The Beautiful Public Footpaths of Britain

The “right to roam” across hill and valley, field and glen, moor and fen.

Not quite … but it’s close.

England and Wales have designated paths on which our right to pass and re-pass is protected by law.

The Cotswold Way

At 102 miles, the Cotswold Way is the shortest and easiest of our three examples of long-distance footpaths and one of the most delightful.

A Cotswold Way Signpost Marker. Credit Richard Cocks
A Cotswold Way Signpost Marker. Credit Richard Cocks
Cotswold Way at Battle of Lansdown. Credit Ballista
Cotswold Way at Battle of Lansdown. Credit Ballista
Footpath from Mickleton village in the Cotswolds. Credit JR P, flickr
Footpath from Mickleton village in the Cotswolds. Credit JR P, flickr

Gently rolling hills rise from the meadows of the upper reaches of the River Thames creating a gorgeous grassland habitat that is ideal for sheep farming.

Flourishing during the medieval period, the Cotswolds’ wool trade created the wealth that has shaped so much of the region’s beauty.

The Cotswold Way. Credit Artur Kozioł
The Cotswold Way. Credit Artur Kozioł

Dotted with picturesque little villages, beautiful Georgian towns, and ancient sites, the Cotswold Way starts in the south at the city of Bath and ends in the charming market town of Chipping Campden.

Bath is a World Heritage Site largely because of its beautiful Georgian architecture in honey-coloured stone.

Much photographed in Bath is the 18th-century Palladian style Pulteney Bridge and weir.

Pulteney Bridge & the River Avon, Bath. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Pulteney Bridge & the River Avon, Bath. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

10 of the best things to do in the City of Bath.

Notable for its elegant terraced High Street, Chipping Campden features many buildings from the 14th through the 17th century.

Meaning “market-place”, the word “Chipping” is found in other English town names like Chipping Norton and Chipping Sodbury.

Once a rich wool trading centre in medieval times, today it is a popular tourist haunt with old inns, pubs, and specialist shops.

Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Standing proudly at the centre of the town is the medieval arched Market Hall, built in 1627.

Chipping Campden old market hall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Chipping Campden old market hall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Cotswolds”, Broadway is another charming village along the Cotswold Way.

Traditional corner shop in Broadway, Worcestershire. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Traditional corner shop in Broadway, Worcestershire. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Lined with red chestnut trees and honey-coloured Cotswold limestone buildings, the wide grass-fringed main street gives Broadway its name.

Broadway High Street. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Broadway High Street. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Designed by James Wyatt in 1794 to resemble a mock “Saxon” castle, Broadway Tower is a folly in the English county of Worcestershire and built for Lady Coventry in 1799.

Broadway Tower, Worcestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze
Broadway Tower, Worcestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze

Perched on the edge of the second highest point in the Cotswolds overlooking the Severn Vale, on a clear day, as many as 16 English counties can be identified from the top of the tower.

A view of Broadway Village from Broadway Tower. Credit Saffron Blaze
A view of Broadway Village from Broadway Tower. Credit Saffron Blaze

Built in the late 1500s, Stanway House is a Jacobean manor near the village of Stanway along the Cotswold Way.

Protected as a building of exceptional historic interest, Stanway House has been featured in the British comedy-drama series Jeeves and Wooster, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and the period drama Father Brown.

Stanway House, the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Stanway House, the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

With its manicured gardens and superbly preserved structure dating back to the 1400s, Sudeley Castle is well worth a visit as you walk the Cotswold Way.

Once the home of Dowager Queen Catherine Parr, last of Henry VIII’s six wives, the castle chapel holds her marble tomb.

Sudeley Castle. Credit Wdejager
Sudeley Castle. Credit Wdejager
Sunshine after fresh rain on Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds. Credit Jason Ballard, flickr
Sunshine after fresh rain on Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds. Credit Jason Ballard, flickr

With countless beautiful old pubs and little antique shops, there’s plenty to discover on the Cotswold Way for memories that will last a lifetime.

Broadway Antiques shop. Credit JCNazza
Broadway Antiques shop. Credit JCNazza

The Pennine Way

Running 267 miles along the Pennine Hills, dubbed “the backbone of England”, the Pennine Way starts in the Peak District and ends just inside the Scottish border.

Around 260,000 walkers use all or part of the path each year, which includes 287 gates, 432 stiles, and 204 bridges.

Surveying the route from Mam Tor (Mother Hill), the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Surveying the route from Mam Tor (Mother Hill), the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

According to local ramblers, it is “one of Britain’s best known and toughest” national trails.

Footpath at Mam Tor, Peak District, Derbyshire. Credit Baz Richardson
Footpath at Mam Tor, Peak District, Derbyshire. Credit Baz Richardson

Inspired by America’s Appalachian Trail, journalist Tom Stephenson proposed the concept for the path in 1935 and lobbied parliament for an official trail.

The countryside at Castleton in the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The countryside at Castleton in the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Known as the official start of the Pennine Way, the Old Nag’s Head in Edale is a low-ceilinged, stone-built pub sitting at the top of Edale village square since 1577.

Hand-pulled real ales and old-fashioned English pub fare are very popular after a long day hiking to local viewing spots with names like “The Nab” and “Ringing Roger”.

The Old Nags Head at Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Clem Rutter
The Old Nags Head at Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Clem Rutter
Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Pennine Way from above Muker. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Pennine Way from above Muker. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

The Yorkshire Dales: England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

Public footpath near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Immanuel Giel
Public footpath near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Immanuel Giel

Nestled in the Swaledale valley of the Yorkshire Dales, Thwaite is a beautiful little village with buildings made from local stone.

Originating from Old Norse “thveit”, the name Thwait means a clearing, implying that the area was once covered by thick forest.

Thwaite from the Pennine Way, Swaledale. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Thwaite from the Pennine Way, Swaledale. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Grazed by sheep and cattle, the green upland pastures are separated by dry-stone walls built without mortar but stable thanks to a unique construction of interlocking stones.

The Pennine Way at Thwaite in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski

The Kearton Tearooms and guesthouse are named after pioneering 19th-century wildlife photographers Richard and Cherry Kearton.

Named after the River Swale, meaning “rapid and liable to deluge” in old Anglo-Saxon, Swaledale is a typical limestone Yorkshire Dale with a narrow valley floor and green meadow glacier-formed valley sides.

View from a footpath along the River Swale in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski
View from a footpath along the River Swale in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski

Deriving from the Viking word Kelda meaning a spring, Keld is at the confluence of the Pennine Way and another long-distance footpath called the Coast to Coast Walk.

Keld in the Yorkshire Dales as seen from the Pennine Way. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Keld in the Yorkshire Dales as seen from the Pennine Way. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Comprising a series of four steps, each its own small waterfall with the largest single drop being about 20 feet, Catrake Force is about 1/2 mile walk from Keld along the Pennine Way.

Waterfalls in the north of England are often called Forces after the Norse word Foss which means waterfall, whilst Catrake derives from the Latin “cataracta”, also meaing waterfall.

Catrake Force waterfall at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Catrake Force waterfall at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

The South West Coast Path

Voted “Britain’s Best Walking route” twice in a row by the Ramblers Walk magazine, at 630 miles, it is the longest of our three featured long-distance walks.

Signpost on the South West Coast Path at Bareppa, Cornwall. Credit Tim Green, flickr
Signpost on the South West Coast Path at Bareppa, Cornwall. Credit Tim Green, flickr

Since the South West Coast Path rises and falls at the mouth of each river, it is one of the most challenging walks in Britain.

The Cornish coast near St Agnes. Credit Baz Richardson
The Cornish coast near St Agnes. Credit Baz Richardson
A public footpath down some steps to a Cornish beach. Credit Jane White
A public footpath down some steps to a Cornish beach. Credit Jane White

Originating as a route for the Coastguard to walk from lighthouse to lighthouse patrolling for smugglers, it hugs the coastline and provides excellent views of the dozens of bays and coves.

North Cornwall Coast Walk. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
North Cornwall Coast Walk. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Turquoise waters lap beautiful deserted beaches.

Skylarks rise above steep green pastures.

Is this some Caribbean paradise isle?

No, this is Lantic Bay, Cornwall, a part of England bathed in the warmth of the Gulf Stream—an Atlantic ocean current originating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The South West Coast Path at Lantic Bay, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson
The South West Coast Path at Lantic Bay, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson

Lying within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Portloe is a good example of a secluded small fishing village that’s relatively untouched by tourism.

Two full-time working fishing vessels haul in fresh crab and lobster to be enjoyed at the Ship Inn or Lugger Hotel.

Portloe, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Portloe, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
A two-step stile in a Cornish forest. Credit Dennis White
A two-step stile in a Cornish forest. Credit Dennis White
The Golden Cock Footpath in Cornwall. Credit Denis White
The Golden Cock Footpath in Cornwall. Credit Denis White
The Cornish coast at Polperro. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Cornish coast at Polperro. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Once a staging point on the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral for those pilgrims traveling from further west by sea and from Brittany in France, Kingswear village sits on the east bank of the River Dart in Devon.

Kingswear, Devon. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Kingswear, Devon. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Serving as the railhead for the Dartmouth Steam Railway, Kingswear provides walkers of the South West Coast path a chance to ride on an original steam train that first opened in 1859 to the seaside resort of Paignton about 7 miles away.

Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Geof Sheppard
Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Geof Sheppard

Durdle Door (sometimes written Durdle Dor) is a natural limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset.

Privately owned but open to the public, the name Durdle is derived from the Old English ‘thirl’ meaning bore or drill.

Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset, England. Credit Lies Thru a Lens
Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset, England. Credit Lies Thru a Lens

Spanning 185 million years of geological history, the 96-mile long Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Coastal erosion has exposed rock formations and fossils covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous geological periods.

Jurassic Coast, Dorset. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Jurassic Coast, Dorset. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Radically reshaped in the 18th and 19th centuries by deep-lode mining for copper and tin, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape is another UNESCO World Heritage Site along the South West Coast Path.

Reflecting the flowering of innovation during the Industrial Revolution, the mines, engine houses, foundries, and ports enabled the region to produce two-thirds of the world’s supply of copper.

Following the copper crash of the 1860’s, production turned to focus on tin mining.

Cornish tin mine at Chapel Porth. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Cornish tin mine at Chapel Porth. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

On your way along the north coast path of Cornwall, you might like to drop in on the picturesque fishing village of Port Isaac which served as the backdrop for the popular TV series Doc Martin.

Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

The only question remaining is which path to take first?

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions. Credit Phil Sangwell
Decisions, decisions. Credit Phil Sangwell

The Beautiful Churches of Rural England

Doomsday is approaching for many rural English churches.

The Church of England has warned that dozens of churches will become redundant within 10 years unless it can attract new members.

Fortunately, there are government bodies such as “Historic England” that are tasked with protecting the historical environment of England by preserving and listing historic buildings and ancient monuments.

Instead of simply being demolished or left to ruin, many redundant churches that aren’t protected by Historic England find new uses as community centres, museums, or even homes.

Accounting for about 2% of English building stock and amounting to about 500,000 across the United Kingdom, “listed buildings” are those are on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

There are three types of listed status for buildings in England and Wales:
Grade I: buildings of exceptional interest.
Grade II*: particularly important buildings of more than special interest.
Grade II: buildings that are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them.

Most of the beautiful churches in our selection are Grade I listed buildings chosen from several counties across England.

For added atmosphere, consider playing the British patriotic hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country”, a poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice set to music by Gustav Holst.

Bedfordshire

Dating from the 12th century and made of coursed limestone rubble with ashlar dressings, the Church of All Saints, Riseley is designated a Grade I listed building.

Paired belfry windows, embattled parapets, crocketed pinnacles, and gargoyles give the 15th-century tower a classic gothic appearance.

Church of All Saints, Riseley, Bedfordshire. Credit Deni Bokej
Church of All Saints, Riseley, Bedfordshire. Credit Deni Bokej

Mostly 13th-century with various later details and reworkings, the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Salford is constructed of coursed rubble, a mixture of limestone and ironstone, and ashlar dressings.

Replacing an earlier tower, the gable of this Grade I-listed building is surmounted by a distinctive 19th-century bell-cote of heavy timbers topped with a spirelet.

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Salford, Bedfordshire. Credit Philip Jeffrey
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Salford, Bedfordshire. Credit Philip Jeffrey

Cheshire

English architectural historian, writer and TV broadcaster, Alec Clifton-Taylor includes St Mary and All Saints Church in Great Budworth in his list of ‘best’ English parish churches.

Mostly of the English Gothic style, with the older north transept of Decorated Gothic, a reference to a priest in Great Budworth dates back to the 11th century.

The oldest part of the present Grade I-listed church is the 14th-century Lady Chapel—a traditional British term for a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady”, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St Mary and All Saints Church, Great Budworth, Cheshire. Credit Joopercoopers
St Mary and All Saints Church, Great Budworth, Cheshire. Credit Joopercoopers

Originally built during the reign of Edward III in the 14th century, St Lawrence’s Church in Over Peover was later rebuilt in brick in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Round windows and arched bell-windows with pilasters characterize the tower’s three stages, whereas the south chapel has two bays, three buttresses surmounted by gargoyles, and a battlemented parapet.

During the Second World War, General George Patton and his staff worshipped in the church while stationed in the village at Peover Hall.

St Lawrence's Church, Over Peover, Cheshire. Credit Peter I. Vardy
St Lawrence’s Church, Over Peover, Cheshire. Credit Peter I. Vardy

Cornwall

Known as the Cathedral of the Moor, the Church of St Nonna is the second largest church on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

Stood in the village of Alternun, meaning “altar of Nonn”, the Grade I-listed church is dedicated to Saint Non (or Nonna), who was the mother of St David, the patron saint of Wales.

Largely 15th-century English Gothic in style, it is known for its fine Norman font and fine old woodwork dating to 1684.

Church of St Nonna, Altarnun, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Church of St Nonna, Altarnun, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Of Norman origin with 15th-century additions, the Grade I-listed St Clarus’s Church at St Cleer is constructed of granite rubble with a slate roof and crested ridge tiles over the nave and chancel.

Saint Clarus was an Englishman who traveled to Cornwall to preach to local inhabitants in the 8th century.

Founding the church of St Cleer, he lived a saintly life until a local chieftainess fell in love with him.

Although he fled to France to escape her advances and continue an isolated saintly life, the spurned woman had him pursued and murdered.

St Clarus's Church, St Cleer, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Clarus’s Church, St Cleer, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Cumbria

Although dating from about 1500 in its present form, the materials from earlier churches have been incorporated into the Grade I-listed St. Andrew’s Church at Sedbergh.

Constructed in rubble stone with sandstone quoins and dressings, the three-stage tower features an embattled parapet with pinnacles at each corner.

The churchyard is said to contain a yew tree under which English Dissenter George Fox preached the Christain awakening from which came the Quaker movement.

Poet, American loyalist, and Anglican missionary to colonial South Carolina, Revd. Charles Woodmason is said to be buried here in an unmarked grave.

St. Andrew's, Sedbergh, Cumbria. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
St. Andrew’s, Sedbergh, Cumbria. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Constructed of rubble stone with a slate roof, the Grade I-listed St Michael and All Angels Church at Hawkshead was first established in the 12th century and extended in about 1300.

The tower features a doorway on the west side, with a two-light window above, a small window and a clock face on the south side, louvred bell openings with straight heads, and an embattled parapet with corner pinnacles.

St Michael and All Angels Church at Hawkshead, Cumbria. Credit Anne Roberts, flickr
St Michael and All Angels Church at Hawkshead, Cumbria. Credit Anne Roberts, flickr

Derbyshire

Dating from the 14th century and having a heritage designation of “Grade II*”, St Mary the Virgin’s Church at Newton Solney was restored between 1880 and 1882.

Recessed behind battlements atop the tower having narrow slit bell-openings on three sides, the octagonal stone spire features tall gabled lucarnes.

St Mary the Virgin's Church, Newton Solney, Derbyshire. Credit Gammock
St Mary the Virgin’s Church, Newton Solney, Derbyshire. Credit Gammock

Mostly 14th- and 15-century, but dating from the 11th century, St Michael’s Church at Breaston is a  Grade I listed parish church.

Some restoration work was completed in 1871 by noted English architect Robert Evans, with pews and choir stalls replaced, flooring and tiling work to aisles and re-leaded roof.

St Michael's Church, Breaston, Derbyshire. Credit Russ Hamer
St Michael’s Church, Breaston, Derbyshire. Credit Russ Hamer

Devon

Known as the Cathedral of the Moor due to its 120-ft tower and large seating capacity for such a small village, the Church of Saint Pancras was originally built in the 14th century in late gothic style.

Proceeds from the local tin-mining industry paid for several extensions over the years.

Saint Pancras Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Saint Pancras Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Legend has it that St Brannock’s Church in Braunton was founded by Saint Brannock in the 6th-century who was told in a dream to look for “a sow and piglets” and that should be the site to build a church.

Designated Grade I, the present church dates from the 13th century and has been described by historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as “one of the most interesting, and also one of the most puzzling in North Devon”.

St Brannock's Church, Braunton, Devon. Credit Dietmar Rabich
St Brannock’s Church, Braunton, Devon. Credit Dietmar Rabich

Dorset

Described as “one of the most exciting parish churches in the county”, St Mary’s in Puddletown’s has 12th-century origins—parts of the tower date from 1180–1200, and the 12th-century font has a notable tapering beaker shape, with diapering depicting crossing stems and Acanthus leaves.

Puddletown village provided the inspiration for the fictional settlement of Weatherbury in his novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

St Mary the Virgin's church, Puddletown, Dorset. Credit PaleCloudedWhite
St Mary the Virgin’s church, Puddletown, Dorset. Credit PaleCloudedWhite

Named after the statue of St Michael which still exists from the earliest structure in Norman times, this was Thomas Hardy’s local church and where he was baptised.

Stinsford is the original ‘Mellstock’ of Hardy’s novels Under the Greenwood Tree and Jude the Obscure.

Hardy truly left his heart in Stinsford, which is buried alongside the graves of his first and second wives.

St Michael's church, Stinsford, Dorset. Credit Martinevans123
St Michael’s church, Stinsford, Dorset. Credit Martinevans123

Essex

Standing for nearly 1,200 years in the little village of Greensted-juxta-Ongar in Essex, Greensted Church is the oldest wooden church in the world.

Dated to the mid-9th century, the oak walls are often classified as remnants of a palisade church or a kind of early stave church.

Church of St Andrew, Greensted, Essex. Credit Acabashi
Church of St Andrew, Greensted, Essex. Credit Acabashi

All Saints Church at Rickling is a 13th-century flint church known for its intricate screen and pulpit and designated as a Grade I listed building.

The chancel, south aisle, and west tower were built in 1340 and later alterations made in the 15th, 16th, and 19th centuries.

All Saints' parish church, Rickling, Essex. Credit Acabashi
All Saints’ parish church, Rickling, Essex. Credit Acabashi

Gloucestershire

Chipping Campden’s medieval gothic church of St James’s features extravagant monuments to local wealthy wool merchants hoping to ensure a place in heaven thanks to their largesse.

Standing 120 ft tall, the tower dates from around 1500.

St James's Church, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St James’s Church, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

With a nave thought to be from Saxon times, a 12th-century chancel and 16th-century tower, St Michael’s Church in the Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Rouse is designated Grade I for exceptional interest and international importance.

St Michael's Church, Duntisbourne Rouse, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze
St Michael’s Church, Duntisbourne Rouse, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze

Still visible on the south wall of St Michael and All Angels parish church in Stanton is evidence of stone benches for the old and infirm, dating from when most of the congregation stood during the parts of the service that did not require kneeling.

Featuring columns from about 1200, early English Gothic pointed arches, and 15th-century font, porch and parvise, the church is designated Grade I.

St Michael and All Angels parish church, Stanton, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze
St Michael and All Angels parish church, Stanton, Gloucestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze

Hampshire

Notable for its variety of architecture, the Church of St Lawrence in Alton, was also the site for the concluding action of one of the most savage encounters of the English Civil War (1642 – 1651).

Designated a Grade I listed building, repeated additions and extensions down the centuries have resulted in an amalgam of architectural styles, ranging from early Norman and early English to Perpendicular and Tudor.

Church of St Lawrence, Alton, Hampshire. Credit Ericoides
Church of St Lawrence, Alton, Hampshire. Credit Ericoides

Dating from the 12th century, Binsted’s Holy Cross parish church consists of stone walls, a tiled roof, and stone-slated porch and is designated Grade I.

Holy Cross parish church, Binsted, Hampshire. Credit Mike Cattell
Holy Cross parish church, Binsted, Hampshire. Credit Mike Cattell

Recorded in the Domesday Book under the name Cilbodentune, the parish church of St Mary the Less at Chilbolton in Hampshire dates back to the 12th century, on the site of an earlier wooden church.

Church of St Mary the Less, Chilbolton, Hampshire. Credit Andrew Mathewson
Church of St Mary the Less, Chilbolton, Hampshire. Credit Andrew Mathewson

St Mary’s Church at Breamore is noted for its Anglos-Saxon rood—the large crucifix above the entrance to the chancel of a medieval church.

St Mary's Church, Breamore, Hampshire. Credit Plumbago
St Mary’s Church, Breamore, Hampshire. Credit Plumbago

Lancashire

Protected as Scheduled Monuments, three well-preserved Anglo-Saxon crosses in the churchyard are evidence of a church existing on the site from before the Norman Conquest of England.

Dating from the 13th century and designated Grade I  by English Heritage, the current Church of St Mary and All Saints in Whalley was constructed from sandstone rubble with a stone slate roof.

The ancient parish church of St. Mary and All Saints at Whalley in Lancashire. Credit Craig Thornber
The ancient parish church of St. Mary and All Saints at Whalley in Lancashire. Credit Craig Thornber

Monks from Fountains Abbey had the Church of St Mary le Ghyll in Barnoldswick built in about 1160 to replace an older church on the same site.

Designated as Grade I, the stone and slate-roofed structure has a tower with diagonal buttresses and a stair turret.

St Mary le Ghyll, Barnoldswick, Lancashire. Credit Tim Green
St Mary le Ghyll, Barnoldswick, Lancashire. Credit Tim Green

Lincolnshire

Built on a hillside overlooking the Vale of Belvoir, the Church of All Saints at Barrowby suffered damage to stained glass windows and its rood screen during Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries.

Constructed from limestone ashlar and ironstone with a Westmorland and Welsh slate roof,  its tower is of Decorated style with six bells and an octagonal spire containing two tiers of lucarnes.

Church of All Saints, Barrowby, Lincolnshire. Credit Russ Hamer
Church of All Saints, Barrowby, Lincolnshire. Credit Russ Hamer

Greatford’s church dedicated to St Thomas Becket of Canterbury is built in the Early English style, and is Grade I listed.

St Thomas Becket parish church, Greatford, Lincolnshire. Credit Julian Dowse
St Thomas Becket parish church, Greatford, Lincolnshire. Credit Julian Dowse

Norfolk

Dominating the Market Place and surrounding area, the 98 ft tower of St Michael and All Angels parish church has a small spire on top that can be seen for miles around.

A fine example of Gothic architecture of the Decorated style, the nave, aisles, and chancel were built in the 13th century with the tower added in the 14th.

St Michael & All Angels, Aylsham, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Michael & All Angels, Aylsham, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

One of 125 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk, St Mary’s Church at Burnham Deepdale houses a Norman font.

St Mary's Church at Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Mary’s Church at Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Northamptonshire

Dating from about 1300, the Grade I Church of St Nicholas in Stanford-on-Avon is built from squared coursed limestone, lias and granite with ashlar dressings and slate roof.

It contains the oldest metal organ pipes surviving in Britain.

Church of St Nicholas, Stanford-on-Avon, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Church of St Nicholas, Stanford-on-Avon, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Built from ashlar, coursed limestone rubble and ironstone, the Church of St Edmund at Warkton has 12th-century origins with the tower added in the 15th century.

The 4-stage tower has plinth clasping buttresses, a quatrefoil frieze with gargoyles, and castellated parapet with corner pinnacles.

Church of St Edmund at Warkton, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Church of St Edmund at Warkton, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Staffordshire

Containing the tombs of four Bishops of Lichfield, the 13th-century Holy Trinity church in Eccleshall is Grade I listed.

Showing two phases of English Gotic architecture, the tower is 13th-century Early English for most of its height, with the upper section of 15th-century Perpendicular style.

Holy Trinity church, Eccleshall, Staffordshire
Holy Trinity church, Eccleshall, Staffordshire

A church has stood on the site of All Saints’ parish church in Alrewas since at least 822AD, although construction of the current Grade I-listed structure was mainly from the 13th, 14th, 16th, and 19th centuries.

Believed to be made of timber, the original building was from a time when Alrewas was a flourishing settlement owned by Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia.

Replacing the simple wooden church with one of local stone, parts of the later Norman structure are still visible in the tower doorway, the north aisle door and the heavy rough hewn pieces of masonry in the north wall.

All Saints' parish church, Alrewas, Staffordshire. Credit Bs0u10e01
All Saints’ parish church, Alrewas, Staffordshire. Credit Bs0u10e01

Suffolk

Considered to be one of Suffolk’s finest churches, the parish church of Southwold is dedicated to St Edmund and renowned for its East Anglian flushwork, especially that of the tower.

Narrowly missed by a German bomb during World War II, the explosion destroyed nearby houses blew out most of the churches 15th-century stained glass windows.

St Edmund's Church, Southwold, Suffolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
St Edmund’s Church, Southwold, Suffolk. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

One of 38 existing round-tower churches in Suffolk, the 13-century St. Andrew’s Church in Bramfield has a separate 12th-century tower standing in the church grounds—the only example of its kind in the county.

Both the church and the tower are Grade I listed buildings.

St Andrew's Church, Bramfield, Suffolk. Credit Bernd Jatzwauk
St Andrew’s Church, Bramfield, Suffolk. Credit Bernd Jatzwauk

Sussex

Dating from the 12th century and made from Sussex Marble, the font is the oldest part of the Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick.

With a 13th-century tower, and most of the remaining structure dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, the church is designated Grade I in historical importance.

Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick, West Sussex. Credit Martinking73
Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick, West Sussex. Credit Martinking73

Built in the 1370s, the GradeI-listed St Andrew’s parish church in Alfriston is known as the “Cathedral of the Downs”.

Thought to be the site of a pre-Christian place of worship, the church sits on a small, flint-walled mound in the middle of the village green.

St Andrew's parish church, Alfriston, East Sussex. Credit David Iliff
St Andrew’s parish church, Alfriston, East Sussex. Credit David Iliff

Surrey

Built during Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods, records show that St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Godalming was a redevelopment of a prior Anglo-Saxon church.

Made from the local hard sandstone, the church has two integrated medieval chapels and is designated Grade I.

St Peter and St Paul's Church, Godalming, Surrey. Credit Hassocks5489
St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Godalming, Surrey. Credit Hassocks5489

Dating back to the year 1250, All Saints’ parish church in Warlingham is built of flint rubble with stone dressings and is designated Grade II*.

Local vicars maintain that long-serving Archbishop Cranmer began experimenting with the first Book of Common Prayer at this church.

All Saints' parish church, Warlingham, Surrey
All Saints’ parish church, Warlingham, Surrey

Warwickshire

Under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust as a Grade II* listed building, St John the Baptist church in Avon Dassett is a redundant church no longer used for regular worship.

Built in 1868 on the site of an earlier Norman church, the north wall of the chancel has a recess containing a 13th-century stone coffin with a lid.

St John the Baptist church in Avon Dassett, Warwickshire. Credit Steve Daniels
St John the Baptist church in Avon Dassett, Warwickshire. Credit Steve Daniels

St Leonard’s Church in Spernall is another example of a redundant church no longer used for service but of architectural and historical significance.

Under the care of a registered charity called “Friends of Friendless Churches” as a Grade II* listed building, much of the structure dates from the 12th century, although work continued until 1844.

St Leonard's parish church, Spernall, Warwickshire
St Leonard’s parish church, Spernall, Warwickshire

Wiltshire

Standing close to “Old Sarnum”, the earliest settlement of Salisbury, St Lawrence’s church in Stratford-sub-Castle is a Grade I listed building thought to have used much of the stone from abandoned buildings at the settlement during the 13th century.

Restored in various stages during the 20th century, the church was said to have been consecrated in 1326.

St Lawrence's church, Stratford-sub-Castle, Wiltshire. Credit Ashley Pomeroy
St Lawrence’s church, Stratford-sub-Castle, Wiltshire. Credit Ashley Pomeroy

Dedicated to a Norman saint, the Church of St Cyriac in Lacock is a 14th-century building designated Grade I and having Norman origins.

Prospering as an important market town on the Bath, Somerset sheep-droving route to London, substantial local tax revenues enabled the more extensive 15th-century rebuild that we see today.

The Church of St Cyriac, Lacock, Wiltshire. Credit WJournalist
The Church of St Cyriac, Lacock, Wiltshire. Credit WJournalist

Worcestershire

Built in the 13th-century, the parish Church of St. John the Baptist reveals a close connection of the Sandys family who owned the manor at Wickhamford village with the American colonists.

Penelope Washington, whose mother married Sir Samuel Sandys and moved to the Manor House, is buried in the church and was a distant relative of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America.

St John the Baptist Church, Wickhamford, Worcestershire. Credit Philip Halling
St John the Baptist Church, Wickhamford, Worcestershire. Credit Philip Halling

St Peter’s Church in the village of Pirton, Worcestershire is a Grade I listed building thanks largely to its timber-framed tower—the only example in Worcestershire of a tower with aisles.

St Peter's Church, Pirton, Worcestershire. Credit David Evans, flickr
St Peter’s Church, Pirton, Worcestershire. Credit David Evans, flickr

Yorkshire

Corner pinnacle and gargoyles decorate the tower of All Saints’ parish church in Kirk Deighton, and an octagonal spire rises 100 ft.

Dating from the 11th century and mentioned in the Domesday book—the manuscript record of King William the Conqueror’s “Great Survey”—the church underwent restoration in 1849 and is a Grade I listed building.

All Saints' parish church, Kirk Deighton, North Yorkshire. Credit Tim Green
All Saints’ parish church, Kirk Deighton, North Yorkshire. Credit Tim Green

Built in the 13th and 14th centuries and restored in 1843 and again in 1913, All Saints’ Church in the village of Roos is designated Grade I.

All Saints' Church in Roos, East Riding of Yorkshire
All Saints’ Church in Roos, East Riding of Yorkshire

8 of the Best Sherlock Holmes Actors

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Sherlock Holmes as the “most portrayed literary human character in film and TV”.

Claire Burgess, an adjudicator for Guinness World Records, said,

Sherlock Holmes is a literary institution. This Guinness World Records title reflects his enduring appeal and demonstrates that his detective talents are as compelling today as they were 125 years ago.
Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908)
Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget (1860 – 1908)

Created in 1887 by Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes has been played by over 75 actors—besting even William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Which begs the question “who was the best?”

If we could ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that question, he would have said, Eille Norwood:

“He has that rare quality, which can only be described as glamour, which compels you to watch an actor eagerly even when he is doing nothing. He has the brooding eye which excites expectation and he has also a quite unrivaled power of disguise.”

Sir Arthur said those words in the early 1920’s and there have been some truly remarkable performances since.

You will probably have your favorites in mind already, but just to help, we’ve shortlisted eight of the best Holmes of all time—each actor critically acclaimed as Sherlock for their era.

Eille Norwood (1923)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself admired Norwood’s portrayal, saying: “His wonderful impersonation of Holmes has amazed me.”

Norwood was obsessed with portraying Holmes true to the written stories.

He re-read all the stories published up to that time and even learned to play the violin.

Norwood had a reputation as a very professional actor with an incredible ability with make-up and disguise.

In this 2-minute clip, you get a sense of what it was like to watch a movie without sound.

It may seem ridiculous to us today, but in 1923, moving pictures, even without sound, were still a novelty for most people.

There is a story that asked to do an impromptu screen test, Norwood excused himself to the dressing room and appeared a few minutes later “an entirely new person”.

He had done very little in the way of make-up, and he had no accessories, but the transformation was remarkable – it was Sherlock Holmes who came in that door.

Arthur Wontner (1935)

Allmovie wrote that Leslie S. Hiscott’s 1931 movie “Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour” got the Wontner Holmes series off to a rousing start.”

We’ve moved forward into the era of “talkies”, or “talking pictures”, and it’s easy to see how much more watchable this movie is than the 1923 version.

In the United States, “talkies” helped secure Hollywood’s position as one of the world’s most powerful cultural/commercial centers of influence.

In Europe, they were viewed with some suspicion, where critics feared that a focus on dialogue would subvert the unique aesthetic virtues of soundless cinema.

The New York Times wrote of Wontner in Leslie S. Hiscott’s 1935 film “The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes”, “a mellow, evenly paced British film that renders to Holmes what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have rendered to him: Interest, respect. and affection … Mr. Wontner decorates a calabash pipe with commendable skill, contributing a splendid portrait of fiction’s first detective.”

“The Sign of Four” 1932 Film.
“The Missing Rembrandt” 1932 Film.
“The Sleeping Cardinal” 1931 Film.

Basil Rathbone (1939)

Basil Rathbone is credited with creating the definitive screen interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, his only rival generally conceded to be Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of the fictional detective.

His expert fencing skills earned him a reputation as the greatest swordsman in Hollywood history.

“Sherlock Holmes” by Ouida Rathbone 1953 Stage Play.
“Dressed to Kill” 1946 Film.
“Terror by Night” 1946 Film.
“The House of Fear” 1945 Film.
“Pursuit to Algiers” 1945 Film.
“The Woman in Green” 1945 Film.
“The Pearl of Death” 1944 Film.
“The Scarlet Claw” 1944 Film.
“The Spider Woman” 1944 Film.
“Sherlock Holmes in Washington” 1943 Film.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” 1943 Film.
“Sherlock Holmes Faces Death” 1943 Film.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror” 1942 Film.
“The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” 1939-1946 Radio (Blue Network & Mutual).
“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” 1939 Film.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” 1939 Film.

Peter Cushing (1959)

Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes played alongside long-time fellow Hammer Films actor Sir Christopher Lee in a highly acclaimed production of Hound of the Baskervilles.

Hammer Films was famous in the UK for its gothic horror films from the mid-1950s to the 1970s.

Time Out called it “the best Sherlock Holmes film ever made, and one of Hammer’s finest movies”.

But Peter Cushing’s Holmes received mixed reviews, with Films and Filming calling him an “impish, waspish, Wilde-ian Holmes”, whereas The New York Herald Tribune stated, “Peter Cushing is a forceful and eager Sherlock Holmes”.

Cushing also played Holmes in a BBC TV Series in 1968.

Jeremy Brett (1984)

Inheriting the mantle from the great Basil Rathbone was a tall order indeed, but Jeremy Brett pulls it off with a long-running TV series in the 80’s and again in the 90’s.

Considered to be the definitive Holmes of his era, Brett once said that “Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played — harder than Hamlet or Macbeth.”

“The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes” 1994 TV series.
“The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” 1991–1993 TV series.
“The Secret of Sherlock Holmes 1988–89” Stage (touring, British).
“The Return of Sherlock Holmes 1986–1988” TV series.
“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” 1984–1985 TV series.
41 episodes.

Rupert Everett (2004)

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking is a British television film originally broadcast on BBC One in the UK on 26 December 2004 and PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre in 2005.

Holmes used cocaine, which he injected in a seven-percent solution with a syringe and also dabbled in morphine, both of which were legal in late-19th-century England.

This adaptation with music from Johnny Cash highlights Holme’s drug use in the movie.

Reviews of the drama were generally mixed.

I did feel that this peculiar tale was intended to tickle American tootsiesNancy Banks-Smith for The Guardian

Robert Bianco of USA Today remarked,

Everett sticks close enough to the outline created by Arthur Conan Doyle to be recognizably Sherlockian, and yet he deviates enough to create an amusing character all his own.

Brian Lowry of Variety wrote, “The Case of the Silk Stocking is a rather wan addition to the Holmes filmography, yet respectable enough in showcasing the character’s cerebral charms. If push comes to shove, though, when all the revisionism’s done, I prefer my Holmes in black-and-white.”

Robert Downey Jr (2009)

Robert Downey Jr reminded us that in addition to a suave and sophisticated Victorian gentleman, Sherlock Holmes is also, “a brawling, head-butting, fist-in-the-gut, knee-in-the-groin action hero.”

In addition to brawn, Downey brings his “characteristic twitchy wit and haggard insouciance, he has more intelligence than the movie knows what to do with.”

The London scene is given a makeover with “a smoky, greasy, steam-punk rendering of Victorian London, full of soot and guts and bad teeth and period clothes — shows some undeniable flair.”
Ref: NYTimes “Sherlock Holmes” 2009 Review.

“Sherlock Holmes” 2009 Film.
“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” 2011 Film.

Benedict Cumberbatch (2012)

Danny Bowes, writing for Indiewire thinks the greatest performance as Sherlock Holmes is that of Benedict Cumberbatch.

“Sherlock” 2010–present TV series (BBC).
15 episodes.

… free the character from what they felt was a paralyzing traditionalism in adaptations. By setting the show in present-day London, they’ve found a way of getting at who Holmes is as a character, giving everyone from the writers to the designers to the actor playing the role the opportunity to focus on who Holmes is, rather than who he has been.
As for Cumberbatch’s performance, his physicality is a delight — he alternates between furious activity and catatonic stillness, seeming to be in motion even when still and to exist in a series of meticulously constructed tableaux when in motion.

Several other actors have played Sherlock Holmes to varying degrees of success, including Roger Moore, John Cleese, Tom Baker (of Dr Who fame), Christopher Lee, Peter Cook, Ian Richardson (House of Cards).

7 Reasons to Fall in Love with Britain’s Beautiful Canals

Everyone deserves a place to escape.

And that’s exactly what Britain’s canals provide with their idyllic tranquility, natural beauty, and over two hundred years of history.

Whether you’re boating, walking, cycling, or fishing, Britain’s canal network will delight and surprise at every turn.

Here are 7 reasons to fall in love with Britain’s canals.

1. The fascinating history

Although the first canals were built by the Romans for irrigation and land drainage, the canal network we know and love today is largely a product of Britain’s industrial heritage.

As the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution, Britain needed a more efficient “mass transit” system to bring raw materials to factories and take finished goods to coastal ports for export.

And so Britain became the first country to build a nationwide canal network.

Horse-drawn narrowboats with a towpath alongside for the horse to walk along were standardized across the British canal network.

A horse drawn narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal at Kintbury in Wiltshire. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
A horse drawn narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal at Kintbury in Wiltshire. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Before the canals, transport of goods was mainly via coastal shipping and horses & carts struggling along mostly unsurfaced mud roads.

A Beached Collier Unloading into Carts by Julius Caesar Ibbetson - circa 1790
A Beached Collier Unloading into Carts by Julius Caesar Ibbetson – circa 1790
Landscape with Cart Crossing a River by Lucas van Uden
Landscape with Cart Crossing a River by Lucas van Uden

What do afternoon tea and canals have in common?

If you were running a pottery factory like Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795), making fine china tea sets for export all over the world, the method you used for transporting such fragile and expensive goods was very important.

Gliding along the water had advantages over the jarring, bumpy ride of packhorses or horse drawn carts, not to mention the sheer weight of goods carried by barge making the economics much more favorable.

Unsurprisingly then, the pottery manufacturers of Staffordshire were amongst the first promoters of canals.

Tea and coffee service. Made at Josiah Wedgwood's factory 1775
Tea and coffee service. Made at Josiah Wedgwood’s factory 1775

Often called the “Golden Age” of British canals, the period from 1770 – 1830 saw rapid industrialisation of the Midlands and the North of England.

But from about 1840, a new type of network was being built—one that threatened the canals and would lead to their eventual demise: the railways.

Fortunately, after a long period of neglect, Britain’s canals were renovated and returned to their former glory—this time as byways for leisure craft on lazy Sunday afternoons or as relaxing canal cruise vacations.

2. The prettiest boats you ever saw

Economic and engineering constraints of the 18th century kept canals narrow, with many locks built to just 7 ft 6 in wide.

This narrow gauge limited the beam (width) of the boats, which became known as narrowboats.

Narrowboats at Huddlesford Canal. Credit donald judge
Narrowboats at Huddlesford Canal. Credit donald judge

Competition from the railways forced boat operators to live on board, converting the rear portion into ingenious tiny living spaces complete with hot stove, steaming kettle, brightly painted decorations, fancy lace, and polished brass.

Brightly coloured historic narrowboats at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit David Merrett
Brightly coloured historic narrowboats at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit David Merrett

By the late Victorian era, it was common to paint roses and castles on the narrow boats and their fixtures and fittings.

Traditional boatman's cabin interrior. Credit Keith Lodge
Traditional boatman’s cabin interrior. Credit Keith Lodge
A Buckby Can on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit David Merrett
A Buckby Can on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit David Merrett

To this day, owners still personalize their narrowboats with their own unique touches.

Narrowboats at the Paddington branch of the Grand Union Canal
Narrowboats at the Paddington branch of the Grand Union Canal
Teapots and chimney pots. Credit donald judge
Teapots and chimney pots. Credit donald judge

3. The freedom to move about the country

Navigable in its entirety in a narrowboat of 7 ft wide by about 56 ft long is a network of some 2,200 miles of inland waterways just beckoning to be explored.

Narrowboating transports us back to a time without road rage when travelling at 4 mph was considered hurried.

Once the highways of the 18th century, the canals are now corridors of green best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Backwater at Bedford. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Backwater at Bedford. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Cruising the peaceful waterways
Cruising the peaceful waterways
Basingstoke Canal Centre, Mytchett, Surrey. Credit Zixi
Basingstoke Canal Centre, Mytchett, Surrey. Credit Zixi
Entering the lock at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Entering the lock at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Opening the lock gates at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson
Opening the lock gates at Braunston, Northamptonshire. Credit Baz Richardson

4. The spellbinding Victorian ingenuity

As the Industrial Revolution took hold at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, the technology allowed canals to be improved.

Early canals contoured round hills and valleys, whereas later ones went straighter.

Locks took canals up and down gradients, aqueducts spanned valleys, and tunnels went directly through hills.

Caen Hill Locks, Devizes, Wiltshire. Credit BazViv
Caen Hill Locks, Devizes, Wiltshire. Credit BazViv
Bingley Five Rise Locks. Credit Michael Spiller
Bingley Five Rise Locks. Credit Michael Spiller

At 1000 ft long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal spans the River Dee Valley in Wales and is Britain’s longest aqueduct.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales. Credit Akke Monasso
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales. Credit Akke Monasso

The 18-arch stone and cast iron structure took ten years to build.

Opening in 1805, it is the oldest and longest navigable aqueduct in Great Britain and the highest in the world.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales

With its 52-foot span, the Engine Arm Aqueduct near Smethwick in the West Midlands is much smaller, but its ornate cast-iron Gothic arches and columns make a splendid sight nonetheless.

The Engine Arm Aqueduct. Credit Oosoom
The Engine Arm Aqueduct. Credit Oosoom

Over three miles long, the longest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain is the Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in Northern England.

Entrance to Standedge Tunnel, Marsden, West Yorkshire. Credit 54north
Entrance to Standedge Tunnel, Marsden, West Yorkshire. Credit 54north

Since March 30th 2009, boats have been allowed to pass through Standedge Tunnel under their own power accompanied by a trained “chaperone” from the Canal & River Trust.

Built without a towpath, before motorized boats the only way to get through the tunnel was by “legging” it.

Lying on a plank across the bows of the boat, and holding the plank with their hands, two people would propel the boat with their feet against the tunnel wall.

It was dangerous work, leading to many deaths for the “leggers” until safety was improved.

The horse would take a well-earned break and be led over the hill.

Inside Standedge canal tunnel. Credit G-13114
Inside Standedge canal tunnel. Credit G-13114
One of Birmingham's myrida canals

5. The countryside and nature surround you

Britain’s canal network passes through not only historic cities and pretty towns and villages, but also the magnificent open countryside.

Caen Hill Locks from 400 feet - Looking down from Bath Road Bridge. Credit Rmckenzi
Caen Hill Locks from 400 feet – Looking down from Bath Road Bridge. Credit Rmckenzi
River Stour, Worcestershire
River Stour, Worcestershire
The Lancaster Canal, Borwick, Lancashire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Lancaster Canal, Borwick, Lancashire. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Tavistock Canal, Tavistock, Devon. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Tavistock Canal, Tavistock, Devon. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

You’re guaranteed to see some stunning wildlife on a daily basis in and around the canals.

If you don’t spot the brightly coloured Kingfisher perched on the canalside, you’ll almost certainly see one darting across the water as a characteristic “blue streak”.

Kingfisher. Credit Andreas Trepte
Kingfisher. Credit Andreas Trepte

And you’re bound to see one of these guys—a Grey Heron—the patient fisherman, waiting motionless for the right moment to wade in the shallows and show us what a master angler can really do.

Heron. Credit Gunnar Ries
Heron. Credit Gunnar Ries
Leeds and Liverpool Canal, Rodley. Credit Tim Green
Leeds and Liverpool Canal, Rodley. Credit Tim Green

6. The city’s never far away

Passing along the Grand Union and Regent’s canals, to the Docklands and Limehouse Basin, the London Ring lets you travel around London by narrowboat through Little Venice, Regent’s Park, London Zoo, Camden Lock, Kings Cross, Islington and Victoria Park.

Sunset over the Regent's Canal in Camden, London. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Sunset over the Regent’s Canal in Camden, London. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Reading. Credit Yiannis Theologos Michellis, flickr
Reading. Credit Yiannis Theologos Michellis, flickr
Bridgewater Canal basin near Castlefield, Manchester. Credit Smabs Sputzer
Bridgewater Canal basin near Castlefield, Manchester. Credit Smabs Sputzer

Birmingham has more canals than Venice.

Extending to just over 100 miles, the Birmingham Canal Navigations include two long tunnels and several aqueducts.

Narrowboat negotiating the Broad St. Tunnel, Birmingham. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Narrowboat negotiating the Broad St. Tunnel, Birmingham. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
Bridgewater Canal at Worsley, Greater Manchester. Credit Poliphilo
Bridgewater Canal at Worsley, Greater Manchester. Credit Poliphilo

7. There’s a vibrant community of enthusiasts

Escape into the country for some much-needed peace and tranquility or socialize with the big network of canal enthusiasts—it’s up to you.

Britain’s canal community is growing by leaps and bounds.

According to the Residential Boat Owners Association, as many as 15,000 people call Britain’s waterways home.

Citing freedom, economic advantages, a strong sense of community, and a closeness with nature as reasons for making their home on the water, many “liveaboards” can’t imagine returning to a life on land.

Dining al fresco with boating friends. Credit donald judge
Dining al fresco with boating friends. Credit Donald Judge
Huddlesford Canal Gathering, Lichfield. Credit Donald Judge, flickr
Huddlesford Canal Gathering, Lichfield. Credit Donald Judge, flickr
A Boating Community.. Credit donald judge
A Boating Community.. Credit donald judge
Skipton May Boat Festival. Credit Ronhjones
Skipton May Boat Festival. Credit Ronhjones
Huddlesford Canal Gathering, Lichfield. Credit Donald Judge, flickr 2
Huddlesford Canal Gathering, Lichfield. Credit Donald Judge, flickr

20 Quaint British Phrases

In his short story The Canterville Ghost from 1887, Oscar Wilde wrote:

“We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

Throw a few British idioms into the mix and our American friends and colleagues may be left scratching their heads and reaching for their phones.

From hundreds of British phrases, we’ve selected 20 of our favorites that have an old-fashioned quaintness.

1. A little bird told me

Meaning to receive information from a secret informant, the root source is thought to be from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 10-20:

“Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”



Sophie Lee’s comedy The Chapter of Accidents (1780) also uses the phrase:

“I had a little bird told me all this.”

And Shakespeare himself makes reference to it in Henry IV, Part 2:

“As far as France: I heard a bird so sing,
Whose musick, to my thinking, pleas’d the king.”

2. A turn up for the books

An unexpected stroke of good luck.

Originally “a turn up for the book”. At 18th-century horse racing meetings, punters’ names and wagers were recorded in a notebook. If an unbacked horse won, it was called a “turn up” for the bookmaker, who kept all the money.

The “luck” aspect of the phrase comes from games of chance like cribbage, where cards are “turned up” by chance.

3. A fly in the ointment

Meaning a small defect that impairs the value of something, its origins are from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 10:1 (King James Version):

“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”

In modern English is has come to mean something disagreeable that has come to light in a proposition, implying that there is a hidden problem.

4. A legend in one’s own lifetime

A person of considerable fame.

Originally the phrase was “a legend in her lifetime”, referring to Florence Nightingale in Giles Lytton Strachey’s book Eminent Victorians, 1918.

It spawned the humorous version “legend in one’s own lunchtime”, which means someone whose fame is fleeting.

5. A nod is as good as a wink

This 16th-century English phrase is shortened from “a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse”.

It means that a subtle signal is sufficient to indicate agreement to undertake something borderline illegal or an understanding of sexual innuendo.

Monty Python famously played with the phrase in a sketch known as “Nudge Nudge” where Eric Idle uses the modified phrase “a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat”.

6. How do you do?

A greeting originating from upper-class English society and usually reserved for formal occasions today.

The response is to reciprocate with “how do you do?” as in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892:

“Lord Darlington: How do you do, Lady Windermere?
Lady Windermere: How do you do, Lord Darlington?”

It can also be used euphemistically to mean a difficult situation.

“Oh dear, this is a bit of a how do you do, isn’t it?”

7. A sight for sore eyes

A welcome or pleasing sight.

First recorded in 1738 by the Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, and poet Jonathan Swift in A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation:

“The Sight of you is good for sore Eyes.”

8. For all intents and purposes

Meaning in a practical sense, or in every important respect.

Originating from English Law, it first appeared in an act adopted under Henry VIII in 1547.

“to all intents, constructions, and purposes”

It is often misheard as “for all intensive purposes”, an example of which appeared as far back as 1870 in the Indiana newspaper The Fort Wayne Daily Gazette:

“He has never had a representative in Congress nor in the State Legislature nor in any municipal office, and to all intensive purposes, politically speaking, he might have well have been dead.”

9. Spend a penny

A British euphemism for using a public lavatory.

John Nevil Maskelyne's door lock for pay toilets in the late 19th century
John Nevil Maskelyne’s door lock for pay toilets in the late 19th century

The first modern pay lavatories in 19th-century London used a door lock that required a penny to be inserted before one could enter.

It fell out of use as a general term when the price of using the lavatory went up to 2p!

10. As keen as mustard

Means very enthusiastic, eager.

Although the first mustard factory in London, dating back to 1742, was called Keen and Sons which named their product Keen’s Mustard, there is an earlier reference to the phrase.

In 1672, “as keen as mustard” appeared in William Walker’s books Phraseologia Anglo-Latina.

Mustard has been popular as a condiment for traditional British Sunday roast beef since medieval times, although horseradish is often preferred today.

A blend of mustard and horseradish called “Tewkesbury mustard” (named after its place of origin in Tewkesbury, Gloucester) is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, when Falstaff says:

“He a good wit? Hang him, baboon. His wit’s as thick as Tewksbury mustard. There’s no more conceit in him than is in a mallet.”

11. A fish out of water

Someone in an unfamiliar and often uncomfortable situation.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century collection of stories called The Canterbury Tales, revered as one of the most important works in English literature, uses what is thought to be the earliest reference to the phrase in the General Prologue:

“…a monk, when he is cloisterless;
Is like to a fish that is waterless”

12. Eat humble pie

To submissively admit one’s fault or make an apology.

In the 14th century, nobility feasting on game—especially deer—would leave the heart, liver, and entrails for the humble servants.

Known as “numbles”, which by the 15th century had become “umbles”, these leftovers were made into “umble pies”.

Samuel Pepys, a 17th-century royal administrator and member of parliament, is famous for keeping a diary for 10 years as a young man, in which he wrote:

“I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done.”

“Mrs Turner came in and did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven, extraordinarily good.”

13. Pardon my French

To excuse one’s swearing or bad language.

The origin comes from the 19th-century penchant for using French expressions in conversation and apologizing for it afterward.

Masterpiece’s new series Victoria has an example in episode 1 when Queen Victoria uses the term “au courant” to mean fashionable, but one of her ladies in waiting thinks it is the name of a hairstyle.

Another example is in The Lady’s Magazine of 1830, where “enbon-point” means plump and well-nourished.

“Bless me, how fat you are grown! – absolutely as round as a ball: – you will soon be as enbon-point (excuse my French) as your poor dear father, the major.”

14. Storm in a teacup

An over-reaction to a small or unimportant incident.

The origins probably date as far back as 52BC, with Cicero’s De Legibus which contains the Latin phrase “Excitabat fluctus in simpulo”, meaning the same as our modern day “storm in a teacup” or the American version “tempest in a teapot”.

Storm in a teacup. Derivative of work credited to Miya
Storm in a teacup. Derivative of work credited to Miya

Later versions included “a storm in a cream bowl” in 1678, a “storm in a wash-hand basin” in 1830, a “storm in a glass of water” (Dutch), and a “tempest in a potty” (Hungarian).

Scottish writer Catherine Sinclair used the first instance of the more familiar British version in 1838 in her novel Modern Accomplishments, or the march of intellect:

“As for your father’s good-humoured jests being ever taken up as a serious affair, it really is like raising a storm in a teacup”

15. Fell off the back of a lorry

For our American readers, “lorry” is the British word for “truck’. Yes, it’s a strange one.

The phrase is a euphemism for something that is acquired without payment … if you know what we mean. Nudge nudge. Wink wink.

Versions of the phrase in print don’t appear until the second half of the 20th century.

A news item in the London Times of 1968 read:

“The suggestion of the finder, a casual motorist, that the records ‘must have fallen off the back of a lorry’.”

But an earlier version using the word “truck” comes from the Australian parliamentary debate records:

“We heard, through something that had fallen off the back of a truck onto a reporter’s table.”

16. Flogging a dead horse

A fruitless attempt to get more out of something that is dead or has expired; to try to arouse interest in something that is a hopeless cause.

An 1859 printed record of a debate in the British parliament’s House of Lords is probably the earliest example of using the modern phrase:

“If the hon. Member for Birmingham had been present, he would have asked the hon. Gentleman whether he was satisfied with the results of his winter campaign. It was notorious that he was not, and a saying was attributed to him that he found he was ‘flogging a dead horse.'”

17. I’ll go to the foot of our stairs

This is an exclamation of surprise or expression of astonishment.

The phrase originated in northern England and was used extensively in Yorkshire as well as the English Midlands during the mid-twentieth century and is still used occasionally today.

It is similar to saying “stone the crows” and might be a euphemism for going to hell.

18. Gone for a burton

Referring to a person who has died or something that is broken, the origin of the term is somewhat of a mystery, but not without plausible candidates.

One is based on the English town of Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire that brews a popular beer called Burton Ale. Britons have a habit of using humour to help deal with adversity and during the Battle of Britain in 1940, pilots who crashed into the sea were said to be “in the drink” or to have “gone for a Burton” (ale).

Royal Air Force Fighter Command, 1939-1945. © IWM (CH 8025)
Royal Air Force Fighter Command, 1939-1945. © IWM (CH 8025)

Another theory is about Sir Mantague Burton, who founded the British men’s clothing store called Burton in 1904. At the end of WWII, Burton supplied suits for disbanded servicemen, who were said to have “gone for a Burton” if they were absent from roll call.

19. Hanky-panky

Mischievous behaviour, dishonest or shady activity. Also a term for sexual shenanigans.

The phrase is possibly a corruption of the Romani expression hakk’ni panki, meaning “great trick” or “big con”.

First recorded in 1841 in the first edition of London’s Punch magazine:

“Only a little hanky-panky, my lud. The people likes it; they loves to be cheated before their faces.”

George Bernard Shaw uses the sexual alternative meaning in his 1939 play Geneva:

“She: No hanky panky. I am respectable; and I mean to keep respectable.
He: I pledge you my word that my intentions are completely honorable.”

20. See a man about a dog

A euphemism for excusing oneself from company whilst concealing one’s true purpose.

The 1866 play Flying Scud by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault is thought to contain the earliest known use:

“Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can’t stop; I’ve got to see a man about a dog.”

The more direct meaning was to place a bet on a dog at the races.

A Traditional British Christmas Dinner

If we were to run a poll on what Britons would be eating for Christmas Dinner this year, there’s a good chance turkey would be at the top of the list.

But did you know that it took centuries for turkey to become the main course?

Legend has it that King Henry VIII was the first English monarch to enjoy turkey on Christmas Day.

So keep your head about you and do as kings do—tuck into the turkey!

Oven roasted brine-soaked turkey. Credit TheKohser
Oven roasted brine-soaked turkey. Credit TheKohser

In medieval England, the wealthy dined on goose, woodcock, venison, and with the king’s permission, swan.

If the poor folk were lucky, they might get some of the “pluck” from the venison—the heart, liver, tongue and brain.

Known as ‘umbles, it would be mixed with vegetables and spices and made into a pie.

Ever heard the expression “to eat humble pie”? This is where it comes from.

For dessert, the medieval folk would have enjoyed a pudding made from spiced oatmeal, currants, dried fruit, and egg yolk.

It was the forerunner to our perennial favourite, the Christmas Pudding.

Christmas Pudding. Credit James Petts
Christmas Pudding. Credit James Petts

By the time Queen Elizabeth I came along, people were feasting on sweetmeats, including collops (slices) of bacon, coated with ground almonds and sugar.

Sounding more like something you’d choke on was a beverage called “lambswool”.

It was made from hot cider or ale, nutmeg, ginger, and mashed baked apple.

Lambswool Drink. Credit Oakden Traditional Cookware
Lambswool Drink. Credit Oakden Traditional Cookware

When the baked apple mash was whisked or poured vigorously between two large vessels, it created a froth resembling lambswool.

“Next crown the bowl full
With gentle Lambs wool,
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too,
And thus ye must do
To make the Wassail a swinger”

‘Oxford Night Caps’, by Richard Cook, Published 1835.

For Georgians of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Twelfth Night on January 5 was a highlight of the Christmas festivities.

It was celebrated with Twelfth Cake, a precursor to our modern Christmas Cake, which traditionally included a dried bean and a dried pea.

Christmas Cake. Credit James Petts, flickr
Christmas Cake. Credit James Petts, flickr

As part of the fun and games on Twelfth Night, the man who had the slice with the bean was made King for the evening, and the woman whose slice contained the pea was crowned Queen.

During the earlier years of Queen Victoria’s reign, most families couldn’t afford turkey at Christmas so made do with beef (in the north) and goose (in the south).

Poorer folks caught their own rabbits.

Catching Rabbits by William Sidney Mount, 1839
Catching Rabbits by William Sidney Mount, 1839

In Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, it would have been very unusual indeed for someone in Bob Cratchit’s position to receive such a large turkey on Christmas Day.

'It was a Turkey' by Charles Edmund Brock. Credit Philip V. Allingham
“It was a Turkey” by Charles Edmund Brock. Credit Philip V. Allingham

Our seasonal favorite mince pies were originally made from meat, but tastes changed in the latter half of the 19th century to the spiced fruit filling that we prefer today—even though we still call it “mincemeat”.

Mince Pies. Credit beck, flickr
Mince Pies. Credit beck, flickr

By the turn of the 20th century, most people were feasting on turkey for Christmas dinner.

And it has remained the most popular Christmas main course ever since.

Choose your favourite trimmings below.

White turkeys by Charles Courtney Curran, 1899
White turkeys by Charles Courtney Curran, 1899

Do you like all the trimmings with your Christmas dinner?

Here are 10 of the most popular.

Pick your favorites.

Wikipedia
Whittaker, Andrew (2009) Britain: be fluent in British life and culture Thorogood Publishing, 2009
Christmas dinner through the ages: Festive food from the Medieval period onwards

10 Fascinating Facts about the History of Tea in Britain

Tea’s rise in popularity in Britain coincided with a flowering of intellectual and creative thought that we call the Enlightenment.

By the middle of the 18th century, tea had replaced ale & gin as the people’s favorite beverage.

Is tea a magical elixir?

You decide as we look at 10 fascinating facts about the history of tea in Britain.

1. Tea was first offered in London coffeehouses in 1657

Chinese green tea was first introduced into the London coffeehouse scene in around 1657.

Blue plaque in Change Alley. Credit Basher Eyre
Blue plaque in Change Alley. Credit Basher Eyre

It was down these narrow alleys that the mercantile class of London would meet to discuss business in coffeehouses.

Opposite the Royal Exchange on Cornhill, there is an entrance to a network of alleyways called Change Alley (formerly known as Exchange Alley).

Nestled beside makers of fine wands, there was something else magical for sale: tea.

Ollivanders Wand Shop, Diagon Alley. Credit Rob Young
Ollivanders Wand Shop, Diagon Alley. Credit Rob Young

The owner of one establishment created a pamphlet and advertisement to explain the new beverage as an early form of health drink:

“That Excellent, and by all Physicians approved, China drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee, …sold at the Sultaness-head, ye Cophee-house in Sweetings-Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.”

How did the introduction of tea impact the city of London? It became the most powerful city in the world for 200 years.

Today, London vies with New York as the world’s most influential city.

2. Samuel Pepys wrote about drinking tea in 1660

“I did send for a cup of tee, (a China drink) of which I had never had drunk before.”

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was an English Member of Parliament and naval administrator who is famous for keeping a detailed diary for a decade as a young man.

Trivia: his work as Chief Secretary to the Admiralty would help position Britain’s Royal Navy as the world’s most powerful in years to come.

3. A Portuguese Princess made tea popular in Britain

Catherine of Braganza (1638 – 1705) was Queen Consort of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1662 to 1685, as the wife of King Charles II.

Although Catherine didn’t actually introduce tea into Britain, she was instrumental in making it fashionable. Her use of tea as a court beverage, rather than a medicinal drink, influenced its popularity in literary circles.

Trivia: Queens, a borough of New York City, is thought to be named after Catherine of Braganza since she was queen when Queens County was established in 1683.

4. These could be the earliest British directions for how to make tea

Portrait of Edward Herbert, 3rd Baron Herbert of Chirbury (1633–1678) by Gerard Soest

In 1672, Edward Herbert, 3rd Baron Herbert of Chirbury sent directions for tea making, and warming the delicate cups, to Shropshire;

“The directions for the tea are: a quart of spring water just boiled, to which put a spoonful of tea, and sweeten to the palate with candy sugar. As soon as the tea and sugar are in, the steam must be kept in as much as may be, and let it lie half or quarter of an hour in the heat of the fire but not boil. The little cups must be held over the steam before the liquid be put in.”

5. Tea may have been instrumental to the English Enlightenment

A “eureka” moment for Sir Isaac Newton.

It was a summer afternoon in 1665 and Sir Isaac Newton was taking tea under the apple trees in the family gardens at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England.

By chance, an apple fell from an overhanging branch, hitting him on the head and sparking the “a-ha” moment for his law of gravitation.

Whether precisely true or not, is it a coincidence that a flowering of intellectual thinking in Britain occurred at around the same time that tea was fast becoming the nation’s favorite drink?

By 1720, black tea had overtaken green tea in popularity and was generally taken with milk and sugar.

Could this magical potion be the brain stimulant of Newton, Locke, and Hobbes?

6. Did tea power the British Industrial Revolution?

Not only was tea powering the massive minds of some of history’s greatest thinkers, but some scholars suggest that tea played a key role in the British Industrial Revolution.

The stimulants in the tea, coupled with the extra energy from sugar and milk would act like today’s energy drinks and give workers a boost—helping them work longer hours.

Even today, “builder’s tea” is a favorite for anyone doing physically strenuous work as part of their job. A colloquial term for strong tea, builder’s tea is typically brewed in a mug, always has milk, and two (or more) teaspoons of sugar.

Furthermore, because water has to be boiled for tea, water-borne diseases like dysentery, cholera, and typhoid were killed.

7. Chelsea porcelain manufactory produced the first British teaware

Fashionable 17th-century tea drinkers used small porcelain tea bowls that were sometimes shipped with the tea itself.

Established in 1743, the Chelsea porcelain manufactory produced the  first successful porcelain equipages and were quickly imitated.

During the 1770s and 1780s, tea was sometimes drunk from saucers. Deeper than today’s, they were similar to the Chinese bowls of the 17th century. It is thought the practice came from Russia, where samovars kept tea very hot and strong. Pouring from cup into saucer was a quick way to cool the tea.

8. Victorian tea rooms helped women win the right to vote

During the Victorian era, tea rooms may have helped the women’s suffrage movement.

Tea rooms were popular and fashionable social gathering places, especially for women.

British historian Sir Roger Fulford argued that tea rooms provided neutral public spaces to help women strategize political campaigns.

9. Thomas Twining opened the first known tea shop in London

Thomas Twining opened the first known tea shop in 1706.

Twinings holds the world’s oldest continually-used company logo and has occupied the same premises at 216 Strand, London, since inception.

A division of Associated British Foods since 1964, Stephen Twining now represents the company’s tenth generation.

Celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2006, Twinings launched a special tea and associated tea caddies.

Appointed by HM The Queen, Twining’s is a Royal Warrant holder.

10. Take a tea break—it’s the law!

In a working shift of six hours, British workers have the right in law to a minimum of a 20-minute break.

Described in government guidelines as “a tea or lunch break”, it is sometimes called “elevenses”, because 11 am is a good time to take a break, leaving two hours before the traditional lunchtime of 1 pm.

In Britain, where there is tea, there are usually biscuits too—it’s really hard to have one without the other.

Dunking biscuits in a “cuppa” (cup of tea) is a custom that Brits have exported around the globe.

McVitie’s biscuits are the most popular biscuits in the UK to “dunk” in tea, with McVitie’s chocolate digestives, Rich tea and Hobnobs ranked the nation’s top three favorites.

References
Wikipedia.org
Victoria & Albert Museum
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Telegraph

12 Actress Dames of the British Empire

British Dames and Knights are part of an honour system whose roots can be traced back to the medieval concept of chivalry and the honorific orders of the Crusades.

The modern-day British order of chivalry is a visible honour awarded by the Queen, typically in recognition of individual achievement and service.

King Edward III of England
King Edward III of England

Created in 1348 by King Edward III, the first order of chivalry was the Order of the Garter.

At the Queen’s pleasure, it is still awarded as a personal gift to a limited and exclusive membership. Male members of the Order are titled “Knights Companion,” and female members are called “Ladies Companion.”

However, the modern honours system has evolved and adapted to recognise various forms of service to the United Kingdom, rewarding contributions to the arts, sciences, and work with charitable organisations.

King George V created the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” in 1917 to fill gaps in the British honours system and recognise service in a variety of non-combatant roles in World War One.

King George V, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, Emperor of India
King George V, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, Emperor of India

There are 5 classes, with civil and military divisions. For our purposes, we will focus on the rank of Knight/Dame Commander, which entitles the recipient to use the title Sir for men and Dame for women before their forename.

The performing arts is a widely recognised category for recipients of the Knights Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) and Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

Here are 10 actresses who have been awarded British damehoods for their contributions to performing arts.

Watch the video clips, read the summaries of their careers, then vote for your favorite at the end of the article.

Dame Maggie Smith

Spanning sixty years in stage, film, and television, Dame Maggie Smith’s career includes over 50 films and began with the Oxford Playhouse in the 1950s.

A breast cancer survivor, she has played alongside some of the world’s most prominent actors and been nominated for an Oscar six times, winning twice for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) and California Suite (1978).

Dame Maggie Smith is best known for her role as the caustic Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the British TV period drama Downton Abbey.

Dame Maggie Smith quotes:

  • “One went to school, one wanted to act, one started to act, and one’s still acting.”
  • “When you get into the granny era, you’re lucky to get anything.”
  • “I’ve won two Oscars and I still don’t begin to understand film acting.”

Dame Judy Dench

For twenty years from 1957, Dame Judi Dench established herself as one of the best British theatre performers, working with both National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare companies.

Breaking into television in 1981, she found success in romantic sitcoms “A Fine Romance” and “As Time Goes By”.

Following a supporting actress role in “A Room with a View (1986)”, she found international recognition as M alongside Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in GoldenEye (1995).

Her long list of awards includes six British Academy Film Awards, four BAFTA TV Awards, seven Olivier Awards, two iScreen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globes, a Tony Award, and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Shakespeare in Love (1998).

Dame Judi Dench quotes:

  • “I’m more comfortable on stage, where there is an audience to tell a story to, as opposed to a film set where you are not in charge at all. On stage, you can hear an audience’s reactions. Within two minutes of a play starting you know how the evening will go. On film, you’re more reliant on the director. The moment he leaves you, you’re like a child learning to walk.”
  • “You should take your job seriously but not yourself. That is the best combination.”

Dame Julie Andrews

Dame Julie Andrews appeared on the West End at the age of 13 and Broadway at 18. At 21, her television role in the musical Cinderella was watched by over 100 million viewers.

Best known for Disney’s Mary Poppins and Rogers and Hammerstein’s sweeping musical The Sound of Music, by 1967, Julie Andrews was the most successful film star of the mid-sixties.

Julie Andrew’s extraordinary voice produced notes that only a dog could hear until a botched throat operation in 1997 ruined her singing voice.

Dame Julie Andrews quotes:

  • “Singing has never been particularly easy for me.”
  • “A lot of my life happened in great, wonderful bursts of good fortune, and then I would race to be worthy of it.”
  • “I am first and always English, and I carry my country in my heart wherever I go.”

Dame Helen Mirren

Beginning her career with the Royal Shakespeare Company at age 22, Dame Helen Mirren is one of a select few to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting: Academy Award for Best Actress (the Queen, 2006), the Tony Award for Best Actress in a play (The Audience, 2013), and several Emmy Awards (Prime Suspect, 1991-2006).

Her paternal grandparents were Russian. Her grandfather, Piotr Vasilievich Mironoff, was a Tsarist aristocrat who was in London negotiating an arms deal during World War I when the 1917 Russian Revolution stranded him there.

Dame Helen Mirren quotes:

  • “If you wanted to teach someone who knew absolutely nothing about the British people, it would be very good to guide them to Shakespeare. You could see the foolishness, the humour, the brutality – it’s all in almost every play.”
  • “All you have to do is to look like crap on film and everyone thinks you’re a brilliant actress. Actually, all you’ve done is look like crap.”
  • “The trick in life is learning how to deal with it.”

Dame Angela Lansbury

The movie clip is from Angela Lansbury’s iconic Oscar-nominated performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Dame Angela Lansbury’s 70-year career includes several award-winning film roles, but she is best known for the character Jessica Fletcher in the television series Murder, She Wrote.

When Lansbury was nine, her father died from stomach cancer; she retreated into playing characters as a coping mechanism. In 2014, Lansbury described this event as “the defining moment of my life. Nothing before or since has affected me so deeply.”

Dame Angela Lansbury quotes:

  • “Providing I can put one foot in front of the other, I will continue to act.”
  • (In 2013) “I absolutely do not have a retirement age… I’m only 87 – which today is nothing. It’s just like 60 a few years back. I believe age should not stop you from keeping on.”

Dame Elizabeth Taylor

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was considered one of the last, if not the last, major star to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system.

Born in London to wealthy American parents, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at age seven. Just three years later, she debuted in the Universal Picture’s “There’s one Born Every Minute (1942)”.

Signing with MGM in 1944, her role in National Velvet made her one of the studio’s most popular teenage stars.

In 1951, she received critical acclaim for her role in A Place in the Sun, playing alongside Montgomery Clift, going on to become the first actress to earn $1,000,000 for a movie (Cleopatra, 1963).

The American Film Institute named her the seventh greatest female screen legend in 1999.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor quotes:

  • “I’ve come through things that would have felled an ox. That fills me with optimism, not just for myself but for our particular species.”
  • “I, along with the critics, have never taken myself very seriously.”
  • “One problem with people who have no vices is that they’re pretty sure to have some annoying virtues.”

Dame Diana Rigg

Swinging Sixties sex symbol Diana Rigg was voted the sexiest-ever TV star by TV Guide in the United States.

Best known for her role as Emma Peel in the iconic 60s TV series “The Avengers”, her other performances led critics to proclaim her one of the greatest actresses on the British stage.

Dame Diana Rigg quotes:

  • “If I meet a woman who is immaculately groomed, I really admire her discipline. I grew up admiring out-of-this-world screen goddesses, such as Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth.”
  • “I think I was quite daring. I was once escorted out of a restaurant because I was wearing a trouser suit. It wasn’t considered good breeding for a woman to go around in trousers after 6:00 pm.”

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas is best known for her roles in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), for which she won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA Award, and The English Patient (1996), for which she was nominated Best Actress in the Academy awards.

Dame Scott Thomas is the great-great-niece of Captain Scott, who died in the race to reach the South Pole in 1912.

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas quotes:

  • “Just because you have a few wrinkles does not mean you do not have anything meaningful to contribute. As you get older, it all becomes richer and the implications of everything you do become so much more complicated – and therefore more interesting. Your life as a woman does not end because you are 35 or 45.”
  • “Unlike most actresses, I don’t lie about my age (55) but I’m liking this bit. I love it. I wouldn’t swap it for a million years.”

Dame Joan Collins

Born in Paddington, West London, Dame Joan Collins made her stage debut at the age of nine in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

After training with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she starred in a series of British and Hollywood movies,

Best known for her part as the vengeful ex-wife of an oil magnate in the 1980s TV soap opera Dynasty, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe six times, winning once in 1983.

Dame Joan Collins Quotes:

  • “Dynasty (1981) was the opportunity to take charge of my career rather than walking around like a library book waiting to be loaned out.”
  • “Age, in my opinion, has no bearing at all, that is unless, of course, one happens to be a bottle of wine.”
  • “The problem with beauty is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.”

Dame Barbara Windsor

Dame Barbara Windsor has been acting on screen and stage since she was 13 years old.

Her sixty-six-year career includes nine Carry On films—iconic British comedy of the 60s and 70s—and 22 years as Peggy Mitchell on BBC soap opera EastEnders.

Known for her “chirpy cockney” personality and infectious giggle, Barbara Windsor has also starred on Broadway, the West End, and was the voice behind the Dormouse in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Barbara Windsor quotes:

  • “We didn’t get a lot of money (for the Carry On movies) and we did always seem to be doing outside shots in winter, but it paid the mortgage and I loved it.”
  • “I am not like my image; I take my work so seriously. Everyone thinks I just bounce in, but I study and everything has to be just right.”

Dame Joanna Lumley

From swinging sixties supermodel to television icon, Joanna Lumley’s career has been a kaleidoscope of sparkles and grit.

Television catapulted her to stardom with roles like the kickass Purdey in “The New Avengers” and the unforgettable Patsy Stone in “Absolutely Fabulous,” whose champagne-swilling antics forever etched her in pop culture.

But Lumley’s depth shines beyond comedy. Dramas like “Sapphire & Steel” showcase her versatility, while her voice work for characters like Aunt Sponge in “Corpse Bride” highlights her vocal range.

An avid traveler and humanitarian, Lumley’s documentaries and advocacy for indigenous rights reveal a dedication to social justice. In five decades of captivating audiences, she’s become a cultural icon, proving that the greatest adventure truly is to live, leaving a trail of laughter, wonder, and inspiration in her wake.

Joanna Lumley quotes:

  • “Learn from nature. Stuff lives and stuff dies all the time, you know. Animals and birds and flowers. Trees come and go, and we come and go. That’s it. So we should all seize life and make the most of what we have while we can.”
  • “I never mind scrubbing floors, vacuuming or bending and carrying stuff. Each time I do it I think, this is instead of going to the gym.”

Dame Penelope Wilton

Penelope Wilton’s career is a dazzling tapestry woven across theater and film. While Olivier nominations for “John Gabriel Borkman” and “Taken at Midnight” solidified her stage prowess, it’s television and film where she truly captured hearts.

Her comedic brilliance shone in “Ever Decreasing Circles” as the witty Ruth, while “Downton Abbey” catapulted her to global fame. As Isobel Crawley, the progressive Dowager Countess, Wilton embodied both steely pragmatism and fierce compassion, her chemistry with Maggie Smith pure magic. ✨

Films like “Shaun of the Dead” (shotgun-wielding grandma!) and “The BFG” (a surprisingly regal Queen) showcase her versatility. ‍Reflecting on her diverse roles, she mused, “I don’t think I’m typecast. I just play women who haven’t got the memo on how to behave.”

With impeccable timing and understated brilliance, Dame Penelope Wilton continues to grace screens and stages. Age is just a number; true talent never fades. In her own words, “Acting is all about pretending to be somebody else, and there’s no limit to who you can be.” And what a journey it is to witness her be them all.

Penelope Wilton quotes:

  • “The greatest adventure is to live. And live I have, leaving a trail of laughter, wonder, and inspiration in my wake.”
  • “Laughter is the best medicine. It’s the one thing that can make you feel better instantly, no matter what’s wrong.”
5
Choose Your Favorite Dame

To many, Colin Firth IS Mr Darcy

Seen as a promising, upcoming British actor in the 1980s and labeled as one of the “Brit Pack”—British actors who achieved success in Hollywood, Colin Firth’s career skyrocketed after he appeared in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Many believe he truly IS Mr Darcy …

Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy is widely regarded as one of the most iconic performances in the history of period dramas. Firth’s interpretation of the enigmatic and brooding Mr. Darcy has left an indelible mark on both fans of the original novel and newcomers to Austen’s world, solidifying his status as a quintessential leading man in the realm of British period dramas.

Capturing the Essence of Mr. Darcy

Colin Firth brought a unique blend of charisma, sophistication, and vulnerability to the character of Mr. Darcy. In the early scenes of Pride and Prejudice, Firth perfectly encapsulates Darcy’s aloofness and reserve, making the character seem distant and proud. However, as the narrative unfolds, Firth skillfully reveals the layers beneath Darcy’s exterior, gradually exposing the character’s depth and inner conflict.

One of the most memorable scenes is Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle. Firth’s portrayal during this pivotal moment is a masterclass in conveying complex emotions. The intensity of his feelings, veiled by societal norms and personal pride, is palpable as he struggles to articulate his emotions. Firth’s performance makes the audience empathize with Darcy’s internal turmoil, adding a layer of complexity to the character that goes beyond the pages of Austen’s novel.

Darcy’s first proposal.

The Infamous Wet Shirt Scene

No discussion of Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice would be complete without mentioning the now-legendary “wet shirt” scene. This moment, in which Darcy takes a plunge into a lake on his estate, became an instant cultural phenomenon. Firth’s chiseled jawline and brooding expression, combined with the soaked white shirt clinging to his form, created an iconic image that has since become synonymous with romantic heroism.

The wet shirt scene not only showcased Firth’s physical appeal but also underscored the vulnerability and authenticity he brought to the character. It was a departure from the traditional stoicism associated with period drama heroes, allowing audiences to see a more human side of Mr. Darcy.

Impact on Pop Culture

Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice has transcended the boundaries of the small screen, becoming a cultural touchstone. The character has been parodied, referenced, and reimagined in various forms of media, with Firth’s performance serving as the definitive template for future portrayals of Darcy in popular culture.

Firth’s legacy as Mr. Darcy is so enduring that he even reprised the role in the 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary, a modern-day adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This self-aware nod to his iconic character further solidified Firth’s place in the hearts of fans worldwide.

Watch Pride and Prejudice (Restored) on Prime Video.

The image and text contain an Amazon affiliate link, which means that should you decide to make a purchase through Amazon, we might earn a small commission.

Trivia

When Helen Fielding, author of “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, created the character Mark Darcy, she had both Mr. Darcy from this production and the actor Colin Firth in mind. Colin Firth played Mark Darcy in the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” movie.

Hard to believe today, but Colin Firth initially declined the role of Mr. Darcy.

The china used for tea by the Bennett family is Royal Crown Derby Royal Antoinette.

The original plan for the Lake Scene, as written by Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Bridget Jones’s Diary), was for Colin Firth to be completely naked. But both Colin and the BBC were too prudish to entertain the idea.

Lyme Park in Cheshire, England, was the location used for the exterior of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate.

Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire. Credit highlights6
Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire. Credit highlights6

Also recommended for you

9 Fascinating Facts About Bluebells — England’s Favorite Wild Flower

Dreaming of Spring. The time of year when woodlands all over Britain start to look bloomin’ beautiful, reaching a peak by early May as a dense carpet of blue spreads across the country.

The native bluebell makes a Spring walk through a British woodland a joyful experience—the brilliant color and sweet scent of bluebells, together with the melodic sounds of nesting birds enliven the senses and remind us that summer is just around the corner.

But there’s more to bluebells than just a pretty face. Here are 9 fascinating facts about the British Bluebell.

1. Bluebells are protected by law

In the United Kingdom, the British Bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is a criminal offence to uproot the wild common bluebell from land on which it naturally grows. Any trade in wild common bluebell bulbs or seeds is also an offence, carrying fines of up to £5000 per bulb.

2. Bluebells are known by many names

Carl von Linné 1707–1778

Known as Common Bluebells, English Bluebells, British Bluebells, wood bells, fairy flowers and wild hyacinth, there’s one name that groups them altogether thanks to a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus.

Known as the “father of modern taxonomy”, in 1753, Linnaeus formalized the binomial nomenclature used to classify organisms.

He named the British Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, which basically means an “unmarked” hyacinth—to distinguish it from its classical ancestor of Greek mythology.

In Greek Mythology, Hyacinths were said to spring from the blood of the dying Hyacinthus. The god Apollo shed tears that marked the flower’s petals with the letters “AIAI” (“alas”) as a sign of his grief.

The Death of Hyacinth by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1753
The Death of Hyacinth by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1753

3. Bluebells were voted England’s favorite

In a 2015 Spring poll by botanical charity Plantlife, bluebells were voted the favorite wild flower of England.

Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish voters preferred the pale yellow primrose.

Looks like the fox has picked her favorite.

Image credit: Lee Roberts, flickr (fox); Pokrajac (yellow primrose); MichaelMaggs (bluebell)
Image credit: Lee Roberts, flickr (fox); Pokrajac (yellow primrose); MichaelMaggs (bluebell)

4. Bluebells were important for winning medieval wars

The English Bluebell’s sap is sticky and made an ideal glue for fastening flight feathers to arrows fired by medieval archers.

Battle of Agincourt (1415)
Battle of Agincourt (1415)

5. Emily Brontë wrote a poem about bluebells

In 1838, Emily Brontë, author of the classic Wuthering Heights, wrote a poem dedicated to bluebells.

“The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.”

Click to read "The Bluebell" poem.

6. Bluebells contain cancer-fighting agents

Bluebells synthesize chemicals that may have medicinal properties. At least 15 biologically active compounds have been identified in bluebells that are thought to give them protection against insects and animals.

Certain water-soluble alkaloids are chemically similar to those used to fight HIV and cancer.

Folk medicine uses the bulbs as various remedies and to help stop bleeding.

Bluebells by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899
Bluebells by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899

7. Bluebells reach their greatest densities in the British Isles

Often dominating the forest floor with a violet-blue carpet, affectionately called ‘bluebell woods”, bluebells flower and leaf early in Spring and do most of their growing before the woodland canopy closes over.

They grow well in old, dense woodland because the thick foliage limits the growth of other competing flora.

Bluebells in Buckinghamshire, England. Photo credit Keith Hulbert and Paul Zarucki
Bluebells in Buckinghamshire, England. Photo credit Keith Hulbert and Paul Zarucki

8. Native bluebells have a Spanish cousin

Hyacinthoides hispanica—the Spanish Bluebell—was introduced by Victorians as a garden plant. It now grows in the wild and crossbreeds with the British native bluebell—one of the main reasons the British bluebell is a protected species.

There are three main ways to tell them apart:

  • Native bluebells have a strong, sweet scent, whereas Spanish bluebells have no scent
  • English bluebells are a vivid blue-violet color while the Spanish variety is much paler
  • The strongly recurved tepals (outer parts of the flower) of native bluebells contrasts with the gentle bell shape of the Spanish bluebell.
Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
Common Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

9. Bluebells grow best in ancient woodland

The presence of bluebells helps identify ancient woodland—what Americans call “old-growth forest”—that has existed continuously since the middle ages.

Before about 1600, planting of new woodland was rare, so woodland that was present at that time was likely to have grown naturally.

Since bluebells flourish in natural woodland, they are a very easy way to identify ancient woodlands that could be of special scientific or historical interest.

Path through bluebell wood

Bluebell bulbs have roots that contract and pull the bulbs deeper into soil up to 3-5 inches. Because of this they don’t grow so well on the shallow chalky soils prevalent in the South East of England.

Seven Sisters Cliffs, near Seaford town, East Sussex, England. Photo credit miquitos
Seven Sisters Cliffs, near Seaford town, East Sussex, England. Photo credit miquitos

11 Words that Americans Love to Hear Brits Say


Lawrence Jones explains 11 words that Brits and Americans say differently, leading to endless enjoyment (and a little confusion).

The History and Tradition of Social Networking in Britain

In today’s hectic life, there’s always too much that needs doing, isn’t there? And why are deadlines always set for yesterday?

It’s good to de-stress and get some light relief by connecting with hundreds of like-minded online friends through social networks.

Nothing better than pulling out our shiny smartphones as we’re walking down a busy street, bumping into people, and repeatedly saying “sorry”.

People using smartphones. Photo credits: Matthew Hurst, Ed Yourdon, Vladimir Yaitskiy.
People using smartphones. Photo credits: Matthew Hurst, Ed Yourdon, Vladimir Yaitskiy.

Yes, online social networking is a great way to catch up on news, views, and that all-important village gossip.

But did you know there’s another social network in Britain—one that’s been going strong for several centuries?

(Re)introducing “the Pub Network”

The White Horse, Woolstone. Image credit Dave_S
The White Horse, Woolstone. Image credit Dave_S

“The Pub Network” was one of the world’s first social networks.

Short for “public house” it’s open to the public as a kind of “home away from home.”

Anyone can join the Pub Network, and if they’re over 18, they can even partake in adult refreshments.

Many a problem has been solved or a solution found whilst “talking” (similar to texting and messaging) and drinking within the Pub Network.

Next to tea-drinking, talking and drinking in the Pub Network is probably the second-most-popular activity in Britain.

In fact, the Pub Network has expanded internationally, with branches in far-flung destinations like New Zealand, South Africa, and California!

British-style pubs outside the UK. Top left: the Penny Farthing Pub, Oak Bay, B.C. (credit dvdmnk). Top right: Fraunces Tavern, New York City (credit Wally Gobetz). Bottom left: English Pub, Gibraltar (credit Allan Watt). Bottom right: Temple Bar Pub, Dublin, Ireland (Raphael Schon)
British-style pubs outside the UK. Top left: the Penny Farthing Pub, Oak Bay, B.C. (credit dvdmnk). Top right: Fraunces Tavern, New York City (credit Wally Gobetz). Bottom left: English Pub, Gibraltar (credit Allan Watt). Bottom right: Temple Bar Pub, Dublin, Ireland (Raphael Schon)

The Pub Network used to be the focal point for the village community. But times change. Nowadays, there are several competing “online” social networks.

Thanks to advances in technology, the Pub Network is now fully compatible with all other social networks. So as you chat away over a pint, a gin and tonic, or even a lemonade, you can rest assured of having full connectivity to your other favorite networks—all within the Pub Network. Amazing, huh?

Let’s look at an example. This happy group of “Pub Patrons”, as members are called, is checking an online social network whilst talking over a drink in the Pub Network. The evidence of having a good time is several empty Guinness glasses, and the Pub Patron’s “pub talk”:

“Your round, isn’t it, Colin? Mine’s another Guinness. Cheers!”

Photo credit Phil Campbell
Photo credit Phil Campbell

When you first connect to the Pub Network, you’ll be presented with a comprehensive array of options with odd-sounding names like “Speckled Hen”, “Old Peculiar”, “Bombardier”, “Bishop’s Finger”, and “Old Hooky”.

Image credit David Woo
An array of British beers. Image credit David Woo

Don’t let this techno-talk intimidate you. Choosing your options is a very simple, intuitive process, with no training required.

But if you do need help, fear not—an organization called CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) has worked with leading online networks to offer advice and useful tips. They can help you locate “Pubs” (these are nodes on the Pub Network) that carry special authentic beers, called “Real Ales”.

In addition to real ales, there are dozens of other options to choose from. Setting up your preferences can be time-consuming, but in surveys, 99.99% of people said they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The history of the Pub Network

This is Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, listed in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s oldest pub, but one of several making the same claim. First licensed in 1756 and trading as the “Three Pigeons”, its octagonal appearance is due to its original use as a pigeon house.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks public house in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Photo credit guylaine_lheureux
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks public house in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Photo credit guylaine_lheureux

Text contains affiliate links.

If you enjoyed the 2010 movie “The Social Network“, starring Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll really enjoy the story of the Pub Network.

In the 17th century, gin was a very popular spirit served in taverns across the Netherlands.

People would have so much fun talking and drinking, that they would fall about laughing.

A Dutch tavern scene by Jan Steen, late 17th century
A Dutch tavern scene by Jan Steen, late 17th century

Meanwhile, in 1689, a very strange thing happened. The head of the Netherlands—William III—became King of England, Ireland, and Scotland in a hostile takeover bid (well, there was a bit of insider trading, but that’s not important right now).

This gave him complete control of Britain’s alehouse network (the forerunner of the Pub Network).

As Chairman of the Board of the British Government, King William set about recreating the jolly environment of the Netherlands taverns.

He cornered the market in cheap grain that was unfit for brewing ale and instigated the opening of thousands of “Gin Shops” all over London.

Little did William know that his legislation had started a conspicuous consumption trend that became known as the “Gin Craze.”

Just as the Dutch taverns were filled with people bent double in rapturous laughter, it wasn’t too long before Brits were doing the same.

The English dance of death by Thomas Rowlandson, credit Wellcome Images
The English dance of death by Thomas Rowlandson, credit Wellcome Images

The city of London had an epidemic of “extreme drunkenness” on its hands.

It provoked a moral outrage among the upscale French brandy-drinkers, with a legislative backlash that some compare to the modern war on drugs.

Brits were labeled a “drunken ungovernable set of people” by the Bishop of Sodor and Man.

And prominent English novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding blamed gin speculation for both increased crime and increased ill health among children.

Cruikshank's engraving of The Gin Shop (1829)
Cruikshank’s engraving of The Gin Shop (1829)

It was William Hogarth’s famous engravings “Gin Lane” and “Beer Street” that paved the way for a new era of beer drinking in the history of the Pub Network.

Hogarth contrasted the miserable lives of gin drinkers (left) with the healthy and enjoyable lives of beer drinkers (right).

Gin Lane and Beer Street by William Hogarth, 1751
Gin Lane and Beer Street by William Hogarth, 1751

In an effort to reduce public drunkenness, Parliament passed the Beerhouse Act of 1830 to liberalize laws governing the brewing and sale of beer.

Under the act, for a modest one-off license fee, any householder could brew and sell beer from their own premises—most often the front parlour.

Hundreds of new beerhouses opened in the first year alone, particularly in the industrial north of England.

By 1838, there were 46,000 beerhouses with some owners making so much money, they bought the house next door and turned every room of the beerhouse into bars and lounges.

Thwaites The Swan Inn (Pub) St James Street Burnley, image credit Robert Wade
Thwaites The Swan Inn (Pub) St James Street Burnley, image credit Robert Wade

By 1869, the beerhouse network had grown out of control and new laws led to several years of network consolidation.

Most beerhouses applied for new licenses to become full pubs on the Pub Network.

Pubs went through several evolutionary iterations to become today’s social gathering places.

  • Saloons were rooms inside of pubs where additional entertainment was offered for a small fee or higher prices of drinks. Singing, dancing, drama, or comedy could be enjoyed whilst drinks were served at tables with plush seating.
  • Public bars were a “lite” version of the saloon for a budget price. Also called the “tap room”, they had a rustic appearance, with hard benches, and sawdust on the floor to absorb spilled drinks and spitting (aka “spit and sawdust”).
  • Snugs were another innovation, sometimes called the “smoke room”. They were small and private, with frosted glass so passersby couldn’t see in. These were the “high-end version” of the early pub network, frequented by the well-heeled. Discretion was the operative word for secret lovers to rendezvous, or the local clergy to indulge in a late night whisky.
  • The Bar Counter was a step-change in productivity and convenience, offering a new way to serve the largest number of people in the shortest possible time. Ordering at the bar is the preferred way for customers to order drinks today.

“Propping up the bar” became a term for spending a lot of time drinking at the bar. It was used to great effect in the 1980’s BBC comedy sitcom “Only Fools and Horses“.

Today, pubs can be found all over Britain, from cute country pubs in the Cotswolds to grand Victorian pubs in London.

Clockwise from top left: The Fox Inn in Lower Oddington in the Cotswolds, image Credit JR P; Carpenter’s Arms Inn at Miserden, image credit Jason Ballard; The Rose, Vauxhall, London, image credit Adam Bruderer; The Boleyn at Upton Park, London, image Credit Ewan Munro
Clockwise from top left: The Fox Inn in Lower Oddington in the Cotswolds, image Credit JR P; Carpenter’s Arms Inn at Miserden, image credit Jason Ballard; The Rose, Vauxhall, London, image credit Adam Bruderer; The Boleyn at Upton Park, London, image Credit Ewan Munro

References and credits
Wikipedia.org
CAMRA
Cover image: Anguskirk

8 Surprising Facts About British Tea Traditions

There’s hardly a more British custom than a nice cup of tea. This magical elixir helps Brits get through the day and seems to make problems disappear … at least temporarily! It is said that tea was our secret weapon during the dark days of World War II.

80% of Britons drink tea and consume 165 million cups daily, or 60.2 billion cups a year!

Tea drinking in Britain has spawned several lasting traditions over the centuries.

Here are 7 facts that you might not know about British tea traditions:

1. 10th-century monks invented Cream Tea

Ruin of the abbey cloister at Tavistock, Devon, England
Ruin of the abbey cloister at Tavistock, Devon, England

Not much remains today, but these ruins were once a Benedictine Abbey at Tavistock in Devon.

There is evidence in manuscripts that Monks served bread with clotted cream and strawberry preserves to local workers who helped rebuild the Abbey after it was damaged in a Viking raid in 997AD.

It was an instant hit among the locals, and the monks started serving it to passing travelers.

The Devonshire cream tea was born.

Today, Devonshire cream tea typically comprises a pot of tea, along with scones, strawberry preserves, clotted cream, and sometimes curds and butter.

Credit Shane Global
Credit Shane Global

2. A hungry Duchess originated the tradition of Afternoon Tea

It was around four o’clock in the afternoon at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, England, during the early 1840s. Anna Russell, seventh Duchess of Bedford noticed she had a “sinking feeling” at this time of day.

Dinner would not be served until eight o’clock, so she ordered tea with bread and butter to help stave off her hunger.

Woburn Abbey. Credit Jason Ballard, Ljuba brank.
Woburn Abbey. Credit Jason Ballard, Ljuba brank.

When the Duchess asked friends to join her, the idea soon spread, becoming the popular social occasion of Afternoon Tea that we know and love today.

3. Low Tea is “posher” than High Tea

Isn’t tea just a drink?

Tea” is used to denote both a beverage and different types of meal.

Two terms sometimes used in the Victorian Era were “low tea” and “high tea“.

Low tea was served on low lounge chairs and sofas with low tables (similar to today’s coffee tables), and high tea was served on high chairs around a table.

"Low Tea" (Afternoon Tea)
“Low Tea” (Afternoon Tea)

But here’s the surprising part: “low tea” was enjoyed by the aristocracy and “high tea” by the working class.

Confusion has arisen because “high tea” simply sounds classier than “low tea“.

Which leads us to our next surprising fact …

4. High Tea is not the same as Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is derived from the social tradition started by the Duchess of Bedford. Taken at around 4 – 6 pm, it typically comprises Devonshire cream tea and an assortment of delicate crustless sandwiches, sweets, and cakes.

In short, this is the “posh” tea, served today in country tea rooms or city hotels.

Left: Afternoon Tea, Fairmont Château, Lake Lousie. Credit Elsie Hui. Top right: Afternoon tea at the Sanderson Hotel. credit Su-Lin. Bottom right: Victoria Sponge slice. Credit Carwyn Lloyd Jones.
Left: Afternoon Tea, Fairmont Château, Lake Lousie. Credit Elsie Hui. Top right: Afternoon tea at the Sanderson Hotel. credit Su-Lin. Bottom right: Victoria Sponge slice. Credit Carwyn Lloyd Jones.

High Tea is traditionally an end of day meal for the working class, comprising things like cold meats, pies, salad, pickles, bread and butter, cakes, and a pot of tea.

Usually shortened to just “tea”, the term is still used in the Midlands and the North of England.

If you visit the north of England today, you may hear someone say, “I’ve got to get home and make the tea for the kids”, or the northern tendency to personalize with “our/us”, as in “what’s for us tea?”

"What's for us tea?" Credit Paul Townsend
“What’s for us tea?”

5. Cream Tea in Devon and Cornwall are different

Anyone trying Cream Tea for the first time may wonder “do I add the cream first or the preserves?”

Thanks to the rivalry between Devon and Cornwall, it doesn’t matter. Phew, that’s a relief!

A subtle distinction between the way Cream Tea is eaten in the counties of Devon and Cornwall is the order of applying the silky-smooth clotted cream and the delicious strawberry preserves.

Left: the Cornish scone method. Right: the Devon (or Devonshire) method.
Left: the Cornish scone method. Right: the Devon (or Devonshire) method.

But in Devon, the clotted cream is applied first, with the strawberry preserves second.

6. How you pronounce “scone” says a lot about where you’re from

18
How do you pronounce “scone”?
Research conducted by YouGov

According to global market research and data analytics company YouGov, the pronunciation of the word is influenced by two main factors: region and social grade. Individuals in the North (60%) and Scotland (80%) predominantly pronounce scone like “gone”, whereas those in the Midlands (56%) and London (50%) are more inclined to opt for pronouncing scone like “bone”.

Social class also influences the pronunciation. Those in the working class (semi-skilled/unskilled/unemployed) tend to be evenly split on how they pronounce “scone”, whereas those in the middle class (professional/skilled) tend to favour pronouncing scone like “gone” by a significant margin.

7. For a “proper cuppa”, add milk last

Milk Last. Credit Matt Baume

If you really want to drink tea like they do on Downton Abbey, you will add your milk last.

Inferior china cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, but the finest china was much stronger and didn’t crack.

So putting the milk in last became a way for the upper class to show they had the best china.

Milk in last also lets you judge the strength more easily—too much milk can ruin the perfect cup of tea.

8. “Pinkies Up” is out

According to etiquette expert William Hanson, an outstretched little finger has apparently become one of Afternoon Tea’s most common faux pas and is considered rude in most social settings. One misconception is that it somehow helps balance the cup.

Here’s a video from William giving us some useful etiquette tips on how to enjoy Afternoon Tea the “proper” way.

Sources and Additional Reading
Wikipedia.org
Were cream teas “invented” in Tavistock?
Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History by Andrea Broomfield

30 Everyday Things With Different Names in British and American English

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Men in Kilts—The History and Tradition

A very odd thing happens when a lady sees men in kilts.

She stoops, she crouches …

A humorous caricature depicting Scottish soldiers, wearing kilts, in Continental Europe ca. 1815.
A humorous caricature depicting Scottish soldiers, wearing kilts, in Continental Europe ca. 1815.

… and there’s a burning question at the back of her mind.

You guessed it—where can I buy some of this fine cloth?

An Italian woman inspects the kilts of Pipe Major William MacConnachie and Pipe Major William Boyd in the Colosseum of Rome, 6 June 1944.
An Italian woman inspects the kilts of Pipe Major William MacConnachie and Pipe Major William Boyd in the Colosseum of Rome, 6 June 1944.

Image contains affiliate link.

A kilt is a type of pleated skirt originating from the 16th-century dress of men in the Scottish Highlands.

Kilt is a Scots word that has Scandinavian origins—derived from the Old Norse word kjalta, meaning “fold of a gathered skirt”, or “lap”.

The first kilts were belted plaid, which was essentially a large blanket that was wrapped around the body and belted at the waist. A part of the plaid formed the kilt, and the rest was gathered up, thrown over a shoulder and secured in place—ready to be used as a cloak when needed.

A belted plaid (rather than a kilt) as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.
A belted plaid (rather than a kilt) as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.

In around 1720, following the suppression of the first Jacobite rebellion, an enterprising English Industrialist named Thomas Rawlinson built an ironworks in the Scottish Highlands.

He noticed that the belted plaid was “a cumbersome unwieldy habit to men at work …” and decided the solution was to convert the lower part into a separate item of clothing that was more convenient to wear at work.

The “little kilt” was born, which formed the basis of today’s modern kilts.

Kilt of the Royal Highland Regiment (known as the Black Watch)
Kilt of the Royal Highland Regiment (known as the Black Watch)

When Rawlinson’s partner—chief of the McDonell Clan of Inverness—started wearing the new kilt, its use spread like wildfire among the highlanders.

In 1745, there was a second Jacobite rebellion, culminating at the Battle of Culloden. The highland clans led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie” were defeated and an act of parliament—the Dress Act 1746—banned the wearing of tartan and other symbols of highlanders for 36 years.

The Battle of Culloden, oil on canvas, David Morier, 1746.
The Battle of Culloden, oil on canvas, David Morier, 1746.

When the ban was finally lifted in 1782, there was a groundswell of interest in all things Highland.

Wearing a kilt became more than a tradition. It was a symbol of Scottish national pride, of freedom, and identity.

To all those who were forced to flee Scotland and establish roots in other countries, Scottish poet Robert Burns had some words for them.

“Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth; Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.”

Robert Burns.

The modern Scottish kilt worn with formal evening wear
The modern Scottish kilt worn with formal evening wear
The British Army's 21-member Pipes and Drums corps of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards put on a world class performance of piping, drumming and highland sword dancing. Credit J.D. Leipold
The British Army’s 21-member Pipes and Drums corps of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards put on a world class performance of piping, drumming and highland sword dancing. Credit J.D. Leipold
Dog and bagpiper, Bowen, 1921. Studio portrait of a bagpiper in traditional highland dress. A dog sits to the right of the picture, 1921.
Dog and bagpiper, Bowen, 1921. Studio portrait of a bagpiper in traditional highland dress. A dog sits to the right of the picture, 1921.
Boy (wearing kilt) and girl with two dogs and a handcart wagon
Boy wearing kilt and girl with two dogs and a handcart wagon
The Highland Shepherd by Rosa Bonheur, 1859
The Highland Shepherd by Rosa Bonheur, 1859
The Crown Prince of Prussia and Prince Wilhelm II. - Balmoral Castle. - Oct. 1863
The Crown Prince of Prussia and Prince Wilhelm II. – Balmoral Castle. – Oct. 1863
Sir David Wilkie's flattering portrait, painted in 1829, of King George IV in kilt during the visit to Scotland in 1822
Sir David Wilkie’s flattering portrait, painted in 1829, of King George IV in kilt during the visit to Scotland in 1822
Bagpipes at the Strawberry Festival, Virginia State Parks staff
Bagpipes at the Strawberry Festival, Virginia State Parks staff
Bagpiper credit xlibber
Bagpiper credit xlibber
Newly wedded couple standing outside a church in Scotland
Newly wedded couple standing outside a church in Scotland
Married on the beach. Credit Ronnie Macdonald
Married on the beach. Credit Ronnie Macdonald
The Black Watch (Royal Highland) Regiment of Canada, pulling against the competition for the Highland Regiments tug-of-war trophy at the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville Ontario
The Black Watch (Royal Highland) Regiment of Canada, pulling against the competition for the Highland Regiments tug-of-war trophy at the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville Ontario.
A Guard posted on the Esplanade outside the entrance to Edinburgh castle, during the week when the Queen is in residence in the Palace of Holyroodhouse
A Guard posted on the Esplanade outside the entrance to Edinburgh castle, during the week when the Queen is in residence in the Palace of Holyroodhouse
An 11-foot high bronze statue of a Black Watch soldier by William Birnie Rhind commemorates over 200 members of the Regiment who were killed or wounded in the Boer War of 1900-02
An 11-foot high bronze statue of a Black Watch soldier by William Birnie Rhind commemorates over 200 members of the Regiment who were killed or wounded in the Boer War of 1900-02
78th Highland Regiment. Credit Ann Baekken
78th Highland Regiment. Credit Ann Baekken
Massed Pipes & Drums Credit Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Massed Pipes & Drums Credit Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Credit edintattoo.co.uk
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Credit edintattoo.co.uk
(Left) Sean Connery with members of the United States Air Force Reserve's Pipe and Drum Band in Washington, DC. (Right) British Actor Simon Pegg. Credit Andre Luis
(Left) Sean Connery with members of the United States Air Force Reserve’s Pipe and Drum Band in Washington, DC. (Right) British Actor Simon Pegg. Credit Andre Luis