FLAG: The Union Jack, adopted in 1800, is a combination of the banners of England (St. George’s flag: a red cross with extended horizontals on a white field), Scotland (St. Andrew’s flag: a white saltire cross on a blue field), and Ireland (St. Patrick’s flag: a red saltire cross on a white field). The arms of the saltire crosses do not meet at the center.
ANTHEM: God Save the Queen.
MONETARY UNIT: The pound sterling (£) is a paper currency of 100 pence. Before decimal coinage was introduced on 15 February 1971, the pound had been divided into 20 shillings, each shilling representing 12 pennies (p) or pence; some old-style coins are still in circulation. Under the new system, there are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 pence and 1 and 2 pounds, and notes of 5, 10, 20, and 50 pounds. £1 = $1.85185 (or $1 = £0.54) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Although the traditional imperial system of weights and measures is still in use (sample units: of weight, the stone of 14 pounds equivalent to 6.35 kilograms; of length, the yard equivalent to 0.914 meter; of capacity, a bushel equivalent to 36.37 liters), a changeover to the metric system is in progress.
HOLIDAYS: New Year’s Day, 1 January; Good Friday; Easter Monday (except Scotland); Late Summer Holiday, last Monday in August or 1st in September (except Scotland); Christmas, 25 December; and Boxing Day, 1st weekday after Christmas. Also observed in Scotland are bank holidays on 2 January and on the 1st Monday in August. Northern Ireland observes St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March; and Orangeman’s Day, 12 July, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The United Kingdom (U.K.) is located off the northwest coast of Europe between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. It is separated from the Continent by the Strait of Dover and the English Channel, and from the Irish Republic by the Irish Sea and Saint George’s Channel. Its total area of 244,820 square kilometers (94,525 square miles) consists of the island of Great Britain—formed by England, Wales, and Scotland—and Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland. Comparatively, the area occupied by the United Kingdom is slightly smaller than the state of Oregon.
Area: 244,820 sq km (94,525 sq mi)
Size ranking: 76 of 194
Highest elevation: 1,343 meters (4,406 feet) at Ben Nevis
Lowest elevation: -4 meters (-13 feet) at Fenland
Arable land: 23%
Permanent crops: 0%
Average annual precipitation: 78 centimeters (31 inches)
Average temperature in January: 4.2°c (39.6°f)
Average temperature in July: 16°c (61°f)
* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.
Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.
Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.
** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.
Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.
The United Kingdom also comprises several island groups and hundreds of small single islands. Its total land boundary length is 360 kilometers (224 miles) and the total coastline length is 12,429 kilometers (7,723 miles).
The 0° meridian of longitude passes through the old Royal Observatory, located at Greenwich. The United Kingdom’s capital city, London, is located in the southeast part of England.
England is divided into the hill regions (of the north, west, and southwest) and the rolling downs and low plains of the east and southeast. Running from east to west on the extreme north Scottish border are the Cheviot Hills. The Pennine Range runs north and south from the Scottish border to Derbyshire in central England. The rest of the countryside consists mainly of rich agricultural lands, occasional moors, and plains. South of the Pennines lie the Midlands (East and West), a plains region with low, rolling hills and fertile valleys. The eastern coast is low-lying, much of it less than 5 meters (15 feet) above sea level.
The highest point in England is Scafell Pike, at 978 meters (3,210 feet), in the famed Lake District of the northwest. The longest of the rivers flowing from the central highlands to the sea are the Severn (about 340 kilometers/210 miles) in the west and the Thames (about 320 kilometers/200 miles) in the southeast.
Scotland has three distinct topographical regions: the Northern Highlands, containing the highest point in the British Isles, Ben Nevis, at 1,343 meters (4,406 feet), as well as Loch Ness, site of a fabled “monster”; the Central Lowlands, containing the valleys of the Tay, Forth, and Clyde Rivers, as well as Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake; and the Southern Uplands, rising to their peak at Merrick (843 meters/2,766 feet), with moorland cut by many valleys and rivers.
Wales is largely mountainous and bleak, with much of the land suitable only for pasture. The Cambrian Mountains occupy almost the entire area and include Wales’s highest point, Mount Snowdon, at 1,086 meters (3,563 feet). There are narrow coastal plains in the south and west and small lowland areas in the north, including the valley of the Dee.
Northern Ireland consists mainly of lowlying plateaus and hills, generally about 150 to 180 meters (500 to 600 feet) high. The Mourne Mountains in the southeast include Slieve Donard, at 852 meters (2,796 feet), the highest point in Northern Ireland. In a central depression lies Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the United Kingdom, with an area of 400 square kilometers (154 square miles).
The United Kingdom’s long and rugged coastline, heavily indented, has towering cliffs and headlands and numerous bays and inlets, among them the deep and narrow lochs and the wide firths of Scotland. Many river estuaries serve as fine harbors.
Despite its northern latitude, the United Kingdom generally has a temperate climate. Mean monthly temperatures range (north to south) from 3 to 5°c (37 to 41°f) in winter and from 12 to 16°c (54 to 61°f) in summer. Temperatures in summer rarely go higher than 32°c (90°f) or drop in winter below –10°c (14°f). Rainfall, averaging 78 centimeters (31 inches) throughout the United Kingdom, is heaviest on the western and northern heights (more than 380 centimeters/150 inches), and lowest along the eastern and southeastern coasts. Known for its mists and fogs, the United Kingdom has little sunshine—averaging from half an hour to two hours a day in winter and from five to eight hours in summer.
With its mild climate and varied soils, the United Kingdom has a diverse pattern of natural vegetation. Originally, oak forests probably covered the lowland, except for the fens and marsh areas, while pine forests and patches of moorland covered the higher or sandy ground. Over the centuries, much of the forest area, especially on the lowlands, was cleared for cultivation. Fairly extensive forests remain in east and north Scotland and in southeast England. Oak, elm, ash, and beech are the most common trees in England. Pine and birch are most common in Scotland. Almost all the lowland outside the industrial centers is farmland, with a varied seminatural vegetation of grasses and flowering plants. Wild vegetation consists of the natural flora of woods, fens and marshes, cliffs, chalk downs, and mountain slopes, the most widespread being the heather, grasses, gorse, and bracken of the moorlands.
Animal life is similar to that of northwestern continental Europe, although there are fewer species. Some of the larger mammals—wolf, bear, boar, and reindeer—are now extinct, but red and roe deer are protected for sport. Common smaller mammals are foxes, hares, hedgehogs, rabbits, weasels, stoats, shrews, rats, and mice; otters are found in many rivers, and seals frequently appear along the coast. There are few reptiles and amphibians.
Roughly 230 species of birds reside in the United Kingdom, and another 200 are migratory. Most numerous are the chaffinch, blackbird, sparrow, and starling. The number of large birds is declining, however, except for game birds-pheasant, partridge, and red grouse-which are protected. With the reclamation of the marshlands, waterfowl are moving to the many bird sanctuaries. The rivers and lakes abound in salmon, trout, perch, pike, roach, dace, and grayling. There are more than 21,000 species of insects.
Air pollution is a significant environmental concern for the United Kingdom. In 1992 the nation had the world’s eighth-highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, its sulphur contributes to the formation of acid rain in the surrounding countries of Western Europe. Air quality has improved greatly in the United Kingdom as a result of the Control of Pollution Act of 1974 and other legislation. Water pollution from agricultural sources is also a problem.
As of 2003, 20.9% of the United Kingdom’s total land area was protected. As of 2006, threatened species included 10 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, 12 species of fish, 2 types of mollusks, 8 species of other invertebrates, and 13 species of plants. The European otter, Atlantic sturgeon, Atlantic ridley, eskimo curlew, and Spengler’s freshwater mussel are classified as endangered. The great auk has become extinct.
The 2005 population estimate for the United Kingdom was 60,068,000. A population of 64,687,000 was projected for 2025. During the 1990s, the United Kingdom’s population grew by an annual average of 0.3%. According to the United Nations (UN), the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.2%.
Average population density in 2005 was 247 persons per square kilometer (635 per square mile). Major metropolitan areas in 2005 included Greater London, 7,619,000; Birmingham, 2,215,000; Manchester, 2,193,000; Leeds, 1,402,000; and Liverpool, 975,000. The major cities in Scotland are Glasgow, 1,099,400; and Edinburgh, 460,000. Belfast, the major city in Northern Ireland, had a 2005 population of 287,500; and Cardiff, in Wales, 305,000.
Immigration is allowed on a quota basis (only a certain number of people are allowed to enter the country each year). Between 1986 and 1991, about 1,461,000 came from overseas to live in the United Kingdom and 1,334,000 persons left the United Kingdom to live abroad, resulting in a net in-migration of 127,000. Between the 1990s and 2002, net migration in the U.K. rose from 50,000 per year to 172,000. The number of unauthorized foreigners grew to around 500,000 in 2003.
The United Kingdom is one of Europe’s major destinations for asylum seekers. Main countries of origin include Somalia, India, Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In response to the Kosovo crisis in 1999, the United Kingdom received 4,346 Kosovar refugees from Macedonia. In 2004, the U.K. hosted refugees in larger numbers: 289,059 refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Serbia and Montenegro, Iran, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The estimated net migration rate in 2005 was 2.18 migrants per 1,000 population.
The present-day English, Welsh, Scots, and Irish are descended from a long succession of early peoples: Iberians, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, the last of whom invaded and conquered England between 1066 and 1070. In 2001, an estimated 83.6% of United Kingdom residents were English. The Scottish formed about 8.6% of the population, Northern Irish made up 2.9%, Welsh accounted for 4.9%. The principal ethnic minorities are of West Indian or Guyanese descent or of Indian, Pakistani, or Bengali descent. There also are sizable numbers of Africans, Americans, Australians, Chinese, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Italians, Spaniards, and Southeast Asians.
Spoken throughout the United Kingdom and by over 456 million people throughout the world, English is second only to Mandarin Chinese in the number of speakers. It is taught extensively as a second language and is used worldwide as a language of commerce, diplomacy, and scientific discourse. In northwestern Wales, Welsh, a form of Brythonic Celtic, is the first language of most of the inhabitants.
Approximately 26% of those living in Wales speak Welsh (up from 19% in 1991). About 60,000 persons in western Scotland speak the Scottish form of Gaelic and a few families in Northern Ireland speak Irish Gaelic. On the Isle of Man, the Manx variety of Celtic is used in official pronouncements; in the Channel Islands, some persons still speak a Norman-French dialect. French remains the language of Jersey for official ceremonies.
There is complete religious freedom in the United Kingdom. All churches and religious societies may own property and conduct schools. Established churches are the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The sovereign must be a member of the Church of England and, on accession to the throne, must promise to uphold the faith. The Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York have seats in the House of Lords. The archbishop of Canterbury is primate (head bishop) of all England.
The Church of Scotland has a presbyterian form of government: all ministers are of equal status and each of the congregations is locally governed by its minister and elected elders.
About 71.6% of the population belongs to one of the four largest Christian denominations in the country: the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, and the Methodist Church in Britain. Many immigrants have established community religious centers in the U.K. Such Christian groups include Greek, Russian, Polish, Serb-Orthodox, Estonian, and Latvian Orthodox, and the Armenian Church. Lutheran churches from various parts of Europe are also represented. A total of about 2% of the population are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, members of the Church of Christ, Christian Scientists, or Unitarians. The Anglo-Jewish community, with an estimated 300,000 members, is the second-largest group of Jews in Western Europe. There are also sizable communities of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists.
In Northern Ireland, about 53% of the population is nominally Protestant and 44% is nominally Catholic; only about 30–35% of all Northern Irish are active participants in religious services. The Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland tend to live in self-segregated communities.
Under the 1968 Transport Act, national transport operations were reorganized, creating the National Freight Corporation, the Freight Integration Council, and the National Bus Company. In 2003 Great Britain had 392,931 kilometers (244,403 miles) of paved highways, including 3,431 kilometers (2,134 miles) of express motorways. Licensed motor vehicles in Great Britain as of 2003 numbered 32,576,891, including 29,007,820 passenger cars.
Eurotunnel, a British-French company, built two high-speed 50-kilometer (31-mile) rail tunnels beneath the seabed of the English Channel. The Channel Tunnel, referred to as the “Chunnel,” links points near Dover, England, with Calais, France. The Channel Tunnel is the longest tunnel system (38 kilometers/24 miles) ever built under water.
The Humber Bridge, the world’s longest single-span suspension bridge, with a center span of 1,410 meters (4,626 feet), links the city of Hull with a less developed region to the south.
There were 17,274 kilometers (10,727 miles) of railway in Great Britain in 2004, including 5,296 kilometers (3,289 miles) of electrified track. In early 1997, the government proposed privatizing London’s subway system because of insufficient funds needed to restore the aging network.
Great Britain has about 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) of navigable inland waterways. Great Britain has some 300 ports, including the Port of London, one of the largest in the world. Other major ports include Liverpool, Southampton, Kingston-upon-Hull, and the inland port of Manchester. The British merchant fleet of 429 ships, privately owned and operated, totaled 9,181,284 gross registered tons (GRT) in 2005.
International flights operate from London’s Heathrow Airport; Gatwick, London’s second airport; Glasgow, in Scotland; Ringway, near Manchester; Aldergrove, in Belfast; and Elmdon, in Birmingham. In 2003, the United Kingdom’s airlines carried 76,377,000 passengers on domestic and international flights.
Beginnings The stone circles of Stonehenge in Wiltshire are the remains of Britain’s earliest inhabitants, whose origin is unknown. Celtic tribes from the Continent invaded the islands sometime prior to the sixth century bc. In the first century ad., the Romans occupied most of the present-day area of England, staying until the fifth century. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Celtic tribes fought among themselves. Early raids by Germanic tribes from the Continent—Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—soon turned into full-scale invasions. The leaders of the invasions established kingdoms in the conquered territory, while the native Celts retreated into the mountains of Wales and the southwest of England.
Among the new kingdoms of the invaders, that of the West Saxons (Wessex) became the overall ruling kingdom, chiefly through the leadership of Alfred the Great. The West Saxons were overthrown twice, however, first by the Danes in
1017 and later by William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. William invaded England and defeated Harold the Saxon in the Battle of Hastings, beginning the Norman Conquest, which lasted until 1070. He instituted a strong government, which continued through the reigns of his sons William II and Henry I. Henry II ascended the throne in 1154. Succeeding English kings expanded their holdings in France, beginning a long series of struggles between the two countries.
1215–1328 Long-standing conflict between the nobles and the kings reached a climax at Runnymede (on the bank of the Thames River, southwest of London) in 1215 when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta—a document guaranteeing fundamental rights and privileges to the average citizen. Just half a century later, in 1265, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, summoned the first Parliament, with representatives not only from the nobility but also from the boroughs and towns. In 1282, the last Welsh king, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, was killed in battle, and Edward I completed the conquest of Wales.
By the end of the 6th century, four separate kingdoms had been established in Scotland. Most of the country was unified under Duncan I (reigned 1034–40). The Scottish king William the Lion (reigned 1165–1214) was captured by Henry II of England in 1174 and forced to accept the Treaty of Falaise, which placed Scotland under English control. Scotland later purchased its freedom from Richard I. In 1305, Edward I reestablished English rule, but after the decisive defeat of the English at Bannockburn (a town in central Scotland), Edward III signed a treaty in 1328 that once again gave Scotland its freedom.
1337–1588 Under Edward III, the Hundred Years War (1337–1453) with France was begun, which would eventually end with the English being driven out of France. The 14th and 15th centuries were a time of confusion and change for England. The plague, known as the Black Death, broke out in England in 1348, wiping out a third of the population. John Wycliffe led a religious reform movement and criticized many established doctrines and practices. Richard II ruled from 1377 to 1399; he was overthrown and succeeded by Henry IV, the first king of the house of Lancaster. The War of the Roses (1455–85), in which the houses of Lancaster and York fought for the throne, ended with the accession of Henry VII, a member of the Tudor family, marking the beginning of the modern history of England.
Under the Tudors, business and trade were expanded, English sailors ranged far and wide, and conflicts with Spain grew worse. In 1531, Henry VIII separated the Anglican Church from Rome and proclaimed himself its head in order to divorce the first of his six wives. After his death in 1547, the succession to the throne became a major issue during the reigns of Edward VI (1547–53), Mary I (1553–58), and Elizabeth I (1558–1603).
French influence in Scotland grew under James V (reigned 1513–42). His daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, married the dauphin (prince) of France, where she lived and later ruled as queen. By the time Mary returned to Scotland (1561), a pro-English faction had the support of Queen Elizabeth I against the pro-French faction. Mary, who claimed the throne of England, was imprisoned and executed in 1587 by Elizabeth. Under Elizabeth, England acquired its first colony, Newfoundland, in 1583 and in 1588 defeated the Spanish Armada. It also experienced the beginning of a golden age of drama, literature, and music, which produced many great artists, including William Shakespeare.
1603–1707 Elizabeth was succeeded by Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England (reigned 1603–25), establishing the Stuart line. Under James and his son, Charles I (reigned 1625–49), the rising middle classes (mainly Puritan in religion) wanted to make Parliament superior to the king. The English Civil War broke out in 1642, and Charles I was tried and executed in 1649. Oliver Cromwell, as Protector, ruled the new Commonwealth until his death in 1658. In 1660, Charles II, eldest son of the executed king, regained the throne.
The following period, known as the Restoration, was marked by a reaction against Puritanism and by greater wealth. Charles II’s younger brother, James II (reigned 1685–88), who tried unsuccessfully to restore Roman Catholicism, was overthrown in 1688. He was succeeded by his daughter, Mary II, and her Dutch husband, William III, who were invited to rule by Parliament. This transfer of power is known as the Glorious Revolution.
English colonial expansion developed further in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the English merchant marine became more successful than the Dutch. At home, the Act of Union of Scotland and England was approved by the two parliaments in 1707, thereby formally creating the kingdom of Great Britain under one crown and with a single Parliament composed of representatives of both countries.
1714–1900 George I of the House of Hanover took the throne in 1714 and established the modern cabinet system, with the king leaving much of the governing to his ministers. The 18th century was a time of rapid colonial expansion, internal stability, and literary and artistic achievement. Britain expanded its control of North America and India in the Seven Years’ War (which was ended in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris). The American Revolution (1775–83), however, cost Britain its most important group of colonies. A few years later, Britain colonized Australia and New Zealand.
In 1800, with the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland, the United Kingdom was born. Although the act established Irish representation in Parliament, the so-called Irish question continued to cause trouble. There was a growing division between the 26 counties of southern Ireland and the 6 counties of the north, popularly called Ulster. While the north gradually became mostly Protestant and industrial, the rest of Ireland remained Catholic and rural. Eventually, the northern Irish began a campaign that ended in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which established separate governments for the north and south, as well as continued representation in the United Kingdom Parliament. The six northern counties accepted the act and became Northern Ireland. The 26 southern counties, however, did not. In 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, by which these counties left the United Kingdom to become the Irish Free State (now called the Irish Republic, or Éire), which was officially established in 1922.
The Industrial Revolution, beginning in the second half of the 18th century, funded British colonial and military expansion throughout the 1800s. The growth of factories and cities introduced new social problems, however. The Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884 increased the rights and power of the new middle class and the working class. Factory acts, poor laws, and other humanitarian legislation corrected some of the worst abuses. The long reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901) benefited from unprecedented commercial and industrial growth. Victoria was succeeded by her son, Edward VII (1841–1910), whose reign was marked by a period of great colonial expansion, especially in Africa. On that continent, at the end of the century, Britain fought settlers of mostly Dutch origin in the South African (or Boer) War.
20th and 21st Centuries The terrible losses of World War I (1914–18), in which nearly 800,000 Britons were killed, caused serious economic and social disturbances in the United Kingdom. The economic depression of the 1930s resulted in the unemployment of millions of workers. During the late 1930s, the government of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain hoped to avoid war by appeasing (making compromises with) Nazi Germany. However, after German leader Adolph Hitler invaded Poland, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, marking the beginning of World War II (1939–45). Although it won the war, the United Kingdom suffered much destruction from German bombing, and the military and civilian death toll exceeded 900,000.
There was a succession of kings during this era. George V (1865–1936) succeeded his father, Edward VII, as king in 1910; George V’s son, Edward VIII (1894–1972), succeeded his father in 1936. However, Edward VIII abdicated (gave up the throne) before the end of his first year as king so that he could marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. (At that time, it was unacceptable for a king or queen to marry a divorced person.) His brother, George VI (1895–1952), became king in his place. George VI ruled throughout World War II, serving as a role model to the British people by choosing to continue to live in Buckingham Palace during and after bombing raids. When he died, his daughter, Elizabeth II (1926–) became queen. Her eldest son, Prince Charles (1948–) was given the title of Prince of Wales, in 1958; he is currently heir to the throne.
The United Kingdom has remained firmly within the Atlantic alliance since World War II. A founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the United Kingdom joined the European Community (EC) on 1 January 1973. The principal domestic problems in the 1970s were rapid inflation, labor disputes, and the continuing conflict in Northern Ireland. Civil rights protests in 1969 by Catholics drew a violent Protestant reaction. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), seeking the union of Ulster with the Irish Republic, began committing terrorist acts in both Northern Ireland and England. British troops were sent to Belfast and Londonderry in August 1969. In November 1985, the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic signed an agreement committing both governments to recognize Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and to cooperate with each other.
In 1979, a Conservative government headed by Margaret Thatcher came to power with a program of income tax cuts and reduced government spending. Thatcher, who won reelection in 1983 and 1987, began a policy of “privatizing”—selling to private business—many of the United Kingdom’s government-run businesses. The United Kingdom fought a brief but intense war (2 April–14 June 1982) after Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands off the south Atlantic coast of South America. British government was restored to the islands at the end of the war. In November 1990, Thatcher withdrew from power and was replaced by John Major. Major’s government sought to redefine Conservative values with a renewed emphasis on law and order.
Labour Party leader Tony Blair was elected prime minister in May 1997, ending 18 years of Conservative Party rule. Blair pledged to create regional assemblies for Scotland and Wales as well as a municipal government for London. Blair also promised not to exceed Conservative Party spending limits, and pledged no new taxes for five years. Blair also promised a referendum on the status of Northern Ireland, which its voters approved in May 1998. Voters in the Irish Republic also approved the same referendum. Under the settlement, Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom, but there will be a new elected assembly, administrative links between the Irish Republic and Northern
Ireland, and a council with representatives from the United Kingdom.
On 15 August 1998, a car bomb exploded in Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 28 people and wounding more than 200. The bombing appeared to be conducted by a Roman Catholic splinter group opposed to the referendum, and it raised doubts about the new peace agreement. In May 2000 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agreed to allow leading international figures to inspect arms dumps and to begin the process of disarmament. However, disarmament of the IRA did not progress in 2001. In October 2002, Sinn Feìn’s (the political arm of the IRA) offices at Stormont (the Northern Ireland Assembly) were raided due to a large police investigation into alleged spying on behalf of Irish republicans. Due to the spying accusations, direct rule from London was reimposed on Northern Ireland. On 26 November 2003, however, elections were held for the Northern Ireland Assembly after Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders in Northern Ireland agreed to restore the assembly and executive branches.
Tony Blair and his Labour Party won a second landslide victory in the June 2001 parliamentary election. The central issue dividing the nation was the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union (EU). Blair was reelected prime minister in 2005.
Blair offered strong support for the U.S-led war on terrorism that was begun after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. British forces took part in the campaign in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime. British forces fought side by side with U.S. forces in the war in Iraq that began on 19 March 2003, especially in southern Iraq.
In July 2005, London was wracked by terrorist violence. On 7 July, four suicide bombers struck the transit system in London, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700. Three underground trains were bombed, as was one double-decker bus. Two weeks later, on 21 July, bombings of another three underground trains and one bus were attempted, but the suicide bombers’ bombs failed to fully detonate. On 22 July, a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot to death at an underground station by British police who believed him to be implicated in the bombing attempts. He was found not to have played any role in the 21 July attacks.
The United Kingdom remains one of three EU members that has not adopted European economic and monetary union, retaining its own currency instead of switching to the euro. The other two nations are Denmark and Sweden.
The United Kingdom is a monarchy in form but a parliamentary democracy in substance. In British terms, the sovereign—Elizabeth II since 1952—reigns but does not rule. Although head of state, the sovereign is considered to be under the law rather than above it. She rules only by approval of Parliament and acts only on the advice of her ministers.
The United Kingdom is governed, in the name of the sovereign, by Her Majesty’s Government—a body of ministers responsible to Parliament. Parliament itself, the supreme legislative authority in the realm, consists of the sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. Northern Ireland had its own parliament (Stormont) that was subordinate to Westminster, in London; however, because of civil strife in Ulster, the Stormont was prorogued (suspended) on 30 March 1972, and direct rule was imposed from Westminster. A Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government came into being in 1999. It was suspended in October 2002, and direct rule from London returned. Regional parliaments for Scotland and Wales were ratified by referendum in 1997; they convened their first sessions in 1998.
The sovereign formally calls and dismisses Parliament. The House of Lords is comprised of about 1,200 peers, including hereditary peers, spiritual peers (archbishops and bishops of the Church of England), and life peers. Over the centuries, its powers have gradually been reduced. Today, its main function is to bring the wide experience of its members into the process of lawmaking. As of 2005, the House of Commons, which is elected, had 646 members. All British subjects who are at least 18 years old may vote in national elections.
Executive power rests with the prime minister, who, though formally appointed by the sovereign, is traditionally the leader of the majority party in Parliament. The prime minister is assisted by ministers chosen from the majority party—mostly from the House of Commons, which must approve general government policy and important specific measures. The ministers with the most seniority, about 20 or so, compose the cabinet, which meets regularly to decide policy on major issues.
The British constitution is made up of parliamentary statutes, common law, and traditional precepts and practices known as conventions, all of which have evolved through the centuries.
Name: Tony Blair
Position: Prime minister of a constitutional monarchy
Took Office: 2 May 1997
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Birthdate: 6 May 1953
Education: Fetters College, Edinburgh; St. John’s College, Oxford, studied law
Spouse: Cherie Booth (lawyer)
Children: Four children: Euan, Nicholas, Kathryn, Leo
Of interest: During his college years, Blair performed as an actor and was a singer in a rock band. He also has worked in the basement of a department store. Some have stated that Blair’s “intelligence, energy, charm, and discipline” helped him to rise through the political ranks quickly.
Largely unwritten, this constitution has never been codified and is constantly changing.
Under the Local Government Act of 1972, the county system that had prevailed throughout England and Wales was replaced by a two-tier structure of counties and districts. In the 1990s, local governmental structures were reorganized, and single-tier administrations with responsibility for all areas of local government were reestablished. There are currently 46 unitary authorities in England, and 34 shire counties split into 238 non-metropolitan districts. These in turn are subdivided into electoral wards and districts. In 2000, a two-tier structure was reestablished for London; it has 32 boroughs and the City of London. Scotland is subject to the administration of both the U.K. government in Westminster and the Scottish executive in Edinburgh, and Wales is subject to the administration of Westminster and the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff. Scotland is divided into 32 council areas, which in turn are divided into electoral wards and communities. Wales is subdivided into 22 unitary authorities, which in turn are divided into electoral divisions and communities. Northern Ireland is subject to the administration of both the U.K. government and the Northern Ireland Executive in Belfast. It is divided into 26 districts, which in turn are divided into electoral wards. The United Kingdom has more than 10,000 electoral wards/divisions.
The main political parties represented in Parliament today are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats (a coalition of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties, which voted in favor of a formal merger in 1988).
The Liberal Party was a major force during the late 19th century. Since World War I, the Labour Party has replaced the Liberal Party as the official opposition to a Conservative government. The Labour Party favors public ownership of manufacturing, improvement of the social and economic conditions of the people, defense of human rights, cooperation with labor and socialist organizations of other countries, and peaceful solutions to international disputes. In foreign affairs, there has been little difference between the Labour and Conservative Parties since World War II. They differ mainly on the degree of state control to be applied to industry and commerce. The Conservative Party supports free enterprise, individual initiative, and restraining the power of the unions.
Since World War II, Labour has been in power during 1945–51, 1964–70, 1974–79, and since 1997; the Conservatives held office during 1951–64, 1970–74, and 1979–97.
The Labour Party, under the leadership of Tony Blair, won a landslide victory in the general election of 1 May 1997. It was the first time in eighteen years that Labour won the majority. Of 659 possible seats, the Labour Party won 418 seats (43.1%), gaining 146 seats. The Conservative Party won only 165 seats (30.6%), losing 178 seats. The Liberal Democrats won 46 seats (16.7%), the most held by that party since the 1920s.
The June 2001 election was called “the quiet landslide” following the major victory of the Labour Party in the 1997 election. Labour won 40.7% of the vote and secured 413 seats; the Conservative Party gained only 1 seat (166) and registered 31.7% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats gained 6 seats (52; 18.3% of the vote) from their historic high in 1997. Other parties received 9.3% of the vote.
In the May 2005 election, Labour lost 47 seats but retained its majority with 356 seats (35.3% of the vote). The Conservatives gained 33 seats to end up with 198 (32.3%). The Liberal Democrats held 62 seats after gaining 11 (22.1%). Other parties garnered 10.3% of the vote.
Yearly Growth Rate
This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.
The main civil courts in England and Wales are some 218 county courts for small cases and the High Court, which is divided into the chancery division, the family division, and the Queen’s Bench division, which hears the more important cases. Appeals from the county courts may also be heard in the High Court, though the most critical ones usually come before the Court of Appeal. A few appeals are heard before the House of Lords.
In Scotland, civil cases are heard at the sheriff courts (corresponding roughly to the English county courts) and in the Outer House of the Court of Session, which is the supreme civil court in Scotland. Appeals are heard by the Inner House of the Court of Session.
Criminal courts in England and Wales include magistrates’ courts, which hear less serious offenses (some 96% of all criminal cases). These consist most often of three unpaid magistrates known as justices of the peace. There also are 78 centers of the Crown Court, presided over by a bench of justices or, in the most serious cases, by a High Court judge sitting alone.
In Scotland, minor criminal cases are tried without a jury in the sheriff courts and district courts, and more serious cases with a jury in the sheriff courts. The supreme criminal court is the High Court of Justiciary.
All criminal trials are held in open court. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, 12-citizen juries must unanimously decide the verdict unless (with no more than two jurors dissenting) the judge directs them to return a majority verdict.
Total active army strength in 2005 was 116,760. The Navy had 26,430 personnel, including 7,000 Royal Marines and 6,200 Naval Aviators. The Royal Air Force had a strength of 48,140 personnel. The United Kingdom has approximately 200 operational nuclear weapons. The defense budget for 2005 was $51.1 billion. British troops participate in a number of peace-keeping missions around the world. The United States has 9,800 troops stationed in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom lives by manufacture and trade. It has few natural resources apart from coal and low-grade iron ore, some timber, building materials, hides and skins, natural gas, and North Sea oil. Farming provides nearly two-thirds of the food needed. The rest of the United Kingdom’s food and most raw materials for its industries have to be imported and paid for largely through exports of manufactured goods and services.
By the early 1990s, the United Kingdom had a far lower level of dependence on oil imports than in the past. A major source of earnings is the variety of commercial services that stem from the United Kingdom’s role as central banker of the countries that use the pound sterling. Shipping, income from overseas investment, insurance, and tourism also make up an important part of the economy.
As of 2005, the United Kingdom had the world’s fourth-largest economy, and was one of four countries in Western Europe with a trillion dollar economy (the others were Germany, France, and Italy).
In 2005, the United Kingdom’s gross domestic product GDP was $1.9 trillion, or about $30,900 per person. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 2.2%.
The United Kingdom is one of the most highly industrialized countries in the world. Since World War II, some traditional industries have become far less important-such as cotton textiles, steel, shipbuilding, locomotives—their place has been taken by newer industries, such as electronics, offshore oil and gas products, and synthetic fibers. In the chemicals industry, plastics and
Components of the Economy
This pie chart shows how much of the country’s economy is devoted to agriculture (including forestry, hunting, and fishing), industry, or services.
pharmaceuticals have registered the most significant growth.
Metals, engineering, and allied industries— including steel, nonferrous metals, vehicles, and machinery—employ nearly half of all workers in manufacturing. The United Kingdom is one of the world’s largest exporters of commercial motor vehicles, with 1.75 million passenger cars produced in 2002. Britain’s aerospace industry is among the world’s largest.
The United Kingdom continues to produce high-quality woolen textiles. Certain smaller industries are noted for the quality of their products; some examples include pottery, jewelry, goldware, and silverware. Other sectors are the cement industry (which focuses on the manufacture of Portland cement, a British invention); the rubber industry, the world’s oldest; paper industries; and leather and footwear.
The total working population of the United Kingdom in 2005 was 30.07 million. Services account for roughly 79.5% of the labor force, with industry 19.1% and agriculture only 1.5%. The official unemployment rate was 4.7% in 2005.
About one-third of the workforce is covered by collective bargaining agreements. Equal pay for men and women doing the same work has been required by law since the end of 1975. A minimum wage was finally set in 1999. The minimum wage for adults varied from $7.45 to $8.82 per hour in 2005. Children under the age of 16 are not permitted to work unless it is part of an educational experience.
Agriculture produces about 60% of the United Kingdom’s food needs. It contributed about 1% to the GDP in 2005, and agricultural products accounted for 4.9% of exports. Only about 1% of the labor force works in agriculture, and roughly 23% of Great Britain’s land area is devoted to crops.
Most British farms produce a variety of products. The type of farming varies with the soil and climate. Chief crops (with estimated 2004 production) were barley (5,860,000 tons), wheat (15,706,000 tons), potatoes (6,000,000 tons), sugar beets (7,600,000 tons), oats (652,000 tons), and rapeseed oil (1,600,000 tons).
Livestock continues to be the largest sector of the farming industry. In England and Wales, fattening of animals for food is the predominant activity in the southeast, the east, and the Midlands, while stock rearing is widespread in northern England and in Wales. In Scotland, dairying predominates in the southwest, cropping and fattening in the east, and sheep raising in the hilly regions. Northern Ireland’s livestock industry provides 90% of its agricultural income.
In 2005, there were about 10,378,000 head of cattle (including 2 million dairy cows), 35,253,000 sheep and goats, and 4,851,000 hogs. There are also an estimated 157 million chickens. Output of livestock products for 2005 included 747,000 tons of beef and veal, 310,000 tons of mutton and lamb, 704,000 tons of pork, 1,573,000 tons of poultry, 14,577,000 tons of milk, 133,000 tons of butter, and 399,000 tons of cheese.
Most of the internationally famous breeds of cattle, sheep, hogs, and farm horses originated in the United Kingdom. The most highly reputed beef breeds are Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Distinguished dairy breeds are Guernsey, Jersey, and Ayrshire. To ensure sound breeding, there is mandatory licensing of bulls.
On 20 March 1996 the British government reported concern over a possible link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or the so-called “mad cow” disease) in cattle and a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that affects humans. Transmission of BSE to cattle occurs when contaminated meat and bone meal are mixed with livestock feed. The disease, which is deadly, affects humans who have consumed the contaminated meat of animals that have eaten contaminated feed. The United Kingdom was the only country with a high incidence of the disease. Though the epidemic was brought under control, consumption of beef dropped and many countries banned imports of British cattle and beef.
The waters surrounding the British Isles provide excellent fishing and fish breeding grounds. Small fishing villages are found all along the coast, but the modern large-scale industry is concentrated at Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood, Yarmouth, and Lowestoft in England. The major herring landings are made at numerous east coast ports in Scotland, notably Aberdeen. The fishing industry has been declining, but it remains important to Scotland, which accounts for 67% by weight of all fish landings in the United Kingdom. England and Wales account for 30% and Northern Ireland for 3%.
The British fishing fleet has approximately 10,000 vessels. The fleet had a capacity of 223,039 tons in 2004. In 2004, landings of all types of fish by U.K. fishing vessels totaled 457,712 tons. Leading species caught that year were mackerel, herring, and haddock. The United Kingdom exported $1.67 billion in fishery products in 2003, while imports were valued at $2.5 billion.
Salmon farming takes place primarily in Scotland. The total U.K. production of farmed salmon in 2003 was around 145,600 tons.
The estimated total area of woodland in 2002 was 2.8 million hectares (6.89 million acres), or over 10% of Great Britain’s land area. Roughly 40% of the area is in England, 49% in Scotland, and 11% in Wales. The principal species in the forest areas are spruce, pine, oak, and larch, with smaller amounts of beech, ash, birch, and fir. The lumber industry employs about 55,000 workers and supplies the United Kingdom with 13% of its timber demand.
The timber cut in 2004 yielded an estimated 8.1 million cubic meters (286 million cubic feet) of roundwood. In 2004, U.K. sawmills cut 4.93 million cubic meters (174 million cubic feet) of logs to produce 2.76 million cubic meters (97.4 million cubic feet) of sawn lumber. The United Kingdom imports softwood lumber from Canada, hardwood lumber and softwood plywood from the United States, hardwood veneer from Germany, hardwood plywood from Russia, and particleboard from Belgium.
The Forestry Commission promotes development of afforestation (establishing new forests) and increased timber production. There was a considerable degree of reforestation in the second half of the 20th century.
Except for North Sea oil deposits, the United Kingdom has comparatively few mineral resources. Traditionally, coal has been by far the most important of these. The United Kingdom also is a leading world producer and exporter of ball clay and kaolin. Minerals extracted in 2003 included 91 million tons of gravel and sand (common and industrial), 82 million tons of crushed limestone, 12.9 million tons of crushed dolomite, 2.09 million tons of kaolin (dry weight sales), 885,000 tons of ball and pottery clay (dry weight sales), 621,000 tons of potash, 250,000 tons of dimension sandstone, 1.7 million tons of gypsum and anhydrite, 56,000 tons of fluorspar, and 8.5 million tons of crushed chalk. Lead and hematite iron ore were worked on a small scale. In 2003, the United Kingdom also produced hydraulic cement, clays (including fire
Yearly Balance of Trade
The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).
clay, fuller’s earth, and shale), feldspar (china stone), quicklime and hydrated lime, rock and brine salt, sodium compounds, slate, and sulfur.
The United Kingdom, the world’s fifth-largest trading nation, is highly dependent on foreign trade. It must import almost all of its copper, ferrous metals, lead, zinc, rubber, and raw cotton; most of its tin, raw wool, hides and skins, and many other raw materials; and about one-third of its food. Principal exports are telecommunications equipment, crude petroleum, automobiles, automatic data processing equipment, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, aircraft, engines and motors, transistors and valves, professional and scientific measuring equipment, and motor vehicle parts and accessories. Principal imports are consumer goods, machinery, fuels, and food products.
Membership in the European Union has resulted in some adjustment of the United Kingdom’s trade patterns. The United States was the United Kingdom’s leading market through 1989. It was then replaced by Germany, which also has been its largest supplier since 1982. Trade with the nations of the European Union increased from 43% to 52.6% between 1980 and 1995. In 1998, the United States moved back into the position of leading trade partner. In addition to the United States and Germany, other major trading partners include France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Japan, and China.
Coal supplies roughly 16% of the United Kingdom’s primary energy consumption; oil, 35%; natural gas, 35%; and hydroelectric and other renewable sources the rest.
The United Kingdom is one of the largest oil producers in the world, thanks to its offshore oil reserves in the North Sea. The United Kingdom’s proven oil reserves from the North Sea totaled 4.49 billion barrels as of 2005. Production reached 2.08 million barrels per day in 2004. In 2005, natural gas reserves were estimated at more than 588.9 billion cubic meters (20.8 trillion cubic feet). Production in 2002 was 101.9 billion cubic meters (3.6 trillion cubic feet), among the highest in the world.
The production and consumption of coal have decreased greatly since the late 1980s, when coal supplied two-thirds of the U.K.’s thermal generating stations. As of 2002, that share had shrunk to less than half, and it was expected to
Selected Social Indicators
The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.
|Indicator||United Kingdom||Low-income countries||High-income countries||United States|
|sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.|
|Per capita gross national income (GNI)*||$31,430||$2,258||$31,009||$39,820|
|Population growth rate||0.3%||2%||0.8%||1.2%|
|People per square kilometer of land||247||80||30||32|
|Life expectancy in years: male||76||58||76||75|
|Number of physicians per 1,000 people||2.2||0.4||3.7||2.3|
|Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)||17||43||16||15|
|Literacy rate (15 years and older)||99%||65%||>95%||99%|
|Television sets per 1,000 people||950||84||735||938|
|Internet users per 1,000 people||629||28||538||630|
|Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)||3,893||501||5,410||7,843|
|CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)||9.15||0.85||12.97||19.92|
|* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power.|
|n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than|
fall below one-third by 2010. About 15% of the public electricity supply was generated by nuclear power stations in 2003. The United Kingdom was the first country to have a nuclear power station supplying electricity to a national network.
Total electricity generated by power stations in the United Kingdom in 2003 amounted to 376.8 billion kilowatt-hours. As much as 10% of Britain’s electricity needs could be satisfied by wind power. Tidal power, passive solar design, and biofuels also show promise as new, renewable sources of energy.
A system of social security, placed in full operation in 1948, provides national insurance, industrial injuries (workers’ compensation) insurance, family allowances, and national assistance throughout the United Kingdom, although the system is administered separately in Northern Ireland. The National Insurance scheme provides benefits for sickness, unemployment, maternity, and widowhood, as well as guardians’ allowances, retirement pensions, and death grants.
Financial assistance for the poor is provided through supplementary benefits in the form of either a pension or an allowance. For needy families in which the head of the household has full-time employment, a family income supplement is paid.
Women’s career progress in most sectors of the economy continues, although employed women earn about 18% less than their male counterparts (despite a 1975 law requiring equal pay). Sexual harassment is a continuing problem in the workplace.
People of Asian and African origin are sometimes subject to discrimination, even though racial discrimination is prohibited by law.
Life expectancy was about 78.54 years in 2006. Rising living standards, medical advances, the availability of medical facilities, and the smaller size of the family are some factors in the improved health of the British people. Deaths from infectious diseases have been greatly reduced, although the proportion of deaths from circulatory diseases-including heart attacks and strokes-and cancer has risen. Infant mortality was 5.16 per 1,000 live births in 2005.
A comprehensive National Health Service (NHS), established in 1948, provides full medical care to all residents of the United Kingdom. NHS delivers health care through 129 health authorities, each of which receives money from the government. Included are general medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and optical services; hospital and specialist services for physical and mental illnesses; and local health authority services (maternity and child welfare, vaccination, prevention of illness, health visiting, home nursing, and other services). All hospitals, except a few run mostly by religious orders, are members of the NHS.
Areas of concern include incidence of coronary/stroke, cancer, accidents, mental illness, and human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). Half the British population is currently overweight, a condition which has been attributed to a sedentary lifestyle during leisure time.
An aging population, costlier medical treatments, and a budget crisis have forced the cancellation of non-emergency treatment at some centers. The number of beds available is below the level of demand, causing long waits for treatment. In 2004, there were an estimated 220 physicians, 497 nurses, 40 dentists, 59 pharmacists, and 43 midwives per 100,000 people.
Since 1982, to help control the spread of AIDS, the government has funded and implemented measures for blood testing, research, public education, and other social services relating to the disease. As of 2004, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 51,000. Deaths from AIDS in 2003 were estimated at 500.
The United Kingdom is less crowded than most European countries. About 50% of families now live in a dwelling that was built after 1945, usually a two-story house with a garden.
Most homeowners finance their purchase through a home mortgage loan from a building society, bank, insurance company, or other financial institution. The main providers of new subsidized housing are housing associations. These companies own, manage, and maintain more than 600,000 homes in England alone and built more than 30,000 new homes for rent or shared ownership in the mid-1990s.
The 2001 census indicated that there were about 25,456,000 dwellings in the United Kingdom.
Although responsibility for education in the United Kingdom rests with the central government, schools are mainly administered by local education authorities. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 16. Student-to-teacher ratios average 17 to 1 at the primary level and 19 to 1 at the secondary level. About 100% percent of primary-school-aged children enroll in school, while 95% of those eligible attend secondary school. The majority of primary students attend state schools that are owned and maintained by local education authorities. A small minority attend voluntary schools, most of which are run by the churches and financed by the local authorities.
The main school examination, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is taken in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland at around the age of 16. A separate exam system exists in Scotland. In 1989, the government introduced a “National School Curriculum” in England and Wales comprised of four key stages: ages 5 to 7 (infants); ages 7 to 11 (juniors); ages 11 to 14 (pre-GCSE); and ages 14 to 16 (GCSE). Similar reforms are being introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of the 2,500 registered independent schools not run by the state, the largest and most important (Winchester, Eton, Harrow, and others) are known in England as “public schools.” Many have centuries of tradition behind them and are world-famous.
Including the Open University, a non-residential institution whose courses are conducted by television and radio broadcasts and correspondence texts, Britain had 47 universities in the 1990s. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge date from the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively; the Scottish universities of Saint Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh from the 15th and 16th centuries. Besides the universities, there are more than 800 other institutions of higher education, including technical, art, and commercial colleges run by local authorities.
National policy stipulates that no person should be excluded from higher education by lack of financial means. More than 90% of students in higher education hold awards administered from public or private funds. In 1997, the government began to reconsider its policy of cost-free tuition by announcing that students would become responsible for some of the expense. In 2003, it was estimated that about 64% of the tertiary age population was enrolled in higher education programs.
As of 2006, the adult literacy rate was estimated at 99%.
The British Post Office was the first in the world to institute adhesive stamps as proof of payment for mail. It now operates nearly all postal services. British Telecommunications (Telecom) was denationalized in 1984. As of 2003, there were an estimated 591 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 841 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.
Radio and television broadcasting services are provided by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the Radio Authority. The BBC broadcasts on two television channels and the Independent Television Commission broadcasts on ITV and Channel Four. BBC Radio offers five national radio networks as well as FM programming and an overseas service in 37 languages. As of 1999, there were 225 AM and 525 (mostly repeater) FM radio stations and 78 television stations. In 2005, there were 1,445 radios for every 1,000 people. In 2005, there were 950 televisions for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were about 405.7 personal computers in use for every 1,000 people and 629 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 21,034 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.
Although circulation totals have been decreasing, U.K. newspaper readership per capita is among the highest in the world. There are over 100 daily and Sunday newspapers, some 2,000 weekly papers, numerous specialized papers, and about 7,000 periodicals. Nine Sunday papers and 12 daily morning papers are “national” in the sense of circulating throughout Britain. National dailies, and their average daily circulations in 2004, were: The Sun, 3,301,223; Daily Mail, 2,403,528; Daily Mirror, 1,777,408; Daily Telegraph, 907,048; Daily Express, 929,323; The Times, 658,182; Daily Star, 882,709; Financial Times, 426,369; and The Guardian, 371,494.
In 2004, the newspaper with the highest circulation was the tabloid News of the World, which distributes more than 3.7 million papers per week. Six other Sunday papers have circulations in the millions. The provincial press included more than 100 daily and Sunday newspapers and some 1,600 weeklies in 2004.
In 2004 major papers outside of London (with 2004 circulation) included: The Express and Star, 162,509; Manchester Evening News, 148,094; Liverpool Echo, 135,273. The weekly Berrow’s Worcester Journal, founded in 1690, claims to be the world’s oldest continuously circulating newspaper.
Wales has five daily newspapers (as follows with 2004 circulation): South Wales Echo, 59,200; South Wales Evening Post, 58,269; Western Mail, 44,470; South Wales Argus, 31,803; and Evening Leader, 26,968.
Scotland has six morning, five evening, and four Sunday papers, plus the Scottish editions of the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express. The Glasgow Herald (2004 circulation 78,746) and The Scotsman (68,408), an Edinburgh paper, are the most influential. Others include: Daily Record, 584,671; Evening Times, 95,126; The Press and Journal, 88,599; and Courier and Advertiser, 83,186. About 120 weekly papers are published in Scottish towns.
Northern Ireland has two morning papers, one evening paper, and one Sunday paper, all published in Belfast, plus a number of weeklies. The evening paper is the Belfast Telegraph (circulation 94,602 in 2004).
Britain’s ethnic minorities publish more than 60 newspapers and magazines, most of them weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. These include the Chinese Sing Tao and Wen Wei Po, the Urdu Daily Jang, and the Arabic Al-Arab (all dailies), as well as newspapers in Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi, and Punjabi. The Weekly Journal, aimed at Britain’s black community, was begun in 1992.
The more than 7,000 periodicals published weekly, monthly, or quarterly cover a huge range of special interests. Leading opinion journals are New Statesman, The Economist, and Spectator. The Times Literary Supplement is highly influential in cultural affairs. The chief news agency is Reuters, a worldwide organization servicing British papers with foreign and Commonwealth news and the world press with British and foreign news.
Although there is no government censorship of news or opinion, the Official Secrets Act, stringent libel and slander laws, and restrictions governing the disclosure of court proceedings do impose limitations on press freedom. In addition, the press regulates itself through the Press Council, which adjudicates complaints about newspaper practices from local officials and the public.
The United Kingdom is rich in historic and cultural attractions. Among the many historic dwellings open to the public are medieval castles in Wales; 10-century-old Traquair House, the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland; the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh; and Warwick Castle, near Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
Distinguished cathedrals include Saint Paul’s in London and those in Canterbury, Exeter, Norwich, Winchester, and York. The oldest distillery in the world is located at Bushmills, in Northern Ireland. Some of Scotland’s 100 malt whiskey distilleries also offer tours.
Among London’s attractions are Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey. London is particularly noted for its theater, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. Traditional community gatherings for music and dancing, called ceilidhs, are held in Scotland, and Edinburgh is the site of many music festivals.
Scotland, where golf was developed in the 15th century, has many superb golf courses, as does the rest of the United Kingdom. Other popular sports include fishing, riding, sailing,
rugby, cricket, and football (soccer). Wimbledon is the site of perhaps the world’s best-known tennis competition.
Tourism brings in a great deal of money from overseas. In 2003, a total of 24,715,000 foreign visitors spent $30.6 billion in the United Kingdom. There are more than one million beds available in hotel and other accommodations. The opening of the Channel Tunnel (under the English Channel) in 1994 has boosted travel to and from the continent.
Great English rulers include William I (the Conqueror, 1027–1087), Henry II (1133–1189), Richard I (the Lion-Hearted, 1157–1199), leader of the Third Crusade; and John (1167?–1216). Henry VIII (1491–1547) separated the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1533–1603), England achieved great commercial, industrial, and political power, and the arts flourished. Under the reign of Victoria (1819–1901), Britain attained unprecedented prosperity and empire.
Among the statesmen distinguished in English history are Thomas à Becket (1118?–1170), archbishop of Canterbury; Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester (1208?–1265), who summoned the first parliament; and Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), who ruled England during the Commonwealth period following the Civil War.
Outstanding statesmen of the 19th century were William Wilberforce (1759–1833); Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804–1881); and William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898). 20th century leaders include David Lloyd George, First Earl of Dwyfor (1863–1945), prime minister during World War I; and Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874–1965), prime minister during World War II, historian, and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953. In 1979, Margaret (Hilda Roberts) Thatcher (1925–) became the nation’s first woman prime minister. The reigning monarch since 1952 has been Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926). The heir to the throne is Charles, Prince of Wales (1948–), whose marriage on 29 July 1981 to Lady Diana Frances Spencer (1961–1997; at marriage, Diana, Princess of Wales) was seen by a worldwide television audience of 750 million people.
Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?–1594), who set sail from England in search of the Northwest Passage, reached Canada in 1576. Sir Francis Drake (1545?–1596) was the first Englishman to sail around the world. John Davis (1550?–1605) explored the Arctic and Antarctic, sailed to the South Seas, and discovered the Falkland Islands. Henry Hudson (d. 1611) explored the Arctic regions and North America. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552?–1618) was a historian and poet, as well as a navigator and colonizer of the New World. James Cook (1728–1779) charted the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. Scottish-born David Livingstone (1813–1873) explored central Africa while doing missionary work.
Great British military figures include John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722); Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805), the Irish-born soldier-statesman; Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769–1852); General Charles George Gordon (1833–1885); and Welsh-born Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888–1935), known as “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Roger Bacon (1214?–1292), philosopher and scientist, wrote treatises ranging over the whole field of human knowledge. William of Ockham (1300?–1349) laid the foundation of the modern theory of the separation of church and state. John Wesley (1703–1791) was the founder of Methodism. Chief among modern philosophers are Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), George Berkeley (1685–1753), and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). Noted anthropologists include Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (1903–1972) and his wife, Mary Leakey (1913–1996), who discovered important fossil remains of early hominids in Tanzania.
British scientists and inventors who won fame for major contributions to knowledge include William Harvey (1578–1657), physician and anatomist, who discovered the circulation of the blood; Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), natural philosopher and mathematician, who discovered gravity and made important advances in calculus and optics; James Watt (1736–1819), the Scottish-born engineer who invented the modern condensing steam engine; Charles Darwin (1809–1882), the great naturalist who advanced the theory of evolution; Sir Alexander Fleming (1881–1955), bacteriologist, who received the 1945 Nobel Prize for medicine for the discovery of penicillin in 1928; and Francis Harry Compton Crick (1916–2004) and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins (b. New Zealand, 1916–2004), two of the three winners of the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their research into the structure of the DNA molecule.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?–1400) wrote the Canterbury Tales and other works that marked the height of medieval English poetry. Two religious reformers who translated the Bible into English, making it accessible to the common people, were John Wycliffe (1320?–1384), who made the first complete translation from Latin, and William Tyndale (1492?–1536), who made the first translation from the original languages (Hebrew and Greek).
During the reign of Elizabeth I, England’s golden age, emerged the dramatist and poet William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Other great writers of the time were Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599), Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586), Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), and Ben Jonson (1572–1637). Outstanding writers of the Stuart period include the philosopher, scientist, and essayist Francis Bacon (1561–1626); John Milton (1608–1674), author of Paradise Lost and other poems and political essays; and John Bunyan (1628–1688), who created the classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress.
Distinguished writers of the 18th century include the Irish-born satirist Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), author of Gulliver’s Travels; the poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744); and the Irish-born playwright Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–1774). The poet and artist William Blake (1757–1827) worked in a unique mystical vein.
The English Romantic movement produced a group of major poets, including William Wordsworth (1770–1850); Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834); George Noel Gordon Byron, sixth Lord Byron (1788–1824); Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822); and John Keats (1795–1821). Victorian poets of note included Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892); Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861); her husband, Robert Browning (1812–1889); Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1822–1882); his sister, Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830–1894); and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889). Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900) was famous as a playwright, novelist, poet, and wit.
Major poets of the 20th century include Alfred Edward Housman (1859–1936); U.S.-born Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965), winner of the Nobel Prize in 1949; Welsh-born Dylan Thomas (1914–1953); Philip Larkin (1922–1985); and Ted Hughes (1930–1998).
Well-known English novelists include Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), Jane Austen (1775–1817), Charles Dickens (1812–1870), the Brontë Sisters—Charlotte (1816–1855) and Emily (1818–1848), George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, 1819–1880), and Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), who was also a poet. The mathematician Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832–1898) became world-famous for two children’s books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), author of novels, stories, and poems, received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930) is known throughout the world as the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Twentieth century fiction writers of note include the Polish-born Joseph Conrad (Teodor Józef Konrad Korzeniowski, 1857–1924); Virginia Woolf (1882–1941); David Herbert Lawrence (1885–1930); Dame Agatha Christie (1881–1976); Aldous Huxley (1894–1963); and George Orwell (Eric Blair, 1903–1950). Irish-born George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), known for his plays, criticism, and political writings, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Prominent British writers in the second half of the century include Graham Greene (1904–1991), Kingsley Amis (1922–1995), Margaret Drabble (1939–), A. S. (Antonia Susan) Byatt (b.1936–; Drabble and Byatt are sisters), Salman Rushdie (b. India, 1947–), and Martin Amis (1949–). Joanne “J. K.” Rowling (1965–) is most famous as author of the Harry Potter fantasy series.
Luminaries of the modern theater are Laurence Olivier (Baron Olivier of Brighton, 1907–1989), Sir Michael Redgrave (1908–1985), and Derek George Jacobi (1938–). Major contributors to the cinema have included the comic actor and director Charlie (Sir Charles Spencer) Chaplin (1889–1977), Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980), Cary Grant (Archibald Alexander Leach, 1904–1986), Sir Alec Guinness (1914–2000), Welsh-born Richard Burton (1925–1984), Irish-born Peter O’Toole (1932–), Vanessa Redgrave (1937–), Dame Judi Dench (1934–), Sir Anthony Hopkins (b. Wales, 1937–), Jeremy Irons (1948–), Daniel Day-Lewis (1957–), Emma Thompson (1959–), Kenneth Branagh (1960–), and Kate Winslet (1975–).
English composers of note include the great lutenist and songwriter John Dowland (1563–1626); Henry Purcell (1659?–1695); German-born George Frederick Handel (Georg Friedrich Händel, 1685–1759); and Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842–1900), whose musical settings of the librettos of Sir William Schwenk Gilbert (1836–1911) are among the most popular comic operas of all time. Significant 20th-century figures include Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). Popular music figures include John Winston Lennon (1940–1980) and James Paul McCartney (1942–) of the Beatles, Mick Jagger (1943–) of the Rolling Stones, and Elton John (1947–). Notable classical performers include violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin (1916–1999) and guitaristlutenist Julian Bream (1933–).
Notable British athletes include Sir Roger Bannister (b.1929), who on 6 May 1954 became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes, and the yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester (1901–1972), winner of the first single-handed transatlantic race (1970) and the first sailor to make a solo circumnavigation of the globe (1966–67).
Those primarily associated with Scotland included Duncan I (reigned 1034–40), the first ruler of the historical kingdom of Scotland. Macbeth (reigned 1040–57), who killed Duncan and seized the throne, was the subject of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart, 1542–1587), a romantic historical figure, is the subject of many plays and novels. Her son James VI (1566–1625) became England’s King James I.
John Knox (1514?–1572) was the founder of Presbyterianism. David Hume (1711–1776) was an outstanding philosopher and historian. Economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) influenced the development of world economy and politics. The national poet of Scotland was Robert Burns (1759–1796). Scottish novelists of prominence include Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894).
Distinguished figures who were active primarily in Wales include the sixth-century monk Dewi (d. 588?), who became Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and Owen Glendower (Owain ap Gruffydd, 1359?–1416), the national hero of Wales, who led a rebellion against English rule. Bishop William Morgan (1541?–1604) made a Welsh translation of the Bible that, with revisions, is still in use.
Two natives of Northern Ireland—Betty Williams (1943–), a Protestant, and Mairead Corrigan (1944–), a Roman Catholic—received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for their leadership of a peace movement in Ulster.
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"United Kingdom." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/united-kingdom
"United Kingdom." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/united-kingdom
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