Page last updated at 08:33 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 09:33 UK

English village votes to be Welsh

Brendon Williams
BBC news website

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An idyllic Cheshire village has voted to become a part of Wales in an informal web poll.

Residents in an English village have "voted" to become part of Wales, even though the border lies nine miles away.

What started as a 1 April spoof in Audlem, Cheshire, has gathered support and resulted in 63% of those voting in an online poll supporting the move.

Some residents want to make a case for securing Welsh benefits such as free hospital parking and prescriptions.

"The vote might be light-hearted, but there's a very serious message there," said one villager.

The poll running on local website Audlem Online shows 80 residents have voted to become part of Wales, with 44 against.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said local people were angry at a recent rise in parking charges at Leighton Hospital in Crewe.

AUDLEM FACTS
Map
Nearly 2,000 people live there
It won the 2005 Cheshire and Northern England Village of the Year awards
The local tourist attraction is the Shropshire Union canal
Audlem's three main roads are Cheshire St, Stafford St and Shropshire St, but no Denbighshire St - yet
The village has a football and cricket team, but no rugby team
St James's church with its walled mound dominates the village

Local residents have also been posting messages in a forum dedicated to the subject.

One wrote: "I know of at least four Welsh-speakers in Audlem - that's probably more than Newport and Cardiff can muster between them. So Audlem is already ahead in the bilingual stakes."

Another said: "We should try to be part of Shropshire. This is a serious suggestion which I have made before.

A wander around the village leaves visitors to Audlem in no doubt which country they are in.

A basketball hoop near the local park was presented by the Sport England Lottery Fund.

And in the middle of the village, the parish church of St James the Great boasts the cross of St George on its steeple.

But that has not deterred some residents from backing the campaign.

Judy Evans, who works in a newsagents, said her Welsh-speaking husband Brian, from Llanbrynmair in Powys, was delighted.

She added: "I'm all for it too. My husband is really keen because he can wear his Grand Slam T-shirt and feel safe.

We're so close to Wales, we get more response from Wales, we get a lot of tourists from Wales and we feel we should be part of Wales
Ralph Warburton, Audlem resident

"He's also hoping the pubs will start showing the important matches from now on. And he's offered to help out with Welsh lessons in the school which of course would become a legal requirement."

Elsewhere though opinion was divided.

Janet Sumner, who runs the local chip shop, said: "We're too far away from Wales to be in Wales.

"This is the first time I've heard about this. I think it's just a few people who want free prescriptions - it's probably some Welsh people who started it."

In the local chemist - on aptly named Cheshire Street - one woman said: "Wales? Oh God, no. Why would we want to do that? I wouldn't want to be part of Wales but I do think we should get free prescriptions."

Another resident said: "People have been complaining about the hospital parking charges and the cost of prescriptions.

"It certainly doesn't pay to be ill here, so Wales have got that right but I definitely wouldn't want to be part of Wales."

Audlem sign
Audlem is in the south of Cheshire and nine miles from the border

Keith West, 70, originally from Neath, said: "It's an anomaly that needs resolving - devolution has got the UK into a mess.

"We're worse off in England than you are in Wales or they are in Scotland. It seems logical that there should be an English parliament."

Another local, Ralph Warburton said: "We're so close to Wales, we get more response from Wales, we get a lot of tourists from Wales and we feel we should be part of Wales. So we're making a bid to be Welsh."

One resident, who did not want to be named, said local people were angry at a recent rise in parking charges at Leighton Hospital in Crewe.

She said: "The charges have gone up from 2 to 3 for more than 20 minutes. It's a big rise."




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