Happy St Ealdhelm’s Day 2020

Today is the feast day of St Ealdhelm, also known as Wessex Day. It is customary for us to show pictures of those local authorities who have flown the flag of Wessex outside their offices, but of course, council offices are all closed this year.

So instead, here's a picture of some Crimson Cloud Hawthorn, a cultivated variety of Crataegus monogyna biflora, or Glastonbury Thorn, whose colours approximate those of the flag. The Society regards the Hawthorn, or Mayflower, as the Wessex flower par excellence, due to its association with Glastonbury and the fact that it blooms around this time of year. Some people regard the Crimson Cloud variety as a bit gaudy, but personally, I rather like the idea of a red and gold (well, OK, hot pink and pale yellow) hawthorn.

Essential Wessex: Jacobitism in Wessex

The Jacobite rebellions are more commonly associated with Scotland, but Jacobitism was a potent political force in Wessex as well, strongly correlating to areas that had been Royalist strongholds during the English civil wars.

Jacobites called for the restoration of the Stuart dynasty, and centred on a belief in the divine right of kings. It was a reaction against newfangled Enlightenment ideas about the sovereign being subject to the will of parliament that had been introduced with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Jacobitism was strongly linked to the Tory party, which was, and remains to this day, the dominant political force in Wessex. However, loyalty to the Church of England was a key part of Tory ideology, so Stuart Catholicism proved something of a stumbling block, But Tories also believed in unconditional support for a reigning monarch, and were implacably opposed to usurpations and rebellions. Later Restoration Day (29th May) celebrations managed to allay tensions between supporters and opponents of Catholic toleration by uniting them in a shared hatred of Methodists and other Nonconformists, leading to attacks on chapels in Tory-dominated towns such as Bristol and Oxford.

There was a romantic revival of Jacobitism around the turn of the last century. However, it was largely killed off during the First World War when Prince Rupprecht, promoted as the legitimate heir to the throne by Neo-Jacobites, came out in support of the Kaiser. This made Neo-Jacobitism toxic to the general public, and the various societies promoting it quickly shut down.

Wessex Businesses 2020

In the early days of the Society, we did a count of the number of businesses with Wessex in their name within Wessex, and in the UK as a whole. This data was published in The Case For Wessex, a 2002 statement by the now-defunct Wessex Constitutional Convention, and showed that there were 431 "Wessex" businesses in the UK, 392 of which were in Wessex.

Widespread access to the internet was still in its infancy back then, and we were forced to consult the Phone Book CD in Bristol Central Library for this information. Fortunately, there are a number of websites performing the same function nowadays. The one I used for this survey was Thomson Local, as it seemed by far the most comprehensive. A search reveals that there are 2597 "Wessex" businesses in the UK, of which the ones within Wessex are broken down by ceremonial county below:

Isle of Wight7

This suggests that in the nearly two decades since we last carried out this survey, the use of Wessex in business names has grown exponentially, but the proportion of those businesses located within Wessex has shrunk enormously. Could the Wessex movement, in promoting awareness of the name of our region, be a victim of its own success, uprooting that name from its connection to a specific region?

Wessex on Screen: Criminal

Criminal is a 2016 action film starring Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner and Gal Gadot. It tells the story of a convict (played by Costner) who is implanted with the memories of a dead CIA agent (Reynolds) in a bid to find a dangerous cyber-terrorist known as The Dutchman.

Its chief interest from a Wessex point of view is that it features a helicopter chase which was filmed at Blackbushe Airport, just outside Yateley in Hampshire. Blackbushe was opened in 1942 as an RAF base, where it became home to the Free French Squadron (Lorraine), and to the Fog Information and Dispersal Operation (FIDO), designed to enable airstrikes even in heavy fog.

After the war, it became a civil airfield, though US military aircraft continued to use it as a base. It is one of many smaller airports whose volume of air traffic diminished greatly as a result of Heathrow Airport's expansion in the 1960s, and it is now mainly used by private jets and flying clubs. Criminal offers a rare chance to see this forgotten piece of Wessex's aviation history on screen.

Wessex Attractions: Marden Henge

Marden Henge, 5½ miles southeast of Devizes, is the third of Wiltshire's major prehistoric sites, along with Stonehenge and Avebury, though less well-known than either. It is the site of Hatfield Barrow, a Bronze Age burial chamber. In July 2015, archaeologists from the University of Reading found a 4000-year-old skeleton believed to be that of a teenager, buried with an amber necklace at nearby Wilsford Henge.

Marden Henge covered some 26 acres, making it larger than Stonehenge or Avebury. Unfortunately, little of it now survives. It merits only the briefest mention in the book Prehistoric Sacred Sites of Wessex by Kent Goodman (Wessex Books, 1997), whose gazetteer simply describes it as "A large henge, now barely visible". However, anyone wishing to visit it once lockdown ends should use satnav postcode SN10 3RQ, or Salisbury Reds service 101 or 210 from Devizes.