It was wonderful to see Essex winning the County Cricket Championship today, and not only for partisan and nostalgic reasons (see https://bernardjporter.com/2017/08/15/cricket-nostalgia/). Essex CCC are different from most other county teams, and from all leading soccer teams, in being home-grown; recruiting nearly all its players locally, apart from its foreign captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, a Dutchman (but born in South Africa), who has nonetheless declared himself to be ‘Essex through and through’; which is what we want, isn’t it, for an immigrant to be fully accepted. It’s the team’s deep attachment to my own beloved county of origin that makes them worthier of my loyalty, I think, than a mere batch of highly-paid soccer mercenaries like West Ham. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/13/old-west-ham/.)
Anyway, Essex deserves it. For years the county has been traduced. At the start it was for being ‘flat and uninteresting’. Latterly it has been because of the rise of ‘Essex Girl’ and ‘Essex Man’: the former characterised as ‘thick, promiscuous and lacking in class’; the latter defined by Simon Heffer as ‘young, industrious, mildly brutish and culturally barren;… typically self-made and [who] had benefitted from the policies of Margaret Thatcher’. (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-39125171.) Of course – as we genuine Essexites repeatedly protested – these were not really characteristic of the county of Essex, but were mainly polished-up East Enders pushed out of London during the war and made to settle in its dull suburbs. (I explained in an earlier blog how my father was brought in to teach them: https://bernardjporter.com/2017/08/22/dad/.) They’ve also produced some sterling people (I listed a few in that article). But the ‘Essex Man and Girl’ stereotype has now sullied all of us, and blinded non-Essexites (that’s not a common term, by the way; I’ve made it up) to the delights and riches of the county.
To mention a few – I got to know the county intimately as a youngster, cycling around making sketches of scenes and churches, so I could be very expansive and boring if I wanted – there are the hills of the north-west; the ‘Constable Country’ along the Stour valley; impressive castles (Colchester, Hedingham…); beautiful churches (Thaxted, Saffron Walden, Greenstead: its nave made of oak logs and pre-Conquest; Little Maplestead; the Willingales – two churches of adjacent parishes sharing a churchyard; Waltham Abbey… and so many more); fine mansions, almost palaces (Audley End); delightful villages (Finchingfield, Newport); and then, out to the south and east, the fascinating marshlands, with one of the oldest English churches (7th century) at Bradwell-super-Mare; the site of Earl Byrhtnoth’s heroic battle with the Vikings, celebrated in the contemporary old-English poetic fragment ‘The Battle of Maldon’ (https://lightspill.com/poetry/oe/maldon.html); and of course fine popular watering places like Clacton and Southend… But I won’t go on. I have a library of books celebrating the Essex countryside, mostly written before the last war, when Essex was still delightfully rural – and radical. (The Peasant’s Revolt started there. William Morris was born there, or nearabouts, in Walthamstow. Thaxted had a communist vicar for many years.) It was full of leafy lanes, half-timbered and thatched houses, and people speaking Essex (like Suffolk). But no longer, of course. Well, that’s only to be expected.
The beginning of the end came, I think, when the rich – not the East Enders – moved out of London to villages from which they could easily commute, first class, to their posh jobs in their banks and the like; or developed a taste for country cottages dressed up as ‘holiday homes’, which pushed the house prices up far beyond what the yokels could afford. The same thing happened in all the ‘home counties’. And, of course, it was when ‘modernisation’ in a broader sense took hold.
So I’m unlikely to go back now. But it’s good to see a team of local lads winning the County Cricket Championship again, after 20-odd years; and – moreover – with a new young fast bowling discovery leading the charge, with a typically Essex name. It’s Porter. (We Porters were common around Colchester.) He even shares my granddad’s initials – JA. It was my granddad, in fact, who took me to my very first Essex games in the 1950s, at the Chelmsford ‘Rec’. Bonds like that are not easily undone.