78 Interesting Facts about the United Kingdom
- The word “Britain” is derived from the name of a Celtic tribe, the Brythons.
- The word “England” comes from “Angle-land,” or land of the Angli, or Angles, a Viking tribe that came across the North Sea and settled in the east and north. The French name for England, Angleterre, also literally means “Land of the Angles.”
- At its zenith in the 18th century, the British Empire stretched 20% of the world’s surface and contained a quarter of the world’s population.
- For the British, the position of monarch probably ranks as one of history’s least safe occupations. English kings have been killed in battle (Harold), beheaded (Charles I), assassinated (William II), murdered by a wicked uncle (Edward V), and knocked off by the queen and her lover (Edward II).
- Nowhere in England is more than 75 miles (121 km) from the sea.
- London is one of only two cities above the 50th parallel with a population of more than five million. Moscow is the other.
- Among European countries, only Ireland and Finland have a higher rate of heart attacks than Britain.
Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror in A.D. 1080 and is the oldest continually inhabited royal residence in Britain
- Windsor Castle is the largest royal home in the world. It is also the oldest continually inhabited royal residence in Britain, having been built by William the Conqueror around A.D. 1080.
- The United Kingdom recently named chicken tikka masala as its national dish, which is a spicy curry created in Britain and is unheard of in India itself.
- According to the Soil Association, a leading organic-food campaign, more than 85% of the people in Britain want pesticide-free food.
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society in both Britain and the United States estimates that up to 50 million Americans can trace their ancestry back to King Edward III.
- The first fish and chips restaurant was opened in 1860 in London by a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin.
- Prince William once paid $320 (£200) for Kate Middleton during a “slave auction” at a Harry Potter-themed party.
- About 30% of today’s Londoners were born outside the United Kingdom.
- There is only a 21-mile (34-km) gap between England and France, and the countries are connected by the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994. It is the world’s second longest underground tunnel; Japan’s Seikan Tunnel is the first.
- Britain has an annual cheese-rolling competition that involves running down Coopers Hill after a Double Gloucester round. The winner gets to keep the cheese.
- Big Ben does not refer to the famous clock, but actually to the bell.
Every day, the British drink 165 million cups of tea, more than 20 times that of the average American
- Every day, the British drink 165 million cups of tea, which is over 20 times more than the average American.
- It is thought that St. Patrick may have brought the early knowledge of whisky distilling from Ireland around the mid-5th century. The Scots call it uisque baugh in Gaelic, or “water of life,” and it is one of the United Kingdom’s top five exports, along with cars, computers, aircraft, and oil.
- The full, official name of the Tower of London is “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of London.” It is home to the Queen of England’s jewels. Among the 25,578 gems is the 530-carat Cullinan diamond at the top of the Royal Sceptre, the largest part of what was (until 1985) the largest diamond ever found.
- It is illegal to import haggis from the UK into the U.S., as the American government has declared that sheep lungs are unfit for human consumption.
- The 1.5-mile journey from Westray to Papa Westray in the UK’s Orkney Islands is the shortest scheduled flight in the world. The trip takes less than two minutes.
- Britain’s most remote pub is the Old Forge on Inverie, Scotland. It is 107 miles (172 km) from the nearest city, Inverness, and has no road access.
- Champagne was invented in England by scientist Christopher Merret in 1662.
- An estimated 2 billion people around the world viewed the wedding ceremony of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on April 29, 2011.
- James Bond’s code “007” was inspired by the author Ian Fleming’s bus route from Canterbury to London.
- The Ghost Research Foundation has determined that with 500 recorded cases of ghostly encounters, York is the most haunted city in England and one of the most haunted in the world.
There is a British legend that says there must be 6 ravens in residence at all times at the Tower of London, or else the British Monarchy and Tower will fall
- The most celebrated residents of the Tower of London today are the ravens. There must be six ravens in residence at any one time by a Royal Decree put in place by Charles II. According to an old legend, if the birds should leave, the British Monarchy and the White Tower will crumble and fall. To be on the safe side, the Tower usually keeps eight birds at all times.
- Kate Middleton is an eighth cousin seven times removed to the first U.S. President George Washington and a thirteenth cousin once removed from American World War II hero General George Patton.
- More languages (300) are spoken in London than in any other country in the world.
- The Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is presented every year by the people of Oslo in gratitude for London’s assistance during World War II.
- The London subway, or the “Tube,” is one of the oldest in the world. The 409 escalators in the Tube cover a distance every week which is approximately equivalent to several trips around the globe.
- A new breed of mosquito was found in the Tube tunnels in 1998. Scientists believed it mutated from the bird-biting form that colonized the London Underground when it was built in last century and, as it would not mate with its aboveground cousin, it has evolved into a separate species.
- The most famous of all British pop bands, and maybe in the world, “The Beatles” were once known as “Johnny and the Moondogs.” Johnny was, of course, John Lennon. He legally changed his middle name from Winston (after Winston Churchill) to Ono in honor of his then girlfriend and later wife, Yoko Ono.
- Britain is the only country in the world which doesn’t have its name on its postage stamps.
- Over 27 tons (59,523 lb.) of strawberries and 7,000 liters (1,849 gal.) of cream are consumed every year during the two weeks of Britain’s Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
- The sport of football, or soccer, supposedly got its start in England when Anglo-Saxon farmworkers plowing a field unearthed the skull of a Danish warrior killed in battle a few years earlier. To show their still bitter feelings towards the Danes and to amuse themselves, they began kicking the skull among them. This early form of football was called “kicking the Dane’s head.”
- Queen Elizabeth II feeds her corgis herself with fillet of beef from a silver platter with a silver fork. A royal “pooper scooper” takes care of the “afters” with a different sort of platter and gets paid to do to his duties full-time!
- As far back as the Anglo-Saxons, the English brewed and drank beer in great quantities. A favorite drink was mead, ale mixed with honey. A record of taxes on beer in the late 1600s indicates the average Englishman drank three quarts per week.
- When she married Prince William at age 29, Catherine Middleton became the oldest spinster ever to marry a future British king. She and Prince William are also distantly related (12th cousins).
William and Kate are 12th cousins, once removed
- English Cockneys call the telephone “dog and bone” and a wife “trouble and strife.”
- Nazi officer Rudolf Hess was the last prisoner held in the Tower of London, for four days in 1941.
- Until 1832, England only had two universities: Oxford and Cambridge.
- The famous stone London Bridge of “London Bridge is falling down” fame was eventually replaced by a stronger concrete version, and its original stones were taken to the United States and reassembled to make a bridge over a river in Lake Havasu, Arizona.
- Guglielmo Marconi did not invent radio, but he was the first to invent a radio transmitter. When he could not find a buyer in Italy, he turned to England, his mother’s country, and on July 27, 1896, he gave the first-ever public demonstration of a radio. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 and on July 21, 1937, the day of his funeral, radio transmitters went silent for two minutes in tribute.
- The British coronation ceremony is over 1,000 years old. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day in A.D. 1066, Westminster Abbey has been the setting. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was the first to be televised.
- The historical King Arthur may have been Magnus Maximus, or Prince Macsen of Welsh legend, who was one of the greatest figures in Britain toward the end of the Roman Empire. He was also an uncle by marriage of the Welsh King, Coel Godhebog, who is believed to be the Old King Cole of nursery rhymes.
- Golf is Scotland’s national game. It was invented on the grounds of St. Andrews, and the earliest record of the game dates from 1457, when James II banned it because it interrupted his subjects’ archery practice. Mary, Queen of Scots, enjoyed golf and was berated in 1568 for playing so soon after the murder of her husband Lord Darnley.
- At the end of the 19th century, an eager hill walker named Sir High Munro published a list of 545 Scottish mountains measuring over 3,000 feet (914 m) high. New surveys have revised this to 283. Today, any Scottish mountain over the magical 3,000-ft mark is called a “Munro,” and many hill walkers now set themselves the target of “bagging,” or summiting all 283. By 2010, 4,500 people had bagged all 283 “Munros.”
The Queen of England is the only British citizen who travels without a passport
- Queen Elizabeth II travels with her own toilet seat and feather pillows, and she is the only person in Britain who travels without a passport. She is also the only person for whom Harrods used to close its doors to the public for one day a year so she could do her Christmas shopping.
- In medieval times, Magpie Lane was Oxford, England’s red light district, where the “nymphs of the pavement” would tout for business. The street was previously called Gropecunt Lane.
- The London Eye is the tallest observation wheel in the world, and each rotation takes about 30 minutes. Its hub weighs 330 tons, more than 20 times the weight of Big Ben.
- The artistic antihero Banksy is now world famous for his guerrilla graffiti and stencil street art, but his true identity is a closely guarded secret. It is generally believed he was born in 1974 in Yate, 12 miles from Bristol, England. His documentary, Exit through that Gift Shop, about an L.A. street artist, was nominated for an Oscar in 2011.
- England’s Much Wenlock games, held annually since 1850, are based on the games of ancient Greece and were brainchild of the town’s local doctor William Penny Brookes. In 1890, Baron Pierre Coubertin visited the games and consulted Brookes extensively, before launching the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Brookes was effectively left out of the story until 1994, when Juan Antonio Samaranch, then IOC president, visited Much Wenlock and paid tribute to Dr. Brookes as the “founder of the Modern Olympic Games.”
- Robin Hood was most likely never a real person. He was a composite hero, based on real outlaws in the English medieval period whose stories were woven together by minstrels and storytellers. It was only at the end of the 16th century that playwright Antony Munday elevated Robin Hood from a yeoman to a displaced Saxon earl as a symbol of the gentry’s dissatisfaction with the crown.
- On the chilly day of his execution, England’s dethroned King Charles I reportedly wore two shirts to avoid shivering and being regarded as a coward.
- The Cornish pasty was originally a mix of cooked vegetables (now available in meat varieties too) that tin miners in Cornwall, England, carried underground and left on a ledge, ready for mealtime. So the pasties weren’t mixed up, they were each marked with their owners’ initials. Before going back to the surface, the miners traditionally left the last few crumbs of the pasty as a gift for the spirits of the mines, known as “knockers,” to ensure a safe shift the next day.
- In the 16th century, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I decreed that mutton could be served only with bitter herbs, intending to stop people from eating the sheep in order to help the wool trade. Her subjects discovered mint sauce improved the taste of the meat, and it’s been a favorite condiment for roast lamb ever since.
- Six of the 10 wettest counties in the UK are in Scotland. Almost every low-pressure system that barrels east out of the North Atlantic passes over Scotland.
Six of the 10 wettest counties in the UK are in Scotland
- The word “pub” is short for “public house,” and the tradition has only officially been around since the 19th century. However, places selling beer have been around for much longer, and the “oldest pub in Britain” is a hotly contested title. One of Britain’s oldest pubs, with the papers to prove it, is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham, which was serving ale to departing crusaders in the 12th century. The Royalist Hotel in Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire claims to have been selling beer since around A.D. 947, while another pub, Ye Fighting Cocks in St. Albans (Hertfordshire), claims to date back to the 8th century, although 13th seems more likely.
- Until 1877, lecturers at Oxford University were not allowed to marry, and women were not granted degrees until 1920.
- In 2012, British author E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray became the fastest-selling paperback ever. Journalists were delighted to report on the beating and outstripping of previous record holder Harry Potter.
- J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is the first writer in the world to become a billionaire. The seven books have sold a total of 400 million copies in her native England and around the world and are published in 55 languages, including Latin and ancient Greek. Rowling is only one of five self-made female billionaires in the world.
- Many of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man argue that it is not a part of England, nor even the United Kingdom. They say that they have their own government, Tynwald, arguably the world’s oldest democratic parliament, which has run continuously since the year 979.
- Cardiff, Wales, is home to the world’s oldest record shop, Spillers, founded in 1894.
- Wales is actually home to a town called Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwlllllandysiliogogogoch, which translates as “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the cave.” It is commonly shortened to Llanfairpwill.
- Probably built around 3000 B.C., Stonehenge has stood on England’s Salisbury Plain for more than 5,000 years and is older than the famous Great Pyramids of Egypt.
Stonehenge is just one of several prehistoric stone circles in Great Britain
- According to a group of revisionist scholars and literary figures known as “Anti-Stratfordians,” William Shakespeare did not write his famous plays and sonnets at all, but his name was simply a nom de plume. One of the wildest theories is that Sir Francis Bacon was the author. U.S. congressman Ignatius Donnelly once proposed that the word “honorificabilitudninitatibus,” which appears in Love’s Labour Lost, was actually an anagram for the Latin “Hi ludi F Baconis nati tuti orbi,” or “These plays, F. Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world.”
- Completed in 2012, London’s The Shard, at 1,107 feet (350 m), is Europe’s tallest building.
- Cheshire, the oldest named English cheese, has appeared on English menus since Roman times.
- London’s smallest house, 3 feet wide (0.9 m) at its narrowest point, is located at 10 Hyde Place, now part of Tyburn Convent. Despite being such a small target, it was still damaged by German bombs during World War II.
- Halloween is one of many traditions that have their roots in Scottish pagan tradition. On October 31, Halloween used to be celebrated as All Hallows, or All Saints’ Day. This was also an important date on the Celtic calendar, celebrated as Samhuinn (the Feast of the Dead), during which spirits are said to come back to haunt the living. On Halloween in Scotland today, trick-or-treating is called guising. Originally, the guisers had to sing or recite a poem to earn a reward or sweets.
- Gretna Green, the Scottish town nearest the English border, has a reputation as “Scot-land’s Las Vegas.” Many young couples from England choose to dash across the border to get married there because under Scottish law, people do not need to get their parents’ consent at the age of 16, whereas in England, parental consent is required until one is 18.
- Loch Ness is the largest body of fresh water in the United Kingdom. It is even deeper than the North Sea and it never freezes. Its most famous resident, the Loch Ness monster, or Nessie, may be a plesiosaur. There have been over 1,000 reported sightings, with the last one being on November 2, 2011.
Over a 12-month period during 1827–1828, Burke and Hare murdered over a dozen people in Edinburgh, Scotland
- William Burke and William Hare are the world’s most notorious body snatchers. Over a 12-month period during 1827–1828, they murdered over a dozen people in Edinburgh, Scotland, and sold their corpses to a local anatomy school desperate for fresh bodies to dissect.
- Golf isn’t Scotland’s only homegrown sport. The sport of shinty, or camanachd in Gaelic, was introduced by Irish missionaries over 2,000 years ago. It is a fast passing game played between two teams for 90 minutes and looks like a cross between field hockey, golf, and rugby. One theory says that the curved sticks, called camans, that are used by the players inspired the invention of the golf club.
- Nearly 28 million Americans define themselves as having Scottish ancestry, including the Bush presidents. Other famous Americans with Scottish blood include Theodore Roosevelt, Jack Daniels, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Jim Morrison.
- Scottish Gaelic is one of only four Celtic languages to survive into the modern age. Welsh, Breton, and Irish Gaelic are the other three.