What are the distinctive characteristics of Englishness, and how has the appeal to them changed over the last two hundred years? A large question, which I have so far approached in a rather fragmentary way. More to come…
Agricultural workers’ cottages, Little Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire, 12 September 2007
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In June 2007 I attended a conference entitled ‘Passionate Natures’ at the Faculty of English, Cambridge University. The event, which drew together conservationists and literary commentators, was highly suggestive. Helen MacDonald was among the organisers, and this blog, recommended with some (slight) embarrassment, offers a memorable reflection on the issues at stake.
Ostensibly a review of David McKie’s book, Great British Bus Journeys, this is actually about Douglas Goldring, a pacifist, conservationist and bus-travelling founder of the Georgian Group, whose idea of ‘Little England’ was inspired by the example of Ireland’s Sinn Fein movement. Published in the London Review of Books, 17 September 2006, pp. 19-22.
On national identity in Britain’s 2005 general election campaign, and the persistence of G.K. Chesterton’s idea of the English as a ‘secret people’. This is a revised version of ‘Last orders for the English Aborigine’, also available on this site. Published under the heading ‘Drunk but free’ in Guardian Review, 9 April 2005, pp. 4-6
On G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and the English as a ‘secret people’. This article is an expanded version of a talk presented at the National Heritage Lottery’s Conference, ‘Who do we think we are; Heritage and Identity in the UK Today’ (held at the British Museum on July 13, 2004). An edited version was published in Soundings, ‘After Identity’ Issue, No. 29, Spring 2005, pp. 21-34. An abbreviated version (also available on this site), additionally adjusted to address the rhetoric of the Conservative Party’s election campaign under Michael Howard, appeared as ‘Last orders’ in the Guardian Review, 9 April 2005, pp. 4-6.
In the mid-1930s, and in response to the horrors of aerial warfare as waged by imperial powers in Ethiopia, Burma, India and elsewhere, the socialist-feminist Sylvia Pankhurst joined forces with the Dorset sculptor Eric Benfield to create an Anti-Air War Monument. I’m not finished with this story yet, but a version, published in 2003, can be read on the OpenDemocracy website.
The Proms Lecture as broadcast on BBC Radio Three from the Victoria & Albert Museum at 5.30 pm on Sunday 19 August, 2001
Tomas Bata was a Czech shoe manufacturer, who set out to do for the shoe what Henry Ford did for the motor car. One branch of his international empire, a workers’ community as well as a factory, was established in 1933 at East Tilbury, Essex, on the north bank of the Thames estuary. The British Bata Shoe Company’s factory is now closed but I visited this modernist settlement in 1998 when it was still working. This text is extracted from my book The River: The Thames in Our Time (1999).
Four talks about Englishness produced by John Goudie and broadcast on BBC Radio Three in June 1996. 1. Posthumous England; 2. Deep and Beleaguered England; 3. Threadbare England; 4. Thin England.
In 1995, the Open Spaces Society announced that the first new common to be established in England during the twentieth century was being set up in the Norfolk village of Rushall. I went to have a look. First published in the Guardian, 2 September 1995.
John Major’s new-year resolution for 1995 was to remind us that we should be proud to be British. In the approach to a conference in which Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd would seek to emphasise Britishness, I argued that more flag-waving was the last thing we needed, and that real patriotism would lie in recreating a country that deserved the people’s confidence. Published in the Guardian, 31 December 1994.