Culture of the United Kingdom

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The Proms is a nine-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts, culminating with a final night of traditional patriotic music[1][2]
A street party at a primary school in Lancashire, England, on the occasion of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

The culture of the United Kingdom is the pattern of human activity and symbolism associated with the United Kingdom and its people. It is influenced by the UK's history as a developed island country, a liberal democracy and a major power, its predominantly Christian religious life, and its composition of four countriesEngland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—each of which has distinct customs, cultures and symbolism. The wider culture of Europe has also influenced British culture, and Humanism, Protestantism and representative democracy developed from broader Western culture.

British literature, music, cinema, art, theatre, comedy, media, television, philosophy, architecture and education are influential and respected across the world. The United Kingdom is also prominent in science and technology, producing world-leading scientists (e.g. Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin) and inventions. Sport is an important part of British culture; numerous sports originated in the country, including football. The UK has been described as a "cultural superpower",[3][4] and London has been described as a world cultural capital.[5][6][7][8]

The Industrial Revolution, which started in the UK, had a profound effect on the socio-economic and cultural conditions of the world. As a result of the British Empire, significant British influence can be observed in the language, culture and institutions of a geographically wide assortment of countries, including Australia, Canada, India, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, the United States and English speaking Caribbean nations. These states are sometimes collectively known as the Anglosphere, and are among Britain's closest allies.[9][10] In turn the empire also influenced British culture, particularly British cuisine.[11]

The cultures of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are diverse and have varying degrees of overlap and distinctiveness.


The manuscript of the Anglo Saxon, Old English, heroic epic poem Beowulf is located in the British Library

First spoken in early medieval England, the English language is the de facto official language of the UK, and is spoken monolingually by an estimated 95% of the British population.[12][note 1]

However, individual countries within the UK have frameworks for the promotion of their indigenous languages. In Wales, all pupils at state schools must either be taught through the medium of Welsh or study it as an additional language until age 16, and the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally in the public sector, so far as is reasonable and practicable. Irish and Ulster Scots enjoy limited use alongside English in Northern Ireland, mainly in publicly commissioned translations. The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2005, recognised Gaelic as an official language of Scotland, commanding equal respect with English, and required the creation of a national plan for Gaelic to provide strategic direction for the development of the Gaelic language.[note 2] There is also a campaign under way to recognise Scots as a language in Scotland, though this remains controversial. The Cornish language enjoys neither official recognition nor promotion by the state in Cornwall.

Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the UK Government has committed to the promotion of certain linguistic traditions. The United Kingdom has ratified the charter for: Welsh (in Wales), Scottish Gaelic and Scots (in Scotland), Cornish (in Cornwall), and Irish and Ulster Scots (in Northern Ireland). British Sign Language is also a recognised language.

The Arts


William Shakespeare is often called the national poet of England[13]

At its formation, the United Kingdom inherited the literary traditions of England, Scotland and Wales, including the earliest existing native literature written in the Celtic languages, Old English literature and more recent English literature including the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Robert Burns is regarded as the national poet of Scotland[14]

The early 18th century is known as the Augustan Age of English literature. The poetry of the time was highly formal, as exemplified by the works of Alexander Pope, and the English novel became popular, with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1721), Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749).

Completed after nine years work, Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755, and was viewed as the pre-eminent British dictionary until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later.[15]

From the late 18th century, the Romantic period showed a flowering of poetry comparable with the Renaissance 200 years earlier, and a revival of interest in vernacular literature. In Scotland the poetry of Robert Burns revived interest in Scots literature, and the Weaver Poets of Ulster were influenced by literature from Scotland. In Wales the late 18th century saw the revival of the eisteddfod tradition, inspired by Iolo Morganwg. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy.

Virginia Woolf was a leading modernist writer of the 20th century

In the 19th century, major poets in English literature included William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. The Victorian period was the golden age of the realistic English novel, represented by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.

World War I gave rise to British war poets and writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke who wrote (often paradoxically) of their expectations of war, and/or their experiences in the trenches.

Welsh native Roald Dahl is frequently ranked the best children's author in UK polls.[16]

The most widely popular writer of the early years of the 20th century was arguably Rudyard Kipling, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His novels include The Jungle Book, The Man Who Would Be King and Kim, while his poem If— is a national favourite. Like William Ernest Henley's poem Invictus,[17] it is a memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism, a traditional British trait.[18]

Notable Irish writers include Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw and W. B. Yeats. The Celtic Revival stimulated a new appreciation of traditional Irish literature. The Scottish Renaissance of the early 20th century brought modernism to Scottish literature as well as an interest in new forms in the literatures of Scottish Gaelic and Scots. The English novel developed in the 20th century into much greater variety and it remains today the dominant English literary form.

Other globally well-known British novelists include George Orwell, C. S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, D. H. Lawrence, Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming, Walter Scott, Agatha Christie, J. M. Barrie, Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Roald Dahl, Helen Fielding, Arthur C. Clarke, Alan Moore, Ian McEwan, Anthony Burgess, Evelyn Waugh, William Golding, Salman Rushdie, Douglas Adams, P. G. Wodehouse, Martin Amis, J. G. Ballard, Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, H. Rider Haggard, Neil Gaiman, Enid Blyton and J. K. Rowling. Important British poets of the 20th century include Rudyard Kipling, W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, T. S. Eliot, John Betjeman and Dylan Thomas. In 2003 the BBC carried out a UK survey entitled The Big Read in order to find the "nation's best-loved novel" of all time, with works by English novelists J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Philip Pullman, Douglas Adams and J. K. Rowling making up the top five on the list.[19] Roald Dahl is frequently ranked the best children's author in UK polls.[16][20][21]


The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1932.

From its formation in 1707, the United Kingdom has had a vibrant tradition of theatre, much of it inherited from England and Scotland. The West End is the main theatre district in the UK.[22][23] The West End's Theatre Royal in Covent Garden in the City of Westminster dates back to the mid 17th century, making it the oldest London theatre.[24]

In the 18th century, the highbrow and provocative Restoration comedy lost favour, to be replaced by sentimental comedy, domestic tragedy such as George Lillo's The London Merchant (1731), and by an overwhelming interest in Italian opera. Popular entertainment became more important in this period than ever before, with fair-booth burlesque and mixed forms that are the ancestors of the English music hall. These forms flourished at the expense of other forms of English drama, which went into a long period of decline. By the early 19th century it was no longer represented by stage plays at all, but by the closet drama, plays written to be privately read in a "closet" (a small domestic room).

In 1847, a critic using the pseudonym "Dramaticus" published a pamphlet[25] describing the parlous state of British theatre. Production of serious plays was restricted to the patent theatres, and new plays were subject to censorship by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. At the same time, there was a burgeoning theatre sector featuring a diet of low melodrama and musical burlesque; but critics described British theatre as driven by commercialism and a "star" system.[26]

Musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber have dominated London's West End since the late 20th century.[27]

A change came in the late 19th century with the plays on the London stage by the Irishmen George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, who influenced domestic English drama and revitalised it. The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was opened in Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford upon Avon in 1879; and Herbert Beerbohm Tree founded an Academy of Dramatic Art at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1904.[28] Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought together librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, and nurtured their collaboration. Among Gilbert and Sullivan's best known comic operas are H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.[29] Carte built the West End's Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works, and through the inventor of electric light Sir Joseph Swan, the Savoy was the first theatre, and the first public building in the world, to be lit entirely by electricity.[30][31]

Sadler's Wells, under Lilian Baylis, nurtured talent that led to the development of an opera company, which became the English National Opera (ENO); a theatre company, which evolved into the National Theatre; and a ballet company, which eventually became the English Royal Ballet.[32]

First performed in 1952, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has seen more than 25,000 performances in London's West End

Making his professional West End debut at the Garrick Theatre in 1911, flamboyant playwright, composer and actor Noël Coward had a career spanning over 50 years, in which he wrote many comic plays, and over a dozen musical theatre works.[33] In July 1962, a board was set up to supervise construction of a National Theatre in London, and a separate board was constituted to run a National Theatre Company and lease the Old Vic theatre. The Company remained at the Old Vic until 1976, when the new South Bank building was opened. A National Theatre of Scotland was set up in 2006. Today the West End of London has many theatres, particularly centred on Shaftesbury Avenue. A prolific composer of musical theatre in the 20th century, Andrew Lloyd Webber has been referred to as "the most commercially successful composer in history".[27] His musicals, which include The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, have dominated the West End for a number of years and have travelled around the world as well as being turned into films. Lloyd Webber has worked with producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, lyricist Sir Tim Rice, actor Michael Crawford, actress and singer Sarah Brightman, while his musicals originally starred Elaine Paige, who with continued success has become known as the First Lady of British Musical Theatre.[34] Richard O'Brien's 1973 West End musical The Rocky Horror Show has been ranked among the "Nation's Number One Essential Musicals".[35]

The Royal Shakespeare Company operates out of Stratford-upon-Avon, producing mainly but not exclusively Shakespeare's plays.[36] Important modern playwrights include Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Alan Ayckbourn, John Osborne, Michael Frayn and Arnold Wesker.[37][38]


Patriotic songs

While the British national anthem "God Save the Queen" and other patriotic songs such as "Rule, Britannia!" represent the United Kingdom, each of the four individual countries of the UK also has its own patriotic hymns. Edward Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory", and William Blake's poem And did those feet in ancient time set to Hubert Parry's "Jerusalem", are among England's most patriotic hymns.[39] Scottish patriotic songs include "Flower of Scotland", "Scotland the Brave" and "Scots Wha Hae"; patriotic Welsh hymns include "Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer" by William Williams Pantycelyn, and "Land of My Fathers"; the latter is the national anthem of Wales.[40] The patriotic Northern Irish ballad Danny Boy is set to the tune "Londonderry Air". The traditional marching song "The British Grenadiers" is often performed by British Army bands, and is played at the Trooping the Colour.[41] Written by British Army bandmaster F. J. Ricketts, the "Colonel Bogey March" is often whistled, becoming part of British way of life during World War II.[42] George Frideric Handel composed Zadok the Priest in 1727 for the coronation of George II: it has been performed during the Sovereign's anointing at every subsequent British coronation. Jeremiah Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary" is popular for wedding music, and has featured in royal weddings.[43]


Other notable British composers, including Henry Purcell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Henry Wood, John Taverner, John Blow, Arthur Sullivan, William Walton, John Stafford Smith, Henry Bishop, Ivor Novello, Malcolm Arnold, Michael Tippett and John Barry have made major contributions to British music, and are known internationally. Living composers include Thomas Ades, Sir George Martin, Harrison Birtwistle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Oliver Knussen, Harry Gregson Williams, Mike Oldfield, John Rutter, James MacMillan, Joby Talbot, John Powell, David Arnold, Anne Dudley, Trevor Horn, John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Brian Eno, Clint Mansell, Craig Armstrong and Michael Nyman.

Folk music

The traditional folk music of England has contributed to several genres, such as sea shanties, jigs, hornpipes and dance music. It has its own distinct variations and regional peculiarities. Wynkyn de Worde's printed ballads of Robin Hood from the 16th century are an important artefact, as are John Playford's The Dancing Master and Robert Harley's Roxburghe Ballads collections.[44] Some of the best known songs are Greensleeves, Scarborough Fair and Over the Hills and Far Away. The bagpipes have long been a national symbol of Scotland, and the Great Highland Bagpipe is widely recognised. Scottish folk songs include The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond, Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go? while Auld Lang Syne is sung throughout the English-speaking world to celebrate the start of the New Year, especially in Scotland.[45]

Nursery rhymes

From the mid-16th century, nursery rhymes began to be recorded in English plays.[46] Some of the best known nursery rhymes from Britain are Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Roses are red, Jack and Jill, Cock a doodle doo, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, The Grand Old Duke of York, London Bridge Is Falling Down, Hey Diddle Diddle, Three Blind Mice, Little Miss Muffet, Pat-a-cake, Pop Goes the Weasel, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Peter Piper, Hickory Dickory Dock, One for Sorrow, This Old Man, Simple Simon, Old Mother Hubbard, Little Bo Peep, Sing a Song of Sixpence, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, Old King Cole and Humpty Dumpty.[47]

Christmas carols

Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work by John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain who lists 25 "caroles of Cristemas", probably sung by groups of 'wassailers', who went from house to house.[48] Some of the most notable carols from the UK are We Wish You a Merry Christmas, O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, The Holly and the Ivy, I Saw Three Ships, Deck the Halls, In the Bleak Midwinter, Joy to the World, Once in Royal David's City, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, What Child Is This?, Good King Wenceslas, Here We Come A-Caroling and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. The music of Christmas has always been a combination of sacred and secular, and every year in the UK there is highly publicised competition to be the Christmas number one single, which has led to the production of music which still provides the mainstay of festive playlists.

RMS Titanic music

Wallace Hartley, violinist and band leader of the RMS Titanic

Written by Sarah Flower Adams, the Christian hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" is associated with the sinking of the RMS Titanic, as some survivors later reported that the ship's string ensemble played the hymn as the vessel sank. The hymn was a favourite of Wallace Hartley, the ship's band leader who led the eight member band before going down with the ship, and subsequently it was played at his funeral.[49] Hartley's violin was recovered from the sinking, and sold at auction on 19 October 2013 for £900,000.[50]

Classical music

The United Kingdom supports a number of major orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. London is one of the world's major centres for classical music: it has several important concert halls and is also home to the Royal Opera House, one of the world's leading opera houses. British traditional music has also been very influential abroad.

Popular music

During World War II, Vera Lynn was known as the Forces' Sweetheart, with "We'll Meet Again", sung to British troops, among the songs most associated with her.[51] The UK single and album charts are revealed every Friday on BBC Radio 1, with Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" the best-selling single in the UK, and Queen's Greatest Hits the best-selling album.[52][53]

The Beatles are the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in the history of music, with sales of over one billion.[54][55][56][57]

The Brit Awards, the BPI's annual pop music awards, take place at The O2 Arena in London every February.[58] The Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting and composing are presented annually by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.[59] Large outdoor music festivals and concerts in the summer are popular, such as Glastonbury, V Festival, Summertime Ball, T in the Park, Download Festival and the Reading and Leeds Festivals.

The UK was one of the two main countries in the creation and development of many genres of popular music, including; rock music; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks; hard rock; Led Zeppelin, Cream, Def Leppard, Whitesnake; progressive rock; Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes; glam rock; Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, T. Rex, blues rock; The Yardbirds, The Animals, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits; heavy metal; Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Judas Priest; punk rock; Sex Pistols, The Clash, Billy Idol; new wave; The Police, Elvis Costello, Culture Club, Duran Duran; goth rock; The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees; art rock; The Moody Blues, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Procol Harum, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush; folk rock; Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Mumford & Sons; soft rock; The Hollies, blue-eyed soul; Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Steve Winwood; disco; Bee Gees; synth pop; Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys; reggae; UB40; pop rock; Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Sting, Joe Cocker, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Tyler, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds; alternative rock; The Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses, Radiohead, Bush, Coldplay; symphonic rock; ELO, Muse; Britpop; Oasis, Blur, Pulp, The Verve; soul; Sade, Amy Winehouse, Adele.

The UK has also pioneered various forms of electronic dance music including dubstep, acid house, uk garage, drum and bass and trip hop, with acts including; The Prodigy, Massive Attack, Jamiroquai, The Chemical Brothers, Gorillaz, Calvin Harris and Fatboy Slim. Other notable British artists in pop music include; Spice Girls, George Michael, Seal, Leona Lewis, One Direction, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding, Mark Ronson, Ed Sheeran, Cliff Richard (and The Shadows) and Robbie Williams. At the 1997 Brit Awards, Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell wore the now iconic red, white and blue Union Jack mini-dress, which has become an enduring image of the 1990s Cool Britannia era.[60]

In 2009, British artists topped the decade end ranking, with "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol announced as the most widely played song of the decade in the UK, and Back to Bedlam by James Blunt the best selling album of the 2000s in the UK.[61][62] Other successful UK acts include Dido, Arctic Monkeys, Mika and Bullet for My Valentine. Since the mid 2000s, British rap is becoming increasingly popular, mainly within the youth of large cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield. Popular British R&B artists include Taio Cruz, Jay Sean, M.I.A., Rita Ora and Jessie J


English actor Charlie Chaplin was described by the British Film Institute as "a towering figure in world culture."[63]

The UK has had a large impact on modern cinema, producing some of the greatest actors, directors and motion pictures of all time, including Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, David Lean, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis. The BFI Top 100 British films is a poll conducted by the British Film Institute which ranks what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of all time. Two of the biggest actors in the silent era were Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. English photographer Eadweard Muybridge pioneered motion picture,[64] while pioneering Scottish documentary maker John Grierson coined the term "documentary" to describe a non-fiction film in 1926.[65] Hitchcock's first thriller, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), helped shape the thriller genre in film, while his 1929 film, Blackmail, is often regarded as the first British sound feature film.[66][67] The 39 Steps (1935) features a signature Hitchcock cameo, and established the quintessential English 'Hitchcock blonde' Madeleine Carroll as the template for his succession of ice cold and elegant leading ladies.[68] Sir Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), was the first British production to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Boris Karloff played the leading role in several major Hollywood horror films in the 1930s. Famous for recording many motion picture film scores, the London Symphony Orchestra first performed film music in 1935.[69]

Alfred Hitchcock is often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker.[70] He was described as "a straightforward middle-class Englishman who just happened to be an artistic genius."[71]

The first British Academy Film Awards ceremony took place in 1947. Sir Laurence Olivier starred in and directed Henry V (1944), and Hamlet (1948), the latter being the first non-American film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and also picked up the BAFTA Award for Best Film. The third Shakespearean film directed by Olivier was Richard III (1955). The British film-making partnership of Powell and Pressburger made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s, with The Red Shoes (1948) their most commercially successful film. Carol Reed directed The Third Man (1949), regarded among the best British films of the 20th century.[72]

David Lean emerged as a major filmmaker in the 1940s with Brief Encounter (1945) and Great Expectations (1946), and his first big-screen epic The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) won seven Academy Awards. Towards the end of the 1950s, Hammer Films embarked on their series of influential and wildly successful horror films, including lavish colour versions of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), with actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the forefront. The Dam Busters (1955), recreates the true story of the RAF's raid on dams in Nazi Germany using Sir Barnes Wallis's invention the "bouncing bomb". The Carry On series, which consists of 31 comedy motion pictures, commenced in 1958. A West Country native where many well-known English pirates hailed from, Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in 1950s films popularised the stereotypical West Country pirate accent.[73] Films that explored the "Swinging London" phenomenon of the 1960s included, Alfie (1966), Blowup (1966) and Bedazzled (1967). The James Bond film series began in the early 1960s, with Sean Connery in the leading role. Bond, portrayed by Connery, was selected as the third-greatest hero in cinema history by the AFI.[74] After The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), it became standard for each new pop group to have a verité style feature film made about them. Michael Powell's hugely controversial thriller/horror film Peeping Tom was released in 1960, which is today considered a classic.[75][76] A Man for All Seasons (1966), based on Sir Thomas More, is listed by the Vatican as being among the greatest religious movies of all time.[77]

Welsh actor Richard Burton was one of the highest paid film stars in the world in the mid 1960s

Other major British films of the 1960s included Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), Zulu (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965). Four of the decade's Academy Award winners for best picture were British productions, including six Oscars for the film musical Oliver! (1968), based on Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist. The caper film The Italian Job (1969), starring Michael Caine, is regarded as one of the greatest British films ever, with the line "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" by Caine voted favourite film one-liner in a poll.[78] Other British actors in starring roles in 1960s films included Richard Burton, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn (played Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, 1964), Julie Christie, Peter Ustinov, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, David Niven and Julie Andrews, whose portrayal of English nanny Mary Poppins is named one of the greatest movie characters.[79] Ken Russell's Women in Love (1969) starred Glenda Jackson, who won the Academy Award for best actress.

Scottish actor Sean Connery played James Bond in seven films between 1962 and 1983

In the 1970s, Ronald Neame directed the festive favourite Scrooge (1970). A Clockwork Orange (1971), based on Anthony Burgess' novella of the same name, starred Malcolm McDowell as the leader of a gang of thugs in a dystopian future Britain.[80] The British horror film The Wicker Man (1973), starring Christopher Lee, is considered a cult classic. Two adaptations of Agatha Christie stories Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978) were critically acclaimed. British musical comedy film The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) featuring Tim Curry, is the longest-running theatrical release in film history.[81] In the mid-1970s, seminal British comedy team Monty Python switched their attention to films, beginning with Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), followed by Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), the latter regularly voted the funniest film of all time by the British public.[82][83] Hollywood blockbusters that were filmed at major British studios in 1977–79, include Star Wars (featuring Alec Guinness, and 'the dean of special effects' John Stears)[84] at Elstree Studios, Superman (featuring Terence Stamp) at Pinewood, and Alien (directed by Ridley Scott) at Shepperton.

Ridley Scott was among a group of British filmmakers, including Tony Scott, Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson and Adrian Lyne, who emerged from making 1970s UK television commercials.[85]

British films won back to back Academy Award for best picture in the 1980s, with Chariots of Fire (1982), followed by Gandhi (1983). John Hurt won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor for his titular role as 19th-century Englishman Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man (1980). Richard Marquand directed Return of the Jedi in 1983, the only non-American to direct a Star Wars film. The 1985 dark comedy fantasy film, Brazil, is regarded as one of the best British films of the mid 1980s, while the 1987 black comedy, Withnail and I, has been described as "one of Britain's biggest cult films".[86] Gary Oldman portrayed British punk icon Sid Vicious in the cult film Sid and Nancy (1986). During the late 1980s, a number of young British actors who were becoming major stars, such as Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Firth, Tim Roth and Rupert Everett, were dubbed the 'Brit Pack'.[87]

The 1990s saw a large number of traditional British period dramas, including Sense and Sensibility (1995), Restoration (1995), Emma (1996), Mrs. Brown (1997), The Wings of the Dove (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Topsy-Turvy (1999). Anthony Minghella's biggest directorial success was The English Patient (1996), winning nine Academy Awards. English film composer Michael Nyman wrote the critically acclaimed score for The Piano (1993). Elton John and lyricist Sir Tim Rice collaborated to write music for Disney's The Lion King (1994), winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as did Phil Collins for Disney's Tarzan (1999). Scottish composer Craig Armstrong wrote the award winning score for the modern version of Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996). BAFTA award winning British films included Danny Boyle's drama Trainspotting (1996) that centres on life in Edinburgh, the 1997 comedy The Full Monty set in Sheffield, and the biographical drama Elizabeth (1998). Richard Curtis's 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral set a pattern for British-set romantic comedies, including Sliding Doors (1998) and Notting Hill (1999).

Odeon Leicester Square hosts numerous European and world film premieres. Odeon, Cineworld and Vue are the three busiest cinema chains in the UK.[88]

At the start of the 21st century, three major international British successes were the romantic comedies Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), and Richard Curtis's directorial debut Love Actually (2003). In 2000, Leavesden Film Studios began filming the first instalment of the Harry Potter film series.[89] English composer Clint Mansell's score for Requiem for a Dream has been well received,[90] and its main theme Lux Aeterna has gained wide usage in popular culture and has featured in a number of film trailers. Famous for his creation Mr. Bean, the much celebrated comedian Rowan Atkinson starred in Johnny English (2003). Wallace and Gromit creator and four time Academy Award winning animator Nick Park directed Chicken Run (2000) and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). Helen Mirren starred as Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), winning Academy and Bafta Awards for best actress. Acclaimed British sci-fi films, 28 Days Later (2002), and Children of Men (2007), depict a dystopian Britain. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was the most successful British film of the decade, receiving critical acclaim and won eight Academy Awards.[91] Based on Mark Millar's comic, the superhero action comedy-film Kick-Ass (2010), directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the title character, won the Empire Award for Best British Film. Historical drama The King's Speech (2010), featuring Colin Firth as George VI, received widespread acclaim and was hailed as the most successful independent British film ever.[92][93]

Acclaimed for his motion capture work, in 2011 actor Andy Serkis opened his own motion capture workshop, The Imaginarium Studios in London.[94] In 2012, the twenty-third James Bond film Skyfall became the highest-grossing film of all-time in the UK.[95] In 2013, British visual effects company Framestore, under chief supervisor Tim Webber and film producer David Heyman, produced the critically acclaimed space epic Gravity.[96] In 2014, the film biopics on two British scientists, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, both achieved critical and commercial success.[97]

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint of the Harry Potter film series at a London premiere

The five most commercially successful British directors in recent years are David Yates, Christopher Nolan, Mike Newell, Ridley Scott and Paul Greengrass.[98] Visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin is known for his long-running working relationship with Nolan.[99] Other contemporary British film directors include Guy Ritchie, Alan Parker, Tony Scott, Terry Gilliam, Richard Attenborough, Kenneth Branagh, Paul W. S. Anderson, Tom Hooper, Edgar Wright, Matthew Vaughn, Richard Curtis, Danny Boyle, Mike Leigh, Gareth Edwards, Steve McQueen and Sam Mendes.

British actors and actresses have always been significant in international cinema. Well-known currently active performers include the likes of Tom Hardy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Ewan McGregor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ian McKellen, Clive Owen, Rachel Weisz, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Craig, Emma Watson, Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Orlando Bloom, Christian Bale, Idris Elba, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Sheen, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Laurie, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Emily Blunt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Irons, Gary Oldman, Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Robert Pattinson, Sean Bean, Gerard Butler, Tom Hiddleston, Maggie Smith, Andrew Garfield, Henry Cavill, Eddie Redmayne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patrick Stewart, Emilia Clarke, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Caine.

The Wallace Monument in Stirling commemorates William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish hero depicted in Braveheart (1995).

Hollywood films with a British dimension have had enormous worldwide commercial success. Many of the highest-grossing films worldwide of all time have a British historical, cultural or creative theme. Films based on British historical events; RMS Titanic,[100] Piracy in the Caribbean,[101] Mutiny on the Bounty,[102] The Great Escape,[103] historical people; William Wallace, Lawrence of Arabia, King Arthur, Elizabeth I, British stories; The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, James Bond, The Chronicles of Narnia, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Treasure Island, The War of the Worlds among many others, while British video game Tomb Raider featuring English archaeologist Lara Croft, has been made into feature films. British influence can also be seen with the 'English Cycle' of Disney animated films, which feature Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Rescuers and Winnie the Pooh.[104]


Broadcasting House, the new headquarters of the BBC

The UK has been at the forefront of developments in film, radio and television. Broadcasting in the UK has historically been dominated by the taxpayer-funded but independently run British Broadcasting Corporation (commonly known as the BBC), although other independent radio and television (ITV, Channel 4, Five) and satellite broadcasters (especially BSkyB which has over 10 million subscribers[105]) have become more important in recent years. BBC television, and the other three main television channels are public service broadcasters who, as part of their license allowing them to operate, broadcast a variety of minority interest programming. The BBC and Channel 4 are state-owned, though they operate independently.

Many successful British TV shows have been exported around the world, such as Pop Idol (created by Simon Fuller), Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Britain's Got Talent (created by Simon Cowell), The X Factor, Hell's Kitchen (created by Gordon Ramsay), The Office (created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant), Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Top Gear. David Attenborough's globally acclaimed nature documentaries, including The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Life on Earth, are produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, the largest wildlife documentary production house in the world.[106] The British Film Institute drew up a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes in 2000, voted by industry professionals.[107] In 2004 the BBC conducted a poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom".[108] The British public voted for TV's 50 Greatest Stars in 2006.[109] Popular UK sitcoms from each of the last four decades of the 20th century include, Dad's Army (created by Jimmy Perry), Fawlty Towers (created by John Cleese), Only Fools and Horses (created by John Sullivan), and Absolutely Fabulous (created by and starring Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French).

International football tournaments, such as the World Cup, are historically the most viewed sports events among the public, while Match of the Day is the most popular weekly football show.[110] The 1966 FIFA World Cup Final and the Funeral of Princess Diana are the two most watched television events ever in the UK.[111] Satire is a prominent feature in British comedy, with one example being the puppet show Spitting Image, a satire of the royal family, politics, entertainment, sport and British culture of the 1980s to mid 1990s.[112] Satire also features heavily in the Grand Theft Auto video game series which has been ranked among Britain's most successful exports.[113] Shown on the BBC, the UK holds two high profile charity telethon events, Children in Need, held annually in November, and Comic Relief, which alternates with Sports Relief, every March.[114] British programmes dominate the list of TV's most watched shows in the UK, with the kitchen sink dramas, ITV's Coronation Street and BBC's EastEnders, both frequently ranking high on the ratings list complied by BARB.[111]

The United Kingdom has a large number of national and local radio stations which cover a great variety of programming. The most listened to stations are the five main national BBC radio stations. BBC Radio 1, a new music station aimed at the 16–24 age group. BBC Radio 2, a varied popular music and chat station aimed at adults is consistently highest in the ratings. BBC Radio 4, a varied talk station, is noted for its news, current affairs, drama and comedy output as well as The Archers, its long running soap opera, and other unique programmes. The BBC, as a public service broadcaster, also runs minority stations such as BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Radio 6 Music, and local stations throughout the country. Talksport is one of the biggest commercial radio stations in the UK.[115]


Popular British daily national newspapers include: The Times, The Guardian, Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Express. Founded by publisher John Walter in 1785, The Times is the first newspaper to have borne that name, lending it to numerous other papers around the world, and is the originator of the widely used Times Roman typeface, originally created by Victor Lardent and commissioned by Stanley Morison in 1931.[116] The weekly newspaper The Economist was founded by James Wilson in 1843, and the daily newspaper, Financial Times, was founded in 1888.[117]

Copyright laws originated in Britain with the Statute of Anne (also known as the Copyright Act 1709), which outlined the individual rights of the artist. A right to benefit financially from the work is articulated, and court rulings and legislation have recognised a right to control the work, such as ensuring that the integrity of it is preserved.[118] The Statute of Anne gave the publishers rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired.[119]

Visual arts

The Battle of Trafalgar is an oil painting executed in 1822, by J. M. W. Turner (c.1775–1851). The experience of military, political and economic power from the rise of the British Empire led to a very specific drive in artistic technique, taste and sensibility in the United Kingdom.[120]

From the creation of the United Kingdom, the English school of painting is mainly notable for portraits and landscapes, and indeed portraits in landscapes. Among the artists of this period are Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), George Stubbs (1724–1806), and Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788).

Pictorial satirist William Hogarth pioneered Western sequential art, and political illustrations in this style are often referred to as "Hogarthian".[121] Following the work of Hogarth, political cartoons developed in England in the latter part of the 18th century under the direction of James Gillray. Regarded as being one of the two most influential cartoonists (the other being Hogarth), Gillray has been referred to as the father of the political cartoon, with his satirical work calling the king (George III), prime ministers and generals to account.[122]

The late 18th century and the early 19th century was perhaps the most radical period in British art, producing William Blake (1757–1827), John Constable (1776–1837) and J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), three of the most influential British artists, each of whom have dedicated spaces allocated for their work at the Tate Britain.[123]

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) achieved considerable influence after its foundation in 1848 with paintings that concentrated on religious, literary, and genre subjects executed in a colourful and minutely detailed style. PRB artists included John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and subsequently Edward Burne-Jones. Also associated with it was the designer William Morris, whose efforts to make beautiful objects affordable (or even free) for everyone led to his wallpaper and tile designs to some extent defining the Victorian aesthetic and instigating the Arts and Crafts movement.

Visual artists from the United Kingdom in the 20th century include Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake. Also prominent amongst twentieth-century artists was Henry Moore, regarded as the voice of British sculpture, and of British modernism in general.[124] Sir Jacob Epstein was a pioneer of modern sculpture. In 1958 artisplt Gerald Holtom designed the protest logo for the British CND, which later became a universal peace symbol used in many different versions worldwide.[125] As a reaction to abstract expressionism, pop art emerged in England at the end of the 1950s. The 1990s saw the Young British Artists, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Christie's auction room in London in 1808. Christie's became the leading art auction house in the early 19th century.

The auction was revived in 17th and 18th century England when auctions by candle began to be used for the sale of goods and leaseholds, some of which were recorded in Samuel Pepys's diary in 1660.[126] Headquartered in King Street, London, Christie's, the world's largest auction house, was founded in 1766 by auctioneer James Christie in London.[127] Known for his thickly impasted portrait and figure paintings, Lucian Freud was widely considered the pre-eminent British artist of his time.[128] Freud was depicted in Francis Bacon's 1969 oil painting, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which was sold for $142.4 million in November 2013, the highest price attained at auction to that point, and the highest ever for a British painter.[129]

Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, John Tenniel, Aubrey Beardsley, Roger Hargreaves, Arthur Rackham, John Leech, George Cruikshank and Beatrix Potter were notable book illustrators. Posters have played a significant role in British culture. Designed by Alfred Leete in 1914 as a recruitment poster for the British Army, "Lord Kitchener Wants You" is the most famous British recruitment poster ever produced and an iconic and enduring image of World War I.[130] Produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II, the Keep Calm and Carry On motivational poster is now seen as "not only as a distillation of a crucial moment in Britishness, but also as an inspiring message from the past to the present in a time of crisis".[131][132] In the late 1960s, British graphic designer Storm Thorgerson co-founded the English graphic art group Hipgnosis, who have designed many iconic single and album covers for rock bands. His works were notable for their surreal elements, with perhaps the most famous being the cover for Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.[133] The subversive political artwork of Banksy (pseudonym of English graffiti artist whose identity is concealed) can be found on streets, walls and buildings all over the world.[134] Arts institutions include the Royal College of Art, Royal Society of Arts, New English Art Club, Slade School of Art, Royal Academy, and the Tate Gallery (founded as the National Gallery of British Art).

Performing arts

The Proms are held annually at the Royal Albert Hall during the summer

Large outdoor music festivals in the summer and autumn are popular, such as Glastonbury, V Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals. The UK was at the forefront of the illegal, free rave movement from the late 1980s, which led to pan-European culture of teknivals mirrored on the UK free festival movement and associated travelling lifestyle.[135] The most prominent opera house in England is the Royal Opera House at Covent Gardens.[136] The Proms, a season of orchestral classical music concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall, is a major cultural event held annually.[136] The Royal Ballet is one of the world's foremost classical ballet companies, its reputation built on two prominent figures of 20th century dance, prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Frederick Ashton. Irish dancing is popular in Northern Ireland and among the Irish diaspora throughout the UK; its costumes feature patterns taken from the medieval Book of Kells.[137]

A Punch and Judy booth at Swanage, Dorset. The anarchic Mr. Punch has been an influential figure in British comedy and political cartoons.

A staple of British seaside culture, the quarrelsome couple Punch and Judy made their first recorded appearance in Covent Garden, London in 1662.[138] The various episodes of Punch and Judy are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy — often provoking shocked laughter — and are dominated by the anarchic clowning of Mr. Punch.[139] Regarded as British cultural icons, they appeared at a significant period in British history, with Glyn Edwards stating: "[Pulcinella] went down particularly well with Restoration British audiences, fun-starved after years of Puritanism. We soon changed Punch's name, transformed him from a marionette to a hand puppet, and he became, really, a spirit of Britain - a subversive maverick who defies authority, a kind of puppet equivalent to our political cartoons."[138]

Astley's Amphitheatre, London circa 1808. Astley performed stunts in a 42 ft diameter ring; the standard size used by circuses ever since.[140]

The circus is a traditional form of entertainment in the UK. Chipperfield's Circus dates back more than 300 years in Britain, making it one of the oldest family circus dynasties.[141] Philip Astley is regarded as the father of the modern circus.[140] Following his invention of the circus ring in 1768, Astley's Amphitheatre opened in London in 1773.[140][142] As an equestrian master Astley had a skill for trick horse-riding, and when he added tumblers, tightrope-walkers, jugglers, performing dogs, and a clown to fill time between his own demonstrations – the modern circus was born.[143][144] The Hughes Royal Circus was popular in London in the 1780s. Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal, among the most popular circuses of Victorian England, showcased William Kite, which inspired John Lennon to write Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! on The Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Joseph Grimaldi, the most celebrated of English clowns, is considered the father of modern clowning.[145]

The Notting Hill Carnival is Britain's biggest street festival. Led by members of the British African-Caribbean community, the annual carnival takes place in August and lasts three days.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival.[146] Established in 1947, it takes place in Scotland's capital during three weeks every August alongside several other arts and cultural festivals. The Fringe mostly attracts events from the performing arts, particularly theatre and comedy, although dance and music also feature.[146] The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event that has taken place on the streets of Notting Hill, London since 1966.[147] Led by the British African-Caribbean community, the carnival has attracted around one million people, making it Britain's biggest street festival and one of the largest in the world.[148]

The Christmas Pantomime 1890, UK. Pantomime plays a prominent role in British culture during the Christmas and New Year season.[149]

Pantomime (often referred to as "panto") is a British musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. It is performed in theatres throughout the UK during the Christmas and New Year season. The art originated in the 18th century with John Weaver, a dance master and choreographer at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London.[149] In 19th century England it acquired its present form, which includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, employing gender-crossing actors, combining topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale.[149] It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience sing along with parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers, such as "It's behind you".[150]

Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment popular from the early Victorian era to the mid 20th century. The precursor to variety shows of today, music hall involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts and variety entertainment. British performers who honed their skills at pantomime and music hall sketches include Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Dan Leno, Gertrude Lawrence and Harry Champion.[151][152] British music hall comedian and theatre impresario Fred Karno developed a form of sketch comedy without dialogue in the 1890s, and Chaplin and Laurel were among the music hall comedians who worked for him.[153] A leading American film producer stated; "Fred Karno is not only a genius, he is the man who originated slapstick comedy. We in Hollywood owe much to him."[154]


The architecture of the United Kingdom includes many features that precede the creation of the United Kingdom in 1707, from as early as Skara Brae and Stonehenge to the Giant's Ring, Avebury and Roman ruins. In most towns and villages the parish church is an indication of the age of the settlement. Many castles remain from the medieval period, such as Windsor Castle (longest-occupied castle in Europe),[155] Stirling Castle (one of the largest and most important in Scotland),[156] Bodiam Castle (a moated castle), and Warwick Castle. Over the two centuries following the Norman conquest of England of 1066, and the building of the Tower of London, castles such as Caernarfon Castle in Wales and Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland were built.

Mosaics adorn the interior of St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London
Interior of St Paul's Cathedral. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St Paul's is one of the most important buildings of the English Baroque period

English Gothic architecture flourished from the 12th to the early 16th century, and famous examples include Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation for the British monarch, which also has a long tradition as a venue for royal weddings;[157] Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England; Salisbury Cathedral, which has the tallest church spire in the UK;[158] and Winchester Cathedral, which has the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe.[159] Tudor architecture is the final development of Medieval architecture in England, during the Tudor period (1485–1603). In the United Kingdom, a listed building is a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance. About half a million buildings in the UK have "listed" status.

18th century

In the 1680s, Downing Street was built by Sir George Downing, and its most famous address 10 Downing Street, became the residence of the Prime Minister in 1730.[160] One of the best-known English architects working at the time of the foundation of the United Kingdom was Sir Christopher Wren. He was employed to design and rebuild many of the ruined ancient churches of London following the Great Fire of London. His masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral, was completed in the early years of the United Kingdom.[161] Buckingham Palace, the London residence of the British monarch, was built in 1705.[162] Both St Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace use Portland stone, a limestone from the Jurassic period quarried in the Jurassic Coast in Portland, Dorset, which is famous for its use in British and world architecture.[163]

Dunrobin Castle in the Scottish Highlands. Today there are thousands of castles throughout the UK.[164]

In the early 18th century Baroque architecture – popular in Europe – was introduced, and Blenheim Palace was built in this era. However, Baroque was quickly replaced by a return of the Palladian form. The Georgian architecture of the 18th century was an evolved form of Palladianism. Many existing buildings such as Woburn Abbey and Kedleston Hall are in this style. Among the many architects of this form of architecture and its successors, neoclassical and romantic, were Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers, and James Wyatt. The aristocratic stately home continued the tradition of the first large gracious unfortified mansions such as the Elizabethan Montacute House and Hatfield House. During the 18th and 19th centuries in the highest echelons of British society, the English country house was a place for relaxing, hunting in the countryside. Many stately homes have become open to the public: Knebworth House, now a major venue for open air rock and pop concerts,[165] Alton Towers, the most popular theme park in the UK,[166] and Longleat, the world's first safari park outside Africa.[141][167]

19th century

File:Forth bridge evening.jpg
The Forth Railway Bridge is a cantilever bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. It was opened in 1890, and is designated as a Category A listed building.

In the early 19th century the romantic Gothic revival began in England as a reaction to the symmetry of Palladianism. Notable examples of Gothic revival architecture are the Houses of Parliament and Fonthill Abbey. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, one could incorporate steel as a building component: one of the greatest exponents of this was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towers, in the still popular retrospective Renaissance styles. In this era of prosperity and development British architecture embraced many new methods of construction, but such architects as August Pugin ensured that traditional styles were retained.

Following the building of the world's first seaside pier in July 1814 in Ryde, Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, the pier became fashionable at seaside resorts in England and Wales during the Victorian era, peaking in the 1860s with 22 being built.[168][169] Providing a walkway out to sea, the seaside pier is regarded as among the finest Victorian architecture, and is an iconic symbol of the British seaside holiday.[168][170] By 1914, there were over 100 piers around the UK coast.[168] Today there are approximately 55 seaside piers in the UK.[171]

One of the UK's many stately homes, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, surrounded by an English garden

20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century a new form of design, arts and crafts, became popular; the architectural form of this style, which had evolved from the 19th century designs of such architects as George Devey, was championed by Edwin Lutyens. Arts and crafts in architecture is characterised by an informal, non-symmetrical form, often with mullioned or lattice windows, multiple gables and tall chimneys. This style continued to evolve until World War II. After that war, reconstruction went through a variety of phases, but was heavily influenced by Modernism, especially from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Many bleak town centre redevelopments—criticised for featuring hostile, concrete-lined "windswept plazas"—were the fruit of this interest, as were many equally bleak public buildings, such as the Hayward Gallery.

Canary Wharf in London is home to some of the UK's tallest buildings


Many Modernist-inspired town centres are today being redeveloped: Bracknell town centre is an example. However, in the immediate post-War years many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of council houses in vernacular style were built, giving working-class people their first experience of private gardens and indoor sanitation. Modernism remains a significant force in UK architecture, although its influence is felt predominantly in commercial buildings. The two most prominent proponents are Lord Rogers of Riverside and Norman Foster. Rogers' iconic London buildings are probably Lloyd's Building and the Millennium Dome, while Foster created the 'Gherkin' and the City Hall. Completed in 2012, the Shard London Bridge is the tallest building in the European Union.[172] Other major skyscrapers under construction in London include The Pinnacle, and Heron Tower.[173][174] Modernist architect Nicholas Grimshaw designed the Eden Project in Cornwall, which is the world's largest greenhouse.[175]


Cover to 27 December 1884 edition of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday. Ally Sloper has been called the first regular character in comics.[176]

British comics in the early 20th century typically evolved from illustrated penny dreadfuls of the Victorian era (featuring Sweeney Todd, Dick Turpin and Varney the Vampire) and success of the comic industry abroad saw an emergence and popularity of the British comics,[177] as such many comics became popular like The Beano and The Dandy in the late 1930s. Other comic books and graphic novels such as Eagle, Valiant, Tiger, Warrior, and 2000 AD also flourished. Although a blooming industry, British comics faced a drastic change when Parliament passed the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955;[178] which prohibited "any book, magazine or other like work which is of a kind likely to fall into the hands of children or young persons and consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying (a) the commission of crimes; or (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature; in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall."[179]

In the 1980s, a resurgence of British writers and artists gained prominence in mainstream comic books, which was dubbed the "British Invasion" in comic book history.[180] These writers and artists brought with them their own mature themes and philosophy such as anarchy, controversy and politics common in British media, but was never before seen in American comics. These elements would pave the way for mature and "darker and edgier" comic books and jump start the Modern Age of Comics.[181] Writers included Alan Moore, famous for his V for Vendetta, From Hell, Watchmen, Marvelman, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen;[182] Neil Gaiman and his critically acclaimed and best-selling The Sandman mythos and Books of Magic; Warren Ellis who created Transmetropolitan and Planetary; and others like Alan Grant, Grant Morrison, Dave Gibbons, Peter Milligan, Brian Azzarello, Alan Davis, and Mark Millar who created Wanted and Kick-Ass. Prominent comic book artists include Steve Dillon, Simon Bisley, Dave McKean, Glen Fabry, John Ridgway and Sean Phillips. The comic book series Hellblazer, which is largely set in Britain and starring the Liverpudlian magician John Constantine, paved the way for British writers such as Jamie Delano, Mike Carey and Denise Mina.[183]


Much of the folklore of the United Kingdom pre-dates the 18th century. Though some of the characters and stories are present throughout all of the UK, most belong to specific countries or regions. Common folkloric beings include pixies, giants, elves, bogeymen, trolls, goblins and dwarves. While many legends and folk-customs are thought to be ancient, such as the tales featuring Offa of Angeln and Weyland Smith,[184] others date from after the Norman invasion of England; Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Sherwood and their battles with the Sheriff of Nottingham being, perhaps, the best known.[185]

During the High Middle Ages tales originated from Brythonic traditions, notably the Arthurian legend.[186][187] Deriving from Welsh source; King Arthur, Excalibur and Merlin, while the Jersey poet Wace introduced the Knights of the Round Table. These stories are most centrally brought together within Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. Another early figure from British tradition, King Cole, may have been based on a real figure from Sub-Roman Britain. Many of the tales and pseudo-histories make up part of the wider Matter of Britain, a collection of shared British folklore.

Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, and is associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain.

The Loch Ness Monster is a cryptid that is reputed to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. The legendary monster has been affectionately referred to by the nickname Nessie since the 1950s.[188] The Leprechaun figures large in Irish folklore. A mischievous fairy type creature in emerald green clothing who when not playing tricks spend all their time busily making shoes, the Leprechaun is said to have a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow, and if ever captured by a human it has the magical power to grant three wishes in exchange for release.[189] In mythology, English fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk helped form the modern perception of giants as stupid and violent, while the legendary dwarf Tom Thumb is a traditional hero in English folklore. English fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of the most popular fairy tales in the English language.[190] Some folk figures are based on semi or actual historical people whose story has been passed down centuries; Lady Godiva for instance was said to have ridden naked on horseback through Coventry, the heroic English figure Hereward the Wake resisted the Norman invasion, Herne the Hunter is an equestrian ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park, and Mother Shipton is the archetypal witch.[191] The chivalrous bandit, such as Dick Turpin, is a recurring character.

Engraving of the English pirate Blackbeard from the 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates. The book is the prime source for many famous pirates of the Golden Age.[192]

Published in 1724, A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson provided the standard account of the lives of many pirates in the Golden Age.[192] It influenced pirate literature of Scottish novelists Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island) and J. M. Barrie.[192] Many famous English pirates from the Golden Age hailed from the West Country in south west England—the stereotypical West Country "pirate accent" was popularised by West Country native Robert Newton's portrayal of Stevenson's Long John Silver in film.[73][193] The concept of "walking the plank" was popularised by Barrie's novel, Peter Pan, where Captain Hook's pirates helped define the archetype.[194] Davy Jones' Locker where sailors or ship's remains are consigned to the bottom of the sea is first recorded by Daniel Defoe in 1726.[195] Johnson's 1724 book gave a mythical status to famous English pirates such as Blackbeard and Calico Jack—Jack is known for his Jolly Roger flag design, a skull with crossed swords.[196]

The Gremlin is part of Royal Air force folklore dating from the 1920s, with gremlin being RAF slang for a mischievous creature that sabotages aircraft, meddling in the plane's equipment.[197] Legendary figures from 19th century London whose tales have been romanticised include Sweeney Todd, the murderous barber of Fleet Street, and serial killer Jack the Ripper. On 5 November, people in England make bonfires, set off fireworks and eat toffee apples in commemoration of the foiling of Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot, which became an annual event after The Thanksgiving Act of 1606 was passed.[198] Guy Fawkes mask is an emblem for anti-establishment protest groups.[199]

Halloween is a traditional and much celebrated holiday in Scotland and Ireland on the night of 31 October.[200] The name Halloween is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even,[201] and according to some historians has its roots in the gaelic festival Samhain, where the Gaels believed the border between this world and the otherworld became thin, and the dead would revisit the mortal world.[202] In 1780, Dumfries poet John Mayne makes note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts).[203] Robert Burns' 1785 poem "Halloween" is recited by Scots at Halloween, and Burns was influenced by Mayne's composition.[203][204] In Scotland and Ireland, traditional Halloween customs include; Guising — children disguised in costume going from door to door requesting food or coins – which became practice by the late 19th century,[205][206] turnips hollowed-out and carved with faces to make lanterns,[207] holding parties where games such as apple bobbing are played.[208] Other practices in Ireland include lighting bonfires, and having firework displays.[209][210] Further contemporary imagery of Halloween is derived from Gothic and Horror literature (notably Shelley's Frankenstein and Stoker's Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Hammer Horrors). Mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish migration in the 19th century popularised Halloween in North America.[211]

National parks, museums, libraries, and galleries

Heritage administration

Stonehenge, Wiltshire at sunset.
Hadrian's Wall was built in the 2nd century AD. It is a lasting monument from Roman Britain.

Each country of the United Kingdom has its own body responsible for heritage matters.

English Heritage is the governmental body with a broad remit of managing the historic sites, artefacts and environments of England. It is currently sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The charity National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty holds a contrasting role. Seventeen of the United Kingdom UNESCO World Heritage Sites fall within England.[212] Some of the best known of these include; Hadrian's Wall, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Tower of London, Jurassic Coast, Westminster, Saltaire, Ironbridge Gorge, Studley Royal Park and various others.[213]

Historic Scotland is the executive agency of the Scottish Government, responsible for historic monuments in Scotland, such as Stirling Castle. The Old and New Town of Edinburgh is a notable Scottish World Heritage site.

Many of Wales' great castles, such as the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd and other monuments, are under the care of Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Government.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency promotes and conserves the natural and built environment in Northern Ireland, and The Giants Causeway on the northeast coast is one of the UK's natural World Heritage sites.[213]

There are 15 National parks in the UK, including the Lake District in England, Snowdonia in Wales, and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park in Scotland.[214]

Museums and galleries

A museum building designed in the Greek Revival style with a flag on top.
The British Museum in London
Titanic Belfast museum on the former shipyard in Belfast where the RMS Titanic was built.

The British Museum in London with its collection of more than seven million objects,[215] is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world,[216] sourced from every continent, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginning to the present. National Museums of Scotland bring together national collections in Scotland. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales comprises eight museums in Wales. National Museums Northern Ireland has four museums in Northern Ireland including the Ulster Museum. In addition the Titanic Belfast museum, a visitor attraction in the Titanic Quarter, east Belfast, Northern Ireland on the regenerated site of the shipyard where Titanic was built, was officially opened to the public in March 2012.[217] The architecture is a tribute to Titanic itself, with the external facades, a nod to the enormous hull of the cruise liner.[218] The first Madame Tussauds wax museum opened in London in 1835, and today displays waxworks of famous people from various fields, including; royalty (Princess Diana), historical figures (Henry VIII), sports heroes (Beckham) among others.[219]

The most senior art gallery is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. The Tate galleries house the national collections of British and international modern art; they also host the famously controversial Turner Prize.[220] The National Galleries of Scotland are the five national galleries of Scotland and two partner galleries. The National Museum of Art, Wales, opened in 2011.[221]


The British Library in London is the national library and is one of the world's largest research libraries, holding over 150 million items in all known languages and formats; including around 25 million books.[222] The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, holds 7 million books, fourteen million printed items and over 2 million maps.[223] The National Library of Wales is the national legal deposit library of Wales.[224]

Science and technology

From the time of the Scientific Revolution, England and Scotland, and thereafter the United Kingdom, have been prominent in world scientific and technological development. The Royal Society serves as the national academy for sciences, with members drawn from many different institutions and disciplines. Formed in 1660, it is one of the oldest learned societies still in existence.[225]

Isaac Newton's Principia is one of the most influential works in the history of science.

Sir Isaac Newton's publication of the Principia Mathematica ushered in what is recognisable as modern physics. The first edition of 1687 and the second edition of 1713 framed the scientific context of the foundation of the United Kingdom. He realised that the same force is responsible for movements of celestial and terrestrial bodies, namely gravity. He is the father of classical mechanics, formulated as his three laws and as the co-inventor (with Gottfried Leibniz) of differential calculus. He also created the binomial theorem, worked extensively on optics, and created a law of cooling.

Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell pioneered the theory of electromagnetic radiation, introducing the Maxwell equations

Since Newton's time, figures from the UK have contributed to the development of most major branches of science. Examples include Michael Faraday, who, with James Clerk Maxwell, unified the electric and magnetic forces in what are now known as Maxwell's equations; James Joule, who worked extensively in thermodynamics and is often credited with the discovery of the principle of conservation of energy; Paul Dirac, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics; naturalist Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species and discoverer of the principle of evolution by natural selection; Harold Kroto, the discoverer of buckminsterfullerene; William Thomson (Baron Kelvin) who drew important conclusions in the field of thermodynamics and invented the Kelvin scale of absolute zero; botanist Robert Brown discovered the random movement of particles suspended in a fluid (Brownian motion); and the creator of Bell's Theorem, John Stewart Bell.

Other 19th and early 20th century British pioneers in their field include; Joseph Lister (Antiseptic surgery), Edward Jenner (Vaccination), Florence Nightingale (Nursing), Richard Owen (Palaeontology, coined the term Dinosaur), Sir George Cayley (Aerodynamics), William Fox Talbot (Photography), Howard Carter (Modern Archaeology, discovered Tutankhamun), James Hutton (Modern Geology).[226]

Charles Darwin established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors.[227]

John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, a key piece in solving the problem of accurately establishing longitude at sea, thus revolutionising and extending the possibility of safe long distance sea travel.[228] The most celebrated British explorers include James Cook, Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Henry Hudson, George Vancouver, Sir John Franklin, David Livingstone, Captain John Smith, Robert Falcon Scott, Lawrence Oates and Ernest Shackleton. The aquarium craze began in early Victorian England when Philip Henry Gosse created and stocked the first public aquarium at the London Zoo in 1853, and coined the term "aquarium" when he published, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea, in 1854.[229] Robert FitzRoy pioneered weather forecasting: the first daily weather forecasts were published in The Times in 1861.[230]

Yard, foot and inch measurements erected at the Royal Observatory, London in the 19th century. Today the British public commonly measure distance in miles and yards, height in feet and inches, weight in stone and pounds, speed in miles per hour.[231]

William Sturgeon invented the electromagnet in 1824.[232][233] The first commercial electrical telegraph was co-invented by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. Cooke and Wheatstone patented it in May 1837 as an alarm system, and it was first successfully demonstrated on 25 July 1837 between Euston and Camden Town in London.[234] Postal reformer Sir Rowland Hill is regarded as the creator of the modern postal service and the inventor of the postage stamp (Penny Black) — with his solution of pre-payment facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap transfer of letters.[235] Hill's colleague Sir Henry Cole introduced the world's first commercial Christmas card in 1843.[236] In 1851 Sir George Airy established the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, as the location of the prime meridian where longitude is defined to be 0° (the point that divides the Earth into the Eastern and Western Hemispheres).[237] George Boole authored The Laws of Thought which contains Boolean algebra. Forming the mathematical foundations of computing, Boolean logic laid the foundations for the information age.[238]

Historically, many of the UK's greatest scientists have been based at either Oxford or Cambridge University, with laboratories such as the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and the Clarendon Laboratory in Oxford becoming famous in their own right. In modern times, other institutions such as the Red Brick and New Universities are catching up with Oxbridge. For instance, Lancaster University has a global reputation for work in low temperature physics.

A Watt steam engine, the steam engine that propelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the world.[239]

Technologically, the UK is also amongst the world's leaders. Historically, it was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, with innovations especially in textiles, the steam engine, railroads and civil engineering. Famous British engineers and inventors from this period include James Watt, Robert Stephenson, Richard Arkwright, and the 'father of Railways' George Stephenson. With his role in the marketing and manufacturing of Watt's steam engine, and invention of modern coinage, Matthew Boulton is regarded as one of the most influential entrepreneurs in history.[240] Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was placed second in a 2002 BBC nationwide poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons".[241] He created the Great Western Railway, as well as famous steamships including the SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship, and SS Great Eastern which laid the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable.[242] Josiah Wedgwood pioneered the industrialisation of pottery manufacture.[243] In 1800, Henry Maudslay invented the first industrially practical screw-cutting lathe, allowing standardisation of screw thread sizes for the first time.[244] This allowed the concept of interchangeable parts to be practically applied to nuts and bolts.[244]

English computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

Since then, the UK has continued this tradition of technical creativity. Alan Turing (leading role in the creation of the modern computer),[245] Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell (the first practical telephone),[246] John Logie Baird (world's first working television system, first electronic colour television),[247][248] Frank Whittle (inventor of the jet engine), Charles Babbage (devised the idea of the computer), Alexander Fleming (discovered penicillin).[249] The UK remains one of the leading providers of technological innovations today, providing inventions as diverse as the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and Viagra by British scientists at Pfizer's Sandwich, Kent.[250] Sir Alec Jeffreys pioneered DNA fingerprinting.[251] Pioneers of fertility treatment Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, successfully achieved conception through IVF (world's first "test tube baby").[252] In the mid 1960s, John Shepherd-Barron invented the cash machine (ATM) and James Goodfellow invented Personal identification number (PIN) technology, and on 27 June 1967, the world's first cash machine was established outside a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield, north London.[253][254]

Other famous scientists, engineers, theorists and inventors from the UK include: Sir Francis Bacon, Richard Trevithick (Train), Thomas Henry Huxley, Francis Crick (DNA), Rosalind Franklin (Photo 51), Robert Hooke, Humphry Davy, Robert Watson-Watt, J. J. Thomson (discovered Electron), James Chadwick (discovered Neutron), Frederick Soddy (discovered Isotope), John Cockcroft, Henry Bessemer, Edmond Halley, Sir William Herschel, Charles Parsons (Steam turbine), Alan Blumlein (Stereo sound), John Dalton (Colour blindness), James Dewar, Alexander Parkes (celluloid), Charles Macintosh, Ada Lovelace, Peter Durand, Alcock & Brown (first non-stop transatlantic flight), Henry Cavendish (discovered Hydrogen), Francis Galton, Sir Joseph Swan (Incandescent light bulb), Sir William Gull (Anorexia nervosa), George Everest, Edward Whymper (first ascent of Matterhorn), Daniel Rutherford, Arthur Eddington (luminosity of stars), Lord Rayleigh (why sky is blue), Norman Lockyer (discovered Helium),[255] Julian Huxley (formed WWF), Adam Smith (pioneer of modern economics and capitalism), Charles K. Kao (fiber optics), Harry Ferguson (three-point linkage revolutionised the farm tractor), Sir James Martin (ejection seat), Frank Pantridge (portable defibrillator), John Herschel, Bertrand Russell (analytic philosophy pioneer), Jim Marshall (guitar amplifier pioneer),[256] William Ramsay (discovered the noble gases), Peter Higgs (proposed Higgs boson), Harry Brearley (stainless steel), John Venn (Venn diagram), Jane Goodall, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Joseph Priestley.


The United Kingdom was created as an Anglican Christian country and Anglican churches remain the largest faith group in each country of the UK except Scotland where Anglicanism is a tiny minority.[257] Following this is Roman Catholicism and religions including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism. Today British Jews number around 300 000 with the UK having the fifth largest Jewish community worldwide.[258]

William Tyndale's 1520s translation of the Bible was the first to be printed in English, and was a model for subsequent English translations, notably the King James Version in 1611.[259] The Book of Common Prayer of 1549 was the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English, and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language.

In 17th century England, the Puritans condemned the celebration of Christmas.[260] In contrast, the Anglican Church "pressed for a more elaborate observance of feasts, penitential seasons, and saints' days. The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglicans and Puritans."[261] The Catholic Church also responded, promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity. Following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I during the English Civil War, Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647.[262]

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas (1686), published after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England.

Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.[260] The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with "plow-boys" and "maidservants", old Father Christmas and carol singing.[263] The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban. Following the Restoration, Poor Robins Almanack contained the lines:

Now thanks to God for Charles return
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn
For then we scarcely did it know
Whether it Christmas were or no.[264]
The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, published in the Illustrated London News, 1848

The diary of James Woodforde, from the latter half of the 18th century, details the observance of Christmas and celebrations associated with the season over a number of years.[265] In the early 19th century, writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol that helped revive the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal merriment.[266][267] Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th century and early 19th century.[268] Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.[269] A prominent phrase from the tale, "Merry Christmas", was popularized following the appearance of the story.[270] The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, with "Bah! Humbug!" dismissive of the festive spirit.[267] The revival of the Christmas Carol began with William Sandys's "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern" (1833), with the first appearance in print of "The First Noel", "I Saw Three Ships", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and in 1843 the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Henry Cole.[271] The movement coincided with the appearance of the Oxford Movement and the growth of Anglo-Catholicism, which led a revival in traditional rituals and religious observances.[272] In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the early 19th century following the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III. In 1832, the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it.[273] After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, a hugely influential image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848, after which the custom became more widespread throughout Britain.[274]

While 2001 census information[275] suggests that over 75 percent of UK citizens consider themselves to belong to a religion, Gallup reports only 10 percent of UK citizens regularly attend religious services. A 2004 YouGov poll found that 44 percent of UK citizens believe in God, while 35 percent do not.[276] Christmas and Easter are national public holidays in the UK,[277] and Christian organisations, such as the Salvation Army founded by William Booth, play an important role for their charitable work.[278]


The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world – a legacy of the British Empire. The Parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Palace of Westminster has two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords, and any Bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom since the devolved parliament in Scotland and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, and Wales are not sovereign bodies and could be abolished by the UK parliament despite being established following public approval as expressed in referendums.

Sir Winston Churchill led Great Britain throughout much of the Second World War

The UK's two major political parties are the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, who most recently won between them 563 out of 650 seats available them in the House of Commons at the 2015 general election. The Scottish National Party (Scotland only) won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons replacing the Liberal Democrats as the overall third largest party. The remaining seats were won by smaller parties, such as The Green Party and UKIP as well as regional parties such as, Plaid Cymru (Wales only), the Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland).

The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution, the Constitution of the United Kingdom, consisting mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law, and international treaties. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and "constitutional law," the UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the political power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.[279]

Major British constitutional documents include: Magna Carta (foundation of the "great writ" Habeas corpus — safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action), the Bill of Rights 1689 (one provision granting freedom of speech in Parliament), Petition of Right, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act, applies in Scotland. The jurist Albert Venn Dicey wrote that the British Habeas Corpus Acts "declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty".[280] A strong advocate of the "unwritten constitution", Dicey highlighted that English rights were embedded in the general English common law of personal liberty, and "the institutions and manners of the nation".[281]

English patriot and leading parliamentarian John Hampden is annually commemorated at the State Opening of Parliament

The celebrated 17th century English patriot John Hampden was a leading parliamentarian involved in challenging the authority of Charles I when he refused to be taxed for ship money in 1637, and was one of the Five Members whose attempted unconstitutional arrest by the King in the House of Commons in 1642 sparked the English Civil War. The wars established the constitutional rights of parliament, a concept legally established as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the subsequent Bill of Rights 1689. Since that time, no British monarch has entered the House of Commons when it is sitting.[282] Hampden is annually commemorated at the State Opening of Parliament by the British monarch when the doors of the House of Commons are slammed in the face of the monarch's messenger, symbolising the rights of Parliament and its independence from the monarch.[282][283]

Other important British political figures include; William Blackstone, 18th century jurist, judge and politician best known for his seminal work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, containing his formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer", a principle that government and the courts must err on the side of innocence,[284] Emmeline Pankhurst, led the suffragettes which helped win women the right to vote,[285] William Wilberforce, leading abolitionist,[286] Robert Peel, founded the Conservative party (which was expanded by Benjamin Disraeli), and created the modern police force.[287] Britain took a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery worldwide, with English poet William Cowper writing in 1785, "We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free, They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein."[288] Thomas Clarkson described fellow British abolitionist Josiah Wedgwood's famous 1787 anti-slavery medallion, "Am I Not A Man And A Brother?", as "promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom".[289] Following the Slave Trade Act 1807, Britain pressed other nations to end their trade with a series of treaties,[290] and in 1839 the world's oldest international human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, was formed in London, which worked to outlaw slavery abroad; Wilberforce's abolitionist colleague Thomas Clarkson was the organisation's first key speaker.[291] The world's largest human rights organisation, Amnesty International, was founded by Peter Benenson in London in 1961.[292]


The full breakfast is among the best known British dishes, consisting of fried egg, sausage, white and black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, toast, and half a tomato
Fish and chips on a plastic serving tray
Fish and chips, a popular takeaway food throughout the United Kingdom.
Cheddar cheese originates in the English village of Cheddar, Somerset. It is the UK's most popular cheese.[293]

British cuisine is the specific set of cooking traditions and practices associated with the United Kingdom. Historically, British cuisine means "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it."[294] British cuisine has traditionally been limited in its international recognition to the full breakfast and the Christmas dinner.[295] However, Celtic agriculture and animal breeding produced a wide variety of foodstuffs for indigenous Celts. Anglo-Saxon England developed meat and savoury herb stewing techniques before the practice became common in Europe. The Norman conquest introduced exotic spices into Great Britain in the Middle Ages.[295] The British Empire facilitated a knowledge of India's food tradition of "strong, penetrating spices and herbs".[295]

The first recipe for ice cream was published in Mrs. Mary Eales's Receipts in London 1718.[296] The 18th-century English aristocrat John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich is best known for his links to the modern concept of the sandwich which was named after him. When he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, because Montagu also happened to be the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, others began to order "the same as Sandwich!".[297] In the city of Leeds in 1767, Joseph Priestley made his "happiest" discovery when he invented carbonated water (also known as soda water), the major and defining component of most soft drinks.[298]

Each country within the United Kingdom has its own specialities. Traditional examples of English cuisine include the Sunday roast; featuring a roasted joint, usually roast beef (a signature English national dish dating back to the 1731 ballad "The Roast Beef of Old England"), lamb or chicken, served with assorted boiled vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy.[299] Other prominent meals include fish and chips and the full English breakfast—consisting of bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, black pudding, baked beans, fried mushrooms, sausages and eggs.[300] The first chips fried in Britain were at Oldham's Tommyfield Market in 1860, and on the site a blue plaque marks the origin of the fish and chip shop and fast food industries in Britain.[301] Various meat pies are consumed such as steak and kidney pie, shepherd's pie, cottage pie, Cornish pasty and pork pie, the latter of which is consumed cold.[299]

Traditional British cream tea (tea, scones, cream and jam). Tea is the most popular beverage in the UK.[302]
Dunking a biscuit became a popular British custom in the Victorian era.[303]
A pub in Hertfordshire. Pubs are a significant aspect of British culture.[304]

A quintissential British custom, afternoon tea is a small meal snack typically eaten between 4pm and 6pm. The most popular drink in Britain, tea became more widely drunk due to Catherine of Braganza, and is traditionally accompanied with biscuits, sandwiches, scones, cakes or pastries (such as Battenberg cake, fruit cake or Victoria sponge).[305][306] In his 1946 essay "A Nice Cup of Tea", author George Orwell wrote; "tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country."[307] McVitie's are the best selling biscuit brand in the UK, and the most popular biscuits to "dunk" in tea, with McVitie's chocolate digestives, rich tea and hobnobs ranked the nation's top three favourite biscuits.[308] Other popular British biscuits include bourbons, custard creams, Jammie Dodgers, ginger nuts and shortbread.[308] The first documented figure-shaped biscuits (gingerbread man) was at the court of Elizabeth I in the 16th century.[309]

Sausages are commonly eaten as bangers and mash, in sausage rolls or as toad in the hole. Lancashire hotpot is a well known stew. Popular cheeses include Cheddar and Wensleydale. Sweet British dishes include scones, apple pie, mince pies, spotted dick, Eccles cakes, pancakes, sponge cake, trifle, custard, sticky toffee pudding, Tunnock's teacake, and Jaffa cakes; the best selling cake in the UK.[310] Marmalade is a popular British spread for toast or sandwich: a spread famous in British culture for its association with Paddington Bear.[311] The hot cross bun is a popular British sweet bun traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but are now eaten all year round.[312] Scottish cuisine includes Arbroath Smokie and Haggis; Northern Irish cuisine features the Ulster fry and the Pastie and Welsh cuisine is noted for Welsh rarebit (often using Worcestershire sauce) and Cawl. Native to Aberdeenshire and Angus in Scotland, in 2014, Angus cattle was ranked the UK's most popular native beef breed.[313]

The public house is an important aspect of British culture,[304] and alcoholic drinks include wines and English beers such as bitter, mild, stout, and brown ale.[314] Whisky dates back to Ireland and Scotland in the Middle Ages, with each producing their own brand; Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky.[315][316]

A Christmas dinner plate in Scotland, featuring roast turkey, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts
Old Bushmills Distillery, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Founded in 1608, it is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.[317]

On Christmas Day, goose was initially served at dinner, however since appearing in Christmas tables in England in the late 16th century, the turkey has become more popular, with Christmas pudding served for dessert.[318][319] The 16th-century English navigator William Strickland is credited with introducing the turkey into England, and 16th century farmer Thomas Tusser noted that by 1573 turkeys were common in the English Christmas dinner.[320] This custom gave rise to the humorous English idiom, "like turkeys voting for Christmas".[321] The turkey is sometimes accompanied with roast beef or ham, and is served with stuffing, gravy, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Since being invented in London in the 1840s, Christmas crackers are an integral part of Christmas celebrations, often pulled before or after dinner, or at parties.[322]

The earliest recipe for the crisp (potato chip) is in food writer William Kitchiner's 1822 cookbook The Cook's Oracle.[323] The crisp market in the UK is dominated by Walkers, which holds 58 per cent of the market.[324] The Quakers, founded in England by George Fox in the 1650s and described by the BBC as "natural capitalists", had a virtual monopoly in the British chocolate industry for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, led by Cadbury of Birmingham, Fry's of Bristol and Rowntree's and Terry's of York.[325] British chocolate bars; Cadbury Dairy Milk, Galaxy and Kit Kat, are the three best selling bars in the UK.[326] Cadbury Creme Eggs are the best selling confectionery item between New Year's Day and Easter in the UK, with annual sales in excess of 200 million.[327] A stick of rock (a hard cylindrical stick-shaped boiled sugar) is a traditional British seaside sweet, commonly sold at seaside resorts throughout the UK such as Brighton, Portrush and Blackpool.[328] A "99 Flake" (commonly called a "99") which consists of ice cream in a cone with a Cadbury Flake inserted in it, is a hugely popular British dessert.[329]


Most of the major sports have separate administrative structures and national teams for each of the countries of the United Kingdom. Though each country is also represented individually at the Commonwealth Games, there is a single 'Team GB' (for Great Britain) that represents the UK at the Olympic Games. With the rules and codes of many modern sports invented and codified in late 19th century Victorian Britain, in 2012, IOC President Jacques Rogge stated; "This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an educational tool in the school curriculum".[330][331]

The most popular sport in the UK is association football.[332] The rules were first drafted in England in 1863 by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, and the UK has the oldest football clubs in the world.[333] England is recognised as the birthplace of club football by FIFA, with Sheffield F.C., founded in 1857, the world's oldest football club.[334] The home nations all have separate national teams and domestic competitions, most notably England's Premier League and FA Cup, and the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Cup. The first ever international football match was between Scotland and England in 1872.[335] Referred to as the "home of football" by FIFA, England hosted the 1966 FIFA World Cup, and won the tournament.[336] The English Premier League (formed in 1992 by member clubs of the old Football League First Division) is the most-watched football league in the world,[337] and its biggest clubs include Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Scotland's Celtic and Rangers also have a global fanbase. The best-placed teams in the domestic leagues of England and Scotland qualify for Europe's premier competition, the UEFA Champions League, where the competition's anthem, written by English composer Tony Britten, is played before each game.[338] Football in Britain is renowned for the intense rivalries between clubs and the passion of the supporters, which includes a tradition of football chants, such as, "You're Not Singing Any More" (or its variant "We Can See You Sneaking Out!"), sung by jubilant fans towards the opposition fans who have gone silent (or left early).[339]

The modern game of golf originated in Scotland, with the Fife town of St Andrews known internationally as the "Home of golf".[340] and to many golfers the Old Course, an ancient links course dating to before 1574, is considered to be a site of pilgrimage.[341] In 1764, the standard 18 hole golf course was created at St Andrews when members modified the course from 22 to 18 holes.[342] Golf is documented as being played on Musselburgh Links, East Lothian, Scotland as early as 2 March 1672, which is certified as the oldest golf course in the world by Guinness World Records.[343] The oldest known rules of golf were compiled in March 1744 in Leith.[344] The oldest golf tournament in the world, and the first major championship in golf, The Open Championship, first took place in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1860, and today it is played on the weekend of the third Friday in July.[345] Golf's first superstar Harry Vardon, a member of the fabled Great Triumvirate who were pioneers of the modern game, won the Open a record six times.[346] Since the 2010s, three Northern Irish golfers have had major success; Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and four time major winner Rory McIlroy.[347] The biennial golf competition, the Ryder Cup, is named after English businessman Samuel Ryder who sponsored the event and donated the trophy.[348] Sir Nick Faldo is the most successful Ryder Cup player ever, having won the most points (25) of any player on either the European or U.S. teams.[349]

The 'Queensberry rules', the code of general rules in boxing, was named after John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry in 1867, that formed the basis of modern boxing.[350] Britain's first heavyweight world champion Bob Fitzsimmons made boxing history as the sport's first three-division world champion.[351][352] Some of the best contemporary British boxers included; super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, featherweight champion Naseem Hamed, and heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.[353] The modern game of cricket was created in England in the 1830s when round arm bowling was legalised, followed by the historical legalisation of overarm bowling in 1864.[354] In 1876–77, an England team took part in the first-ever Test match against Australia. Hugely influential in terms of his importance to the development of the sport, W. G. Grace is regarded as one of the greatest cricket players of all time, and devised most of the techniques of modern batting.[355] The rivalry between England and Australia gave birth to The Ashes in 1882 that has remained Test cricket's most famous contest, and takes place every two years. The County Championship is the domestic competition in England and Wales.

In 1845, rugby union was created when the first rules were written by pupils at Rugby School, Warwickshire.[356] A former pupil of the school William Webb Ellis, is often fabled with the invention of running with the ball in hand in 1823.[357] The first rugby international took place on 27 March 1871, played between England and Scotland.[358] By 1881 both Ireland and Wales had teams, and in 1883 the first international competition the annual Home Nations Championship took place. In 1888, the Home Nations combined to form what is today called the British and Irish Lions, who now tour every four years to face a Southern Hemisphere team.[359] The major domestic club competitions are the Premiership in England and the Celtic League in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and (since 2010) Italy. In 1895, rugby League was created in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, as the result of a split with the other Rugby code.[360] The Super League is the sports top-level club competition in Britain. Since the 1920s, Henry Lyte's Christian hymn "Abide With Me" is sung prior to kick-off at every rugby league Challenge Cup final, and football's FA Cup Final.[360][361]

Centre Court at Wimbledon. First played in 1877, the Wimbledon Championships is the oldest tennis tournament in the world.[362]

The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England in the 1860s,[363] and after its creation, tennis spread throughout the upper-class English-speaking population, before spreading around the world.[364] Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is credited as being a pioneer of the game.[365] The world's oldest tennis tournament, the Wimbledon championships, first occurred in 1877, and today the event takes place over two weeks in late June and early July.[362] Created in the Tudor period in the court of Henry VIII, the English Strawberries and cream is synonymous with the British summer, and is famously consumed at Wimbledon.[366] The eight-time Slam winner and Britain's most successful player Fred Perry, is one of only seven men in history to have won all four Grand Slam events.[367] The 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray is Britain's most recent Grand Slam winner.[368]

Originating in 17th and 18th-century England, the Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing. Horse racing was popular with the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title "Sport of Kings."[369] The National Hunt horse race the Grand National, is held annually at Aintree Racecourse in early April, and three-time winner Red Rum is the most successful racehorse in the event's history.[370]

The 1950 British Grand Prix was the first Formula One World Championship race.[371] Since then, Britain has produced some of the greatest drivers in the sport, including; Stirling Moss, Jim Clark (twice F1 champion), Graham Hill (only driver to have won the Triple Crown), Jackie Stewart (three time F1 champion), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell (only man to hold F1 and IndyCar titles at the same time) and Lewis Hamilton. The British Grand Prix is held at Silverstone every July. Other major sporting events in the UK include the London Marathon, and The Boat Race on the River Thames. Cycling is a popular physical activity in the UK. In 1965 Tom Simpson became the first British world road race champion, and in 2012 Bradley Wiggins became the first British Tour de France winner. Track cyclist Chris Hoy is Britain's most successful Olympian.

A great number of major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including association football, golf, tennis, boxing, rugby league, rugby union, cricket, field hockey, snooker, billiards, squash, curling and badminton, all of which are popular in Britain. Another sport invented in the UK was baseball,[372][373] and its early form rounders is popular among children in Britain.[374] Gaelic football is very popular in Northern Ireland, with many teams from the north winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship since the early 2000s. William Penny Brookes was prominent in organising the format for the modern Olympic Games, and In 1994, then President of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, laid a wreath on Brooke's grave, and said, "I came to pay homage and tribute to Dr Brookes, who really was the founder of the modern Olympic Games".[375] The Highland games are held throughout the year in Scotland as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands, with more than 60 games taking place across the country every year.[376] Each December, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is announced, as voted for by the British public. In 2002 Channel 4 broadcast the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments, as voted for by the UK public.[377]


Each country of the United Kingdom has a separate education system. Power over education matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is devolved but education in England is dealt with by the UK government since there is no devolved administration for England.


Secondary school pupils in Northamptonshire playing rugby

Most schools came under state control in the Victorian era, a formal state school system was instituted after the Second World War. Initially schools were separated into infant schools (normally up to age 4 or 5), primary schools and secondary schools (split into more academic grammar schools and more vocational secondary modern schools). Under the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s most secondary modern and grammar schools were combined to become comprehensive schools. England has many prominent private schools, often founded hundreds of years ago, which are known as public schools or independent schools. Eton, Harrow, Shrewsbury and Rugby are four of the better known. Most primary and secondary schools in both the private and state sectors have compulsory school uniforms. Allowances are almost invariably made, however, to accommodate religious dress including the Islamic hijab and Sikh bangle (kara).

Although the Minister of Education is responsible to Parliament for education, the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local education authorities.

England's universities include some of the highest-ranked universities in the world; the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and University College London are all ranked in the global top 10 in the 2010 QS World University Rankings.[378] The London School of Economics has been described as the world's leading social science institution for both teaching and research.[379] The London Business School is considered one of the world's leading business schools and in 2010 its MBA programme was ranked best in the world by the Financial Times.[380] Academic degrees in England are usually split into classes: first class (I), upper second class (II:1), lower second class (II:2) and third (III), and unclassified (below third class).

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Assembly is responsible for education in Northern Ireland though responsibility at a local level is administered by 5 Education and Library Boards covering different geographical areas.


Scotland has a long history of universal provision of public education which, traditionally, has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects compared to depth of education over a smaller range of subjects at secondary school level. The majority of schools are non-denominational, but by legislation separate Roman Catholic schools, with an element of control by the Roman Catholic Church, are provided by the state system. Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) level are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and delivered through various schools, colleges and other centres. Political responsibility for education at all levels is vested in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive Education and Enterprise, Transport & Lifelong Learning Departments. State schools are owned and operated by the local authorities which act as Education Authorities, and the compulsory phase is divided into primary school and secondary school (often called High school, with the world's oldest high school being the Royal High School (Edinburgh) in 1505,[381][382] and spread to the New World owing to the high prestige enjoyed by the Scottish educational system.). Schools are supported in delivering the National Guidelines and National Priorities by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Scottish universities generally have courses a year longer than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, though it is often possible for students to take a more advanced specialised exams and join the courses at the second year. One unique aspect is that the ancient universities of Scotland issue a Master of Arts as the first degree in humanities. The University of Edinburgh is among the top twenty universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings 2011. It is also one among the Ancient Universities in Great Britain.


Scouts, Brownies, and Cubs with the local community in Tiverton, Devon on Remembrance Sunday

The National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for education in Wales. A significant number of students in Wales are educated either wholly or largely through the medium of Welsh and lessons in the language are compulsory for all until the age of 16. There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh Medium schools as part of the policy of having a fully bi-lingual Wales.

Outdoor education

Scouting is the largest co-educational youth Movement in the UK.[383] Scouting began in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell, Lieutenant General in the British Army, held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset, England.[384] Baden-Powell wrote the principles of Scouting in Scouting for Boys in 1908.[385] In July 2009, adventurer Bear Grylls became the youngest Chief Scout ever, aged 35.[386] In 2010, Scouting in the UK experienced its biggest growth spurt since 1972, taking total membership to almost 500,000.[383]

Sociological issues


Terraced houses are typical in inner cities and places of high population density

The UK has one of the highest population densities in the world.[387] Housing, therefore, tends to be more closely packed than in other countries, resulting in a particular affinity with the terraced house, dating back to the aftermath of the Great Fire of London.[388]

As the first industrialised country in the world, the UK has long been urbanised.[389] In the twentieth century, the process of suburbanisation led to a spread of semi-detached and detached housing. In the aftermath of the second world war, public housing was dramatically expanded to create a large number of council estates.

There is a wealth of historic country houses and stately homes in rural areas, though the majority of these are now put to other uses than private living accommodation.

In recent times, more detached housing has started to be built. Also, city living has boomed with city centre population's rising rapidly. Most of this population growth has been accommodated through new apartment blocks in residential schemes, such as those in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester. Demographic changes (see below) are putting great pressure on the housing market, especially in London and the South East.

Living arrangements

Typical 20th century, three-bedroom semi-detached houses in England

Historically most people in the United Kingdom lived either in conjugal extended families or nuclear families. This reflected an economic landscape where the general populace tended to have less spending power, meaning that it was more practical to stick together rather than go their individual ways. This pattern also reflected gender roles. Men were expected to go out to work and women were expected to stay at home and look after the families.

A 21st century detached Mock Tudor house in Scotland. Its timber framing is typical of English Tudor architecture.

In the 20th century the emancipation of women, the greater freedoms enjoyed by both men and women in the years following the Second World War, greater affluence and easier divorce have changed gender roles and living arrangements significantly. The general trend is a rise in single people living alone, the virtual extinction of the extended family (outside certain ethnic minority communities), and the nuclear family arguably reducing in prominence.

From the 1990s, the break-up of the traditional family unit, when combined with a low interest rate environment and other demographic changes, has created great pressure on the housing market, in particular regarding the accommodation of key workers such as nurses, other emergency service workers and teachers, who are priced out of most housing, especially in the South East.

Some research indicates that in the 21st century young people are tending to continue to live in the parental home for much longer than their predecessors.[390] The high cost of living, combined with rising cost of accommodation, further education and higher education means that many young people cannot afford to live independent lives from their families.


One of Britain’s oldest indigenous breeds, the Bulldog is known as the national dog of Great Britain.[391]

The top 5 pets in the UK for 2010, starting with the most popular, are: Fish: over 40 million (indoor and outdoor), Dogs: around 8 million, Cats: around 8 million, Rabbits: around 1 million, Birds: around 1 million (indoor).[392]

Some of the UK's indigenous dog breeds include; Bulldog, Jack Russell Terrier, Golden Retriever, Yorkshire Terrier, Airedale Terrier, Beagle, Border Collie, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, Scottish Terrier, Welsh Corgi and English Springer Spaniel. The Kennel Club with its headquarters in London, is the oldest kennel club in the world, and is the governing body of dogs in the United Kingdom. Its main objectives are to promote the general improvement of dogs and responsible dog ownership.[393]

National costume and dress

File:Brazier Dancers 01.jpg
Highland dancing in traditional Gaelic dress with its tartan pattern

As a multi-national state,[394][395] the UK has no single national costume. However, different countries within the United Kingdom have national costumes or at least are associated with styles of dress. Scotland has the kilt and Tam o'shanter, and tartan clothing – pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours – is a notable aspect of Gaelic culture.[396] A traditional Welsh costume with Welsh hat is worn by some women during Eisteddfodau. In England, the topic of a national costume has been in debate, since no officially recognized clothing is anointed "national". However, the closest to a national costume can be the smock or smock-frock. English Country Clothing is also very popular among rural folk, flat caps and brogue shoes also forming part of the country clothing.[397]

Certain military uniforms such as the Beefeater or the Queen's Guard are considered to be symbolic of Englishness. Morris dancers or the costumes for the traditional English May dance are sometimes cited as examples of traditional English costume, but are only worn by participants in those events. Designed in 1849 by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler, the Bowler hat is arguably the most iconic stereotyped view of an Englishman (complete with Bowler and rolled umbrella), and were commonly associated with city of London businessmen.[398]

British sensibilities have played an influential role in world clothing since the eighteenth century. Particularly during the Victorian era, British fashions defined acceptable dress for men of business. Key figures such as the future Edward VII, Edward VIII, and Beau Brummell, created the modern suit and cemented its dominance. Brummell is credited with introducing and establishing as fashion the modern man's suit, worn with a tie.[399] The tradition of a white wedding is commonly credited to Queen Victoria's choice to wear a white wedding dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, at a time when white was associated with purity and conspicuous consumption (because it was difficult to keep clean, and thus could not be worn by servants or labourers), and when it was the colour required of girls being presented to the royal court.[400][401] The Wellington boot (first worn by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington) became a staple for outdoor wear in the 19th century.[402]


London, as one of the world's four fashion capitals, is host to the London Fashion Week – one of the 'Big Four' fashion weeks.[403] Organised by the British Fashion Council, the event takes place twice each year, in February and September. The current venue for most of the "on-schedule" events is Somerset House in central London, where a large marquee in the central courtyard hosts a series of catwalk shows by top designers and fashion houses,[404] while an exhibition, housed within Somerset House itself, showcases over 150 designers.[405] However, many "off-schedule" events, such as On|Off and Vauxhall Fashion Scout, are organised independently and take place at other venues in central London.[406]

British designers whose collections have been showcased at the fashion week include Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, while British models who have featured at the event include Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Jade Jagger, David Gandy, Cara Delevingne and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.[407][408] Fashion designer Mary Quant was at the heart of the "Swinging London" scene of the 1960s, and her work culminated in the creation of the miniskirt and hot pants.[409] Quant named the miniskirt after her favourite make of car, the Mini.[410] The English fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth is widely considered the father of Haute couture.[411][412]

Symbols, flags, and emblems

Union Jacks being flown on The Mall, London looking towards Buckingham Palace

The Union Flag is the national flag of the United Kingdom. Its red, white and blue colours are the combination of the red cross of Saint George for England, the saltire of Saint Andrew for Scotland, and the red saltire of Saint Patrick to represent Ireland.[413] Wales has never been represented on the Union Jack, with the Welsh flag incorporating the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd, along with the Tudor colours of green and white.[414]

The patron saint of Ireland (St Patrick), England (St George), Wales (St David), and Scotland (St Andrew), are celebrated annually; Saint David's Day on 1 March, Saint Patrick's Day on 17 March, St George's Day on 23 April, and St. Andrew's Day on 30 November.[415]

Each of the four countries of the UK has a traditional floral emblem. The red rose is the national flower of England,[416] and its use dates from the reign of Henry VII who chose a red rose, representing Lancaster, and a white rose, representing York.[416] As a result, the English civil wars in the 15th-century came to be called the Wars of the Roses.[417] The national flower of Scotland is the thistle,[418] of Northern Ireland is the flax flower and the shamrock,[419] and of Wales is the daffodil and leek.[420] The Union rose, shamrock and thistle are engrafted on the same stem on the coat of arms of the United Kingdom.[421]

File:Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red 9 Aug 2014.JPG
The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red artwork at the Tower of London in 2014, commemorating the centenary of the start of World War One. 888,246 ceramic poppies symbolise the British and Commonwealth lives lost in the war.[422]

The remembrance poppy has been used in Britain since 1921 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday they are distributed by The Royal British Legion in return for donations to their "Poppy Appeal", which supports all current and former British military personnel.[423] The poppies are widespread in the UK from late October until mid-November every year and are worn by the general public, politicians, the Royal Family and others in public life. It has also become common to see poppies on cars, lorries and public transport such as aeroplanes, buses, and trams, while magazines and newspapers also show a poppy on their cover page.[424]

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield during World War I, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on 11 November 1920. The idea of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was first conceived in 1916 by the Reverend David Railton, who, while serving as a British Army chaplain on the Western Front, had seen a grave marked by a rough cross, which bore the pencil-written legend 'An Unknown British Soldier'.[425] He proposed that an unidentified British soldier be buried with due ceremony in Westminster Abbey "amongst the kings" to represent the many hundreds of thousands of Empire dead. The idea was strongly supported by the Dean of Westminster and the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.[425]

Traditional communication and greeting cards

A familiar sight throughout the UK, the red telephone box and Royal Mail red post box are considered British cultural icons.[426] Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert in 1924, the red telephone box features a prominent crown representing the British government. The post pillar box was introduced in the 1850s during the reign of Queen Victoria following Sir Rowland Hill's postal reforms in the 1830s where the reduction in postal rates with the invention of the postage stamp (Penny Black) made sending post an affordable means of personal communication.[235] The world's first postcard was received by Theodore Hook from Fulham, London in 1840.[427] The first pillar boxes had the distinctive Imperial cypher of Victoria Regina. Most pillar boxes produced after 1905 are made of cast iron and are cylindrical, and have served well throughout the reigns of George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II.[428]

The sending and receiving of greeting cards is an established tradition in the UK, with card sending or card display in the home being an important part of British culture.[429] Sending Valentine's Day cards became hugely popular in Britain in the late 18th century, a practice that has since spread to other nations.[430] Today in the UK just under half the population spend money on their Valentines.[431] Invented by Sir Henry Cole in 1843, the Christmas card accounts for almost half of the volume of greeting card sales in the UK, with over 600 million cards sold annually.[429] Other popular occasions for sending greeting cards in the UK are Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Easter and Father’s Day.[429][432]


A lover of British culture is known as an Anglophile.[433]

Naming conventions

The common naming convention throughout the United Kingdom is for everyone to have a given name (a forename, still often referred to as a Christian name) usually (but not always) indicating the child's sex, often followed by one or more middle names, and a family name (surname).[434] Since the 19th century middle names have become very common and are often taken from the name of a family ancestor.

Most surnames of British origin fall into seven types:[435]

Traditionally, Christian names were those of Biblical figures or recognised saints; however, in the Gothic Revival of the Victorian era, other Anglo Saxon and mythical names enjoyed something of a fashion among the literati. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, first names have been influenced by a much wider cultural base.

See also:

See also


  1. English is established by de facto usage. In Wales, the Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg is legally tasked with ensuring that "in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice, the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".Welsh Language Act 1993, Office of Public Sector Information, retrieved 3 September 2007<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Bòrd na Gàidhlig is tasked with "securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language" Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Office of Public Sector Information, retrieved 9 March 2007<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Archived 1 February 2010 at WebCite
  2. Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages the Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots languages are officially recognised as Regional or Minority languages by the UK Government (European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Scottish Executive, retrieved 23 August 2007<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>) See also Languages of the United Kingdom. Archived 1 February 2010 at WebCite


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