There can be few more important dates in any proud Lancastrian’s diary than 27 November. Here, the TMB's resident historian Dr Derek J Ripley reflects on the cultural significance of Lancashire Day.
|A nice cup of Lancashire Tea|
Lancashire Day commemorates the day in 1295 when Lancashire sent its first representatives to Parliament (and also, coincidentally, the day a young Bruce Forsyth appeared in his first Royal Variety Performance in front of King Edward I). It’s the day when Lancastrians all over the world traditionally pour themselves a cup of Lancashire tea, tuck in to a plate of tripe and settle down to read a copy of Lancashire Life.
It’s also the day when the winner of the annual poll conducted by TMB Books to find The Greatest Lancastrian is announced - this year, focusing on the county's comedians.
Polls in previous years produced some surprising results. Not only did such famous names as Sir Norman Foster, Sir Thomas Beecham and Vernon Kay not appear in the top ten, but a whole host of people who once enjoyed a brief spell in the limelight failed to get single vote. Forgotten Lancastrians, consigned to the deepest recesses of our memories like a packet of Old English Spangles.
|Previous Winner David 'Bumble' Lloyd (pic courtesy Daily Mail)|
People like musician and founder member of The Beat Boys, George Haribo, man of letters and prolific goalscorer George Irwell and intrepid TV reporter, Ron Gowling.
Back in the late 60s and 70s, Go With Gowling was a fixture on our TV screens. Striding purposefully through the streets of a different Lancashire town every week wearing his trademark white raincoat and pork pie hat, Ron would stop members of the public in the street, doff his hat and ask for their views on the burning issues of the day – the miners’ strike, nuclear disarmament and whether they could tell margarine from butter.
Lancashire folk are notoriously reticent and Gowling often found it something of a struggle to elicit answers.It was only when he visited Aspull near Wigan that he found shoppers who were happy to be interviewed. As a result, the producers dropped the roadshow format and decided to film there every week. The programme was renamed Ask Aspull and ran for almost 15 years.
Another surprising absentee from the list was Fred Kant, the proprietor of a variety troupe which toured the county at the turn of the 20th century.
The Fred Kant Circus specialised in a unique mixture of comedy and philosophy and many of its performers went on to achieve fame and fortune. Charlie Chutney was a member of a slapstick trio who worked with the Kant Circus before moving on to a career in the movies whilst neoplatonist ventriloquist Bernard Wrassle went on to become emeritus professor of politics, philosophy and home economics at the University of Wigan.
Traditionally, Lancashire Day’s a day for street parties, clog dancing, wearing the red rose, and enjoying local delicacies such as black pudding and tripe.
Above all, it’s the day we give thanks that we are able to celebrate being Lancastrian without fear of punishment or persecution and honour our ancestors who suffered under the Yorkshire Inquisition instigated by Edward IV in 1478.
Lancastrians have lived in Yorkshire for centuries, usually not by choice, of course, but out of economic necessity. During the Inquisition this was incredibly dangerous. Suspected Lancastrians were forced to drink Yorkshire Tea and were declared heretics if they refused.
The Inquisition was never actually abolished in Yorkshire and, hard though it may be to believe, it has been enshrined in a number of local byelaws and is occasionally still enforced. In 1958, a woman was arrested in Huddersfield and fined £50 - over £1,000 at today’s prices - for being in possession of a tin of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. In 1974, a man in Heckmondwike was denounced by his neighbour who overheard him celebrating Paul Fletcher’s second goal for Burnley in their 4-1 defeat of Leeds United.
Astonishingly, as recently as 1978, a family which had run a haberdasher’s in Batley for generations came out as Lancastrians, having lived as Yorkshiremen and women for 300 years. A Yorkshire TV crew was astonished when they were shown a secret room in the shop’s basement which was a shrine to all things Lancastrian. It was strewn with empty Vimto bottles and its walls were decorated with portraits of the Lancastrian kings of England, newspaper cuttings of the great Lancashire Gillette Cup-winning sides of the 60s and 70s, and a picture of Fred Dibnah.
November 27 is a day when we should immerse ourselves in all things Lancastrian. So here are my top tips for making the most of the big day:
- Anything with Oldham-born Professor Brian Cox (the scientist not the actor)
- The Lord Of the Rings trilogy - Gandalf was born in Burnley
- Dr Who episodes featuring Lancastrian Time Lords Christopher Eccleston, Paul McGann and Tom Baker
- Anything with Keith Lemon (this rules out most of ITV’s output).
- Anything with Jeremy Clarkson (fortunately not as difficult as it used to be)
- All Alan Bennett plays apart from A Cream Cracker under the Sofa, which features a mesmerising performance by Morecambe lass Dame Thora Hird
So have a wonderful Lancashire Day. And remember that what distinguishes Lancastrians from Yorkshiremen is our ability to laugh at ourselves.Why not pop along to the TMB Bookstore and laugh a bit more?
A previous version of this article was published in Lancashire Life magazine, Nov 2013 and Nov 2015. Dr Ripley has asked us to point out that his seminal work on the history of Lancashire is currently available for the very low price of just £6.32. This represents a massive 37% saving on the RRP for the same number of pages.