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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Sedgefield honours 'burgess' Blair
Tony Blair and family
Mr Blair had represented Sedgefield since 1983

Sedgefield town is to make Tony Blair a burgess - allowing him to drive sheep over the village green.

The honorary title - which, according to a spokeswoman, is bestowed on people who have "done things for the town" - will mean the prime minister can sign himself as an 'honorary burgess'.

He also gets a certificate to mark the occasion.

For many in a rather London-centric media, Sedgefield is something of an enigma.

The parliamentary constituency itself is a sprawling mixture of former mining villages and new towns at the edge of the Durham coalfield.

But the town after which it is named is a much more genteel prospect.

Not so grim up north

I should know - I grew up there.

The village green, there's that sheep connection again, wouldn't, it pains me to report, look out of place in the home counties.

There was never a coal mine in Sedgefield. It is, if anything, a farming community, with a sprinkling of light industry and "executive" housing developments thrown up in the 1970s to service nearby Teeside.

The village green is dominated by St Edmund's Church, which dates back to Norman times, and ringed by what can only be described as "quaint" shops and traditional village pubs.

There is also a Conservative club, or at least there was when I lived there, but not, contrary to more than one national newspaper report of recent years, a Labour club.

In fact, the prime minister's power-base in the constituency, Trimdon Labour Club, lies a few miles to the north.

Talent spotter?

The Blairs have a house in the Trimdon area and this is where the family were pictured tramping across the fields to cast their vote at last year's general election.

But the family also have strong ties with Sedgefield.

Mr Burton is a constituency ally of the prime minister
Mr Blair's agent John Burton, the man credited with talent-spotting the future prime minister when he was seeking a Labour nomination at the 1982 election, was a PE teacher at Sedgefield Comprehensive school.

Former pupils fondly recall the bearded Burton exhorting them to get fit in order to "smash the Tory government".

Three of the Blair's children, including baby Leo, were baptised at St John Fisher catholic church in Sedgefield, by family friend John Caden.

Brawl game?

Although not a Catholic, Mr Blair often read the scriptures during Mass, during his early years in Parliament, while Cherie reportedly sat at the back of the church with the children.

But apart from its National Hunt racecourse, Sedgefield is probably best known for the annual Shrove Tuesday "ball game", which began several centuries ago as a contest between the farmers and tradesman of the village.

These days it is a day-long brawl between rival villages for the right to take home a specially-made ball.

Not the best day, perhaps, for Mr Blair to exercise his new powers.

See also:

19 Oct 01 | Politics
21 Feb 02 | England
01 Aug 00 | Politics
30 Jul 00 | Politics
29 Nov 99 | Politics
19 Nov 99 | UK

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