?), Perth (Australia?) and St Asaph (not even a real place). That’s quite an insult for a town that sells 2,000 ice creams a day and discovers about as many Page 3 girls (including, I should remind Archie Bland, Hampshire’s Ms Pinder) on seven miles of golden beaches. As economically dominant of Dorset as London is of the UK, secession would see Bournemouth rightfully take its place as the world’s most chain-bar strewn capital city.
Land of the prince bishops: County Durham (Rex Features)
By Stephen Brenkley
Land of the prince bishops, it was doing home rule long before the others thought of it. The only county of England to proclaim itself as such in its name, its coalfields fuelled the industrial revolution. It has one of the world’s great universities in the county town, one of its great museums in the singular Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, one of the forgotten treasures of the British countryside in Teesdale, a unitary authority which tries still to believe in supplying public services, and it also provided last summer’s cricket county champions, the true yardstick of any place worthy of the name county.
By Simon Read
Essex is not just another county in England. It’s the oldest county still in existence, dating its roots back to at least the 6th century, and it contains Britain’s oldest recorded town in Colchester, which pre-dated the Roman invasion. Yet it’s also thoroughly modern, being at the heart of the entertainment revolution that still shapes our age today. It boasts the world’s longest pleasure pier at Southend – it’s further than a mile! It was also the birthplace of pirate radio – Caroline’s earliest broadcasts in 1964 came from a boat moored off the Essex coast. Minority status? The rest of the country is in a minority compared to Essex’s historical and contemporary pre-eminence.
By Archie Bland
Fine, other counties have given the world cultural figures that mean more than Lucy Pinder or Craig David or Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. (Even our greatest modern icon, Matthew Le Tissier, actually comes from the Channel Islands.) Fine, we haven’t got much in the way of local cuisine. But you can keep yer Beatles and yer pasties: Hampshire has kings. When Wessex was a nation, and the Danes were knocking on the door, all of south-west England looked to Winchester for protection. You might not know much about King Alfred beyond his cake-burning, but trust me, he knocks the Windsors into a cocked hat. Royal heritage, a top-class football team, and it’s usually quite sunny: I’m suddenly wondering why we didn’t put up border controls decades ago.
By David Connett
England at its quietest was how novelist E M Forster described Hertfordshire. The unassuming characteristics of a county experienced by most of us only through the windows of the car or train passing swiftly through on their way to London or elsewhere should not be overlooked when the question of independence is raised. More fantastical schemes have been dreamed up at Leavesden’s World of Harry Potter. Herts resident Rupert Grint as head of state, anyone? We could even change the currency to Galleons. Who would argue with fellow resident Vinnie Jones in charge of security? Others may bridle at old boy George Michael as Culture minister but a toll on every car and train passing through would soon see us in clover.
Punching above its weight: The White Cliffs of Dover in Kent (Getty Images)
By Simon O'Hagan
I always thought my home county WAS a nation. Back in the 11th century its good citizens saw off William the Conqueror as he made his way north from Hastings, earning Kent its motto of “Invicta” (unconquered). So we’ve been separate from the rest of England for nearly 1,000 years, which is about how long it feels like Gillingham Football Club have been trying to get into the Premier League. No matter. We punch above our weight in other ways: apples, hops, oil refineries, white cliffs, high-speed rail links, and archbishops of Canterbury. And we’d have Mick Jagger’s head on our stamps.
By Chris Maume
The seat of the Industrial Revolution, the county that made Britain great. And we still have plenty of industry to keep us going today, plus great football teams and great music – and to those who protest that Liverpool and Manchester don’t count, I contend that Lancashire’s boundaries used to encompass both those cities, and as a new nation we would seek to correct the “historical mistake”, as Mr Putin would say, of allowing them to be stolen from us in the Metropolitan Reshuffle Scandal of 1971.
By Sean O'Grady
Can we conceive of a territory with the emblem of a pork pie rampant as its symbol of nationhood? Yes, indeed, the home of the Melton Mowbray delicacy (already a protected brand under European law) has much to commend itself. The county, and the great enterprising multicultural melting pot that is Leicester at its warm heart, leads the nation in so many ways. Top sports teams in every field: rugger, cricket and now a return to premiership football; fox hunting, (nowadays mercifully without the accompanying torture of an innocent wild animal); Britain’s favourite potato crisp (Walkers); and the finest Indian restaurants and chippies you could wish for. Two fine universities, picturesque ancient villages in gently undulating countryside with wonderful names (Great Dalby, Little Dalby, Frisby-on-the-Wreake, Tur Langton, Barton in the Beans), a history of settlement back to pre-Roman times, the National Space Centre, Everards ales, Pukka Pies, the biggest John Lewis in the world, Richard III, magnificent architectural heritage and our very own miniature statue of liberty completes the compelling national case. Prime Minister Gary Lineker awaits the call.
By Dan Gledhill
When asked, “where do you come from?”, there are few better conversation killers than “Lincolnshire”. Well, if that’s your attitude… Combining a rugged north and a flat-as-a-pancake south, the land of the “Yeller Belly” boasts some of the finest beaches in Britain. It is the fair county that spawned Isaac Newton, Margaret Thatcher and Abi Titmuss. Lincoln Minster was once the tallest man-made structure in the world. There’s a straight road that goes on for seven miles. How different do we have to be before our minority status is recognised?
Norfolk: Not only different but seemingly isolated from the rest of the UK (Getty Images)
By John Clarke
Those lucky enough to come from Norfolk always had one golden rule. “We do different.” Perhaps it’s the fact that the county’s stuck out in the North Sea, battered by winds straight from Siberia in winter but blessed by miles of golden beaches that make this county not only different but seemingly isolated from the rest of the UK. Going to Norfolk is a conscious decision. It’s not on the way to anywhere else and isn’t somewhere you can just pass through. Driving up the notoriously over-used but under-developed A11 brings you to proud city of Norwich, which boasts a Norman Cathedral, a Norman Castle and premier league football team (although that status is currently under threat). Detractors may point to Alan Partridge, but he has little to do with the true Norfolk, as Dick Van Dyke does with Cockneys. Instead, think of Nelson, a Norfolk-bred national hero, or Thomas Paine, the revolutionary who helped America towards independence – and can inspire Norfolk’s own.
By Joseph Charlton
Northumberland has always been an exceptional county. We boasted a Kingdom from 654 to 954AD, our forebears include Sting, Bryan Ferry and the Venerable Bede, and we’re no stranger to “status” awards here, either – having last year been granted “dark sky status” for the county’s exceptionally dark nights and starry skies. That bright firmament illuminates a world of wonder and spectacle underneath: rolling, heather-clad hills, two football clubs both alike in hatred for one another, and a set of the fairer sex given to a perfunctory dress-code at best, whatever the season. Minority status is clearly the next logical step for a county of such singular disposition. Besides, if Parliament doesn’t recognise our rights soon, they’ll have to compete with an independent Scotland for our affections, and who says Alex Salmond couldn’t turn out to be the annexing type? Joseph Charlton
By Richard Askwith
Northamptonshire has no need of independence. Splayed across the centre of both England and (pretty much) the UK, we’re used to rubbing along happily with people from all parts. Then again, if you all want to secede from us, we’ll manage fine on our own. We’re relatively prosperous, uncrowded, rural but not chocolate-boxy, unpretentious, well-connected (by road, rail and canal), proficient in several sports, with small, slightly sleepy towns and a cultural heritage that spans the social strata, from the super-posh Spencers to John Clare, poet of the peasantry. I suppose it might be tempting, in an every-county-for-itself free-for-all, to invade Lincolnshire; but I suspect we’d think better of it. Access to the sea isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in an age of rising sea-levels. And, with everything we need in our own county, why go looking for trouble?
Natural leader: Robin Hood could adorn Nottinghamshire's fledgling flag (Rex Features)
By Alex Lawson
Nottinghamshire is the county upon which Britain’s cultural pillars have been built – pubs and football. Nottingham’s natural parliament is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a public house dating back to 1189and widely recognised as Britain’s oldest watering hole. On the pitch, Notts County, formed in 1862, proudly boast their status as the world’s oldest professional league club while neighbours across the river Nottingham Forest have two European Cups to their name. Nottinghamshire also has a natural leader to adorn its fledgling flag. Robin Hood, the philanthropic founder of a conscientious economy, is a global hero inspiring men to wear green tights, tourists to brave Sherwood Forest and Bryan Adams to dominate the charts.
By Sean O'Grady
Small can be beautiful and here we have a miniature nation state that can trace an almost continuous heritage of administrative independence since 1159, (barring a Crimea-style annexation by Leicestershire between 1974 and 1994), making it far older than many upstarts such as San Marino or Monaco – these latter demonstrating how things could work out for our own Lilliput. Oakham and Uppingham pass for metropolises, both charming market towns. Economic viability derives from its fine farmland, nice pubs and of course Rutland Water, an extremely valuable man-made resource. Eric Idle would be the patron saint of the new state, having pioneered the idea of nationhood through the invention of Rutland Weekend Television in the 1970s, compete with the pop group the Ruttles, who stand easy comparison with their more successful Liverpudlian rivals. First prime minister could easily be diminutive government minister and local MP, Alan Duncan, truly a small fish in a small pond. As the county motto says, “much in little”.
By Alex Johnson
Bigger, better, older, cleverer, Shropshire is the county that doesn’t shout loudest but quietly paves the way for the rest to follow. World’s first skyscraper? That’ll be Ditherington flax mill near Shrewsbury. Birthplace of the modern Olympics? Welcome to Much Wenlock. Home to the first British parliament? Not London, but Acton Burnell. Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution? Lovely Ironbridge. Looking for proper nobility? The real King Arthur didn’t come from down south, but ruled a huge kingdom from his base in Wroxeter. Not only that, but the people are nice too.
Somerset parties better than London, especially in Glastonbury (Rex Features)
By Chris Hewett
The Somerset Separationists hold regular meetings beneath a soggy hayrick on the outskirts of Nempnett Thrubwell, fortified by hunks of finest mature Cheddar, washed down by pints of foaming Butcombe. Here, we recite from the gospel of Fawlty Towers (John Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare) while re-enacting the glorious battles of the English Civil War, during which the county distinguished itself with a right-thinking commitment to the Roundhead cause (unlike the forelock-tugging Cornish, it is only fair and reasonable to point out). John Pym, defender of parliament, co-author of the Grand Remonstrance, moving spirit behind the Solemn League and Covenant and leader of the early attacks on Charles I, was a local man. Our claim to nationhood rests on the following indisputable facts: we brew better than London, we party better than London, especially in Glastonbury; we play proper football – that is to say, rugby union – and we build grander dwellings, particularly in Bath. Oh yes, one other thing: the first king of all England was crowned on the site of Bath Abbey. Not that we like kings very much.
By Matthew Champion
The county that gave the world cricket and provided the backdrop for Kazakhstan’s greatest cycling triumph is no longer the rustic backwater our London cousins may like to think. So our council seat may not even be in Surrey, and sites of historical interest such as Hampton Court and the Coronation Stone might technically be in London. Granted, our literary history is chequered; Ford Prefect actually turned out to be a Betelgeusian and not from Guildford – our largest and in fact only town – and H G Wells was so inspired by the north Surrey countryside he dedicated an entire book in the shape of The War Of The Worlds to its obliteration. Guildford itself is in jeopardy of being subsumed into the menacing-sounding Greater London Built-Up Area, with the expansion of the boroughs-upon-Thames of Richmond and Kingston an ever-present threat. This is what the Saxon-stronghold of Surrey represents, nothing less than the UK’s bulwark against the London behemoth. The only way to correct the north-south divide is to prevent the capital’s southward creep. Make Surrey the figurehead of the Home Counties Splinter Republic and watch the country’s London-centric economy rebalance.
By John Lichfield
Staffordshire has more claims to minority, separate status than almost any county. Are we the Midlands or the North? Neither, we are Staffordshire, the cultural watershed of England. We have not just one incomprehensible form of speech but two, mutually incomprehensible lingoes : North Staffs and Black Country. We produced the finest ever English footballer: Stanley Matthews. We are linked to Cornwall through china. That is, of course, pottery china, not the People’s Republic. Where would all that Cornish clay go if it didn’t go to the Potteries to be made into dinner plates and toilets?
By Rachael Allum
The great nation of Suffolk? Certainly has a ring to it, but given the lack of motorways in the county, our complete disregard of the English language and the population’s general penchant for inbreeding, it would seem we’re already functioning as an independent state. With illustrious national foodstuffs such as Branston Pickle, Bird’s custard and the fine ales produced by Greene King in such high demand globally, our economy is booming. And who needs footballing success when you have a town full of diddy people on horseback achieving sporting brilliance? Yes the houses are painted pink and there’s a general odour of sugar beet that hangs in the air, but unless you own a tractor you can’t leave anyway.
Sussex: Exotic Brighton is the most Continental city in the UK (Getty Images)
By Simon Calder
When the “Europe of 100 flags” finally arrives, dissolving national frontiers in favour of natural partitions, the six martlets of Sussex will flutter proudly on the county standard. Sussex has always been a land apart. It is segregated from London’s suburban sprawl by the North Downs, yet – thanks to 75 miles of splendid shoreline – open to foreign cultures (as William the Conqueror found to his advantage). To the east, the boundary with Kent is blurred by the mysterious wilderness of Romney Marsh, while the western edge is punctuated by the city of Chichester and the glories of Goodwood. Global connectivity is ensured by the world’s busiest single-runway airport, at Gatwick. However, since the Sussex resorts of Eastbourne and Bognor are habitually the sunniest places in Britain, and exotic Brighton (pictured above) is the most Continental city in the UK, there seems little reason to stray beyond the ancient kingdom of the South Saxons.
By Felicity Morse
Warwickshire gave birth to the nation’s Greatest Briton: Shakespeare. Perhaps if we’d had our own independence we wouldn’t have had our brilliant bard poached by the smoky stages of the capital and could have kept our shire’s bucolic identity. It’s not just Stratford that makes Warwickshire wonderful though. Coventry weathered the great war with the type of morale exclusive to Midlander. And then there’s Lady Godiva, the city noblewoman who rode through the streets naked to stop the oppressive taxation of the people. Would Boris do the same today?
National monument: Stonehenge in Wiltshire (Getty Images)
By Richard Hall
As far as its people are concerned, Wiltshire is already a country. We have a healthy distrust of outsiders, our own flag (a bustard against a green and white striped background) and a dialect that is incomprehensible to anyone outside of our borders. We have a national monument in Stonehenge (pictured above), a national religion in cider and a national football team in Swindon Town. Ah, come to think of it, perhaps we are better together. Richard Hall
By Paul Bignell
Where to begin with Yorkshire’s claim to nationhood? Us Yorkshire folk have known it’s the best county for years, but had it confirmed to us only last October when Lonely Planet declared it as the Best Place in Europe and the Third Best Region in the world. Yes, I accept all the clichés – the great fish and chips in Whitby; the rugged beauty of the north York moors; the gravy sandwiches no one ever eats; the desolate Wolds of Hockney’s paintings. But let’s look to the future: cities such as Leeds and Sheffield which have been reinventing themselves quietly over the past decade. Bradford has become the world’s first Unesco City of Film and there’s a new state-of-the-art gallery in Wakefield. Add the cosy, plentiful pubs in York, the tea rooms of Harrogate the quirkiness of Hebden Bridge. Oh and there’s something about a cycling event this year.
By Katy Guest
With the best city (Liverpool), the most glamorous beach (Formby), the finest views of Wales, the two most mighty cathedrals and possibly, just possibly the greatest football team in England once again, Merseyside already has everything it needs to stand alone as a nation - even though apparently it’s not even a county. It even has the best jokes. “Why did the Scouse chicken cross the road softly? Because he couldn’t walk hardly.” Should it need to, Merseyside could revive the Albert Dock for imports and exports, and bring in tourists straight off the boat from New York to marvel at Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields… and Bidston Hill. (Lancashire can keep the 4,000 holes.) Merseyside even has its own national anthem, inspired by the stalls of ye olde Birkenhead market: “We three kings of Hamilton Square/ Selling knickers 2p a pair/ They’re fantastic, no elastic/ That’s why our bums are bare.”
BUT WHAT ABOUT... MIDDLESEX?
By Rob Hastings
We’ve heard plenty of reasons for London declaring self-rule: its huge population, its self-supporting economy, and its strong cultural identity. But for us Londoners living north of the Thames, making the capital independent just isn’t good enough. Travel south of the river, and we might as well be in a different land - where you have to walk miles for the Tube, and life seems strangely cut off from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. So let’s wave goodbye to south London and draw a national boundary along the River Thames instead - reinstating the ancient county of Middlesex and making it an independent country. These days, Middlesex exists purely as a cricket team and a postal district for the likes of my family living out in Enfield. But historically, its borders included the seat of government in Westminster, the economic powerhouse of the City, and almost all the most famous sights of the capital. The old Middlesex Guildhall is now home to the Supreme Court – the highest judicial body in the land. So while some people might dismiss Middlesex as the county that doesn’t really exist, I’d argue that it has a better chance of surviving as an independent nation than any other shire in Britain. And if you won’t accept it as a county, that would effectively leave me stateless. Please don’t force me to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.
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