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The culture of the United Kingdom refers to the patterns of human activity and symbolism associated with the United Kingdommarker and its people since its formation in 1707. It is informed by the UK's history as a developed island country, major power, and, as a union of four countries, each of which have preserved elements of distinct customs and symbolism.

As a direct result of the British Empire, British cultural influence (such as the English language) can be observed in the language and culture of a geographically wide assortment of countries such as Canadamarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker, Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker, South Africa, the United Statesmarker, and the British overseas territories. These states are sometimes collectively known as the Anglosphere. As well as the British influence on its empire, the empire also influenced British culture, particularly British cuisine. Innovations and movements within the wider-culture of Europe have also changed the United Kingdom; Humanism, Protestantism, and representative democracy are borrowed from broader Western culture.

The Industrial Revolution, with its origins in the UK, brought about major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation, and had a profound effect on the socio-economic and cultural conditions of the world. Popular culture of the United Kingdom in the form of the British invasion, Britpop and British television broadcasting, and British cinema, British literature and British poetry is revered across the world.

The social structure of Britain has played a central cultural role throughout the history of British society. As a result of the history of the formation of the United Kingdom, the cultures of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are diverse and have varying degrees of overlap and distinctiveness.


The United Kingdom has no official language. English is the main language and the de facto official language, spoken monolingually by an estimated 95% of the UK population.

However, individual countries within the UK have frameworks for the promotion of their indigenous languages. In Walesmarker, all pupils at state schools must study Welsh until aged 16, and Welsh and English are both widely used by officialdom. Irish and Ulster Scots enjoy limited use alongside English in Northern Irelandmarker, mainly in publicly commissioned translations. The Gaelic Language Act, passed by the Scottish Parliamentmarker in 2005, recognised Gaelic as an official language of Scotland, commanding equal respect with English, and required the creation of a national plan for Gaelic to provide strategic direction for the development of the Gaelic language.

Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which is not legally enforceable, the UK Government has committed itself to the promotion of certain linguistic traditions. The Welsh Language, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish are to be developed in Walesmarker, Scotlandmarker and Cornwallmarker respectively. Other native languages afforded such protection include: Irish in Northern Ireland; Scots in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where it is known in official parlance as "Ulster Scots" or "Ullans" but in the speech of users simply as "Scotch" or Broad Scots; and British Sign Language.

The Arts


The earliest existing native literature of the territory of the modern United Kingdom was written in the Celtic languages of the isles. The Welsh literary tradition stretches from the 6th century. Irish poetry also represents a more or less unbroken tradition from the 6th century to the present day, with the Ulster Cycle being of particular relevance to Northern Ireland.

Anglo-Saxon literature includes Beowulf, a national epic, but literature in Latin predominated among educated elites. After the Norman Conquest Anglo-Norman literature brought continental influences to the isles.

English literature emerged as a recognisable entity in the late 14th century, with the rise and spread of the Londonmarker dialect of Middle English. Geoffrey Chaucer is the first great identifiable individual in English literature: his Canterbury Tales remains a popular 14th-century work which readers still enjoy today.

Following the introduction of the printing press into England by William Caxton in 1476, the Elizabethan era saw a great flourishing of literature, especially in the fields of poetry and drama. From this period, poet and playwright William Shakespeare stands out as arguably the most famous writer in the world.

The English novel became a popular form in the 18th century, with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1745).

After a period of decline, the poetry of Robert Burns revived interest in vernacular literature, the rhyming weavers of Ulster being influenced by literature from Scotland.

The following two centuries continued a huge outpouring of literary production. In the early 19th century, the Romantic period showed a flowering of poetry comparable with the Renaissance two hundred years earlier, with such poets as William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Lord Byron. The Victorian period was the golden age of the realistic English novel, represented by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, George Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Thomas Hardy.

World War I gave rise to British war poets and writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke who wrote (often paradoxically), of their expectations of war, and/or their experiences in the trench.
The Celtic Revival stimulated new appreciation of traditional Irish literature, however, with the independence of the Irish Free State, Irish literature came to be seen as more clearly separate from the strains of British literature. The Scottish Renaissance of the early 20th century brought modernism to Scottish literature as well as an interest in new forms in the literatures of Scottish Gaelic and Scots.

The English novel developed in the 20th century into much greater variety and was greatly enriched by immigrant writers. It remains today the dominant English literary form.

Other well-known novelists include Arthur Conan Doyle, D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell, C.S Lewis, Salman Rushdie, H.G Wells, Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming, Walter Scott, Agatha Christie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl, Arthur C Clarke, J.M. Barrie, Terry Pratchett and J.K. Rowling.

Important poets include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, T. S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkinmarker, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Alexander Pope, and Dylan Thomas.


From its formation in 1707, the United Kingdom has had a vibrant tradition of theatre, much of it inherited from England and Scotland.

Theatre was introduced from Europe to England by the Romans and auditoriums were constructed across the country for this purpose. By the medieval period theatre had developed with the mummers' plays, a form of early street theatre associated with the Morris dance, concentrating on themes such as Saint George and the Dragon and Robin Hood. These were folk tales re-telling old stories, and the actors travelled from town to town performing these for their audiences in return for money and hospitality. The medieval mystery plays and morality plays, which dealt with Christian themes, were performed at religious festivals.

The reign of Elizabeth I in the late 16th and early 17th century saw a flowering of the drama and all the arts. Perhaps the most famous playwright in the world, William Shakespeare, wrote around 40 plays that are still performed in theatres across the world to this day. They include tragedies, such as Hamlet (1603), Othello (1604), and King Lear (1605); comedies, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream (1594—96) and Twelfth Night (1602); and history plays, such as Henry IV, part 1—2. The Elizabethan age is sometimes nicknamed "the age of Shakespeare" for the amount of influence he held over the era. Other important Elizabethan and 17th-century playwrights include Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and John Webster.

During the Interregnum 1642—1660, English theatres were kept closed by the Puritans for religious and ideological reasons. When the London theatres opened again with the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, they flourished under the personal interest and support of Charles II. Wide and socially mixed audiences were attracted by topical writing and by the introduction of the first professional actresses (in Shakespeare's time, all female roles had been played by boys). New genres of the Restoration were heroic drama, pathetic drama, and Restoration comedy. The Restoration plays that have best retained the interest of producers and audiences today are the comedies, such as William Wycherley's The Country Wife (1676), The Rover (1677) by the first professional woman playwright, Aphra Behn, John Vanbrugh's The Relapse (1696), and William Congreve's The Way of the World (1700). Restoration comedy is famous or notorious for its sexual explicitness, a quality encouraged by Charles II (1660–1685) personally and by the rakish aristocratic ethos of his court.

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

A change came in the late 19th century with the plays on the London stage by the Irishmen George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, all of whom influenced domestic English drama and vitalised it again.

Today the West End of Londonmarker has a large number of theatres, particularly centred around Shaftesbury Avenuemarker. A prolific composer of the 20th century Andrew Lloyd Webber has dominated the West End for a number of years and his musicals have travelled to Broadwaymarker in New Yorkmarker and around the world, as well as being turned into films.

The Royal Shakespeare Company operates out of Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford-upon-Avonmarker in Englandmarker, producing mainly but not exclusively Shakespeare's plays.

Important modern playwrights include Alan Ayckbourn, John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and Arnold Wesker.


Composers William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Taverner, John Blow, Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett have made major contributions to British music, and are known internationally. Living composers include John Tavener, Harrison Birtwistle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Oliver Knussen, John Rutter, Joby Talbot, David Arnold and James MacMillan.
The United Kingdom also supports a number of major orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Londonmarker is one of the world's major centres for classical music: it holds several important concert halls and is also home to the Royal Opera Housemarker, one of the world's leading opera houses. British traditional music has also been very influential abroad.

The UK was one of the two main countries in the development of rock music, and has provided global acts including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, The Kinks, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Whitesnake, Motorhead, Status Quo, Dire Straits, Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, The Smiths, Yardbirds, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Duran Duran, Billy Idol, Electric Light Orchestra, Sting, Phil Collins, George Michael, Genesis, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Police, The Animals, Elvis Costello, Dusty Springfield, Ozzy Osbourne, UB40, Annie Lennox, Cat Stevens, Pet Shop Boys, Bonnie Tyler, Joe Cocker, T.Rex, Depeche Mode, Roxy Music, The Jam, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur and Radiohead. It has provided inspiration for many modern bands today, including Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Placebo, Snow Patrol, The Verve, Bullet for My Valentine, The Libertines, Muse, Editors and Arctic Monkeys. Since then it has also pioneered various forms of electronic dance music including acid house, drum and bass and trip hop, all of which were in whole or part developed in the United Kingdom. Acclaimed British dance acts include Underworld, Orbital, Massive Attack, The KLF, The Prodigy, Jamiroquai, Basement Jaxx, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Groove Armada, Aphex Twin and Portishead.


The UK has been at the forefront of developments in film, radio, and television.

Many important films have been produced in the UK over the last century, and a large number of significant actors and film-makers have emerged. Currently the main film production centres are at Sheppertonmarker and Pinewood Studiosmarker.

Broadcasting in the UK has historically been dominated by the BBC, although independent radio and television (ITV, Channel 4, Five) and satellite broadcasters (especially BSkyB) have become more important in recent years. BBC television, and the other three main television channels are public service broadcasters who, as part of their license allowing them to operate, broadcast a variety of minority interest programming. The BBC and Channel 4 are state-owned, though they operate independently.

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

Visual art

The oldest art in the United Kingdom can be dated to the Neolithic period, and is found in a funerary context. But it is in the Bronze age that the first innovative artworks are found. The Beaker people, who arrived in region around 2500 BC, were skilled in metal refining. At first, they worked mainly in copper, but around 2150 BC they learned how to make bronze. As there was a ready supply of tin in Cornwallmarker and Devonmarker, they were able to make take advantage of this new process. They were also skilled in the use of gold, and especially the Wessex culture excelled in the making of gold ornaments. Works of art placed in graves or sacrificial pits have survived, showing both innovation and high skill.

In the Iron Age, the Celtic culture spread in the British isles, and with them a new art style. Metalwork, especially gold ornaments, was still important, but stone and most likely wood was also used. This style continued into the Roman period, and would find a renaissance in the Medieval period. It also survived in the Celtic areas not occupied by the Romans, largely corresponding to the present-day Walesmarker, Northern Irelandmarker and Scotlandmarker.

The Romans, arriving in the 1st century BC, brought with them the Classical style. Many monuments have survived, especially funerary monuments, statues and busts. They also brought glass work and mosaics. In the 4th century, a new element was introduced as the first Christian art was made in Britain. Several mosaics with Christian symbols and pictures have been preserved. The style of Romano-British art follows that of the continent, but there are some local specialities, to some extent influenced by Celtic art.

Roman rule was replaced by a number of kingdoms with different cultural backgrounds. The Celtic fringe gained back some of the power lost in the Roman period, and the Celtic style again became a factor influencing art all over the UK. Other peoples, such as the Saxons, Jutes and Danes, brought with them Germanic and Scandinavian art styles. Celtic and Scandinavian art have several common elements, such as the use of intricate, intertwined patterns of decoration. Leaving the debate over which style influenced the other most aside, it seems reasonable to say that in the UK the different style to some extent fused into a British Celtic-Scandinavian hybrid.

Anglo-Saxon sculpting was outstanding for its time in the 11th century, as proved by pre-Norman ivory carvings. Christianity, before the religion of parts of the Roman ruling class, started spreading among the peoples of the UK from the beginning of the 5th century. There was little change in the art style at first, but new elements were added. The Celtic high crosses are well-known examples of the use of Celtic patterns in Christian art. Scenes from the Bible were depicted, framed with the ancient patterns. Some ancient symbols were redefined, such as the many Celtic symbols that can easily be interpreted as referring to the Holy Trinity. One new form of art that was introduced was mural paintings. Christianity provided two elements needed for this art form to take root: Monks who were familiar with the techniques, and stone churches with white-chalked walls suitable for murals. As the artists were often foreign monks, or lay artists trained on the continent, the style is very close to that of continental art. Another art form introduced through the church was stained glass, which was also adopted for secular uses.

The English Renaissance, starting in the early 16th century, was a parallel to the Italian Renaissance, but did not develop in exactly the same way. It was mainly concerned with music and literature; in art and architecture the change was not as clearly defined as in the continent. Painters from the continent continued to find work in Britain, and brought the new styles with them, especially the Flemish and Italian Renaissance styles.

New York-born Sir Jacob Epstein was a pioneer of modern sculpture. As a reaction to abstract expressionism, pop art emerged originally in England at the end of the 1950s.

Visual artists from the United Kingdom include John Constable, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, William Blake and J.M.W. Turner, and in the 20th century, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake. The 1990s saw the Young British Artists, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Aubrey Beardsley, Roger Hargreaves, and Beatrix Potter were illustrators.

Arts institutions include the Royal College of Artmarker, Royal Society of Artsmarker, New English Art Club, Slade School of Artmarker, Royal Academymarker, and the Tate Gallerymarker.


The architecture of the United Kingdom has a long and diverse history from beyond Stonehengemarker to the designs of Norman Foster and the present day. In the United Kingdom, a listed building is a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance. About half a million buildings in the UK have "listed" status.

The earliest remnants of architecture in what is now the United Kingdom are mainly neolithic monuments such as Stonehengemarker, the Giant's Ringmarker, and Aveburymarker, and Roman ruins such as the spa in Bathmarker. Many castles remain from the medieval period and in most towns and villages the parish church is an indication of the age of the settlement, built as they were from stone rather than the traditional wattle and daub.

Over the two centuries following the Norman conquest of 1066, and the building of the Tower of Londonmarker, many great castles such as Caernarfon Castlemarker in Walesmarker and Carrickfergus Castlemarker in Ireland were built to suppress the natives. Large houses continued to be fortified until the Tudor period, when the first of the large gracious unfortified mansions such as the Elizabethan Montacute Housemarker and Hatfield Housemarker were built.

The Civil War 1642—49 proved to be the last time in British history that houses had to survive a siege. Corfe Castlemarker was destroyed following an attack by Oliver Cromwell's army, but Compton Wynyatesmarker survived a similar ordeal. After this date houses were built purely for living, with design and appearance more important than defence.

Just prior to the Civil War, Inigo Jones, who is regarded as the first significant British architect, came to prominence. He was responsible for importing the Palladian manner of architecture to the UK from Italymarker; the Queen's Housemarker at Greenwichmarker is perhaps his best surviving work.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the Great Fire of Londonmarker in 1666 an opportunity was missed in Londonmarker to create a new metropolitan city, featuring modern architectural styles. Although one of the best known British architects, Sir Christopher Wren, was employed to design and rebuild many of the ruined ancient churches of London, his master plan for rebuilding London as a whole was rejected. It was in this period that he designed St Paul's Cathedralmarker, the building that he is perhaps best known for. The dome of St Paul's inspired the United States Capitolmarker.

In the early 18th century baroque architecture—popular in Europe—was introduced, and Blenheim Palacemarker was built in this era. However, baroque was quickly replaced by a return of the Palladian form. The Georgian architecture of the 18th century was an evolved form of Palladianism. Many existing buildings such as Woburn Abbey and Kedleston Hallmarker are in this style. Among the many architects of this form of architecture and its successors, neoclassical and romantic, were Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers, and James Wyatt.

In the early 19th century the romantic medieval gothic style appeared as a backlash to the symmetry of Palladianism, and such buildings as Fonthill Abbeymarker were built. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, construction was able to develop incorporating steel as a building component; one of the greatest exponents of this was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palacemarker. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towersmarker, in the still popular retrospective Renaissance styles. In this era of prosperity and development British architecture embraced many new methods of construction, but ironically in style, such architects as August Pugin ensured it remained firmly in the past.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new form of design arts and crafts became popular, the architectural form of this style, which had evolved from the 19th century designs of such architects as George Devey, was championed by Edwin Lutyens. Arts and crafts in architecture is symbolized by an informal, non symmetrical form, often with mullioned or lattice windows, multiple gables and tall chimneys. This style continued to evolve until World War II.

Following the Second World War reconstruction went through a variety of phases, but was heavily influenced by Modernism, especially from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Many bleak town centre redevelopments—criticised for featuring hostile, concrete-lined "windswept plazas"—were the fruit of this interest, as were many equally bleak public buildings, such as the Hayward Gallerymarker. Many Modernist inspired town centres are today in the process of being redeveloped, Bracknellmarker town centre being a case in point.

However, it should not be forgotten that in the immediate post-War years many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of council houses in vernacular style were built, giving working class people their first experience of private gardens and indoor sanitation.

Modernism remains a significant force in UK architecture, although its influence is felt predominantly in commercial buildings. The two most prominent proponents are Lord Rogers of Riverside and Lord Foster of Thames Bank. Rogers' iconic London buildings are probably Lloyd's Buildingmarker and the Millennium Domemarker, while Foster created the Swiss Re Buildingsmarker (aka The Gherkin) and the Greater London Authority H.Qmarker.

Science and technology

From the time of the Scientific Revolution, England and Scotland, and thereafter the United Kingdom, have been prominent in world scientific and technological development. The English philosopher, Francis Bacon put forward his Baconian method in his 1620 book, Novum Organum. This method promoted empiricism and induction in scientific enquiry and was one of the driving forces behind the scientific revolution.

Possibly the most famous of all English scientists, Isaac Newton, is considered by historians of science to have crowned and ended the scientific revolution with the 1687 publication of his Principia Mathematica, which ushers in what is recognisable as modern physics. He is most famous for realising that the same force is responsible for movements of celestial and terrestrial bodies, that is gravity. It is commonly reported that he made this realisation when he was sitting underneath an apple tree and was hit on the head by a falling apple; this story is, however, apocryphal. He is also famous as the father of classical mechanics, formulated as his three laws and as the co-inventor (with Gottfried Leibniz) of differential calculus. Less famously, he also created the binomial theorem, worked extensively on optics, and created a law of cooling.

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

Historically, many of the UK's greatest scientists have been based at either Oxfordmarker or Cambridge Universitymarker, with laboratories such as the Cavendish Laboratorymarker in Cambridge and the Clarendon Laboratorymarker in Oxford becoming famous in their own right. In modern times, other institutions such as the Red Brick and New Universities are catching up with Oxbridge. For instance, Lancaster Universitymarker has a global reputation for work in low temperature physics. The Royal Society serves as the national academy for sciences, with members drawn from many different institutions and disciplines. Formed in 1660, it is the oldest learned society still in existence.

Technologically, the UK is also amongst the world's leaders. Historically, it was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, with innovations especially in textiles, the steam engine, railroads and civil engineering. Famous British engineers and inventors from this period include James Watt, Robert Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Richard Arkwright.

Since then, the United Kingdom has continued this tradition of technical creativity. Alan Turing (leading role in the modern computer), Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell (the first practical telephone), John Logie Baird (worlds first working television system, first electronic colour television), Frank Whittle (inventor of the jet engine), Charles Babbage (who devised the idea of the computer) and Alexander Fleming (discoverer of penicillin) were all British. The UK remains one of the leading providers of technological innovations today, providing inventions as diverse as the World Wide Web and Viagra (created by Tim Berners-Lee and Pfizer respectively).

Other famous scientists, engineers and inventors from the UK include: William Caxton, Richard Trevithick, Francis Crick, Robert Hooke, Humphry Davy, Robert Watson-Watt, Henry Bessemer, Charles Parsons, Alan Blumlein, George Cayley, Joseph Priestly, Frank Pantridge and others.


The United Kingdom was created as a Protestant Christian country and Protestant churches remain the largest faith group in each country of the UK.

Following this is Roman Catholicism and religions including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism. While 2001 census information suggests that over 75 percent of UK citizens consider themselves to belong to a religion, Gallup International reports that only 10 percent of UK citizens regularly attend religious services, compared to 15 percent of French citizens and 57 percent of American citizens. A 2004 YouGov poll found that 44 percent of UK citizens believe in God, while 35 percent do not.


British cuisine is the specific set of cooking traditions and practices associated with the United Kingdom. Historically, British cuisine means "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it." However, British cuisine has absorbed the cultural influence of those that settled in Britain, producing hybrid dishes, such as the Anglo-Indian Chicken tikka masala, hailed as "Britain's true national dish".

Vilified as "unimaginative and heavy", British cuisine has traditionally been limited in its international recognition to the full breakfast and the Christmas dinner. However, Celtic agriculture and animal breeding produced a wide variety of foodstuffs for indigenous Celts and Britons. Anglo-Saxon England developed meat and savoury herb stewing techniques before the practice became common in Europe. The Norman conquest introduced exotic spices into Great Britain in the Middle Ages. The British Empire facilitated a knowledge of India's elaborate food tradition of "strong, penetrating spices and herbs". Food rationing policies, put in place by the British government during wartime periods of the 20th century, are said to have been the stimulus for British cuisine's poor international reputation.

British dishes include fish and chips, the Sunday roast, and bangers and mash. British cuisine has several national and regional varieties, including English, Scottish, Irish cuisine (for Northern Irelandmarker) and Welsh cuisine, which each have developed their own regional or local dishes, many of which are geographically indicated foods such as Cheshire cheese, the Yorkshire pudding, Arbroath Smokie, Haggis, the Ulster fry, Irish Stew and Welsh rarebit.


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


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

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

England's universities include the so-called Oxbridge universities of (Oxford Universitymarker and Cambridge Universitymarker) which are amongst the world's oldest universities and are generally ranked top of all British universities. Some institutions are world-renowned in specialised and often narrow areas of study, such as Imperial College Londonmarker (science and engineering) and London School of Economicsmarker (economics and social sciences). Academic degrees are usually split into classes: first class (I), upper second class (II:1), lower second class (II:2) and third (III), and unclassified (below third class).

Northern Ireland

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


Scotland has a long history of universal provision of public education, and the Scottish education system is distinctly different from other parts of the United Kingdommarker.Traditionally, the Scottish system has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects compared to the English, Welsh and Northern Irishmarker system has emphasised greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects at secondary school level.

The majority of schools are non-denominational, but by legislation separate Roman Catholic schools, with an element of control by the Roman Catholic Church, are provided by the state system.

Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) level are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and delivered through various schools, colleges and other centres. Political responsibility for education at all levels is vested in the Scottish Parliamentmarker and the Scottish Executive Education and Enterprise, Transport & Lifelong Learning Departments

State schools are owned and operated by the local authorities which act as Education Authorities, and the compulsory phase is divided into primary school and secondary school (often called High school). Schools are supported in delivering the National Guidelines and National Priorities by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Scottish universities generally have courses a year longer than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, though it is often possible for students to take a more advanced specialised exams and join the courses at the second year. One unique aspect is that the ancient universities of Scotland issue a Master of Arts as the first degree in humanities.


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

Sociological issues


Terraced houses are typical in inner cities and places of high population density
England has one of the highest population densities in Europe. Housing, therefore, tends to be smaller and more closely packed than in other countries, resulting in a particular affinity with the terraced house, dating back to the aftermath of the Great Fire of Londonmarker. The majority of surviving housing built before 1914 is of this type, and consequently it dominates inner residential areas. In the twentieth century the process of suburbanisation led to a spread of semi-detached and detached housing. In the aftermath of the second world war, public housing was dramatically expanded to create a large number of council estates, although the majority of these have since been purchased by their tenants. Although many people live in flat, it is commonly argued that they are less comfortable with this form of living than their European counterparts. This may be mainly due to English love of gardening, dislike of common entrances and a desire for privacy and space.

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

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

Living arrangements

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

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

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

Some research indicates that in the 21st century young people are tending to continue to live in the parental home for much longer than their predecessors[36046][36047]. The high cost of living, combined with rising cost of accommodation, further education and higher education means that many young people cannot afford to live independent lives from their families.


The national sport of the UK is football, having originated in England, and the UK has the oldest football clubs in the world. The home nations all have separate national teams and domestic competitions, most notably the Barclays Premier League, the FA Cup, and the Scottish Premier League. The first ever international football match was between Scotland and England in 1872. The match ended goalless.

Other famous British sporting events include the Wimbledon tennis championshipsmarker, the Grand National, the London Marathon, the Six Nations rugby championships (of which 4 "home nations" participate), the British Grand Prixmarker, The Open Championship, The Ashes cricket series and The Boat Race between Oxfordmarker and Cambridgemarker universities.

A great number of major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including football, squash, golf, tennis, boxing, rugby league, rugby union, cricket, field hockey, snooker, billiards, badminton and curling.

National costume and dress

There is no national costume of the United Kingdom. Scotland has the kilt and Tam o'shanter. In England certain military uniforms such as the Beefeater or the Queen's Guard are considered national symbols. Morris dancers or the costumes for the traditional English May dance are cited by some as examples of traditional English costume.

This is in large part due to the critical role that British sensibilities have played in Western dress since the eighteenth century. Particularly during the Victorian era, British fashions defined acceptable dress for men of business. Key figures such as Beau Brummell, the future Edward VII and Edward VIII created the modern suit and cemented its dominance.

Naming convention

The naming convention in most of the United Kingdom is for everyone to have a given name (forename, or still often Christian name in British English, though this usage is declining) usually (but not always) indicating the child's sex, followed by a parent's family name (surname in British English). This naming convention has remained much the same since the 15th century in England although patronymic naming remained in some of the further reaches of the other home nations until much later. Since the 19th century middle names have become very common and are often taken from the name of a family ancestor.

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

See also:

See also


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