BEHIND THE NEWS: It's 40 years since Westmorland was removed from the political map

The Westmorland flag

The Westmorland Gazette dated March 29, 1974

First published in News The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

FORTY years ago the local government administrative units of Westmorland and Cumberland were disbanded. Hundreds of years of history was swept aside and the region’s political landscape was changed forever. But later this month, traditional music, dialect and memorabilia from the past will be seen and heard once again. Tom Murphy reports.

A lot happened across the world in 1974. Swedish pop group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo, US President Richard Nixon announced his resignation following the Watergate scandal and English tennis player Tim Henman was born.

But closer to home, on April 1, changes were made that would tear up the pages of history books.

Under the Local Government Act 1972, Westmorland County Council was abolished and its former area was combined with Cumberland and chunks of Lancashire and Yorkshire to form the new county of Cumbria, administered by a new Cumbria County Council.

Now, a day has been organised to remember that Westmorland is ‘still alive’.

One of the organisers, Guy Greenwood, is a former director of education in Westmorland and part of a family whose links to the area date back to the 16th Century.

“It’s about keeping people aware of the fact that Westmorland is still alive,” he said.

“Whoever coined that name it has applied to this area for a long time and it’s got a very distinctive flavour about it. The fact there isn’t a county council hasn’t made a difference.

“There is a very large number of people living in this part of the world for whom Westmorland doesn’t mean anything.

“This is not a political event. I don’t want to create a new county. It’s an event to say Westmorland was a place, is a place and will continue to be a place.”

Both Kendal and Appleby lost their ancient town status and were merged into new Eden District Council and South Lakeland District Council respectively.

They kept some traditions such as a Town Mayor and town council but much of their power was stripped away.

The Gazette extensively covered the momentous occasion with a series of articles. In one, a former chairman of Westmorland County Council, Alderman Robin Crossfield, of Arnside, said Westmorland had become a ‘victim of the current thought that bigger is necessarily better’.

“I am afraid that is not the case,” he said.

And Alderman Philip Thompson, chairman of Westmorland County Council, vowed: “The joining of Westmorland and Cumberland and Furness is not acceptable and will be opposed.”

At a civic service held on the last day of Westmorland, the then vicar of Kendal, the Rev John Hodgkinson, said: “It is a marriage of two counties in which their individual characteristics will always remain an integral part.”

In another article, printed on March 29, 1974, the Gazette stated: “The name of Westmorland will not be lost. Next week you will still be able to buy your Westmorland Gazette, a title that has been identified with the area for nearly 160 years.”

Mr Greenwood pointed towards the award-winning Westmorland Services, near Tebay, named after 1974, as just one local example of recognising the importance of the name.

“There are numerous associations and clubs that still retain the name of Westmorland, proving that many people still feel a connection with this name,” he added.

The last gathering for a celebration of Westmorland was on March 31, 1999 when more than 80 people attended.

And this time, organisers are hoping more will turn out.

“As it falls on Mothers’ Day we are hoping it will prove to be a nice family day out,” added Mr Greenwood.

***

EVERYTHING great about Westmorland will be celebrated during the afternoon event next Sunday (March 30).

Burneside Brass Band and the Westmorland Youth Orchestra will provide some music, while there will be a demonstration of traditional dialect by Len Hayton and his wife.

Memorabilia, including a letter from one of Britain’s most well-known Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, will also be on show.

A placard, featuring the names of people involved in the day, and one with organisations who still don the Westmorland name will also be unveiled.

Taking place in the Westmorland Hall, Kendal Leisure Centre, from 3pm - 6pm, entry is £3.50 per adult, including cake and a drink.

Organisers ask that for catering reasons, people confirm their attendance by emailing westmorland40@gmail.com.

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