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Icons, symbols and institutions

There are certain icons and institutions which even

the British themselves consider as "British." This
is just a selection of those things which spring to
mind whenever one hears the word "British."

The BULLDOG symbolises the very essence of Britishness. He is

solid, reliable, unshakeably loyal, very individual, VERY nice when
you get to know him - and kind of cute in his own funny little way!
He also bears a startling resemblance to Winston Churchill,
Britain's great wartime leader whose memory is still held in great
esteem by the majority of the British.
The Americans have Uncle Sam, British have JOHN BULL. He is a
fictional character, used to personify the British nation, and is
always depicted as an elderly gentleman, rather portly in build,
wearing full riding kit complete with breeches and boots, and a
Union Jack waistcoat. He was created by John Arbuthnot (1667-
1735) a Scottish author, scientist, and physician who wrote five
satirical pamphlets in 1712 on the politics of the day, using John
Bull as the typical Englishman. The character obviously struck a
chor d and he has persisted ever since : the picture on the left
comes from a 1916 British Army recruiting poster.
A BRITISH LION is really a member of a Rugby Football team (a
very GOOD one, though) - the Lion is the emblem of England. It is
actually a "lion passant gardant" - a walking lion, looking out at you
full face, and was first used by Rollo, Duke of Normandy (father
of William the Conqueror, who added the second lion.) The third
was added by Henry II, and Henry VIII added a crown to the
lion. In heraldry, the lion stands for "deathless courage" and the
lion passant gardant for "resolution and prudence" The Scots also
have a lion as their heraldic emblem: theirs is a red lion rampant
(standing on its hind legs, looking straight forward.)
BRITANNIA is the personification of British nationalism. She is
portrayed as a young woman in a neo-classical gown and helmet,
seated by the sea ("Britannia Rules the Waves.") She is holding a
trident in one hand and a shield, decorated with the Union flag, in
the other. The Romans called their newly-conquered province,
just across the sea from Gaul, Britannia, and the coinage of the
day featured the image of a woman in armour. This image was not
used on coins again until the reign of King Charles II, and
Britannia became a popular figure in 1707 when Scotland, Wales
and England were finally united to form Great Britain. She was
immortalised in 1740 when James Thompson wrote the words of
"Rule Britannia" and set it to music by Thomas Arne. It was
performed on the London stage where it immediately captured
the public imagination. The song "Rule Britannia" is still sung
every year on the last night of the "Proms" - the Promenade
Concerts held in the Royal Albert Hall in London - when the whole
audience joins in a burst of nationalistic fervour and flag-waving,
invariably drowning out the soloist who is supposed to be doing
the singing! Britannia has continued to feature on British coins
since her reintroduction, mostly on copper (penny and halfpenny)
coins but occasionally on silver, and at present is to be seen on
the 50p coin.
The BOWLER HAT conjures up an instant image of Britishness.
Originally designed in 1850 by Lock's the hatters for William
Coke II, later the Earl of Leicester, it was actually MADE by the
hat maker William Bowler. It was first called the "Coke" but soon
became known as a "Bowler," partly because of its maker but also
because of its bowl-like shape. The bowler hat became the
trademark of several well-known Englishmen : Charlie Chaplin
(born in London), Stan Laurel (from Ulverston) and more recently
John Steed, the archetypal Gentleman Spy of The Avengers fame
(left, played by Patrick McNee). Goldfinger's sidekick Oddjob
used a bowler hat to devastating effect, and you will still see
bowler hats being worn on the streets of London today as they
form part of the unofficial "uniform" of the city gent, always
accessorised with a rolled black umbrella.
CRICKET - and I don't mean the commercialised, multicoloured
specially-for-TV spectacle that masquerades under that name but
the REAL game. There is no "British" national team, the team
that competes with the other great cricketing nations of
Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, India and the West Indies is
England. At a more local level, cricket has county teams, works,
club, village and even school teams, and families play their own
versions of the game on playing fields and beaches every summer.
Cricket is a leisurely game: Test matches (internationals) take up
to five days, and three or two-day matches are usual at the
higher levels of play. Even a village cricket match may take all
day, and on a fine, sunny Sunday, village greens and cricket
pitches around the country will see families picnicking on the
grass around the boundary whilst watching the match in play.
The British BOBBY is one of our most cherished icons, called
after the founder of the modern police force, Sir Robert Peel.
The local policemen may also be known as the "Plod" after the
delightful policeman character Mr. Plod in Enid Blyton's "Noddy"
stories, or as a "copper," from his habit of "copping" (seeing what
they are up to and catching) wrongdoers. Our policemen are not
routinely armed and there is considerable public support for it
remaining that way; the British have a natural aversion to the
everyday use of guns, and still yearn for the days when the local
Bobby could dispense summary justice to misbehaving juveniles
with a swift clout as soon as he caught them.
TEA is most definitely Britain's national drink, and it is difficult
to get a decent cuppa anywhere else in the world! Tea drinking is
not just a means of refreshment, it is also a social ritual and any
hostess (or host) will put the kettle on immediately after
greeting visitors. To make a proper cup of tea, you need a china or
earthenware teapot; fill the kettle with freshly-drawn water and
bring it to the boil. WARM THE POT by pouring in some of the
boiling water, swishing it around then emptying it again. Purists
will insist on loose tea but good quality teabags are acceptable -
the traditional "one for each person and one for the pot" will
produce rather a strong brew! I prefer mine a bit less violent -
about 3 spoons between four. Bring the water back to boil and
pour it onto the tea immediately. Leave the tea to
brew/mash/stand - it depends on where you live - for about five
minutes. Gently give it a stir and leave for another minute for the
tea leaves to settle again, then pour it out - but put the milk in
the cup first! If you use loose tea, you might want to use a tea-
strainer ( a sort of mini-sieve designed for just that purpose.)
Add sugar to taste, and drink and enjoy!
ENGLISH PUBS pop up in all sorts of places, but if they're not in
England - they're not English pubs! There is an alarming trend
towards "modernisation" and "theme pubs" but there is also a
growing backlash against chrome-and-formica and loud music. You
can find good pubs in both town and country, although city pubs
have by and large succumbed to the need to attract a younger
clientele. A good pub will have "atmosphere" - a cheerful and
friendly landlord (or landlady), helpful and chatty bar staff - if
they are also decorative then that is a bonus - and "locals" willing
to gossip with any visitor. There is a popular fallacy that we drink
our beer warm : this is decidedly not so : a good beer (that is,
made from malted barley and flavoured with real hops, not
chemical stuff) is served at cellar (storage) temperature - which
given the climate, is decidedly NOT warm! Continental lagers are
served chilled, but then no true Englishman would consider lager
as real beer.
The ROBIN is everyone's favourite bird : when a national
newspaper conducted a poll to decide Britain's national bird (we
didn't have one before) millions voted, and the robin won by a
landslide. It is not the same species as the American Robin (which
is closely related to our blackbird) but shares the same
distinctive red breast. Indeed, the American Robin was probably
given its name by the first settlers because of its similar
colouring. The robin is immediately recognisable - no other
British bird has the same red breast, which is present in both
sexes, and it is the one bird everyone can identify even if they
can name no other bird! Robins are so familiar because they are
so tame : this seems a characteristic of British robins, which
elsewhere in their range are shy woodland birds. Here, they will
approach people closely and will go so far as to perch on a
gardener's spade in order to be first to the worms being turned
up. It's as if they KNOW that everyone loves them!
Red double-decker buses and black taxis are a typical sight on
London's busy roads.
Double-decker buses can be seen all over Britain but only red
ones are seen in London

a London taxi
British post box

british telephone box

fish and chips

Each country in Britain has its own patron saint and floral

England - St. George and the Rose The national flower of

England is the rose. The flower has been adopted as England’s
emblem since the time of the Wars of the Roses - civil wars
(1455-1485) between the royal house of Lancaster (whose
emblem was a red rose) and the royal house of York (whose
emblem was a white rose).

Scotland - St. Andrew and the Scottish Bluebell The national

flower of Scotland is commonly thought to be the thistle, a
prickly-leaved purple flower which was first used in the 15th
century as a symbol of defence. However, the national flower is
infact the Scottish bluebell.
Wales - St. David and the Daffodil The national flower of
Wales is the daffodil, which is traditionally worn on St. David’s
Day. The vegetable called leek is also considered to be a
traditional emblem of Wales. There are many explanations of how
the leek came to be adopted as the national emblem of Wales.
One is that St David advised the Welsh, on the eve of battle with
the Saxons, to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from
foe. As Shakespeare records in Henry V, the Welsh archers wore
leeks at the battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Northern Ireland - St. Patrick and the Shamrock The

national flower of Northern Ireland is the shamrock, a three-
leaved plant similar to clover.
The motto of England is " Dieu et mon Droit " (French for
‘God and my right’).
The motto was used by King Richard I in 1198 and adopted as
the royal motto of England in the time of Henry VI.
Royal Coat of Arms
The function of the Royal Coat of Arms is to identify the person
who is Head of State.
On the left, the shield is supported by the English Lion. On the
right it is supported by the Unicorn of Scotland. (The unicorn is
chained because in mediaeval times a free unicorn was considered
a very dangerous beast (only a virgin could touch a unicorn) The
coat features both the motto of British Monarchs Dieu et mon
droit (God and my right) and the motto of the Order of the
Garter, Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shamed be he who thinks ill
of it) on a representation of the Garter behind the shield.
On the official coat of arms, the shield shows the various royal
emblems of different parts of the United Kingdom.
• the three lions of England in the first and fourth quarters,
• the lion of Scotland in the second
• and the harp of Northern Ireland (previously for Ireland) in
the third.
Shakespeare, William (1564-1616), English poet and playwright,
recognized in much of the world as the greatest of all
complete, authoritative account of Shakespeare’s life is lacking;
much supposition surrounds relatively few facts. His day of birth
is traditionally held to be April 23; it is known he was baptized on
April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.
he Merchant of Venice (c. 1594-1598)
Henry V (c. 1599)

Hamlet (c. 1601)

Othello (c. 1602-1604)
Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1606-1607)
Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon epic poem, the most important work of Old
English literature and the first major poem written in a European
vernacular language. The only surviving manuscript is in the British
Museum; it is written in the West Saxon dialect and is believed to date
from the late 10th century. On the basis of this text, Beowulf is generally
considered the work of an 8th-century Anglian poet who fused
Scandinavian history and pagan mythology with Christian elements.
The poem consists of 3,182 lines, each line with four accents marked by
alliteration and divided into two parts by a caesura (see Versification). The
structure of the typical Beowulf line comes through in modern translation,
for example:

Then came from the moor under misted cliffs

Grendel marching God's anger he bore …

The sombre story is told in vigorous, picturesque language, with much use
of metaphor (see Figures of Speech); a famous example is “whale-road” for
sea. It tells of two major events in the life of a hero, a Scandinavian prince
named Beowulf, who rids the Danes of the monster Grendel, half-man and
half-fiend, and Grendel's mother, who comes that evening to avenge
Grendel's death. Fifty years later Beowulf, now king of his native land,
fights a dragon who threatens his people. Both Beowulf and the dragon are
mortally wounded in the fight. The poem ends with Beowulf's funeral as his
mourners chant his epitaph
Diana, Princess of Wales (1961- ), former wife of Prince Charles. She was
born Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961, in a rented house on the royal
estate at Sandringham, Norfolk. Her father, Edward Spencer, Viscount
Althorp, was heir to an earldom, and her mother was the daughter of the
4th Baron Fermoy. As a child, Diana used to play with princes Edward and
Andrew, younger sons of Queen Elizabeth II. She was educated at
Riddlesworth Hall, Norfolk, and West Heath School in Kent. After
attending finishing school in Switzerland, she shared a house with three
women friends, and worked as a kindergarten teacher. Renewed contact
with the British royal family led to the announcement, on February 24,
1981, of her engagement to Charles, Prince of Wales, the heir to the
throne. On July 29, 1981, they were married in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
Diana gave birth to two sons: Prince William (June 21, 1982), and Prince
Henry (September 15, 1984). Although she was popular with the media and
the public it was obvious by the late 1980s that her marriage was under
strain. In December 1992 a separation was announced, following which
Diana continued to give active support to charities caring for homeless and
deprived children, and AIDS victims. Following her appearance in a
television interview in December 1995, she was urged by the Queen to
proceed with a formal divorce from Charles: negotiations for this began
early in 1996, and a decree nisi was granted in July. The couple were
formally divorced on August 28, 1996; Diana kept her title as Princess of
Wales. She made a visit to Angola in January 1997, in support of a Red
Cross campaign to ban land mines, which was criticized by some politicians.
Wallace, Sir William (c. 1272-1305), Scottish national hero. The only
source of information concerning Wallace's early life is a 15th-century
biographical poem by the Scottish poet Henry the Minstrel, who was known
as Blind Harry. According to this work Wallace was outlawed by the English
because of a quarrel that resulted in the death of an Englishman. He
subsequently burned an English garrison and led an attack upon the English
justiciar, an officer for the king, at Scone, Scotland. In 1297 his name
appeared in a treaty of submission to England that was signed by the
Scottish nobles who took part in his rebellion. Wallace captured many
English fortresses north of the Forth, and on September 11, 1297, in the
Battle of Stirling Bridge, he severely defeated English forces attempting
to cross the Forth. He was then elected to the office of guardian of the
kingdom. In 1298 Scotland was invaded by a large English force led by the
English king Edward I. On July 22, 1298, Edward defeated Wallace's army
in the Battle of Falkirk, and Wallace was forced into hiding. He lived in
France for a time but returned and was captured near Glasgow by the
Scottish knight Sir John de Menteith (died after 1329). He was brought to
London, tried for treason, and executed.

Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), mathematician and physicist, one of the

foremost scientific intellects of all time. Born at Woolsthorpe, near
Grantham in Lincolnshire, where he attended school, he entered Cambridge
University in 1661; he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1667, and
Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1669. He remained at the university,
lecturing in most years, until 1696. Of these Cambridge years, in which
Newton was at the height of his creative power, he singled out 1665-1666
(spent largely in Lincolnshire because of plague in Cambridge) as “the prime
of my age for invention”. During two to three years of intense mental
effort he prepared Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
(Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) commonly known as the
Principia, although this was not published until 1687.
As a firm opponent of the attempt by King James II to make the
universities into Catholic institutions, Newton was elected Member of
Parliament for the University of Cambridge to the Convention Parliament
of 1689, and sat again in 1701-1702. Meanwhile, in 1696 he had moved to
London as Warden of the Royal Mint. He became Master of the Mint in
1699, an office he retained to his death. He was elected a Fellow of the
Royal Society of London in 1671, and in 1703 he became President, being
annually re-elected for the rest of his life. His major work, Opticks,
appeared the next year; he was knighted in Cambridge in 1705.
As Newtonian science became increasingly accepted on the Continent, and
especially after a general peace was restored in 1714, following the War of
the Spanish Succession, Newton became the most highly esteemed natural
philosopher in Europe. His last decades were passed in revising his major
works, polishing his studies of ancient history, and defending himself
against critics, as well as carrying out his official duties. Newton was
modest, diffident, and a man of simple tastes. He was angered by criticism
or opposition, and harboured resentment; he was harsh towards enemies
but generous to friends. In government, and at the Royal Society, he
proved an able administrator. He never married and lived modestly, but was
buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey.
Newton has been regarded for almost 300 years as the founding examplar
of modern physical science, his achievements in experimental investigation
being as innovative as those in mathematical research. With equal, if not
greater, energy and originality he also plunged into chemistry, the early
history of Western civilization, and theology; among his special studies was
an investigation of the form and dimensions, as described in the Bible, of
Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.

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