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Sometimes we English seem to be an odd lot. The Welsh and the Scots seem to have clearer identities than we do. Maybe it is because they are smaller and were historically more cohesive than the mixed bag of Celts, Angles, Saxons, Normans, etc. that ended up in England. Maybe it is because they have less of the social, political and economic distortions that seem to set the southeast at odds with other English regions.
Whatever the cause, it was noticeable that the flags and national days of St Andrew and St David always seemed to have more significance for the Scots and Welsh than did those of St George for the English. The Church has always flown St George’s flag, but until relatively recently it wasn’t seen much elsewhere. It is seen more now, but often in connection with football, or to promote nationalist politics, rather than as a symbol of English cultural identity.
Likewise St George’s Day never featured strongly as an event outside the Scout movement, which always held parades on or near the day.
In 2010 a small group of bellringers decided to try to promote St George’s Day as a celebration of England’s Patron Saint, and to reclaim his flag as a symbol of our cultural identity. They chose to do it through bellringing, that most quintessentially English, and very public form of rejoicing. They launched ‘Ringing For England’ with the aim that on St George’s Day there should be public ringing in as many towers as possible across England.
They promoted the initiative through the ringing community, and also sought support from the bishops (to allay any concerns that ringers might be seen as supporting some of the less attractive ideas that have attached themselves to St George’s flag).
In 2011 there was a slight setback when St George’s Day fell on Holy Saturday, making ringing in churches unacceptable. That won’t happen very often. This century the only other problem years are 2038 when it falls on Good Friday and 2095 when it again falls on Holy Saturday.
This year at All Saints we rang a quarter peal on the evening of St George’s Day, and we hope to ring for it in future years too. Ringing For England’s website is: ringingforengland.co.uk/
John Harrison (May 2013)
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