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24 September 2014

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The County with the Hole in the Middle?
Maryport Harbour
Maryport Harbour
Does Cumbria work?
What do Barrow folk have in common with the Eden Valley?
And how could a humble mint hold the key to county unity?

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A Sense of Place
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Back in the heady days of 1974 Carlisle United hit the top spot in Division One of the football league, Cumbria Fire Service opened a sparkling new fire station exclusively for the good folk of Walney, and oh yes, local government changes gave birth to a bonny new arrival: the county of Cumbria.

Old Cumberland sign
An old Cumberland sign recycled in Orton

It was formed out of the old counties of Cumberland and Westmorland with part of the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire north of the sands and was the first change in county boundaries since 1388 so let’s face it, it was bound to cause a bit of a stir.

Ever since there’s been an ebb and flow of debate as sure as the tide at Morecambe about whether Cumbria works or if the old county boundaries were better.

Two men who’ve paid more attention to this than most over the last 28 years are Peter Phizacklea and Bill Cameron who sat on the first ever Cumbria County Council back in 1974 and who still respectively represent Dalton and Maryport today.

Peter and Bill at Shap Abbey
Peter and Bill at Shap Abbey

Hear Peter Phizacklea talking about Shap’s role in international diplomacy!

Although there was much optimism in the early years of Cumbria many people, including our two senior county statesmen, wondered whether the new county set-up made sense.

But if you look at the history the area covered by the county has been governed as one before. Jim Grisenthwaite who’s responsible for Cumbria’s archives explains that the name Cumbria comes from the Celtic name Cymry, meaning the brethren. It was a word used to describe things that happened in this part of the world many centuries ago. Maps exist from the 18th century showing all of modern day Cumbria on the same page because by then it was becoming apparent that it was a natural geographical region. We’re boxed in by the Scottish border in the north, Morecambe Bay in the south, the Irish Sea in the West and the Pennines in the East.

Jim Grisenthwaite, County Archivist surrounded by his archives at Carlisle Castle
Jim Grisenthwaite, County Archivist surrounded by his archives at Carlisle Castle

So what does all this have to do with a small mint with a hole in the middle then? Well, one rather clever metaphor for Cumbria is to imagine the county as a large (OK, extremely large) polo mint; the central fells are the hole in the middle where no one lives and the main population lives in the interesting minty bit on the outside! It might sound daft but many of the towns and villages on the ring of the polo have to be self sufficient because they’re so far from anywhere else and historically have tended to look inwards. This is a common factor that links places as far afield as Coniston and Kirkby Stephen.

Cairn on Coniston Old Man
Cairn on Coniston Old Man

There must be something in it because Cumbria is the only one of the new counties that were established in the early 70s that has stood the test of time. Whether it can last as long as the old Cumberland, Westmorland, Yorkshire and Lancashire who knows…certainly not us! Only time will tell

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