The first people to live in Britain were hunter-gatherers, in what we call the Stone Age.
Britain only became permanently separated from the continent by the Channel about 10,000 years ago.
The first farmers arrived in Britain 6,000 years ago from south-east Europe.
Stonehenge stands in county of Wiltshire.
Skara Brae on Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland, is the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe.
Around 4,000 years ago – the Bronze Age when people lived in roundhouses and buried their dead in round barrows.
Hill fort from Iron Age can still be seen today at Maiden Castle, in the English county of Dorset.
Most people were farmers, craft workers or warriors.
They made the first coins to be minted in Britain, some inscribed with the names of Iron Age kings.
Julius Caesar led a Roman unsuccessful invasion of Britain in 55 BC. In AD 43 the Emperor Claudius led the Roman army in a new successful invasion.
One of the tribal leaders who fought against the Romans was Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni in what is now eastern England. Statue of her on Westminster Bridge in London.
Emperor Hadrien built a Hadrien’s Wall with the forts of Housesteads and Vindolanda (UNESCO).
The Romans remained in Britain for 400 years and the Roman army left Britain in AD 410.
Britain was again invaded by tribes from northern Europe: the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons and by about AD 600, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were established in Britain.
The burial place of one of the kings was at Sutton Hoo in modern Suffolk
St Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Vikings came from Denmark and Norway in AD 789.
The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England united under King Alfred the Great, who defeated the Vikings.
The first of Danish kings was Cnut, also named Canute.
Scotland has been united under king – Kenneth MacAlpin.
In 1066, the last successful foreign invasion led by William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy defeated (and killed) Harold, the Saxon king of England, at the Battle of Hastings.
The battle is commemorated in a great piece of embroidery, known as the Bayeux tapestry, which can still be seen in France today.
The Domesday Book is a list of all the towns and villages. The people who lived there, who owned the land and what animals they owned were also listed.
The period after the Norman Conquest up until about 1485 is called the Middle Ages and it was a time of almost constant war.
In 1284 King Edward I of England introduced the Statute of Rhuddlan, which annexed Wales to the Crown of England.
Castles in Wales: Conwy and Caenarvon.
In 1314 the Scottish, led by Robert the Bruce, defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn.
By 1200, the English ruled an area of Ireland known as the Pale, around Dublin.
English kings also fought a long war with France, called the Hundred Years War (116 years). King Henry V’s vastly outnumbered English army defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The English left France in the 1450s.
In 1348 the Black Death came to Britain. One third of the population of England died and a similar proportion in Scotland and Wales.
New social classes appeared, including owners of large areas of land (later called the gentry).
King John was forced by his noblemen to agree to a number of demands in a charter of rights called the Magna Carta (which means the Great Charter) in 1215.
Nobility, great landowners and bishops sat in the House of Lords. Knights, who were usually smaller landowners, and wealthy people from towns and cities were elected to sit in the House of Commons.
A similar Parliament developed in Scotland. It had three Houses, called Estates: the lords, the commons and the clergy.
In England, judges developed ‘common law’ by a process of precedence (that is, following previous decisions) and tradition.
In Scotland, the legal system developed slightly differently and laws were ‘codified’ (that is, written down).
Some words in modern English – for example, ‘park’ and ‘beauty’ – are based on Norman French words. Other – for example, ‘apple’, ‘cow’ and ‘summer’ – are based on Anglo-Saxon words. By 1400, in England, official documents were being written in English.
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a series of poems in English about a group of people going to Canterbury on a pilgrimage. This collection of poems is called The Canterbury Tales.
It was one of the first books to be printed by William Caxton, the first person in England to print books using a printing press.
In Scotland, many people continued to speak Gaelic and the Scots language also developed. A number of poets began to write in the Scots language.
John Barbour Scottish poet, who wrote The Bruce about the Battle of Bannockburn.
In the Middle Ages English wool became a very important export. People came to England from abroad to trade and also to work. Many had special skills, such as weavers from France, engineers from Germany, glass manufacturers from Italy and canal builders from Holland.
In 1455, a civil war (Wars of the Roses)was begun between the supporters of two families: the House of Lancaster (red rose) and the House of York (white rose).
The war ended with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. King Richard III of the House of York was killed in the battle and Henry Tudor, the leader of the House of Lancaster, became King Henry VII.
Henry VIII was most famous for breaking away from the Church of Rome and marrying six times:
Catherine of Aragon – Spanish princess. She and Henry had a number of children but only one, (Bloody) Mary, survived.
Anne Boleyn – English. She and Henry had one daughter, Elizabeth I. She was executed at the Tower of London.
Jane Seymour – English. She gave Henry the son he wanted, Edward VI, but she died shortly after his birth.
Anne of Cleves – German princess. Henry married her for political reasons but divorced her soon after.
Catherine Howard – cousin of Anne Boleyn. She was also accused of taking lovers and executed.
Catherine Parr – widow who married Henry later in his life. She survived him and married again but died soon after.
Henry VIII established the church of England. In this new church, the king, not the Pope, would have the power to appoint bishops and order how people should worship.
During the reign of Henry VIII, Wales became formally united with England by the Act for the Government of Wales.
Edward VI, who was strongly Protestant died at the age of 15 after. During his reign, the Book of Common Prayer was written to be used in the Church of England.
Mary was a devout Catholic and persecuted Protestants and also died after a short reign.
Queen Elizabeth I was a Protestant became one of the most popular monarchs in English history, particularly after 1588, when the English defeated the Spanish Armada, which had been sent by Spain to conquer England and restore Catholicism. She died in 1603.
In 1560, Scottish Parliament abolished the authority of the Pope in Scotland and a Protestant Church of Scotland with an elected leadership was established but this was not a state Church.
The queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart (often now called ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’) was a Catholic and her childhood was spent in France. She gave her throne to her Protestant son, James VI of Scotland. Elizabeth I suspected Mary of wanting to take over the English throne, and kept her prisoner for 20 years till executed.
Sir Francis Drake was one of the commanders in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. His ship, the Golden Hind, was one of the first to sail right around (‘circumnavigate’) the world.
In Elizabeth I’s time, English settlers first began to colonise the eastern coast of America.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. He was a playwright and actor and wrote many poems and plays:
A Midsummer Night’s dream,
Hamlet – To be or not to be,
Romeo and Juliet – A rose by any other name,
Henry V – Once more unto the breach,
As You Like It – All the world’s a stage,
Sonnet 18 / Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day – The darling buds of May.
James VI of Scotland became in 1603 King James I of England, Wales and Ireland but Scotland remained a separate country. One achievement of King James’ reign was a new translation of the Bible into English. This translation is known as the ‘King James Version’ or the ‘Authorised Version’.
James I and his son Charles I believed in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’: the idea that the king was directly appointed by God to rule. They thought that the king should be able to act without having to seek approval from Parliament. For 11 years, Charles I found ways in which to raise money without Parliament’s approval but eventually he had to recall Parliament in 1640.
Charles I wanted the worship of the Church of England to include more ceremony and introduced a revise Prayer Book.
Many in Parliament were Puritans, a group of Protestants who advocated strict and simple religious doctrine and worship.
Parliament took opportunity of the rebellion in Ireland to demand control of the English army. In response, Charles I entered the House of Commons and tried to arrest 5 parliamentary leaders, but they had been warned and were not there. (No monarch has set foot in the Commons since.)
Civil war between the king and Parliament began in 1642. The country spilt into those who supported the king (the Cavaliers) and those who supported Parliament (the Roundheads).
The king’s army was defeated at the Battles of Marston Moor and Naseby. King Charles I was still unwilling to reach any agreement with the Parliament and in 1649 he was executed.
England declared itself a republic, called the Commonwealth.
The Scots had not agreed to the execution of Charles I and declared his son Charles II to be king. He was crowned king of Scotland and led a Scottish army into England defeated in the Battles of Dunbar and Worcester by Oliver Cromwell.
Charles II escaped from Worcester, famously hiding in an oak tree on one occasion, and eventually fled to Europe.
Cromwell was given the title of Lord Protector and ruled until his death in 1658. Then, his son, Richard, became Lord Protector. Britain had been a republic for 11 years.
In May 1660 Charles II was crowned King Charles II of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In 1665, there was a major outbreak of plague in London. In 1666 a great fire destroyed much of the city, including many churches and St Paul’s Cathedral (rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren).
The Habeas Corpus Act became law in 1679. The Act guaranteed that no one could be held prisoner unlawfully. Every prisoner has a right to a court hearing.
During Charles II reign, the Royal Society was formed and its early members were Sir Edmund Halley who successfully predicted the return of the comet now called Halley’s Comet, and
Sir Isaac Newton, born in Lincolnshire, studied at Cambridge University, published ‘Mathematical Principle of Natural Philosophy’, which showed how gravity applied to the whole universe. Newton also discovered that white light is made up of the colours of the rainbow.
In 1685 Charles II brother, James, who was a Roman Catholic, became King James II in England, Wales and Ireland and King James VII of Scotland. His elder daughter, Mary, was married to her cousin William of Orange, the Protestant ruler of the Netherlands.
In 1688 took over the throne, becoming William III in England, Wales and Ireland, and William II of Scotland. This event was later called the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
William defeated James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.
An attempt at an armed rebellion in support of James was defeated at Killiecrankie.
All Scottish clans were required formally to accept William as king by taking an
James’ supporters became known as Jacobites.
The Bill of Rights, 1689, confirmed the rights of Parliament and the limits of the king’s power. Parliament took control of who could be monarch and declared that the king or queen must be a Protestant. A new Parliament had to be elected at least every 3 years (later this became seven years and now it is five years).
The laws passed after the Glorious Revolution are the beginning of what is called ‘constitutional monarchy’.
There were two main groups in Parliament, known as the Whigs and the Tories.
Only men who owned property of a certain value were able to vote. No women at all had the vote. Some constituencies were controlled by a single wealthy family. They were called the ‘pocket boroughs’. Other constituencies had hardly any voters and were called ‘rotten boroughs’.
From 1695, newspapers were allowed to operate without a government licence.
The first Jews to come to Britain since the Middle Ages settled in London in 1656. Between 1680 and 1720 many refugees called Huguenots came from France. (Protestants persecuted for their religion).
The Act of Union, known as the Treaty of Union in Scotland, was therefore agreed in 1707, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. Although Scotland was no longer an independent country, it kept its own legal and education systems and Presbyterian Church.
When Queen Anne died in 1714, Parliament chose a German, George I, to be the next king, because he was Anne’s nearest Protestant relative.
The first Prime Minister was Sir Robert Walpole from 1721 to 1742.
In 1745 there was another attempt to put Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), the grandson of James II back on the throne in place of George I’s son, George II.
Charles was defeated by George II’s army at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
A process began which became known as the ‘Highland Clearances’. Chieftains became landlords if they had the favour of the English king, and clansmen became tenants who had to pay for the land they used.
Many Scottish landlords destroyed individual small farms (known as ‘crofts’) to make space for large flocks of sheep and cattle.
Robert Burns known in Scotland as ‘The Bard’, was a Scottish poet. Best-known work is the song Auld Lang Syne, which is sung by people in the UK and other countries when they are celebrating the New Year.
During the 18th century, new ideas about politics, philosophy and science were developed. This is often called ‘the Enlightenment’. One of the most important principles of the Enlightenment was that everyone should have the right to their own political and religious beliefs and that the state should not try to dictate to them.
Adam Smith developed ideas about economy.
David Hume’s ideas about human nature continue to influence philosophers. James Watt’s work on steam power, helped the progress of the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution was the rapid development of industry in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The development of the Bessemer process for the mass production of steel led to the development of the shipbuilding industry and the railways.
Captain James Cook mapped the coast of Australia and a few colonies were established there. Britain gained control over Canada, and the East India Company, originally set up to trade, gained control of large parts of India. Colonies began to be established in southern Africa.
Sugar and tobacco came from North America and the west Indies; textiles, tea and spices came from India and the area that is today called Indonesia.
Sake Dean Mahomet born and grew up in the Bengal region of India, came to Britain in 1782, in 1810 he opened the Hindoostane Coffee House in George Street, London, the first curry house opened in Britain. Mahomet and his wife also introduced ‘shampooing’, the Indian art of head massage, to Britain.
Slaves came primarily from West Africa, taken to America and the Caribbean. William Wilberforce one of the Quakers succeeded in turning public opinion against the slave trade. In 1807, it became illegal to trade slaves in British ships or from British ports, and in 1833 the Emancipation Act abolished slavery throughout the British Empire.
After 1833, 2 million Indian and Chinese workers were employed to replace the freed slaves.
By the 1760s, the British government wanted to tax the colonies. In 1776, 13 American colonies declared their independence, stating that people had a right to establish their own governments. The colonists eventually defeated the British army and Britain recognised the colonies’ independence in 1783.
In 1789, there was a revolution in France and the new French government soon declared war on Britain. Napoleon, who became Emperor of France, continued the war.
Britain’s navy fought against combined French and Spanish fleets, winning the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Admiral Nelson was in charge of the British fleet at Trafalgar on his ship HMS Victory and was killed in the battle.
In 1815, the French Wars ended with the defeat of the Emperor Napoleon by the Duke of Wellington (Iron Duke)at the Battle of Waterloo. Later became Prime Minister.
In 1801, Ireland became unified with England, Scotland and Wales after the Act of Union of 1800. This created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The Union Flag (Union Jack) has been created in 1606 and modified in 1801, it consists three crosses:
The cross of St George, patron saint of England, is a red cross on a white ground,
The cross of St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, is a diagonal white cross on a blue ground,
The cross of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, is a diagonal red cross on a white ground.
There is also an official Welsh flag, which shows a Welsh dragon.
In 1837, Queen Victoria became queen of the UK at the age of 18, reigned until 1901, almost 64 years. Her reign is known as the Victorian Age.
It became the largest empire the world has ever seen, with an estimated population of more than 400 million people.
Between 1853 and 1913, as many as 13 million British citizens left the country. People continued to come to Britain from other parts of the world. For example, between 1870 and 1914, around 120, 000 Russian and Polish Jews came to Britain to escape persecution.
The government began to promote policies of free trade, abolishing a number of taxes on imported goods. One example of this was the repealing of the Corn Laws in 1846. These had prevented the import of cheap grain.
In 1847, the number of hours that women and children could work was limited by law to 10 hours per day.
The father and son George and Robert Stephenson pioneered the railway engine and a major expansion of the railways took place in the Victorian period.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was originally from Portsmouth, England. He was an engineer who built tunnels, bridges, railway lines and ships. He was responsible for constructing the Great Western Railway, which was the first major railway built in Britain.
In the 19th century, the UK produced more than half of the world’s iron, coal and cotton cloth.
In 1851, the Great Exhibition opened in Hyde Park in the Crystal Palace, a huge building made of steel and glass.
From 1853 to 1856, Britain fought with Turkey and France against Russia in the Crimean War. It was the first war to be extensively covered by the media through news stories and photographs
Queen Victoria introduced the Victoria Cross medal during this war.
Florence Nightingale was born in Italy to English parents. At the age of 31, she trained as a nurse in Germany. In 1854, she went to Turkey and worked in military hospitals, treating soldiers who were fighting in the Crimean War. In 1860 she established the Nightingale Training School for nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
In the middle of the century the potato crop failed, and Ireland suffered a famine. A million people died from disease and starvation. Another million and a half left Ireland. By 1861 there were large populations of Irish people in cities such as Liverpool, London, Manchester and Glasgow.
The Irish Nationalist movement had grown strongly through the 19th century. Some, such as the Fenians, favoured complete independence. Others, such as Charles Stuart Parnell, advocated ‘Home Rule’, in which Ireland would remain in the UK but have its own parliament.
The Reform Act of 1832 had greatly increased the number of people with the right to vote. The act also abolished the old pocket and rotten boroughs and more parliamentary seats were given to the towns and cities.
The Chartists began to demand the vote for the working classes and other people without property. In 1867 there was another Reform Act.
Until 1870, when a woman got married, her earnings, property and money automatically belonged to her husband. Acts of Parliament in 1870 and 1882 gave wives the right to keep their own earnings and property.
Emmeline Pankhurst was born in Manchester. She set up the women’s Franchise League in 1889, which fought to get the vote in local elections for married women. In 1903 she helped found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). This was the first group whose members were called ‘suffragettes’. In 1918, women over the age of 30 were given voting rights and the right to stand for Parliament. Shortly before Emmeline’s death in 1928, women were given the right to vote at the age of 21, the same as men.
The Boer War of 1899 to 1902 in South Africa with settlers from the Netherlands called the Boers.
Rudyard Kipling was born in India, wrote books and poems set in both India and the UK, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. His books the Just So Stories and The Jungle Book.
The early 20th century: financial help for the unemployed, old-age pensions and free school meals. Various laws were passed to improve safety in the workplace; town planning rules were tightened to prevent the further development of slums; and better support was given to mothers and their children after divorce or separation
On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. This set off a chain of events leading to the First World War (1914-18).
Britain was part of the Allied Powers, which included (amongst others) France, Russia, Japan, Belgium, Serbia – and later, Greece, Italy, Romania and the United States.
The Allies fought against the Central Powers – mainly Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and later Bulgaria. Millions of people were killed or wounded, with more than 2 million British casualties. One battle, the British attack of the Somme in July 1916, resulted in about 60,000 British casualties on the first day alone.
The First World War ended at 11.00 am on 11th November 1918.
In 1913, the British government promised ‘Home Rule’ for Ireland. The outbreak of the First World War led the British government to postpone any changes in Ireland. Irish Nationalists were not willing to wait and in 1916 there was an uprising (the Easter Rising) against the British in Dublin. The leaders of the uprising were executed under military law. A guerrilla war against the British army and the police in Ireland followed.
In 1921 a peace treaty was signed and in 1922 Ireland became two countries. The rest of Ireland became the Irish Free State and became a republic in 1949.
The conflict between those wishing for full Irish independence and those wishing to remain loyal to the British government is often referred to as ‘the Troubles’.
In 1929, the world entered the ‘Great Depression’ and some parts of the UK suffered mass unemployment. The traditional heavy industries such as shipbuilding were badly affected but new industries – including the automobile and aviation industries – developed.
It was also a time of cultural blossoming, with writers such as Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh prominent. The economist John Maynard Keynes published influential new theories of economics. The BBC started radio broadcasts in 1922 and began the world’s first regular television service in 1936.
Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.
The war was initially fought between the Axis powers (fascist Germany and Italy and the Empire of Japan) and the Allies. The main countries on the allied side were the UK, France, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Union of South Africa.
Winston Churchill was a soldier and journalist before becoming a Conservative MP in 1900. In May 1940 he became Prime Minister. He lost the General Election in 1945 but returned as Prime Minister in 1951 – 1964.
In 2002, he was voted the greatest Briton of all time by the public. During the War, he made many famous speeches including lines which you may still hear:
‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’
‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender’
‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’
As France fell, the British decided to evacuate more than 300,000 British and French solders from France in a huge naval operation from the beaches around Dunkirk. The evacuation gave rise to the phrase ‘the Dunkirk spirit’.
From the end of June 1940 until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Britain and the Empire stood almost alone against Nazi Germany.
The British resisted with their fighter planes and eventually won the crucial aerial battle against the Germans, called ‘the Battle of Britain’, in the summer of 1940. Despite this crucial victory, the German air force was able to continue bombing London and other British cities at night-time. This was called the Blitz. The phrase ‘the Blitz spirit’ is still used today to describe Britons pulling together in the face of adversity.
The United States entered the war when the Japanese bombed its naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
On 6 June 1944, allied forces landed in Normandy (this event is often referred to as ‘D-Day’). The Allies comprehensively defeated Germany in May 1945.
The war against Japan ended in August 1945 when the United States dropped its newly developed atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Scientists led by Ernest Rutherford, working at Manchester and then Cambridge University, were the first to ‘split the atom’ and took part in the Manhattan Project in the United States, which developed the atomic bomb.
Alexander Fleming born in Scotland, was researching influenza (the ‘flu’) in 1928 when he discovered penicillin. This was then further developed into a usable drug by the scientists Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. Fleming won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.
In 1945 the British people elected a Labour government with new Prime Minister Clement Attlee.
Clement Attlee, after studying at Oxford University, Attlee became a barrister. He was Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951 and led the Labour Party for 20 years.
In 1948, Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, the Minister for Health, led the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS). A national system of benefits was also introduced to provide ‘social security’. The government nationalised the railways, coal mines and gas, water and electricity supplies.
In 1947, independence was granted to 9 countries: India, Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
The UK developed its own atomic bomb and joined the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Britain had a Conservative government from 1951 to 1964. The Prime Minister of the day, Harold Macmillan, was famous for his ‘wind of change’ speech about decolonisation and independence for the countries of the Empire.
William Beveridge (later Lord Beveridge) was a British economist and reformer. He is best known for the 1942 report Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report). It recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five ‘Giant Evils’ of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness and provided the basis of the modern welfare state.
Richard Austen Butler (later Lord Butler) became a Conservative MP in 1923 and held several positions before becoming responsible for education in 1941. In this role, he oversaw the introduction of the Education Act 1944 (often called ‘The Butler Act’), which introduced free secondary education in England and Wales.
Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer. His most well-known works: the radio play Under Milk Wood, and the poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.
The decade of the 1960s was a period of significant social change. It was known as the ‘swinging sixties’. There was growth in British fashion, cinema and popular music. Two well-known pop music groups at the time were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
It was also a time when social laws were liberalised, for example in relation to divorce and to abortion in England, Wales and Scotland. Parliament passed new laws giving women the right to equal pay and made it illegal for employers to discriminate against women because of their gender.
Some great British inventions of the 20th century
The television was developed by Scotsman John Logie Baird in the 1920s. In 1932 he made the first television broadcast between London and Glasgow.
Radar was developed by Scotsman Sir Robert Watson-Watt. The first successful radar test took place in 1935.
Sir Bernard Lovell built the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire and itwas for many years the biggest in the world.
A Turing machine is a theoretical mathematical device invented by Alan Turing, a British mathematician, in the 1930s. The theory was influential in the development of computer science and the modern-day computer.
The Scottish physician and researcher John Macleod was the codiscoverer of insulin, used to treat diabetes.
The structure of the DNA molecule was discovered in 1953 through work at British universities in London and Cambridge. Francis Crick, one of those awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery, was British.
The jet engine was developed in Britain in the 1930s by Sir Frank Whittle, a British Royal Air Force engineer officer. Sir Christopher Cockrell, a British inventor, invented the hovercraft in the 1950s.
Britain and France developed Concorde, the world’s only supersonic passenger aircraft. It first flew in 1969 and began carrying passengers in 1976. Concorde was retired from service in 2003.
The Harrier jump jet, an aircraft capable of taking off vertically, was also designed and developed in the UK.
In the 1960s, James Goodfellow invented the cash-dispensing ATM. The first of these was put into use by Barclays Bank in Enfield, north London in 1967.
IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) therapy for the treatment of infertility was pioneered in Britain by physiologist Sir Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe. The world’s first ‘test-tube baby’ was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1978.
In 1996, two British scientists, Sir Ian Wilmot and Keith Campbell, led a team which was the first to succeed in cloning a mammal, Dolly the sheep.
Sir Peter Mansfield, a British scientist, is the co-inventor of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner.
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is British. Information was successfully transferred via the web for the first time on 25 December 1990.
In 1972, the Northern Ireland Parliament was suspended and Northern Ireland was directly ruled by the UK government. Some 3,000 people lost their lives in the decades after 1969 in the violence of Northern Ireland.
Mary Peters was a talented athlete who won an Olympic gold medal in the pentathlon in 1972. After this, she raised money for local athletics and became the team manager for the women’s British Olympic team.
West Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands formed the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. At first the UK did not wish to join the EEC but it eventually did so in 1973.
Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, led the Conservative government from 1979 to 1990.
She was the daughter of a grocer from Grantham in Lincolnshire. She trained as a chemist and lawyer. She was the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century. She worked closely with the United States President, Ronald Reagan.
In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic. A naval taskforce was sent from the UK and military action led to the recovery of the islands.
John Major was Prime Minister after Mrs Thatcher, and helped establish the Northern Ireland peace process.
Roald Dahl was born in Wales to Norwegian parents. His best-known works: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and George’s Marvellous Medicine.
In 1997 the Labour Party led by Tony Blair was elected. In 1999, the Blair government introduced a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. In Northern Ireland, the Blair government was able to build on the Peace process, resulting in the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998. The Northern Ireland Assembly was elected in 1999 but suspended in 2002. It was not reinstated until 2007. Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister in 2007.
Throughout the 1990s, Britain played a leading role in coalition forces involved in the liberation of Kuwait, following the Iraqi invasion in 1990, and the conflict in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. British combat troops left Iraq in 2009. The UK now operates in Afghanistan as part of the United Nations (UN) mandated 50-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition and at the invitation of the Afghan government. .
In May 2010, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties formed a coalition and the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, became Prime Minister.