There is, I understand, a blogging phenomenon known as ‘newsjacking’, in which you get a post out on the coat-tails of some topical event, thereby (hopefully) sending your views sky high. It is this sort of thing that convinces me I have no journalistic skills: in search of a subject for the New Year I’ve found several half-written posts that might have fitted into that category – if I’d only got round to finishing them at the time. This one is dusted off from November.
Lancashire Day is celebrated on 27th November: founded by the Friends of Real Lancashire (FORL) it was chosen as the date in 1295 when the ancient and honourable county of Lancaster sent its first representatives to the ‘model’ Parliament of King Edward I. It’s the day when we celebrate our county’s history and achievements as well as all those things that makes it both distinctive and individual. All over the historic county, towns and villages will be holding events that mark them out as firmly rooted in Lancashire – whatever local government officials may say.
The reason for this, and the foundation of FORL, is the result of local government re-organisations in the Seventies, which pretty much made a mess of the UK’s 92 historic counties. With traditional, and mostly medieval, forms of local government struggling under the population growth that followed the Industrial Revolution, nineteenth century Acts of Parliament established County Councils to administer the practicalities of day to day life in their region and, as the name suggests, jurisdiction was pretty much based on the historic county boundaries. Increasing growth throughout the twentieth century, however, meant that certain major cities, such as Manchester, Hull and Bristol, spilled over into adjoining counties, so that by 1972 it was deemed more practical to create separate regions of administration around them, such as Greater Manchester, Humberside and Avon. The towns and villages of South Lancashire were particularly badly affected: the creation of Merseyside (the area around Liverpool) and Greater Manchester (the area around Manchester) swallowed much of that part of the county and the ‘left-over’ area in the middle, around Warrington, now completely cut off from Lancashire, was tidily ‘moved’ into the jurisdiction of Cheshire County Council.
Athough it was stressed at the time that all this was for purposes of practical administration only, and that, though your town or village was now being ‘managed’ by Merseyside or Humberside as the case may be, you were still actually living within the historic county of Lancashire or Lincolnshire, confusion reigned. The media had a field day, Royal Mail adopted the new administrative areas for postal addresses and, of course, once computerisation took hold the errors were multiplied ad infinitum.
Many people, myself included, believed that as a result of these changes Warrington was no longer part of Lancashire and that the ancient county borders had actually been moved to rope it into Cheshire, something I heard a lot of complaints about throughout the Seventies. It was difficult to correct the idea with our services now being provided by, and branded, Cheshire County Council at all day-to-day levels; though the inhabitants of the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire probably felt more annoyed about being shunted into an artificially created ‘Merseyside’. In terms of public relations the changes seem to have failed dismally.
Naturally, therefore, it wasn’t long before people decided they had had enough of this and the Association of British Counties was formed in 1989 ‘to fully re-establish the use of the historic counties as the standard popular geographical reference frame of Britain and to further encourage their use as a basis for social, sporting and cultural activities.’ From their website, they seem to be taking a pressure group approach, providing a good breakdown of the legislation and all the confusion in various articles, together with suggestions as to how cross-county local government administration could operate in tandem with the ancient geographical areas.
Another body, The Historic Counties Trust, seems to be taking a more scholarly approach; it ‘aims to promote public awareness of the history, geography, natural history, architecture and traditions of the historic counties of the UK.’ and has not only produced a fascinating gazetteer in which you can look up how your county has been described, but is also working on the Historic County Borders Project to produce a series of downloadable maps showing each county as it was before all the local government changes.
There is a particularly splendid description of Lancashire, in beautifully Wainwright-ish tones:
(transcribed by myself; copyright The Historic Counties Trust.)
50 LCS Lancashire
Lancashire is a large and heavily populated county, in population second only to Middlesex. Lancashire runs up the English west coast from the Mersey north to Morecambe Bay with a further part north of the sands at Furness. Lancashire was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, its cotton mills supplying the Empire and the World. Although competition and changed technology have swept many of the great mills away nevertheless Lancashire is still home to industrial might, and the great towns and cities which grew up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still thrive. Away from the industrial and urban areas, Lancashire contains scenery of much beauty and jarring contrasts. The Furness district in the north sits on the sea at Barrow in Furness, a shipyard and industrial town. Behind Barrow though is a land of lakeland fells, forested and mountainous, forming part of the Lake District. Coniston Water, and most of Windermere lie in this part of Lancashire. In the northern part of Lancashire’s main body lies Lancaster itself, a modest county town tumbling charmingly down its hill from the Castle to the River Lune. Here the county is fairly narrow, the Pennine Mountains approaching the sea, and the Yorkshire border with them. Between Morecambe Bay and the Ribble Valley, Fylde reaches westward, a broad, flat peninsula whose inland parts are farmland but whose coast is a string of holiday resorts centred on the best known of them all; Blackpool. Lancashire broadens further south. The coast from the Ribble towards the conurbations of the south has more modest coastal resorts. Inland farmland begins to jostle with industrial towns, the latter becoming bigger and closer together until the great industrial conurbations of south Lancashire. In the southernmost part of the county are Liverpool and Manchester, two of the greatest cities in Britain, whose suburbs spread across not just Lancashire but into Cheshire too. Liverpool, founded in 1207, was built around its vast docks from the Irish trade then the Atlantic and African trade routes. King John founded his new port at a marsh on the Mersey, at the point where the great gulf of the Mersey narrows again into a pinch before entering the Irish Sea. Now though great buildings stand on the waterside, the “three graces”, and the city has spread all along the Mersey gulf and up the Irish Sea coast. Manchester is an older and a younger city; it was a town in Roman days and a fortress borough in Saxon times, but it only became a town of national and indeed world significance in the Victorian period, as the heart of the manufacturing revolution. An inland city, its civic arms show a ship and the crest shows the world covered in bees; Manchester’s industry reaching the world. The Manchester Ship Canal does indeed link Manchester to the oceans, by way of the Mersey.
Main Towns: Barrow-in-Furness, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bury, Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster, Oldham, Preston, Rochdale, Salford, Southport, St Helens, Todmorden (part), Ulverston, Warrington, Widnes.
Main Rivers: Mersey, Ribble, Lune, Calder, Hodder, Wyre.
Highlights: Liverpool Anglican Cathedral; Manchester Town Hall; Pendle Hill; Ashton Memorial, Lancaster; Old Man of Coniston; Blackpool Pleasure Beach; Martin Mere nature reserve.
Highest Point: The Old Man of Coniston, 2633 feet
Area: 1,880 sq miles
As the river Mersey is the dividing border of the two Counties Palatine of Lancashire and Cheshire, Warrington, on its north bank, sits firmly in Lancashire. Administratively, however, it spills over into North Cheshire, as development has linked the villages up to six miles away on the river’s south bank, into suburbs of Warrington, their nearest town.
With its bridge over the river a key strategic point throughout history, Warrington was, until the twentieth century, simultaneously the main gateway to Lancashire and the North, and to Cheshire and the South.
In 2008 FORL canvassed local authorities in Lancashire, in conjunction with the Association of British Counties, to get their views on the importance of the traditional counties. Warrington’s response was surprisingly positive in recognising its Lancashire roots:
The authority does not have any specific policies aimed at promoting the identity of the relevant historic counties for the area. There clearly is the historic side (which) applies to the northern part of Warrington which was a rural district until 1974 when it was administered by Lancashire. The old Warrington Borough Council crest is still to used on civic occasions and the crest depicts the Cheshire wheatsheaf and the Lancashire rose.
I like the way that the crest acknowledges the Council having a foot in both counties, rather than just the one. The current designation of Warrington as a Unitary Authority, in the latest Local Government reshufflings, seems to better underline its adminstrative jurisdiction over parts of the two counties and a good way of avoiding the confusion for people in the area – ‘our town/village is in Lancashire/Cheshire, but we come under Warrington Unitary Authority.’
I was also pleased to find out that Warrington takes part in the Lancashire Day proclamation, which is read out by Town Criers all over the historic county on November 27th, although I couldn’t find any mention of any commemorative events or Warrington restaurants doing Lancashire menus that day – which seems like a wasted tourist opportunity for our town.
The official tourist information website for the county Visit Lancashire had some details of interesting things going on around other parts of the county and there’s an interesting ABC of Lancashire at the FORL website which has lots of nice Lancashire trivia and would make a good commemorative tea towel once the typos were corrected.
One way in which you can raise awareness of our real place in our historic county is by adding ‘Lancashire’ to the address on your envelopes every time you send a letter. The two key pieces of information for the Sorting Office are the Postal Town and the Post Code, both of which should be in capitals. Royal Mail are now allowing use of all the historic counties, which should be on a separate line between the two, as an ‘optional extra’ in postal addresses. It won’t mean your letters go to the ‘wrong’ place and may even assist in getting them to the right one.
Let them know you’re proud to be Lancashire!