County Revivalists Welcome Pickles As Champion

pickles7:48 Tuesday 23rd April 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Does it matter what you call where you live? On this day, St George’s Day, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is helping to resurrect the historic names of counties like Cumberland and Huntingdonshire, which were abolished in the ’70s. He’s encouraging councils to put up signs with traditional names on them. But he isn’t going so far as saying the counties themselves should return. Well Rupert Barnes is Vice Chairman of The Association of British Counties, and he joined me earlier. (TAPE)
RUPERT BARNES: If there’s confusion, as there is at the moment, we have no identity. If we allow our identity to be defined by bureaucrats, then we’re throwing ourselves into their hands. I was brought up in Surrey, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it’s Surrey. I knew the woods I played in, and the mud that caked my bicycle wheels. If someone had suddenly decided that actually, for administrative purposes, it would be better if the bins were emptied by some made up authority, that wouldn’t change the places. I would still be in Surrey. And likewise, whenever I’ve travelled through Huntingdonshire, it has that ancientness, that Huntingdonshire identity. It shouldn’t be defined by the bureaucrats. We can’t be dependent on them.
CHRIS MANN: Well there is a Huntingdonshire again of course. It’s a district council though.
RUPERT BARNES: There is, and I think it’s a fine thing that someone is continuing the name in that sense.But the idea that the county itself can be effaced as a county should be shocking to us. If there are those who for generations of their family has been brought up in Huntingdonshire, are their forefathers now buried somewhere else? Has someone dug them up? We can’t be defined by who empties our bins, and who mends the roads. We have ancient identities that have been tested over generations, and they are part of what we are.
CHRIS MANN: So we’re going to have to start going back to call ourselves Mercia, for instance, or .. (THEY LAUGH)
RUPERT BARNES: That is going back a way, isn’t it?
CHRIS MANN: Well how far back do you take it for instance? I mean there was Rutland of course, got its identity back as we know. And Middlesex followed battle, Russell Grant was at the fore of that, to get Middlesex back as an identity. Is it just a matter of sticking up some signs, or is there going to be something more real than that?.
RUPERT BARNES: Signs will certainly help. I do want to see Middlesex signs as I travel there into Middlesex as I frequently do. I want to see proper Huntingdonshire signs, to let people know. But those are only at the edges. Part of the identity is the body of the county. And essentially it’s letting people know that they can call themselves Huntingdonshire, if they’re in Huntingdonshire, and not somehow be ashamed of it. If they go on holiday, and somebody asks them on the beach where are you from, they should be able to say immediately from Huntingdonshire, and not think that they ought to try to explain that.
CHRIS MANN: And you know of course these days we’re not a name, we’re a number, and a letter as well, because we’re a postcode.
RUPERT BARNES: Ah yes. Well if someone wants to define himself by a postcode, they can do so. There’s no helping them.
CHRIS MANN: In terms of the area that people live in, and house prices and so on, a postcode .. it’s gold dust.
RUPERT BARNES: Very much so. Yes. There’s the village of Melbourn, which is in Cambridgeshire, has long been campaigning to be out of the SG code, because it thought that it was attaching them to Stevenage. Of course anyone who goes to Melbourn can see it’s a very pretty Cambridgeshire village. It’s not part of Stevenage. But if these things matter, then maybe something could be done. I can’t get really excited about codes.
CHRIS MANN: So is Eric Pickles’ idea a realistic one, or a bit of a half-hearted effort? He’s an Essex man of course.
RUPERT BARNES: He’s a Yorkshireman!
CHRIS MANN: But he lives in Essex now.
RUPERT BARNES: He lives in Essex. He represents Essex. I was delighted to read his announcement today. It will go a long way to restoring confidence in our county identities, and giving us back the places that we belong, stopping us from being defined by bureaucrats according to their needs, and letting us be defined by our heritage, our forefathers, all that’s gone before. I don’t want to be defined by a civil servant. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Rupert Barnes there, Vice Chairman of The Association of British Counties.