No signs of upper class in Fenland

PUBLISHED: 09:40 16 February 2007 | UPDATED: 22:34 28 May 2010

The old way of telling if a person was upper, middle or lower class was to note if they said they were popping to the loo , going to the bathroom or looking for the bog . Now there s a new test – and it s almost always right. Imagine a married couple

The old way of telling if a person was upper, middle or lower class was to note if they said they were "popping to the loo", "going to the bathroom" or "looking for the bog". Now there's a new test - and it's almost always right.

Imagine a married couple invite another married couple out in their car. If the two men sit in front and the two women in the back, they're all working class.

If the owner and his wife sit in front and their guests in the back, they're middle class.

If they swap partners and the owner sits in the front with the other woman while his wife sits in the back with the other man, they're upper class.

Fenland has its own class distinctions. If you go to Wisbech or Whittlesey Sunday markets and spend your time searching out what's on sale, you're working class. If you pass the morning studying the other punters, you're middle class. If you study the traders, you probably work for Revenue and Customs.

There are plenty of other tell-tale signs. If you're a pupil at a secondary school and wear a blazer, you're middle class. If you walk home from school in the snow wearing only a shirt, you're either working class or thick.

If you don't go to school in Fenland, you're at least upper middle class.

In fact, Fenland has few signs it has any upper class citizens. There are no stately homes, few smart boutiques, no restaurants where men are refused entry unless wearing a proper jacket and tie - and, my dears, there's certainly nowhere you can find a decent cocktail come six o'clock.

The truth is, prosperous Fen folk have always hidden their wealth. For this, blame a 15th century Bishop of Ely. Bishop Morton had a handy way of working out how much tax you had to pay him.

If you looked prosperous, you were rich and could pay up. If you looked poor, you were hiding your wealth and could still pay up. In either case, you were caught on one of the two prongs of Morton's fork.

It's a pity the Whittlesey pub of that name closed. Every time you drove past, it was a reminder the taxman would eventually catch you.


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