The United Kingdom is a weird and wonderful place, with a unique history and culture that UK residents are very proud of. They have a monarchy, in the form of Queen Elizabeth II, four countries, consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the world’s sixth largest economy. Many Brits may be set in their ways, but that’s what we think makes them endearing! If you ever wanted to know a bit more about the United Kingdom, other than the basic facts we were all taught at school, then here are 11 shocking facts about the place and its people.
1. Life Size Statue of Pocahontas
Pocahontas wasn’t just the heroine in a Disney film, you know! The daughter of a Native American chieftain was real and a life size statue of her can be found at St George’s churchyard in the English town of Gravesend, where she was buried. She was most famous for her campaign against hostilities in Jamestown Virginia and for saving her English husband. When her father went to behead the captive called John Smith, who had come over from England, Pocahontas laid her head on his. When she was captured by the English, she decided to convert to Christianity and change her name to Rebecca. She decided to stay with her captives, even after being released, and married Englishman John Rolfe. This coupling was the first recorded interracial marriage in North American history! Pocahontas and John were sailing back to England, in order to visit, when she came down with an extremely grave illness and fever. The ship had only made it to the Thames when Pocahontas sadly passed away, aged 22. She never made it back to America and was instead buried in Gravesend, England, where she is commemorated by a life size bronze statue, as her grave was destroyed by fire.
2. Bizarre Outdated Laws
Like many countries around the world, the United Kingdom has some rather strange laws from yesteryear, that have never been changed. As an example, it is perfectly legal to kill a Scotsman carrying a bow and arrow, if he enters the city of York. It’s also illegal for women to eat chocolate and public transport, but legal for them to (ahem) relieve themselves in a policeman’s hat, if they are pregnant. In England, any male over the age of 14 should carry out two hours of longbow practice every day, too; probably to catch those Scotsmen turning up in York. Oh, and it’s also illegal to die in the House of Parliament. Of course, many of these laws are useless now, they just have never been changed. They would also still stand up in a law of court, so just be wary of eating that chocolate on the bus, ladies.
3. Big Ben Isn’t A Clock
We’re about to blow your mind with this one; in what is possibly the most confused fact of all time. Many people think that the 315 feet clock tower, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, is called Big Ben. However, the tower itself is actually called Elizabeth Tower (renamed in 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee) and the clock is just called…the clock. Big Ben is actually the name of the largest bell in the tower, which is officially called the ‘Great Bell’. The source of the nickname is still greatly debated, with some saying that it could have been named after the man who oversaw the installation of the bell, Sir Benjamin Hall. Others believe it could be named after the English boxing champion, Benjamin Caunt. Either way, the name Big Ben is known all over the world by many people who believe it refers to the tower or clock. Many of the photos you will see of London have the clock in full view, usually with some kind of red bus going past; symbolism for the Brits. The next time you hear someone talking about ‘Big Ben’, make sure you ask whether they mean the clock or the bell!
4. Shortest Flight in the World
Did you know that you can take the shortest plane journey in the world, from the UK? The world’s shortest commercial flight can take you between two Orkney islands Papa Westray and Westray, in Scotland which are just 1.7 miles apart! The entire journey takes a grand total of 2 minutes officially, but can take as little as 47 seconds if the wind conditions are just right. You’ll spend longer queuing up to get onto the aircraft, than you actually do on the plane! You can purchase tickets for this flight at around $30 per person, which doesn’t include any in-flight food or entertainment. We guess they felt it was unnecessary to include all the extras when you’re only on the plane for 2 minutes. The flight, which is operated by Loganair, caters mainly for those who live and work on the Orkney islands, although there is some tourist trade too. During the summer, Loganair operates several of these short flights a day, just for tourism purposes. The smaller island of the two, Papa Westray, is home to around 60 archeological sites which makes it popular with travelers and holiday makers. Around 70 people live in Papa Westray, many of whom use the Loganair flight.
5. Ice Age Fish
If you ever venture over to Wales, then take a trip to Bala Lake in Gwynedd to see a rare fish which cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. The gwyniad, as it is called, is a species that was left behind at the end of the last Ice Age, having lived deep within the lakes for around 10,000 years. The fish itself isn’t anything particularly exciting to look at and you would probably try to cook it and eat it if you caught it whilst fishing. However, it’s still something to be able to tell your friends; seeing a fish that is only found in one lake, in the world. Unfortunately, numbers of this rare fish are declining rapidly and it is now classed as a threatened species. There have been many rescue efforts put into place over the last few years, in order to preserve the gwyniad and to stop them from dying out. Many people blame another fish species, the ruffe, for the endangering of the gwyniad. It is thought that the ruffe feed on eggs produced by the rare fish, which has slowed down their breeding. Let’s just hope people in the UK can save this Ice Age fish!
6. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
If you’ve ever heard the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ then you’re listening to the inspiration of one quaint, UK village. The original poem was called ‘The Star’ and was put together by English poet, Jane Taylor. It is a lot longer than the nursery rhyme we all know and love today, with six stanzas instead of just the one. After the first verse (or stanza), Jane Taylor goes on to talk about stars leading travelers in the dark and creeping through the curtains. It’s definitely worth a read, all the way through! The inspiration for this poem is said to have come from the skies above Lavenham, in Suffolk, where Jane Taylor lived. Those who have visited Suffolk will know only too well how beautiful the skies are above, even now. We can only imagine how crystal clear they must have been in 1806, when the poem was first written. The tune for ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ is actually an old French melody called ‘Ah! Vous dirais-je, Maman’ which was famously arranged by Mozart. There have been many variations of the poem since it was first published, including ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat’ recited by the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.
7. A City Called Birmingham
Many people love visiting Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK, but did you know that there are 30 others places worldwide that share this city’s name? Not only on this planet, however, but there is also a crater on the moon that is called Birmingham! The West Midlands Birmingham, in the UK, is the original and the majority of the others are based in the US. You will find Birmingham Creek in Australia and a Birmingham in Wellington, New Zealand. There are also two Birminghams in Canada and three in Ireland! If you think having three places named the same is bad, then check out Pennsylvania; they love the name so much that they have four places named Birmingham, two of which are both in Delaware! It must be a nightmare for their postal service to work out which Birmingham letters need to be delivered to. Finally, there is a crater on the moon, also known as Crater Number 357, which is called Birmingham. This small crater lies within a larger crater called ‘Hell’. We can’t help but think that perhaps the person who named the crater had a problem with one of the many Birmingham towns and cities!
8. First Ever Speeding Ticket
The first person to ever get a speeding ticket, or at least get convicted for speeding, was Walter Arnold who lived in East Peckham in the United Kingdom. Walter was caught on the 28th of January 1896 doing 8mph in a 2mph zone. Luckily, the speed he was going wasn’t quick enough for a police officer riding a bike, and he was fined 1 shilling plus costs. Although he didn’t actually get a paper ticket, that was Harry Myers from Ohio in 1904, he was the first person who had to pay out for going too fast. Since then, there have been some rather forward thinking changes in the speeding world. Now, you can get snapped by a speed camera and sent through a fine, without ever being seen by a police officer. Plus, the police don’t need to chase you on bicycles anymore either. The UK has also one of the highest ever fines for speeding, when a man was caught driving at 156mph in his BMW with a mobile phone at his ear. The incident, which happened in Scotland in 2006, led to a huge $5000 fine and a year ban; rightly so, don’t you think!
9. 10,000 Year Old House
Star Carr, in North Yorkshire, has been extremely significant in archeological findings over the years. One of their most important find, however, was in the form of a house that dates back around 10,000 years. This circular structure, is therefore thought to have been built in 8,500 BC when the UK was still connected to the European mainland. This rare site has led to dozens of exciting discoveries for archeologists, including a huge number of artifacts which show how people may have lived back then. Just some of the things they’ve found include head dresses (stag frontlets), barbed points made from antler that were used in hunting and arrow tips. Experts believe that the 3.5 diameter house was made with a circle of timber posts, a reed floor area and walls made out of either thatching or animal hide. It has also given experts a better idea of how these hunter gatherers lived, proving that they may have been more attached to their houses than was thought before. Instead of drifting across the country, it looks like many people actually set up home and stayed in one place. Star Carr is now open to visitors several times a year, through open days and site tours.
10. 500 Year Old Castle Crisps
When you think about how your favorite foods are made, what do you imagine? Is it a big factory with plenty of metal machinery or is it a castle? Most people are likely to say the first one, but actually those in Ireland may tell you it is a castle. Tayto, a popular crisps manufacturer in Northern Ireland, is actually based in a 500 year old castle in the Ulster countryside. The castle, now called Tayto castle, was originally home to one of the most powerful clans in the whole of Ireland. It was then confiscated by King James I before a major war between the clan and the country ensued; leaving the castle and nearby church burnt to a crisp (excuse the pun). By 1836 the castle was rebuilt and was used by a Duke and Army until it fell into disrepair yet again. This time, in 1955, it was bought by local businessman, Thomas Hutchinson. By 1956 he had finished revamping the castle and went for a new business venture instead; making crisps. Tayto are now a well-known brand around the world, all still operating from the 500 year old castle in Northern Ireland. You can even tour the castle, if you like!
If you have never heard of the word ‘scouser’, then we urge you to take 2 minutes out of your day and find some ‘scouser’ videos. The word is a nickname for the people of Liverpool and many people have no idea where it originated from. Many people worry that called a Liverpudlian a ‘scouser’ may also be insulting, but never fear, we have all the knowledge. The traditional explanation and meaning of the term, comes from a time when the port of Liverpool was packed with sailors from abroad. Many of these sailors were from Scandinavia and they bought with them one of their favorite stew dishes; ‘Lobscouse’. Made using corned beef, onions, mashed potato and beetroot, served with a fried egg on the top, many of the families from Liverpool enjoyed Lobscouse a lot. After it became a popular dish in the city, the nickname ‘scouser’ came about and the rest is history. Many people don’t find any offense in using the word to describe a Liverpudlian person, but you will get a few who see it as an insult. If you’re going to call someone from Liverpool a ‘scouser’ then make sure you tell them where it comes from, so as not to offend!