Proud: Devon, in the far South West of England.
Devonians are taking a pride in their county's flag. Now, more and more English counties are creating their own flags.
From The Economist print edition
Patriotism in the shires
UNLESS their footballers are engaged overseas, the English are not a flag-waving people. Unlike in America, say, or Norway—both of which have proud flag-flying traditions—native reserve and lingering associations with the far right have tended to keep the Union and St George's flags off the nation's lawns.
But things are changing among the hedgerows and villages of Devon, a county in south-west England. Here the green, white and black flag of St Petroc flutters from windows and rooftops, and even from the flagpole at County Hall, all in cheery defiance of rules that make it illegal to fly most non-national flags without planning permission.
This is not the revival of some ancient symbol. Although the flag's colours have some historical significance (they were flown by the first Viscount Exmouth, a local noble, at the bombardment of Algiers in 1816), the design itself dates back only to 2002, when the idea of a county flag was mooted on a local BBC website. After much debate a dozen designs were short-listed and residents were invited to vote for their favourite.
The winner was chosen in 2003, and since then sales have been breezy. One website offers cufflinks, fridge magnets and window stickers alongside flags, and sightings have been confirmed as far away as Canada and Australia. Local patriots have created a list of flag days that includes July 30th, the anniversary of the 1588 battle against the Spanish Armada (Sir Francis Drake, a local hero, was second in command), and December 8th (in honour of the slightly less well-known St Budoc of Plymouth).
The Flag of St Petroc, the flag of the county of Devon.
One reason for this outbreak of Devonian patriotism, says Mark Stoyle, a Southampton University historian, is rivalry with Cornwall, a neighbouring county with a rather older flag of its own and a proud tradition of waving it. “Devonians have been thinking, ‘the Cornish have a flag, why shouldn't we have one too?'” And he points out that a strong local brand can attract visitors—handy for an area that depends on tourism for its livelihood.
That combines with rebellion against a uniform national culture (the high street in Exeter, Devon's county town (its capital city), has the lowest proportion of independent shops in Britain) and resentment at the migration of moneyed Londoners to the country. “As we become more homogenised, people cling to things that set them apart,” says Professor Stoyle.
Flag mania is creeping beyond the south-west. Lincolnshire adopted a democratically chosen flag last October. Derbyshire hoisted its own last week, and there is a campaign for a Dorset flag as well. Michael Faul, editor of Flagmaster, a vexillological journal, believes that Scottish and Welsh devolution may be one reason for the trend. Now that two British nations have been encouraged to assert their own identities, lesser patriotisms have been unleashed, too.
Lincolnshire's new flag. According to the website lincolnshireflag.co.uk it incorporates the green of the Lincolnshire Wolds and woods, the gold of the crops and beaches, the blue of the sea and sky and the red cross and fleur de lys of Lincoln, the flag will soon become a symbol of everyone's love of Lincolnshire.
The Flag of Derbyshire was recently unveiled in a special ceremony. It first flew on 22nd September. It has a Tudor rose in the centre.