They’ve been having a bit of a ding-dong in Tower Hamlets where the Council has just approved a plan to turn the site of the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry (est. 1570) into a boutique hotel.
The facts are that the Foundry closed because it wasn’t economically viable, there’s still an operational foundry in the Midlands and Central London probably isn’t a sensible place to run this kind of manufacturing process.
Back in the summer, I became involved in an attempt to explain to a visiting American the difference between Britain, the British Isles, England, Scotland etc. and try to define sterms such as “British” and “English”.
Geography and, to an extent, political structure is easy:
British Isles – a geographical entity containing the Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom and Isle of Man – the latter not being a part of the UK, but a Crown Dependency. Great Britain – the main island, incorporating England Scotland and Wales and not to be confused with Brittany (La Bretagne v La Grande Bretagne), although the Welsh and the Bretons (and the Cornish) share a common genetic, linguistic and cultural heritage.
United Kingdom – a political entity consisting of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved parliaments, the key feature of which is dysfunctionality – Northern Ireland’s parliament is so dysfunctional that it hasn’t met for several years.
England doesn’t have its own parliament. The UK does and it used to be functional, but is working hard to become dysfunctional – this objective, still aspirational in the summer, has now been achieved.
The Isle of Man has its own parliament, which is older than any of the other parliaments and once a year somebody has to publicly recite all the laws that the parliament has passed during the last twelve months. This is eccentric but not dysfunctional and has a certain merit.
The Channel Isles are not in the British Isles. They are part of the Duchy of Normandy, have their own parliaments and are also Crown Dependencies.
We then got on to what is British and what is English. How do you explain that you can have a country without having a nationality – that Englishness is essentially a concept – something better understood than put into words?
Later that day, I went for a walk through Christ Church Meadow. It was a pleasant day – sunny, but comfortably warm rather than hot. There were people dotted about on the grass – some with picnics, some with bottles of wine, all trying to “get a bit of sun”. On the playing fields, off duty choristers – little boys with neat haircuts and short trousers – were playing a not very competitive cricket. And then bell practice started at Magdalen College. It was the bells that did it – nothing says “Englishness” like bells.