Remembering Huntingdonshire's proud history

The Huntingdonshire flag flew over Pathfinder House in Huntingdon to mark Huntingdonshire Day.

The Huntingdonshire flag flew over Pathfinder House in Huntingdon to mark Huntingdonshire Day. - Credit: HDC

I write this month’s column to mark the occasion of Huntingdonshire Day on April 25, a day where we celebrate Huntingdonshire’s historic county status with the Huntingdonshire flag proudly flying outside Pathfinder House.

HDC leader Ryan Fuller.

HDC leader Ryan Fuller. - Credit: HDC

But the county of Huntingdonshire no longer exists I hear some say, and in part that’s correct insofar as the administrative county of Huntingdonshire was abolished in 1974. However, that administrative county was only created in 1888 replacing the previous form of local government.

What neither of these administrative actions did is alter the existence of the historic geographic county of Huntingdonshire which has existed more or less on its current boundaries for the last thousand years. The belief that administrative changes to local government structures abolished England’s historic counties is incorrect, a point that has been repeatedly reaffirmed by successive governments.

The then Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP specifically mentioned Huntingdonshire when he asserted that historic counties continue to be recognised. Current Secretary of State Robert Jenrick MP tweeted a picture last week of Huntingdonshire’s County flag flying over the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in Whitehall.

However, at a time when in certain quarters it’s frowned upon to be proud of our heritage and history, and even some national political parties are reluctant to associate themselves with our national flag, are things such as local flags and county identities even relevant anymore? I believe they are, and, of course, those who contend that there are far more pressing issues to be addressing such as the economy, jobs, housing etc are right in a sense; but in my mind these issues are not mutually exclusive.

Our councils are founded in our communities, and our communities are founded on their shared heritage, culture and traditions. Proactive councils are now thinking more fundamentally about how our communities operate, interact and develop. In council jargon this is known as ‘placemaking’, and at the heart of any successful ‘place’ is a sense of a shared identity and purpose that can help tackle the big issues. We’ve seen this demonstrated during the last year where informal groups appeared across Huntingdonshire to help manage the local pandemic response.

As HDC begins work on town centre regeneration plans and a new district-wide place strategy, which will be informed by the most wide-ranging public engagement we’ve ever undertaken, I am reminded of a quote from a government white paper which stated, "What is local and unique has a special value and should be supported and encouraged". 

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There is a growing recognition that identity is strongly tied in with a person’s sense of engagement, belonging, understanding and appreciation of their ‘place’. I believe that it’s not places that get left behind; it’s people. If we lose what is local and unique about our ‘place’ by delivering generic high streets that can be found up and down the country, or accepting district-wide one size fits all solutions then we see people disconnect from community life which can engender the feeling of being left behind.

We won’t solve everything by simply raising flags and remembering our proud history; but valuing and even celebrating the shared heritage and traditions of our individual towns and villages and of our historic county itself strengthens our local identity and civic engagement. We can build upon that to support prosperous, stronger and happier local communities which are better placed to respond to the issues of the day and deliver improved outcomes for people.