Britain should celebrate its regional diversity with local celebrations – Daily Express, 23 April 2019.

The government wants counties to show pride in their historic roots and hold special celebrations to boost community pride.

The government is encouraging local councils to engender community pride.

Britain’s historic counties have undergone many indignities in recent decades. Middlesex became part of Greater London in 1965. Yorkshire, which had been divided into the East, North and West Ridings for centuries, lost this distinction in a shakeup of local government in 1974. And the same piece of legislation subsumed Cumberland and Westmorland into Cumbria.

Now the Government is encouraging local councils to engender community pride and help families learn about local traditions by holding historic county day celebrations.

There is also encouragement for local authorities to fly their county flags and erect signs which show where historic county boundaries lie. “Historic counties are an important element of English traditions which support the identity and cultures of many of our local communities, giving people a sense of belonging, pride and community spirit,” says the eight-page guidance document.

As things stand, more than half of the country’s councils do not organise county days and not all of them even have such a thing as a county flag.

Inevitably Yorkshire, a county whose cricket club refused to select a player who was not born in the county until the early 1990s, is at the forefront of this new-found enthusiasm for fostering regional identity.

Yorkshire Day was first held on August 1, 1975, to protest against local government reforms that ushered out its historic ridings the year before – and it has been celebrated annually ever since.

The Yorkshire Declaration Of Integrity, which states that “any person or corporate body which deliberately ignores or denies the aforementioned shall forfeit all claims to Yorkshire status”, is traditionally read out in York.

And last year’s celebrations included a civic parade in Ripon followed by a picnic, barbecue, a special “horn-blowing ceremony” and fireworks.

As Yorkshire and Lancashire have been locked in an intense rivalry since the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century, it’s no surprise to hear that there is a Lancashire Day, too.

Town criers throughout the county read out the Lancashire Day proclamation which notes that true Lancastrians are “proud of the Red Rose”.

Lancashire Day involves the town criers reading the Lancashire Day proclamation.

Liverpool-born Jake Berry, the minister responsible for the “Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth”, is the man behind the Government’s historic counties initiative. “As a proud Lancastrian, I’m a strong believer in the great historic county of Lancashire’s motto: ‘In counsel is wisdom’. That’s why I have asked local authorities to come forward with new and creative ideas to help their communities come together to celebrate historic counties, their shared history and our great nation.”

Many of the community activities he refers to revolve around quintessentially British activities, such as Morris dancing.

Cornwall is the place to go if you are looking for events with an authentically pagan twist.

While Cornwall Day is held on St Piran’s Day (March 5) in recognition of its patron saint, for a truly medieval experience go to Padstow on May 1. The centrepiece of the port’s traditional May Day celebration is a parade centred around two “Obby Osses” (hobby horses): the Old Oss and the Blue Ribbon Oss.

The gyrating Osses are followed around the streets by revellers dressed in white, with red or blue scarves and ribbons, and musicians with accordions and drums. Events such as this are perhaps our closest link to the Anglo-Saxon communities which are the root of our historic counties.

When the Romans gave up on Britain in the 5th century, the rival kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria slugged it out for dominance.

And while this period has been characterised as the Dark Ages, admirers of the Anglo-Saxon system of government argue this is a harsh judgment on a system which worked well. The lowest tier consisted of “moots” – meetings often held under oak trees – where small communities thrashed out their differences.

If these were not conclusive, disputes moved up to the shire court and, eventually, came up for discussion at “witans”, great councils involving the great and good, including the king. It was, supporters say, a glorious time of real, grassroots government, where the concerns of the lowest in society could efficiently reach those at the top.

Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the shires became counties – areas under the control of a count – in the French manner and it was not until 1889 that the first county councils were set up.

It was with the introduction of these bodies that the rot began to set in. Suddenly, the historic counties were joined by administrative counties, which had associated county boroughs.

They, in turn, joined the ceremonial counties, areas to which a Lord Lieutenant was appointed. Until 1871 the Lord Lieutenants were responsible for a county’s militia but today, these posts are largely honorary positions bestowed on a retired notable member of the community by the Queen for whom they act as personal representative.

So if you want to get back in tune with your own county roots, why not attend your local county day? There are still 17 yet to take place this year and some of them have extremely high-profile support.

When BBC Radio Norfolk teamed up with the Eastern Daily Press to organise the first Norfolk Day last year they received a letter of support from Prince William.

The Flag of Middlesex.

Residents of Middlesex can join in. While it may no longer have any administrative status, the county will celebrate the heroic men of the Middlesex Regiment on the 16th of May.

For it was on May 16, 1811 that the regiment known as the Diehards fought valiantly at the battle of Albuhera on the Spanish/Portuguese border to keep at bay the overwhelming might of Napoleon’s troops to give Wellington’s army time to retrench. An example to county patriots everywhere.

This article by Dominic Midgley was published in The Daily Express on Tuesday 23rd April 2019.

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