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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK
St George's Day grows in strength
By James Clarke
BBC News, England

St George's Day service at the Cenotaph in London in 2005
A remembrance service is held at the Cenotaph each St George's Day
St George's Day - an occasion which not too long ago could arguably pass by almost unnoticed - is now being celebrated on a far wider scale, according to groups promoting the day.

They claim the desire to celebrate being English has seen the number of people who mark the nation's patron saint's day on 23 April grow significantly in the past few years.

The Royal Society of St George said people in England had begun to overcome the feeling they ought to suppress their sense of national identity.

The society was founded in 1894 with the intention of promoting "Englishness" and the English way of life. It now has 107 branches - many of them overseas.

'A bit put-upon'

Its chairman John Clemence said St George's Day had grown in prominence over the past four or five years.

He said: "It's increasing in terms of the number of people who are demanding that it's celebrated.

"The English have never taken a great interest in celebrating it because we are the dominant part of the UK, but the English are starting to feel a bit put-upon.

"I feel that over a long period the English did suppress their own identity."

St George
St George is thought to have lived in the third century AD

The Value of St George Campaign was set up in the late 1990s with the aim of making businesses realise the financial benefits of celebrating St George's Day - particularly in the pub or catering trade.

Spokeswoman Sarah McGhie said: "A couple of years ago it just wasn't happening.

"I think people were frightened because there's so much negativity around English patriotism, but now it really isn't as bad as it used to be.

"People want to be patriotic and this gives them the chance to be patriotic."

Ms McPhie said research by one major pub chain had found St George's Day was now its busiest single-day celebration, behind St Patrick's Day and Mother's Day.

The campaign was started when the pub industry noticed many English people would always go out drinking to celebrate St Patrick's Day, yet did not even know when St George's Day was.

But many major towns and cities now organise events for St George's Day and Mr Clemence said the gap between the profile of the two days was narrowing.


"More people drink on St Patrick's Day maybe, but you would be surprised at how many events there are locally on St George's Day," he said.

"Some of them are quite spectacular, knights in armour on white chargers, that sort of thing.

"Last year I went to a service at Gloucester Cathedral and it seemed like most of Gloucester was there - it's the only time in my life I've seen a cathedral full."

The Royal Society of St George organises events of its own in London - it takes part in a ceremony of remembrance for England's war dead at the Cenotaph, holds events for members at Westminster Abbey and stages a party at Covent Garden.

Mr Clemence said: "We have a street party-type affair in Covent Garden, we did this last year after persuading the Mayor of London to make some money available for it - 15,000.

"The atmosphere was tremendous, it was a very pleasant day."

Green water in the fountains at Trafalgar Square on St Patrick's Day
Trafalgar Square's fountains were coloured green for St Patrick's Day

But while Mr Clemence welcomes the greater prominence of the day he is not among those who would like to see St George's Day made a bank holiday, although he admits there are many members of his society who are.

"Some of our members think it should be a public holiday but I think one has to take a step back and look at that.

"It would only be a public holiday in England and I think we would have to, out of fairness, consider Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, if they had support."

Mr Clemence said he thought creating public holidays for each of the four saints' days, even if they were each only observed in one part of the UK, would cause too much disruption to the economy.

Those behind the Value of St George Campaign have tried harder to win bank holiday status for 23 April, but they also admit defeat at the moment.

What better way to celebrate St George's Day than with a Sunday roast?
Sarah McGhie, Value of St George Campaign

Ms McGhie said: "We've always got an ongoing debate about whether St George's Day should be a bank holiday.

"It would be great to have it as a bank holiday, but it's right by Easter and it's right by the early May bank holiday.

"So the chances of getting it as a bank holiday are regrettably not very good, but let's just at least get the day celebrated anyway."

But she said the fact the big day this year falls on a Sunday could help boost celebrations.

"I think in some ways that will be a good thing, because it will be a family day," she said.

"A lot of pubs do English menus and what better way to celebrate St George's Day than with a Sunday roast?"

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