Precisely two hundred years after William Perrins and James Perrins dissolved their business partnership freeing the former to enter into a dissolving business with Mr John Wheeley Lea, The Shitron, Nelson and I lumbered into the county of the sauce of deliquesced fish.
I would have thought Nelson, given his penchant for fish, and no other flavour, would have been more full of glee. The only smidgeon of delight escaping his lips occurred after I gifted him a rechargeable flopping fish toy. One which keeps detonating itself in the middle of the night, usually after it has been swiped off the bed.
The first observation one makes is how so many towns and villages have retained the Anglo-Saxon suffix ‘ley’ rather than using the ‘ton’ or ‘don’ as is typical for English settlements. This raised my suspicions that Worcestershire may play a definitive role in English history so a trawl through the annals of time beckoned.
The quick delve into the tome that is Google had me noting that “Whee”, means ‘to express excitement’, “ley” is archaic English for a clearing in the woods, and “lea” historically refers to ‘a straight line’.
It is also history that records Mr Wheeley Lea setting things straight and clear with Mr Perrins on January 21st, 1823. Combined they would go on to thrill the culinary world, albeit not before the “Wheeley” portion was consigned to the wheelie bin.
Known globally as “The English Sauce”, Worcestershire, pronounced WUSS-Stuh-Shur-Sauce if sober, is also the site of the third and final battle of The English Civil War of 1642 - 1651. Incidentally, there have been many English civil wars, yet scholars usually choose to dismiss any competing conflicts as if they were nothing but an inferior brand of Worcestershire Sauce by comparison to the condiment manufactured by Kraft Heinz.
Like the Royalists of the seventeenth century, Lea & Perrins fought valiantly, albeit in vain, to protect their recipe from, as they saw it, imitators clamouring to be the king of flavourings. They sued for legal protection not once, but twice. Losing on both occasions. Regardless, their recipe remains the best-selling rotting fish relish world-wide.
Similarly, the Royalists, led by Charles I, lost the English Civil War, bringing England to republicanism and, for the first time, parliamentary power under the lash of Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell remains a marmite character in English history, but is loosely admired for rising from court obscurity to Head of State on merit rather than aristocratic primogeniture. He went on to orchestrate his own legacy by assigning his son to be England’s next political leader. This nominal succession of relativity, caused Charles II, son of Charles I, to be invited back after just eleven years of republicanism. England has thus remained sovereign up until the present times of Charles III.
Incidentally, the English Civil War was not just fought to undermine absolute regal power and combat the excesses of the ruling elite, but also to further the quest to worship in ways not ordained by the Church of England. Some protestants feared the now well-established Anglican Church had commenced to imitate Catholic practices. Once the King had married a French Catholic and appointed Catholic Lords into key political posts, the Protestants, once unified against Catholicism, now fractured. Splinter congregations criticised the conflation of religion, wealth and power, but did not necessarily agree on how worship should be partaken.
There was an increasing clamour for religious leaders to be appointed from within the ranks they represented, rather than by ordained ministers serving the royal court. These breakaway groups were snubbed by the ruling elite and denounced for being ‘puritanical’. For the first time, the word “puritan” evolved to become a term of contempt spat at those who otherwise identified as Presbyterian, Quaker, Anabaptist or Congregationalist amongst many, many others.
With all wars, much of the battle ground was for control of the rhetoric: for the currency of people’s loyalties, and if it couldn’t be bought, it would be coerced. Leaders of the Puritanical movements were summoned to the royal court by the King’s Bishop to have their ears lobbed off. At least they didn’t have their tongues cut out.
But ‘silencing’ of opponents simply entrenches the opposition. No one ever changed their point of view because of a slight, a slur or a wound. Thus war became inevitable and the country split into two halves.
The English Civil War saw more fatalities proportionally than the First Great War, and brought two new pejorative terms into the vernacular: “Roundheads” and their arch-nemesis the “Cavaliers”.
The Roundheads, Cromwell’s men, promoted themselves as men of merit and valour, committed to a fairer world. They denounced the Cavaliers as swashbuckling, rapscallion, womanising scoundrels of corruption and unearned privilege. The Cavaliers, naturally, diminished the Roundheads as dour, joy-killing, bible-bashing prigs.
Nowadays we’d just label one another “bell-ends”.
Bell End was polled to be the funniest place name in the UK and this Holy Land and Capital of Rude Place Names is said to be located in Worcestershire. Popular television shows, such as The Last Leg, as well the tabloid press, often draw one’s attention to an effigy of some political leader, often Putin but other political ministers are eligible, next to said Bell End road sign.
Except Bell End doesn’t actually have a road sign.
It pains me to piss on everyone’s chips but not a single post, advert nor parish council noticeboard has the words “Bell End” etched into it. In fact, there’s nothing to indicate Bell End’s existence beyond “The Bell Public House” and the “The Bell Service Station”, both of whom have clearly amputated their ends, if indeed there ever was one.
If one ever spots a picture of the road sign, I can assure one it has been taken in the neighbouring county of Staffordshire, where a road called “Bell End”, which leads into Mincing Lane, feeds off the B4171. Bell End Road can thus be found in the village of Rowley Regis, whose name incidentally means ‘roughly cleared royal meadow’.
The awarding-winning “Village of Bell End” is laying claim to a crown that doesn’t exist and anyone asserting that they live in Bell End is telling a very fishy tale indeed. I am as gutted as a Lea & Perrins anchovy.
In fact, Worcestershire ranks (so far) as the poorest county of all with just four “awful-sounding settlements”.