England’s identity

As if from nowhere, local suddenly became the buzzword of the Noughties. Now we all strive to buy local food, and that’s got the super-market chains falling over themselves to be the biggest and best local supplier. Local is suddenly the height of fashion. However, local distinctiveness isn’t a new thing it’s something that we’ve lost and are only slowly beginning to rediscover, and it’s about much more than food. It’s about England itself.

The French have been much better than us at celebrating and cherishing the local, or terroir as they call it, literally ‘the earth’. All local distinctiveness starts there, in the rocks and soil of each region. It is perhaps more astonishing that in England, where we have such diverse geology and thereby so much local distinctiveness, that we have ignored it for so long, but the old adage that ‘you never miss something until it’s gone’ is very apt in our case. Why does it take foreigners such as Bill Bryson, our own Carla Carlisle or Paul Mellon to tell us how lucky we are? The world is full of Anglophiles, and the foreign rich are flooding into our country, while we, the natives, barely appreciate what we’ve got and hardly defend what we’re about to lose.

Britain’s many thriving local dialects give it character. Local building stone shapes and colours the villages and the towns. Local foods from Cromer crabs to Dorset knobs delight our palettes in a way a hamburger never will. Our landscape varies from mile to mile, from the low, oozing Norfolk fens to the spectacular heights of the Lake District. Many of our greatest authors Hardy, the Brontës, Wordsworth, Austen are inextricably linked to an area, and what would Constable have achieved without the inspiration of Suffolk and Essex, or Elgar without Herefordshire?

So where’s the problem? It’s this: we’ve spent the past century creating a boring, characterless, amorphous mass of a country, where every high street looks the same; where houses are made like peas in a pod; where taste has been sacrificed for conformity, and where beauty is valued less than a quick profit. It’s not too late to stop the rot. We need to build houses more sympathetic to their local areas, using appropriate building materials. We must fight for the uniqueness of our market towns, so we can distinguish between the shop fronts of Chipping Campden and Guildford. We must preserve the beauty of our shires. In short, we need to celebrate our glorious local distinctiveness so that we can pass on a country that our children and grandchildren can love and preserve, too.

We have the greatest local distinctiveness in the world, and that’s why we’ve dedicated this issue to it. We must learn to enjoy it and shout it from the rooftops. In today’s issue, we do. Local should not be a passing trend we must make it our future.