Tower Hamlets Council has recently made a groundbreaking decision to recognise Cockney English as the vernacular of the East End. This decision marks the first-ever formal recognition of Cockney as a community language, a landmark moment that has been welcomed by campaigners behind the first Modern Cockney Festival. The festival runs from March 3rd to April and aims to celebrate the cultural heritage of the ‘common Londoner’.
The decision by the Tower Hamlets Council is a step towards recognising the significance and relevance of the 660-year-old cultural identity of the Cockney. Cockney campaigners believe that by celebrating their identity based on positive inclusive values, individuals and communities can connect with their heritage and pride to better overcome adversity, stand up for themselves, or come together to defend their interests.
The decision to recognise Cockney as a community language was prompted by a petition submitted by the campaign group Cockney Cultures, a partnership between social enterprise Grow Social Capital and the Bengali East End Heritage Society. The petition sought to ensure that Cockney is included in any community language provisions by the Council.
The Modern Cockney Festival, organised by the Cockney Cultures partnership, is a month-long celebration of events, academic lectures, and family-fun activities. It provides a space for anyone – whether first, second, third or more generations, or from the traditional head and, such as Tower Hamlets, or part of the worldwide global Cockney Diaspora – to explore what ‘Cockney’ means to them.
The festival celebrates Cockney cuisine, challenges sociolinguists who claim ‘Cockney’ is dying’, explores current community challenges in London’s East End, tackles social class bias, and, in true Cockney spirit, celebrates Cockney humour with the great London comedian Arthur Smith.
The Cockney identity has been associated with the vicinity of St. Mary-le-Bow Church on Cheapside, London, since 1617. Since the early 20th century, the Cockney community has expanded beyond its traditional heartland of inner and East London, where pie’n’mash shops, regarded as a staple of Cockney tastes, can now be found as far afield as Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, Southend in Essex, and Rochester in Kent.
Campaigners recognise that ‘Bow Bells’ is heard through the heart, where Cockney identity can be marked by an affinity with the ‘common Londoner’. Online search data reveals the term ‘Cockney’ witnessing significant growth of more than 24% over the last 30 years, indicative of a substantive and widespread use of the term.
Saif Osmani of Cockney Cultures welcomed the decision, stating that “At a time of greater adversity, never has there been a need for so many to embrace their inner Cockney spirit and attitude, based on values of resilience and defiance, resourcefulness, all underpinned by a stoic and irreverent wit.”
Speaking at the Tower Hamlets Council meeting, Councillor Maium Talukdar said, “Cockney is our shared heritage no matter what the colour of the skin is… we look forward to identifying how we can best support Cockney culture and identity.”