Jade Goody and the many faces of East Anglia

Jade Goody
Image caption Jade Goody wondered whether East Anglia might be next to Tunisia?

A devolution agreement will give a proposed East Anglia Combined Authority greater control over things like transport and planning. Great. But what exactly is East Anglia and where is it?

"East Anglia? That's abroad," Jade Goody famously stated in the 2002 Big Brother series.

She went on: "Every time a person uses the word East Anglia I actually think they are talking about, you know, aeroplane business, like loads of flights, like next to Tunisia and places like that."

The public laughed - some with her, some at her. But perhaps Jade, who would sadly die only a few years later, had unwittingly put her finger on something.

East Anglia, says Vic Morgan of the University of East Anglia's Centre of East Anglian Studies, has always been something of a movable feast.

Image copyright BBC/Laurence Cawley
Image caption Nobody doubts the north Norfolk coastal village of Blakeney is in East Anglia.

The Kingdom of the East Angles in the 7th Century covered what we now call Norfolk, Suffolk and a bit of Cambridgeshire.

"There were the three crowns of the King of East Anglia. It was about being part of the tribe that occupied a space - but that space was quite flexible."

Its western boundaries have shifted and its northern boundary has been slowly gobbled up by the sea.

And according to Dr Morgan, it is unlikely the East Angles' had a sense of being "East Anglian".

That's not an issue today. A quick internet search for organisations bearing the words "East Anglian" yields thousands of results, among them the intriguingly named East Anglian Tiger Owners Club (no, not the carnivorous big cat variety) and those eastern friends of Orchidaceae (the Orchid Society of East Anglia).

Image copyright BBC/VizMaps
Image caption Different organisations using the term Anglia cover a number of different areas

So where is East Anglia in the modern age?

Surely the East Anglian Orienteering Association (EAOA) can help.

The association covers the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk. All good so far.

And the whole of Cambridgeshire. That's taking us into problematic territory.

Oh, and the whole of Bedfordshire, northern Buckinghamshire, southern Northamptonshire and the bulk of Essex. The very suggestion would have sent the Iceni tribe on the warpath.

And there are other East Anglias.

Image copyright BBC/VizMaps
Image caption The area covered by the proposed East Anglia Combined Authority which mirrors perfectly the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia

According to Holly Oakland at Visit East Anglia, East Anglia is made up of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

The Catholic diocese of East Anglia, on the other hand, does away with Essex and instead tends to the spiritual needs of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and the area covered by the unitary authority of Peterborough.

While the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership whittles the historical three kingdoms all the way down to their roots with just Norfolk and Suffolk.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Prince William with East Anglian Air Ambulance

And then comes something of an oddity - the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), current employer to the future king, Prince William.

The air ambulance's East Anglia covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and... Bedfordshire.

At night, says EAAA spokeswoman Jilly Hurley, its service swells hugely to cover emergencies in Hertfordshire and Essex.

"The reason Bedfordshire came under our remit," said Ms Hurley, "was there was nobody covering it.

"So it was all down to patient care needs. Its the same with Essex and Herts, whose air ambulance service does not fly missions at night."

A kindly expansion then, unlike the 9th Century Danish warlord Guthrum's push into - and then out of - East Anglia.

Image caption Thomas W Gabrielsson plays Danish warlord Guthrum, the Viking ruler of East Anglia, in the BBC series The Last Kingdom

Ah yes, the Danes.

The Vikings, who killed the East Anglian King Edmund in AD 869, have left their trace in the very language of East Anglia.

Staithe (landing stage), stroop (throat) and dow (pigeon) all originate from the Danish invaders, according to the linguist Prof Peter Trudgill, They form part of an East Anglian English which has its own vocabulary, grammatical quirks and accent.

He said East Anglia was more of a "concept" than a defined area.

"Historically East Anglia was an area that was dependent on Norwich, which for hundreds of years was either the second or third largest city in England after London. The East Anglian dialect was once found as far away as Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Not now. The linguistic boundaries of East Anglia are being pushed back."

This dialect continues to be spoken in parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and the north east of Essex and in turn forms part of a wider East Anglian culture which finds room for both fierce internal rivalry - think the East Anglian ('Old Farm') derby between Ipswich and Norwich - and a united front when it comes to standing up for regional interests.

Central to these East Anglian interests is farming.

Brian Finnerty, spokesman for the East Anglian branch of the National Farmers' Union, admitted the branch had a very generous take on East Anglia representing Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire as well as the staple ingredients Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Taken together, these counties form an East Anglia that is the "bread basket" of Britain.

Image caption East Anglia has long been known the breadbasket of Britain

"There are obviously a lot of shared farming interests across the region," says Mr Finnerty. "We tackle the big issues facing our members as a region and while we know there are county interests, they are all working under the regional umbrella."

Linked fuzzily to an area of land, East Anglia is a layer of belonging above one's village, town or county identity.

"It is a bit simple-minded to think you can only have one identity," says Dr Morgan. "People have always had multiple dimensions."

Dr Morgan suggests there's an element of "sheer bloody-mindedness" in the East Anglian identity.

Perhaps, he admits, East Anglia - a bit like "The North" - can be partly defined by what it is not.

It is definitely not London, the South, the Midlands or the North Sea.

And it is most definitely not, despite Jade Goody's suggestion, next to Tunisia.

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