Minor British Institutions: Essex

Is there a county with a readier, headier image than Essex? No. Essex is brash-blonde-bling, a shining cypher for uncomplicated pursuits like shopping, football and nail polishing. Is it really like that? In parts, but then so is Yorkshire.

I could tell you that Dame Maggie Smith is from Ilford; extol Constable country; and confide that Frinton-on-Sea is so refined I was once advised I would be happier at nearby Clacton. But it would be pointless, because Essex is a useful euphemism employed by smart metropolitans unwilling to be seen sneering at what used to be known as the Working Class.

Still, there's a reason why it has been so selected, even beyond Darren Day, Denise Van Outen and Dick Turpin. And that's a historic self-confidence and disinclination to defer. You might know that the Peasants' Revolt began in Essex; but were you aware that the East Saxons were much the most enthusiastic pagans, and the last to be converted to Christianity?