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July 2003
New Flag Causes A Flap in South West
Now it's not just how you pronounce the word "Scone" that's causing a stir....
To holidaymakers on their annual pilgrimage, Devon is about cream teas, sand and long sunny days. But attempts to give the county an exotic Celtic edge have provoked a fierce backlash.

By Jonathan Duffy

BBC News Online
This article was first published in BBC Online's MAGAZINE

Have your say on this story

Other related stories:
Your Flag Gallery
Story of the flag
Devon Needs A Flag
Devon's New Flag

And the feature that started it all:
Celtic Devon
Devon Flag Group

Celtic Devon

The Flag Shop

Devon Flag Stickers

The Flag Institute

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

News of the Devon Flag is travelling far and wide - here are some links:

Cream Tea County In Flap Over Flag
BBC News Online

Devon Flag goes Global
BBC News Online

Kevin Flags Up A Passion For Devon's New Emblem

Herald Express

Devon's New Flag Flies Into Criticism
Herald Express

Flying Devon's Colours
Western Morning News

Green Flag Appropriate, Even City Used Colour!
Western Morning News Letters page

Flag Has More To Do With Plymouth Than Devon
Western Morning News Letters page

The winning flag was designed by Ryan Sealey of Ashburton, Devon.

The green and white design received 49% of the total votes cast in the final count.

The Devon flag is to be registered with the Flag Institute.

Vexillology is the scientific study of flags and related emblems. It is concerned with research into flags of all kinds, both modern and historical.
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The New Devon Flag

There's one place in Britain where the combination of green, white and a dash of black has always provoked strong passions - Glasgow.

They are the colours of the city's Celtic football club, which together with Rangers FC make up the bitterest rivalry in British sport.

But now, almost at entirely the opposite end of the country, that same palette is fuelling a clash with echoes of Scotland's legendary Old Firm rivalry.

Here in Devon, the zephyrs that blow off the Atlantic have this summer given flutter to a previously unseen spectacle: a flag of green, white and black.

It is the flag of Devon.

Flagging in North Devon
Flying the flag in Northam, Devon
There's nothing ancient about the design - a white cross with black outline on a green background - or how it was selected, by voting on the internet. But in a short time the flag has started to take root.

Tourism chiefs have seized on it as a clever marketing ploy; the image now sits permanently on this website; and one of Britain's leading flag makers has reported unprecedented interest.

"In a few months it has achieved the sort of popularity that takes years or decades for most regional flags," says Charles Ashburner, of

But travel west, across the Tamar river that divides Devon from our neighbour Cornwall, and not everyone is so happy.

Where Devon's flag was knocked up in 10 minutes by a student on his home computer, Cornwall's - a white cross on a black background - has been around for 1,000 years.

Slanging match
That flag has become a rallying emblem for Cornish independence and embodies the ancient Celtic heritage that nationalists believe distinguishes them from Englanders.

Manufacturing the new design
  • Designed by Devon student Ryan Sealey and beat others in our internet poll
  • Widespread use will gain it 'official' status
  • Is expected to be recognised by the Flag Institute
What really grates with the Cornish patriots is how ardent Devonians are using their new flag to stake out their own claims of a recent Celtic history.

They even want to name the flag after St Petroc, a Celtic saint better known for his Cornish connections.

The issue has provoked heated exchanges on internet chat sites, with the Cornish accusing their neighbours of hi-jacking their identity and Devonians hitting back, claiming sour grapes.

Leading Cornish nationalist John Angarrack refused to talk to the BBC, but forwarded his views from a recent e-mail exchange. "Promote Devon all you want, but do not denude Cornish distinctiveness in the process," Mr Angarrack tells his adversary.

"Devon is a county of England despite any dodgy marketing ploy like the Devonshire flag. Reject this nonsense but cherish and defend the beating heart of Cornish culture."

Celtic cult
The idea for a Devon flag seeded itself last year after an article appeared on BBC Devon's website vigorously reasserting the county's Celtic past.

Convention has it that the Celts were forced out of Devon, and into Cornwall by the Anglo Saxons, rendering the county as English as Surrey or Kent. But there is a growing feeling in the South West that Celtic influence was not expunged and is greater than traditionally thought.

Passionate Devonian Paul Turner, who runs a "Celtic Devon" website, believes the bust up is down to the Cornish "feeling threatened" by Devon's new Celtic pride.

"They are being unreasonable, saying we cannot feel the way we do and they don't have a right to tell us that," says Mr Turner.

Bob Burns, another champion of the new flag, accuses the Cornish of "distorting history" in a bid to carve out a separate identity from their neighbours.

The Cornish call this "Devonwall" politics - an attempt by Devon to hi-jack Cornish identity. "People are quite aware in Devon that the Cornish make political capital by claiming to be different," says Dr Mark Stoyle, a Devon historian. "Besides, it's fashionable to be a minority."

A backlash against city-dwellers settling in the South West has also led to this new-found Devonian identity, he suggests.

The row has even spilled over into academia, with Cornwall's leading historical scholar, Prof Philip Payton, accusing Devon of "wanting to invent traditions".

"The idea of naming the flag after St Petroc is gratuitously offensive," says Prof Payton. "Most people here will treat it with mild disdain."

But they'd better get used to it. A Devon company, Jetz Novelties, has just signed an order to make 20,000 hand-held Devon flags, and has plans for flag-emblazoned baseball caps and cuddly bears.

Boss Richard May is determined to make the flag a success. "I won't be happy," he says, "until every sandcastle in Devon has one of those flags on top."

And neither will we.

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This article was first published in BBC Online's MAGAZINE
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