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Britishness

Britishness

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Britishness
Britishness

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Published by: Grifonkab on May 26, 2013
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03/06/2014

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 Te British Identity, 1851-2008
Kenneth O. Morgan
Introduction
Nelson’s, wrote the Whig historian G.M. revelyan in 1926, was “the best-lovedname” in British history.
1
So let us begin this investigation o Britishness with theBattle o raalgar! One o my Welsh peasant ancestors, Evan Evans, was press-ganged or the Royal Navy while working in the elds o Merioneth in mid-Walessome time around 1800. He served under Nelson and ought against the Frenchat that climactic naval battle o October 1805. He was later wounded in the ace.I have his pension orm, which says that he let the navy on March 30, 1813, andthat he would be paid an annuity o £10 a year or lie by the Directors o theChest at Greenwich or the relie o Seamen maimed or wounded in His Majestysservice. Tis was a considerable sum or those days and he had a long and, no doubt,
Professor Kenneth O. Morgan
is Honorary Fellow o Te Queen’s and Oriel Colleges, Oxord.He was Fellow and Praelector, Te Queen’s College, 1966 - 89, Vice-Chancellor in the University o  Wales, 1989 - 95, Visiting Proessor at the University o Witwatersrand, South Arica, 1997 - 2000,and three times lecturer at the University o exas. He is the author o 28 widely-acclaimed works onBritish History including
Wales in British Politics 1868 - 1922
(1963),
Te Age o Lloyd George 
(1971),
Consensus and Disunity 
(1979),
Rebirth o a Nation: Wales 1880 - 1980 
(1981),
Labour in Power 1945 -51
(1984),
Labour People 
(1987) and
Te People’s Peace 1945 - 2001
(new edn., 2001), and biographieso 
Lloyd George 
(1974),
Keir Hardie 
(1975),
Lord Callaghan
(1997) and
 Michael Foot 
(2007). His edited
Oxord Illustrated History o Britain
(1984, new updated edn. 2009) has sold over 750,000 copies. He was elected Fellow o the British Academy (1983) and became a lie peer (Labour) in the House o Lords in 2000. Welsh-speaking, in August 2008 he was made a Druid o the National Eisteddod o  Wales, and will receive the medal o the Society o Cymmrodorion or lietime achievement in March2009. All correspondence should be addressed to: Te House o Lords, London SW1A 0PW.1 G.M.revelyan,
History o England 
(London, 1926), p. 578.
_________________________________________________________________
ISSN 1941-6105 Print/1941-6113 Online© 2008 British Scholar
British Scholar Vol. I, Issue 1, 4-20, September 2008 
 
happy retirement. Pacic and Francophile though I am, I also have his old intlock musket hanging above my replace in my home. Evan Evans would have had nodoubt about his Britishness. Although a Welsh-speaking Welshman, he would haveexplicitly believed in the existence o what they called then “the British nation”,even i contemporary ideas o “Britishness” and o “Englishness” were requently conated. In 1805 most people had little doubt about what Britain meant – it wassymbolized by the old Hanoverian emblems o the Union Jack (Ireland includedtoo, in 1800) and the militaristic song “Rule Britannia”. It embodied the resolveo a proud, Protestant people, globe-trotters and sea-arers who disliked standingarmies but who also saw the traditional seaman “Jolly Jack ar”, with his pigtail,as the embodiment o reedom, deending his countrymen against the age-oldenemy France, keeping close watch on potentially hostile vessels lurking in theharbours o Brest, Rocheort, or oulon. Ater the end o the Napoleonic Wars, thisidea o Britishness was reinorced by the vigorous notion o a second, even moreextensive “British Empire” – a term that meant something quite dierent now rom that invented by the Welshman John Dee at the time o the udors, shapedby timeless legends o the empire o Albion, o Brutus, Joseph o Arimethea, andKing Arthur. Tere have been clear visions o Britain and its identity that emerged at key moments later on, o course. Te massive international prestige o the GreatExhibition o 1851, exalting the primacy o the “workshop o the world” whileoering a platorm to the manuacturers o other, lesser nations, obviously conveyedone. It linked directly Britain’s world leadership as a manuacturing power withthe international gospels o work and o peace, both embodied in the ideology o ree trade. It also instructed oreigners o the supreme virtues o Britain’s reeconstitution and its way o lie.
2
A later vision o Britain, also powerul in its time, was the Festival o Britain o 1951, which indeed I visited mysel more than onceas a schoolboy and which let a powerul impression on my generation. Ralph ubbs’s aluminium-clad Dome o Discovery and Powell and Moye’s seemingly oating Skylon were almost as thrilling as Joseph Paxtons “temple made o glass’”had been a hundred years earlier. Te Festival conveyed the inspirational orce o anation’s autobiography, as conceived by one man, Gerald Barry, working alongsidean architectural director o genius, Hugh Casson. Its message was unmistakable.
3
 
2 Asa Briggs, “Te Crystal Palace and the Men o 1851”, in
Victorian People 
(London,1954), esp. p. 43.3 See Becky E. Conekin,
‘Te Autobiography o a Nation’, Te 1951 Festival o Britain
(Man-chester, 2003); and Michael Frayn, ‘Festival’ in Michael Sissons and Philip French, eds.,
 Age o Auster-ity 
(1963), pp. 305-26.
Te British Identity, 1851-2008 
5
 
It conveyed a view o a country that was technically inventive, neighbourly andtolerant as noted in Orwell’s
Lion and the Unicorn
(1941), secure in its values and itssense o heritage (rather than o history—no proessional historians were used inplanning the Festival). Te Festival stuck boldly to a belie in ‘national character’. Itproclaimed an artistic style that was clear and denable, one that implied renewalin the grim years o austerity ollowing the end o war in 1945. But it was also greatun, symbolized by the Battersea unair up river, with such pleasure-garden delightsas Rowland Emett’s light railway, the very symbol o gentle British eccentricity that George Orwell had acclaimed in his wartime book,
Te Lion and the Unicorn
. And the Festival was an enormous success while it lasted: eight and a hal millionpeople came to see and to marvel. When the Royal Festival Hall, which was itscentrepiece, was reurbished in 2006-7, care was taken lovingly to reproduce thesame pastel shades and décor o hal a century earlier. Tis contrasted starkly with the almost literal emptiness o a later dome,the Millennium Dome at Greenwich in 2000, a politically-correct theme-park  which stirred ew hearts and was not obviously about anything very much. Ithad no sense o identity to convey and was rom start to nish an embarrassingailure. It lingered on as an empty (and very expensive) hulk near the Greenwich waterront, in embarrassing proximity to the architectural glory o Christopher Wrens Naval Hospital and Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House. Tere was a maniestdoctrine o Britishness in 1805, 1851 and 1951. In 2000 there was no message atall. For some years aterwards, politicians struggled to nd a use or the Dome,until it was proposed as one o the supplementary arenas or the London OlympicGames scheduled or 2012, to accommodate activities such as basketball andtrampolining.
Pluralism, 1851-1914
 Yet the idea o Britishness was complicated even beore 1851, even in the very atermath o military and naval success over the French in Napoleonic times. What was Britishness ater all? Was it undamentally ethnic, a synonym or Englishness, which made it increasingly hard to reconcile with the notion o a “UnitedKingdom”? Or did it ow rom the civic and institutional identity o the BritishIsles? Te argument became increasingly passionate as the nineteenth century woreon, especially when home rule or Ireland became a dominant theme with the riseo the Irish Nationalist Party in the late 1870s. Tere were also other conusionsabout identity and nationhood, sources both o unity and o diversity.In many ways, Britain became ar more integrated and closely-knit ater 1815.Its people were pulled together by the growth o national railways and systems6
Kenneth O. Morgan

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