The culture of the United Kingdom is rich and varied, and has been influential on culture on a worldwide scale. It is a European country, and has many cultural links with its former colonies, particularly those that use the English language (the Anglosphere). Considerable contributions to British culture have been made over the last half-century by immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent and the West Indies. While a common British identity appears to permeate society, the origins of the UK as a union of formerly separate nations has resulted in the preservation, to a greater or lesser extent, of distinctive cultures in each of the "Home Nations".
For details, see articles on:
Main article: Languages in the United Kingdom
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, some nations and regions of the UK have frameworks for the promotion of autochthonous languages. In Wales, English and Welsh are both widely used by officialdom, and Irish and Ulster Scots enjoy limited use alongside English in Northern Ireland, mainly in publicly commissioned translations. Additionally, the Western Isles region of Scotland has a policy to promote Scottish Gaelic.
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. Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish are to be developed in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall 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", and British Sign Language.
Main article: British literature
English literature emerged as a recognisable entity in the late 14th century, with the rise and spread of the London 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).
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, and Thomas Hardy. The 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, Salman Rushdie, Mary Shelley, Zadie Smith, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Virginia Woolf.
Important poets include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, T. S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Alexander Pope, and Dylan Thomas.
- Main article: Theatre of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom also has a vibrant tradition of theatre. Theatre was introduced to the UK from Europe 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 London has a large number of theatres, particularly centred around Shaftesbury Avenue. A prolific playwright of the 20th century Andrew Lloyd Webber has dominated the West End for a number of years and his works have travelled to Broadway in New York and around the world, as well as being turned into film.
The Royal Shakespeare Company operates out of Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon in England, producing mainly but not exclusively Shakespeare's plays.
Important modern playwrights include Alan Ayckbourn, John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and Arnold Wesker.
Main article: Music of the United Kingdom
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, and Oliver Knussen.
Britain 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. Because of its location and other economic factors, London is one of the most important cities for music in the world: it has several important concert halls and is also home to the Royal Opera House, one of the world's leading opera houses. British traditional music has also been very influential abroad.
The UK was, with the US, one of the two main countries in the development of rock and roll, and has provided bands including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Status Quo, the Sex Pistols, the Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, and Radiohead. Since then it has also pioneered in 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, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Portishead.
Broadcasting House is the headquaters of BBC radio
Main articles: Film in the United Kingdom , Radio in the United Kingdom , Television in the United Kingdom
Britain has been at the forefront of developments in film, radio, and television.
Historically, many famous comedies were produced at Ealing Studios, and film production work continues as Elstree.
Broadcasting in Britain has historically been dominated by the BBC, although independent radio (such as ILR ) 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 intrest programming. The BBC and Channel 4 are government owned, though they operate independently.
Britain 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 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 and BBC 6 Music, and local stations throughout the country.
Main article: Art of the United Kingdom
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 Britain 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 Cornwall and Devon, 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. Anglo-Saxon sculpting was outstanding for its time in the 11th century, as proved by pre-Norman ivory carvings . 
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 Wales and Scotland.
Thomas Gainsborough's Blue boy
, painted 1770
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 brough glasswork 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 Britain. 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 Britain the different style to some extent fused into a British Celtic-Scandinavian hybrid.
Christianity, before the religion of parts of the Roman ruling class, started spreading among the peoples of Britain from the end of the 6th 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.
As a reaction to abstract expressionism, pop art emerged originally in England at the end of the 1950s.
New York-born Sir Jacob Epstein was a pioneer of modern sculpture, boldly challenging taboos through his public works.
Notable visual artists from the United Kingdom include John Constable, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, William Blake and J.M.W. Turner. In the 20th century, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake were of note.
More recently, the so-called Young British Artists have gained some notoriety, particularly Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
Notable illustrators include Aubrey Beardsley, Roger Hargreaves, and Beatrix Potter.
Notable arts institutions include the Allied Artists' Association , Royal College of Art, Artists' Rifles, Royal Society of Arts, New English Art Club , Slade School of Art, Royal Academy, and the Tate Gallery.
See also: English art
Main article: Architecture of the United Kingdom
The earliest remnants of architecture in the United Kingdom are mainly neolithic monuments such as Stonehenge and Avebury, and Roman ruins such as the spa in Bath. 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 London, many great castles such as Caernarfon Castle in Wales and Carrickfergus Castle 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 House and Hatfield House were built.
The Civil War 1642—49 proved to be the last time in British history that houses had to survive a siege. Corfe Castle was destroyed following an attack by Cromwell's army, but Compton Wynyates survived a similar ordeal. After this date houses were built purely for living, and design and appearance were for ever 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 Britain from Italy; the Queen's House at Greenwich is perhaps his best surviving work.
Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 an opportunity was missed in London 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 the building that he is perhaps best known for, St Paul's Cathedral.
In the early 18th century baroque architecture—popular in Europe—was introduced, and Blenheim Palace 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 Hall 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 Abbey 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 Palace. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towers, 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 Gallery. Many Modernist inspired town centres are today in the process of being redeveloped, Bracknell 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 U.K. 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 Building and the Millennium Dome, while Foster created the Swiss Re Buildings (aka The Gherkin) and the Greater London Authority H.Q.
Science and technology
Ever since the scientific revolution, the United Kingdom has been prominent in world scientific and technological development. The 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 British 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, and discovering 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 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 James Clerk Maxwell, who 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; and Harold Kroto, the discoverer of buckminsterfullerene.
Historically, many of the UK's greatest scientists have been based at either Oxford or Cambridge University, with laboratories such as the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and the Clarendon Laboratory 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 University 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. 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: Michael Faraday, Robert Baden-Powell, John Logie Baird, William Caxton, Richard Trevithick, Humphry Davy, Robert Watson-Watt, Henry Bessemer and others.
Main article: Religion in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is traditionally a Christian country, with two of the Home nations having official faiths:
Other religions followed in the UK include 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 . The disparity between the census data and the YouGov data has been put down to a phenomenon described as "cultural Christianity", whereby many who do not believe in God still identify with the religion they were bought up as, or the religion of their parents.
Main article: British cuisine
For many years, Britain has had a reputation for somewhat conservative cuisine, progressing little beyond "meat and two veg". Rationing continued for many years after World War II, reinforcing a somewhat limited approach to food.
Traditional British dishes include fish and chips, sausages, and roast meats such as beef, lamb, and pork, and regional dishes such as the Cornish pasty and Lancashire Hotpot.
Since World War II the immigrant populations to the UK have introduced various dishes that have become staples in UK culture. Balti, for example, is an English invention based on Indian cuisine that is gaining popularity across the world. Chinese food and pizza are two other modern introductions that have been adopted by the British people.
Main article: Education in the United Kingdom
The education system in the United Kingdom varies in important respects between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Education is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom includes many historic universities, including Oxbridge (Oxford University and Cambridge University). 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).
Prominent historical (private fee-paying) schools (known as "public schools") include Eton, Harrow and Rugby. Most schools came under state control in the Victorian era, a formal state school system was instituted after the Second World War. In England, 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). Combined "comprehensive" schools became much more common in the 1960s and 1970s however some Local Education Authorities still favour the old grammar school system.
The United Kingdom has the third highest population density in Europe after the Netherlands and Belgium. Housing tends to be smaller and more closely packed than in other countries.
In the larger cities (and in the centres of historic cities and towns) flats and terraced housing are the most frequent housing type available. In the suburbs and in smaller towns most people live in semi-detached or detached housing, typically built in the inter-War or post-War years.
There is a wealth of historic country houses and stately homes in rural areas of the UK. However the many of these are now put to other uses than private living accommodation.
Demographic changes (see below) are putting great pressure on the housing market, especially in London and the South East.
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 communites), and the nuclear family 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, 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. 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 producing a return, some say, to the traditional extended family situation.
Main article: Sport in the United Kingdom
The national sport of the UK is football, 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 Scottish Premier League, the FA Cup and the FA 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 championships, the Grand National, the London Marathon, the ashes series of cricket matches and the boat race between Oxford and Cambridge universities.
A great number of major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including: Football (soccer), squash, golf, boxing, rugby (rugby union and rugby league), cricket, snooker, billiards, badminton and curling.
There is no specifically British national costume. Even individually, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have only vestiges of a national costume; Scotland has the kilt and Tam o'shanter. In England certain military uniforms such as the Beefeater or the Queen's Guard are considered by tourists to be symbolic of Englishness, however they are not official national costumes.
The naming convention in most of the United Kingdom is for everyone to have a given name, usually (but not always) indicating the child's sex, followed by a parent's family name. 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 family name of an ancestor.
Traditionally given names were largely taken from the Bible however in the Gothic Revival of the Victorian era Anglo Saxon and mythical names became commonplace. Since the middle of the 20th century however given names have been influenced by a much wider cultural base.
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12