Thursday 12 July 2007

Whither Middlesex?

Someone unfamilar with England asked me recently where Middlesex was.
It's reasonable if you aren't from England, because you won't find it on any maps later than 1965.

Yet it's probably one of the more familiar English county names. I note looking at the map, that there is a Middlesex county in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia. It's one of the more exported county names.

I suppose the simple answer to 'Where is it?', is that is was the county London was in, now it's in London.

Broadly that's true. In area, it was a small county, and it was swallowed up over the years by London.

But though it has long gone, and is least likely of any deceased county to return, its memory seems stronger than many current counties.

Sometimes people from outside the UK (and some in it) are puzzled by this bizarre loyalty some people have to long gone counties.

I agree in a sense. I can think of more productive things in life than wondering round with a placard saying 'Bring Back Huntingdonshire'.

But its also partly true that English counties are the only generally comprehensible geographical subdivisions you can really think of England.
Most of them were there long before most other European states.
Does abolishing them abolish their geographic identity?

Many during the 1974 reorganisations felt it did. After all, even a county of typical age like Herefordshire is over thousand years old. Some people genuinely felt like they had been invaded.

Middlesex was much older still.
And so it appears on no map, but is home to five million people.
Its name lives on in the highest eschelons of county cricket, in popular memory.

And in Uxbridge and Ruislip the fiction of living in leafy Middlesex, not sprawling London is dutifully maintained.

In fact most people don't know its gone, till they look for it on a map.
So I suppose, really, it IS still there.


Anonymous said...

Middlesex is an odd name. I always wondered if Surrey was called Bottomsex in the olden days before they realised what it meant...

Anonymous said...

:-) Hm, actually I do like Wessex best. But that's another story, CBI, isn't it?
The Peace of the Night.

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, but... I love the name Middlesex! I mean, is that what happens after foreplay, but before you fall asleep? LOL

Piwo is a very useful word to know in Poland! Good job! Which do you prefer Lech or Zywiec? :D

Anonymous said...

Strangely enough I know where Middlesex was. I just didn't know it had

All these changes. For what real reason? I just don't know myself. It seemsthat it is just to keep some of these government wasters busy.

Anonymous said...

JJ- Surrey is called Surrey, because it was the southern region of Middlesex at one time long ago. Even though its bigger than Middlesex.
It does seem an odd county name in modern context, true.

Sean- I'm not sure if dragging it up as a title for Prince Edward wasn't a little nostalgaic though. After all, the last Earl of wessex was Harold Godwinson!

Heart- It has been the subject of many jokes. Royal Middlesex Hospital gets its fair share, I think.
I remember Zywiec. Didn't have an eagle as it's logo? Or is that another beer?

Bag- Yes, it finally vanished in 1965, when London was expanded outwards to take in the outer suburbs.
I agree, all these reorganisations are confusing. They created the West Midlands county, then abolished it 12 years later, so why Birmingham couldn't have stayed put, and the Black country staid in Staffs/Worcs, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Memory is usually longer than geographic designations strangely.
The village I live in (yes, yes) was just organized and named a few years ago, but the general area had been known as Manchester for about 150 years (English coal miners apparently nostalgic for that home port). The name is officially changed, but everyone still calls it Manchester, the name Manchester is on all the schools and businesses, and when you say the name of the new village people are like "Where? Oh, Manchester" So why didn't they just keep the bloody name?

Anonymous said...

More to the point whatever happened to the aptly named Rutland ?


Anonymous said...

Never knew any of that! I suppose here is where I am supposed to make a sex joke...but I can't think of what about MiddleFuck...I would live there!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Crushed. I was living in Pinner when all of a sudden we weren't in Middlesex any more but in Greater London. I felt deprived, though I'm not sure what of. I'm with Sean - bring back Wessex!

Anonymous said...

i guess middlesex is sorta like vhs/vcr's... it's still there but nobody really knows it.

Anonymous said...

Helen- I think with somewhere as ancient as a geographical concept as Middlesex, it doesn't matter too much if there is no longer an administrative unit carrying its name.
By the same token, we all know where Siberia is!
On the other hand people in England can get very confused now about what county they live in, or if they live in one at all.
Usually its the sparsely populated counties they got rid of, but Middlesex was unique in that in it was very populous.

Merlin- But Rutland is back on the map! It's campaign worked.
Although it has to be the most pointless county ever. Though look up Cromartyshire- Stranger still.

Welshcakes- I think people did- some still do- feel like an identity had been taken in the cases of abolished counties. After all, they are (were) easily the oldest LG units in Europe- older tham most nation states. We know of Middlesex long before we can name for sure a King in Sweden, for example. What else do you call the land East of the Colne, North of the Thames, but West of the Lea?

Anonymous said...

Raffi- No one really seems to know its gone. So many addresses still refer to themselves as Middlesex, or Middx, that people WILL pour over maps of the South east looking for it.

Anonymous said...

...I suppose the simple answer to 'Where is it?', is that is was the county London was in, now it's in London...

It certainly intersected with London but included an area not specifically London.

Anonymous said...

James- Most of it is under Greater London, one way or another.
What's now the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kenington and Chelsea, Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney and tower Hamlets were all taken into London in 1888.
What's now Haringey, Enfield, most of Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow and Hillingdon were brought into Greater London in 1965.
The left overs were Sunbury and Staines, which were tken into Surrey, and Potters Bar, which was taken over by Hertfordshire.
It always had been the only county outide London entirely policed by the Met.
It's size was actually quite small, in area only Rutland and Huntingdonshire were smaller.