Are you sure you know where you are? I could say I live in Wessex, but Wessex has not existed for a thousand years. It was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was unified by Æthelstan in the early 10th century. But Wessex must exist because Thomas Hardy set his novels there… No, he used it as the name of the county in which his stories are set; corresponding approximately to Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.
But Wessex must exist because there is an Earl of Wessex. Don’t worry if you get confused with all the titles the Queen has bestowed on her children and grandchildren, most of us do. In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son, Prince Edward, married Sophie Rhys-Jones. By tradition the monarch’s son receives a title upon marriage. Prince Edward became the first British prince in centuries to be created an earl, rather than a duke. His wife Sophie became The Countess of Wessex.
Many organisations, including the army, that cover the area of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire use the name Wessex .
The ITV television series Broadchurch takes place in the Wessex area, primarily the county of Dorset. It features government agencies such as Wessex Police and Wessex Crown Court, and several characters are seen attending South Wessex Secondary School.
I live in Bournemouth which is in Dorset… or is it? Before it was founded in 1810 by Lewis Tregonwell, the area was a deserted heathland occasionally visited by fishermen and smugglers. Historically part of Hampshire, it joined Dorset with the reorganisation of local government in 1974, but it has always seemed to me to have little in common with real rural Dorset. Since 1997 the town has been administered by Bournemouth Borough Council. But wait, more changes are afoot Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council will be the unitary local authority for the district of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole that is to come into being on 1 April 2019. The three towns already form the South East Dorset urban connurbation. What will it mean for the locals? Most of us are expecting to pay more in rates and have more services cut. Bournemouth is a new town set between two historic towns with plenty of pirates. Poole has the second largest natural harbour in the world, Sydney, Australia has the largest. Our sea is Pool Bay. Christchurch lies round the corner separated by Hengistbury Head; in Bronze Age Britain this was an important seaport, there was a settlement here in the Iron Age. I wonder how they viewed their identity?
But let’s zoom in. I live in Southbourne, the creation of Doctor Thomas Armetriding Compton, who set up general practice in Bournemouth in 1866 and could see the area’s potential as a health resort. The clifftop land here had been part of Tuckton Farm, purchased by Compton in 1871 and later developed by the Southbourne-on-Sea Freehold Land Company.
Local businesses consider they are in Southbourne-on-Sea, Southbourne Grove, thriving with interesting shops and eateries, has been nicknamed the Sobo Mile.
You can see plenty of my local area at my website.
Now let us zoom out. I have never considered I come from anywhere in particular, having lived in lots of places. I was born in Middlesex, but it ceased to exist as a county in 1965. It stretched to Westminster many centuries ago, but London had finally swallowed it.
Our local borough may be getting bigger, but our horizons will narrow as Britain leaves the European Union, dark days for those of us who are Remainers. We shall all still be members of The Commonwealth and the English speaking world and The World, The Solar System and the Universe… as we used to write in our exercise books at school…
Do you know where you are, do you care where you are?