Frommer's England and Scotland by Stephen Brewer, Jason Cochran, and Lucy Gillmore by Stephen Brewer, Jason Cochran, and Lucy Gillmore - Read Online

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The Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben), with the ­London Eye.

Where to begin your journey through the two major countries of the United Kingdom? In these pages, we share the best of the best: the things we love, and that we think you will, too. From the teeming streets of cosmopolitan London to a far-flung, unspoiled green and pleasant land that hasn’t changed for centuries, England and Scotland are greater than the sum of their parts. A respect for the past rubs along with a vibrant and innovative outlook, evident in places like the Eden Project and Tate Modern. In Manchester, Edinburgh, and Brighton you’ll find tremendous diversity and a dynamic ­cultural life.

Start with London and its historic sights (the Tower, St Paul’s), plus its British Museum (free, like most museums here), expansive parks, and even more expansive shopping. For an insider take on urban England, move on to Manchester, a cradle of industry now reborn; Liverpool, with its Beatles history; and small, esoteric cities with sublime architecture, such as Georgian Bath and studious Oxford. Each will inspire you in a different way. Scotland’s cities certainly aren’t left behind: Edinburgh never fails to dazzle with its contrasting Old and New Towns. Glasgow claims Scotland’s top art galleries, best nightlife, and unbeatable shopping.

Derwenter, the Lake District.

Beyond the city limits, England and Scotland have still more to offer, from the brooding glens and mountains of the Highlands to the pancake-flat fenlands of Norfolk and Suffolk, and the scenery of the Lake District that so inspired the Romantic poets. Amid it all are 13 National Parks, taking in the majestic bleakness of Dartmoor and the North York Moors and rolling hills of the Sussex South Downs. And the backdrop changes quickly; a day’s journey can take you across several different landscapes. Outdoor enthusiasts can choose mountain ranges, river valleys, or rugged moorland. You’ll find top golf courses, first-class fishing, limitless hiking, and a variety of wildlife. There’s dramatic coastline, too, from Cornwall in the southwest to Whitby, whose ruined abbey inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The best authentic Experiences

• Having a pint: It could be at a centuries-old pub on the Yorkshire Moors or a little place in the backstreets of London; it might be a famous inn or somewhere unassuming in any town. There’s nothing that helps you appreciate the scenery quite like a pint glass filled with good British beer.

• The view over London from the top of St Paul’s: You really can climb up to that glorious cathedral dome, which has 360-degree views over the capital. It gives the feeling that you’re at the heart of where modern London began. If that’s uplifting, the view down is deliciously dizzying. See p.  92 .

• Uncovering a bargain at a London street market: A jumble of open-air stalls and warrens of indoor arcades combine to make ­ Portobello Road the quintessential West London market. Haggle hard and you’ll likely get 15% off the asking price. Saturday is the best day, when even the crowds can’t ruin the fun.

• Whisky tasting on the Isle of Islay, Scotland: Check your spelling—it’s whisky, never whiskey—then debate with locals over the peat-and-seaweed scented merits of Bowmore, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain, and others. See p.  589 .

• Reveling on London’s South Bank: England’s arts quarter takes in both the 1950s’ beauty of the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) and the brutal modernism of the National Theatre. Street theatre rubs shoulders with classic productions, and there’s usually something for free in the grand foyer of the RFH. See chapter 4.

• Having a bath in Bath: The stunning, steaming Roman Baths (p.  244 ) are there to visit, with lunch at the Pump Room; then you can sample the waters at the modern Thermae Bath Spa (p. 245) with its open-air pool and views across the UNESCO World Heritage rooftops.

City Hall and the Shard, on London’s South Bank.

• Edinburgh at Festival time: Every August Edinburgh erupts in a spectacular celebration of culture, art, dance, politics, music, and street performance as a clutch of festivals—headed by the Edinburgh International Festival, the unstoppable Fringe, and the Military Tattoo—sweep across every venue in the city. See p.  488 .

• Shopping in the grandest department stores of them all: And, no, we don’t mean Harrods. Liberty of London , founded in 1875 and moved to its current half-timbered, mock-Tudor home in 1924, and Selfridges, both designed and built by Americans, redefined sales methods and played crucial roles in world history. See Shopping in chapter 4.

The best Hotels

• The Witchery, Edinburgh: It’s like bedding down in a historical movie set. Theatrical rooms drip in luxurious fabrics, with thick velvet drapes, chunky four-posters, antique furniture, and roll-top baths. The Witchery is the perfect antidote for travellers who are bored with bland beige minimalism. See p.  498 .

• The Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote, Cotswolds: A lovely stone house in a picturesque village nicely mixes country antiques, sophisticated-yet-casual décor, open hearths, and sublime views of pastures and woodlands. It is the ideal Cotswolds retreat. See p.  295 .

• Lion and Pheasant, Shrewsbury: The lower floors of two 16th-­century townhouses are a delightful warren of nooks and crannies which open into cozy hearth-warmed dining rooms. Guest rooms are done in soothing neutrals and non-obtrusive Scandinavian furnishings that let the old beams, dormers, and fireplaces work their charms. See p. 338.

• Gray’s Court, York: A 21st-century boutique hotel that’s also steeped in royal heritage and history—and complete with Georgian dining room and oak-paneled Jacobean Long Gallery, alongside rooms you quickly sink into. It’s the perfect base for exploring a small city that played a pivotal role in British history for almost two millennia. See p.  443 .

The Feathered Nest Country Inn, Nether Westcote, The Cotswolds.

The best Restaurants

• The Fat Duck, Berkshire: Nothing shows England’s role as a culinary innovator more than this multi-awarded restaurant, a window into the singularly creative mind of Heston Blumenthal. The earthy porridge (snails, oats, ham, almonds) is genius, and dishes such as salmon poached in licorice gel are a whimsical treat. See p.  155 .

• Wheeler’s Oyster Bar, Whitstable, Kent: This old fishing port has transformed itself into the home of the oyster, and its quayside is lined with stalls. But Wheeler’s is a little bit special. Founded in 1856, its tiny back-room restaurant is quaint enough, and the seafood cooking dishes out real fireworks. If they’re fully booked—and they nearly always are—the streetside counter does takeout. See p.  190 .

• Mr. Thomas’s Chop House, Manchester: It’s easy to imagine yourself among mustachioed 19th-century burghers as you settle into this Victorian pub whose traditional British food throws caloric caution to the winds. Corned beef hash simmered for 10 days, or homemade steak and kidney pie, might cause your waistcoat buttons to pop. See p.  393 .

• Brewery Tap, Chester: Beers from Chester’s Splitting Feathers brewery accompanies sausages and other hearty fare. Ingredients come from within a few miles of town—some from pigs fed on leftover grains from the brewing process. See p. 403.

• Rules, London: It might even be the oldest restaurant in London, but what’s certain is that Rules was established as an oyster bar in 1798. Long a venue for the theatrical elite and literary beau monde, it still serves the same traditional dishes that delighted Edward VII and his mistress, Lillie Langtry, who began their meals with champagne and oysters upstairs. The food’s good; the atmosphere is great. See p.  133 .

The best Family experiences

• Chowing down at Cadbury World, Birmingham: It’s not the magical world of Willy Wonka . . . but it’s as close as you’ll get in England. Kids and parents will come away with a new appreciation for chocolate as big business. And how many tours end in the world’s largest candy store? See p.  324 .

• Discovering the Glasgow Science Centre: Housed in a titanium-clad pod on the south bank of the River Clyde, this family-focused attraction inspires and informs all ages on the concepts behind science and technology. Learning is fun and interactive, and an IMAX cinema provides some wow-factor. See p.  554 .

• Kicking back on the sands of Southwold beach, Suffolk: This is old-school seaside in a genteel way, with ice creams, gentle waves, and an Edwardian pier. And for grown-ups, there’s the Lord Nelson pub to slip off to at the top of the steps. See p.  365 .

Southwold beach, Suffolk.

• Exploring underground Edinburgh: Journey deep into Edinburgh’s dark side via a tour through its spooky underground vaults and long-buried city streets. Listen to tales of grim goings-on as you travel through this subterranean realm, home to many of the city’s ghosts. See p.  491 .

• Losing your way in the world’s most famous hedge maze: The green labyrinth at Hampton Court twists and turns for almost half a mile. When you extricate yourselves, stroll through centuries of architectural styles at this stunning palace, home of many an English monarch. Don’t forget to pick up a kids’ activity trail. See p.  104 .

• Boat tripping from Mull: Take your family on a sea safari aboard one of several boats that depart Tobermory’s harbor. Tours range from 2-hour jaunts to the local seal colony, to all-day whale-watching adventures. See p.  592 .

• Ships ahoy at the Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth: Still a major naval berth, Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard is also the final resting place of English maritime icons. HMS Victory helped beat the French at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar—and carried the body of its dead commander, Admiral Lord Nelson home in a brandy barrel. Three centuries earlier, the Mary Rose sank as King Henry VIII watched in horror. They’re both preserved and on show here—you can even explore below-decks on the Victory. See p.  225 .

• Walking down Diagon Alley, near St Albans: A vast sound stage just outside London preserves several sets, endless props and gadgets, and original costumes from eight successful Harry Potter movies. This is no theme park: It gives visitors a genuine insight into moviemaking. The newest 2015 arrival is the original Hogwart’s Express. See p.  178 .

The best Museums

• British Museum, London: When Sir Hans Sloane died in 1753, he bequeathed to England his collection of art and antiquities. This formed the nucleus of a huge collection that grew with the acquisitions of Empire, and now includes such remarkable objects as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles (which Greece still want back). See p.  66 .

• National Gallery, London: A who’s who of Western painting—from da Vinci to Velázquez to Rembrandt to Cézanne—fills this astounding art museum. The Sainsbury Wing has one of the world’s great Renaissance art collections. See p.  69 .

• Tate Britain, London: Sir Henry Tate, a sugar producer, started it all with 70 or so paintings, and the original Tate site now concentrates on British art dating back to 1500. The collection grew considerably when artist J. M. W. Turner bequeathed some 300 paintings and 19,000 watercolors. It’s the best place in the country to view Pre-Raphaelite works, too. See p. 79.

The Sainsbury Wing at The National Gallery, London.

• Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich: Grocery store heirs Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury collected these paintings, sculptures, and objets d’art over 40 years—Pacific Island fly swatters, Olmec figures, portraits by Modigliani and Francis Bacon—all creatively displayed in one of Sir Norman Foster’s first buildings. See p.  373 .

• Ashmolean, Oxford: The collection is well stocked with ancient archaeological wonders. The building oozes mid-19th century neoclassical grandeur. The displays and layout are pure 21st century. It’s a winning combination. See p.  160 .

• Sir John Soane’s Museum, London: The former home of the architect that built the Bank of England is stuffed with curios, sculpture, and serious art—just as he left it on his death in 1837. It’s London’s most intriguing small museum. See p.  71 .

• Victoria & Albert Museum, London: This is the greatest decorative arts museum in the world and has the largest collection of Renaissance sculpture outside Italy. It is also strong on medieval English treasures and has the best collection of Indian art outside India. See p.  88 .

The best Castles & Palaces

• Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh: Sealing the foot of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse remains the Queen’s official residence in Scotland (she still hosts garden parties when she’s in town). Dripping with tales of murder, pomp, fine art, and antique furniture, palaces don’t come much finer. See p.  482 .

• Tintagel Castle, Devon: Whether or not King Arthur really lived here atop steep cliffs above the churning sea is beside the point. It’s making the precarious climb just for the views, which take in the most dramatic coastal scenery in the southwest. See p.  260 .

• Alnwick Castle, Northumberland: Kids will recognize this towered and turreted castle as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies. Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in England, and its renowned grounds contain the world’s largest treehouse and a Poison Garden, planted with species known for their ability to kill. See p. 465.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.

• Leeds Castle, Kent: Britain’s most genteel castle sits in the middle of a lake surrounded by landscaped parkland. Pack a picnic, walk, and marvel at a serene sight that has survived for centuries. See p.  195 .

• Edinburgh Castle: The ancient volcanic plug it crowns has been occupied since at least 900 b.c. , and over its 3,000 years has witnessed some of the bloodiest events in Scottish history. See p.  478 .

• Blenheim Palace, near Oxford: One of England’s largest houses was built in the early 18th century for war hero, the Duke of Marlborough. Its architect John Vanbrugh—one of the most celebrated of the age—fell out with the duke’s wife and never saw the building completed. But he left a masterpiece of the English Baroque, later the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the only private address in England which is still known as a palace. See p.  171 .

The best of the Outdoors

• Taking the Ullswater Steamer, Cumbria: There’s nothing like being huddled up against the mist as the little Victorian boat sails the length of the Lake District’s pristine showpiece. Stand on deck, taking ­photos as the scenery changes around every bend, and hop off halfway back for a hike. See p.  419 .

• Teeing off on the St Andrews links: Known as the home of golf, St Andrews claims a collection of prime links courses, including the iconic Old Course. Book a tee time well in advance to enjoy a round at this golf shrine, where the courses are shaped by nature and undiminished by time. See p.  515 .

• Wildlife watching at Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Norfolk: A 4-mile sand spit, backed by dunes, mud flats, and marshes, hosts England’s largest colonies of breeding seals. The adjoining Cley Marshes is one of the first stops in England for geese, ducks, and wading birds as they head south from the Arctic. See p.  379 .

• Going wild on Dartmoor: Ominous and brooding, this sprawling moorland park undulates for miles, rising to steep hills, then plunging into deep gorges. Walking or driving across this landscape is an adventure, all the more so when a herd of wild ponies runs by, a storm hard on their heels. Little wonder this wildness inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s spookiest tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles. See p.  261 .

• Standing on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland: It leaves you speechless, the breathtaking scale of this Roman monument, which weaves off in either direction, across hill and dale, coast to coast. Walking all 73 miles is the ultimate achievement, but pop into the remains of its forts if you can’t. See p.  463 .

• Photographing Glencoe: A trek through Glencoe, on foot or by car, is one of the most dramatic journeys in Scotland. The whole place has a brooding, almost claustrophobic grandeur, peppered (or is that your imagination?) with memories of the most notorious massacre in Scots history. You’ll feel as if the bare, bleak mountains are hemming you in: Capture it on camera, if you can. See p. 637.

Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands.

The best Free Things to Do

• Visiting the great (state) museums: Britain’s state museums and galleries—including most of the big names—show off their permanent collections for free. In London alone, this includes the  British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, and more. See Exploring London, p.  63 . Outside the capital, add Liverpool’s Walker Gallery (p.  410 ) , the National Museum of Scotland (p.  483 ) , and York’s National Railway Museum (p.  442 ) to your to-do list.

• Bagging a Munro, the Highlands: A Munro is any Scottish mountain over 3,000-feet high. The original list was compiled by Hugh Munro in 1891, and the current count stands at 283. You have to start somewhere, so why not on Britain’s highest mountain, which looms 3 ¾ miles southeast of Fort William? At 1,342m (4,403 ft.), the snow-capped granite mass of Ben Nevis dominates this part of Scotland. A trip to its summit can be done in a day, but you must come properly prepared. See p.  633 .

• Roaming the Canals, Birmingham: These urban waterways were the highways of the Industrial Revolution. Following their quays and towpaths shows off the city’s past, as much as the many lofts and restaurants signal Birmingham’s rebirth. See p.  322 .

• Walking the Roman Walls, Chester: A walk along Britain’s largest remaining circuit of Roman walls evokes the days when the legions defended the empire, Saxons warded off raiding Vikings, and Normans did battle with Welsh warriors. Views over the countryside and the city of Roman, medieval, and Georgian monuments are lovely. See p.  401 .

• Watching the sunset from Waterloo Bridge: This famous river crossing is perfectly positioned to watch the embers of the day dissipate behind the Houses of Parliament. The view is so memorable that it moved the Kinks to produce a chart-topping song in 1967, Waterloo Sunset, with the lines, As long as I gaze on / Waterloo sunset / I am in paradise. Look east to catch the last rays as they bounce off the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the ancient spires of Wren’s City churches, and the towering glass skyscrapers of 21st-century New London. See chapter 4.

• Browsing the stalls at London’s Borough Market: The sight and smell of fresh produce (and grilling meat) are heaven at this focal point for London foodies. Tucked under the railway near London Bridge Station, there’s a feel of the past, combined with the eco-friendly ethics that are so very now. See p. 140.

The most Overrated

• Punting on the Cam, Cambridge: Okay, lying in a boat and gliding past some of the most storied colleges in the world can be romantic. But it’s so much more satisfying to soak in Cambridge’s atmosphere from its medieval lanes, sweeping lawns, and elsewhere on terra firma—minus the risk of dunking yourself in front of onlookers.

• Walking down the main street of Clovelly, Devon: We agree—Clovelly is just lovely. But you have to pay to enter the village, just for the pleasure of climbing down its precipitous cobblestoned High Street. The tiny cottages with flowery terraces are picturesque, but England has plenty of similar scenes that are free of charge and easier to navigate.

• Visiting Stonehenge, Wiltshire: There’s no denying the historical importance of these ancient standing stones. With rocks that weigh in at 50 tons a piece—and each several millennia old—the windswept spot really does give you a creepy feeling. It’s just that there’s not too much to see. Visit, sure; but allow less itinerary time than you’d think. The lack of cheap public transport to the site is another gripe. We’ve always found Avebury (p.  233 ) a more enchanting Neolithic site.

The best Neighborhoods

• Castlefield and the Quays, Manchester: Cobbled canalside paths, massive brick coal warehouses, and a network of railways, are preserved in the 17-acre Castlefield Urban Heritage Park. Much of Britain’s industrial might centered on the nearby Quays, docklands that flourished with the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1890s, to connect the city with Liverpool and the sea. More than 5,000 ships a year sailed in and out. The area’s Museum of Science of Industry (p.  389 ) and Imperial War Museum (p.  386 ) are essential stops. See chapter 4.

• London’s East End: The capital’s fashionable folk haunt the streets and alleyways of new East London. Shop the niche designer boutiques and vintage stores of Shoreditch, Brick Lane, and Columbia Road, then dine out on pho, Indian street food, or Turkish BBQ, washed down with a craft beer from one of east London’s microbreweries. If you still have the energy Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Dalston are jumping well into the small hours. See chapter 4.

• Stockbridge, Edinburgh: It’s like a village within the city limits. Lying north of the New Town, Stockbridge is a pretty neighborhood with a smattering of delis, gastropubs, and designer boutiques. There’s Inverleith Park, the Botanic Gardens, and you can head down to the Water of Leith, a river that winds through the city to the historic docklands at Leith. See chapter 15.

The best Architecture

• Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire: The most architecturally unified of England’s many great Gothic cathedrals owes its harmony to the speed at which it was built. It took under 40 years from 1220. It’s been painted by Constable and repaired by Sir Christopher Wren, and still stands proud over this quaint city’s water meadows. See p.  228 .

Salisbury Cathedral.

• The Royal Mile, Edinburgh: Stunning views, narrow closes, and dark wynds (alleys) spread out in all directions along this historic street, which forms the backbone of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. Take in the many free museums, and enjoy the seething sea of life as you roam. See chapter 15.

• Gateshead Millennium Footbridge, Newcastle: This curving, modernistic bridge looks like a blinking eye when it tilts to let boats past along the River Tyne. At other times it’s a graceful, rainbow-like presence between the quays of Newcastle and the art quarters of Gateshead. See p.  459 .

• The Borders Abbeys, Scotland: Four great ruined abbeys—Kelso, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Melrose—cluster around the heart of the Scottish Borders. Brought to their knees by the English and then the Reformation, these former ecclesiastical powerhouses remain magnificent even in ruins. See chapter 16.

• Oxford: The city of dreaming spires and cobbled lanes is like a best of compilation covering a thousand years of English architecture. See p.  157 .

• Tate Modern, London: Enter this former power station beside the River Thames and your jaw drops at the size of its cathedral-like piston hall, which usually houses outrageous art installations, from twisting metal slides to monstrous spiders. Delve deeper into the museum to find Dalis, Warhols, Picassos, and a restaurant with one of London’s best views. See p. 93.

• Sherborne Abbey, Dorset: As a way for Gothic-era builders to spread the weight of a roof, fan vaulting developed in England’s West Country in the 14th century. The nave of Sherborne’s abbey church has one of the country’s most impressive examples. See p.  236 . King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (p.  346 ) has another fine fan vault.

undiscovered England

• Enjoying winter in the garden, Cambridge: The University Botanic Garden is lovely year-round, but few visitors explore during the winter, when intelligent planting reveals a wealth of multihued stems and bark, plus winter-flowing plants, giving way to Lenten roses and early wild daffodils. See p.  350 .

• Visiting Another Place on the Lancashire coast: A hundred figures cast in iron rise from the sand for 2 miles along the coast at Crosby, north of Liverpool. As they gaze out to sea, you can do the same. See p.  413 .

• Walking in King Harold’s final footsteps, East Sussex: There’s something eerie but exciting about walking on the grassy spot where English history changed forever. The site of the Battle of Hastings—the beginning of the Norman Conquest—is quietly impressive, with an excellent visitor center. See p.  197 .

• Seeing England as Turner saw it, Kent: The simplistic but stunning Turner Contemporary gallery sits on the seafront in Margate. It was built on the very spot where J. M. W. Turner stayed to paint Kent seascapes. The light here, on England’s eastern tip, is sensational, and illuminates the building at sunset. See p.  189 .

secret Scotland

• The Trossachs: Ruled for generations by the MacGregor clan, the Trossachs combine mist-shrouded lochs with legends of Rob Roy. Spend half a day following the A821 from Callander to Aberfoyle as it threads through dramatic terrain, and detour to Loch Katrine. See chapter 17.

• Haunting the Castles: Scotland is littered with ancient castles. Many—such as Urquhart (p.  609 ) on Loch Ness and cliff-top Tantallon (p.  513 ) —stand in ruined splendor. Others such as Macbeth’s very own Cawdor (p.  614 ) are luxurious, legendary family homes.

• The Falkirk Wheel: A triumph of Scottish engineering, this gleaming clawlike structure is the world’s first (and only) rotating boatlift. The Wheel effortlessly swings boats the 35m (115 ft.) between the Union and Forth and Clyde canals, using only a tiny amount of power and Archimedes’ Principle. See p. 508.

Cawdor Castle, Nairn, Scotland.

• Sir Walter Scott’s home, Abbotsford: Burns is Scotland’s most famous bard, but it was Sir Walter Scott who was responsible for challenging preconceptions about the Scottish Highlands—changing it in the public mind from a wild, inhospitable place to a land of soaring mountains, majestic stags, and rushing rivers. Visit his Borders home and its visitor center to find out more about his life and works, which included Rob Roy and The Heart of Midlothian. See p.  528 .

A village and farmlands in The Cotswolds.

Exploring England and Scotland is like climbing a mountain range—you always want to carry on to see what’s over the next peak or around the next corner. It’s addictive, and there’s no shame in carrying around a sightseeing wish list—as long as you take your time ticking things off. England and Scotland may not be big countries but they’re crammed full of incredible sights—and not just historic sights, either. Sport, music, theatre, fashion, and even food here are among the best in the world. You might be visiting a region for the first time but be warned: Once you’ve seen one part of England and Scotland you’ll want to see more.

England & Scotland Today

England and Scotland made world news in late 2014, as a referendum gave Scots the right to choose to remain within the Union or to become an independent nation. At times the race seemed very close, but in the end the people voted to retain the marriage with England, thanks in part to a late offer of increased powers for their domestic legislature, the Scottish Parliament. The final scores for independence were 55% No to 45% Yes. However, Scottish Nationalists remain in power in Scotland, and it seems likely that independence will return to the national agenda again. For now at least, you won’t need to show your passport to cross the border between the two countries in this guide—but at sporting events, Scots will still be heard singing Flower of Scotland instead of God Save the Queen.

Fraternal feuds aside, Britain never stands still, and the most obvious recent sign of its futuristic ambitions is The Shard, the shimmering, glassy tower near London Bridge that is now Europe’s tallest building. It soars 337m (1,107 ft.) above the city and provides a fitting backdrop for both the medieval Tower of London and the Victorian masterpiece of Tower Bridge. By architect Renzo Piano, it is the pinnacle, literally, of the postmodern architecture that has swept urban Britain. Other examples in London include the Lloyd’s building by Richard Rogers and 30 St Mary Axe, dubbed the Gherkin by Sir Norman Foster.

Back at ground level, a few years of economic downturn have seriously affected employment, lifestyle, and attitudes across the U.K. The 2010–15 government, a coalition between the right-wing Conservatives and more centrist Liberal Democrats, cut services, from health to road-mending, while increasing taxes. Britain’s vibrant cultural life is still being pressurized as, for example, the arts, humanities, and education struggle for funding. The cuts have bitten, and public frustration has manifested itself in significant support for separatist political parties, including the Scottish National Party (who want to separate from England) and UKIP (who want Britain out of the EU). The 2015 re-election of Conservative David Cameron as Prime Minister may ultimately increase the centrifugal forces affecting political Britain.

But life goes on, and there also continues to be a lot to shout about, as a dynamic cultural milieu of independent thinking, eccentricity and verve mean talent is often appreciated. From the Academy-award winning The King’s Speech, Adele’s 21, and One Direction, to Carol Ann Duffy becoming the first woman Poet Laureate and Hillary Mantel’s critically acclaimed historic novel and TV series Wolf Hall, these are lands that revel in diversity. Plus—of course—there’s still Downton Abbey. Newcastle, Liverpool, and Manchester have all benefitted from major urban overhauls: There’s more to urban Britain than just London.

The Shard, London, Europe’s tallest building.

Clans & Kilts

To the outsider, Scotland’s deepest traditions appear to be based on the clan system of old, with all its paraphernalia of tartans and bagpipes. But this is a romantic illusion. In fact, a good part of the Scots—the 75% of the population who live in the central Lowlands, for example—have little or no connection with the clansmen of earlier times.

The clan tradition dates from the tribal units of the country’s earliest Celtic history. Power was organized around chieftains, who commanded loyalty from the inhabitants of a region in exchange for protection against invasion. The position of chieftain wasn’t hereditary, and land was owned by the clan. Rigidly militaristic and paternalistic—the stuff with which Scottish legend is imbued—the clan tradition is still emphasized today, albeit in a friendlier fashion than the bloody clan days.

The Making of England & Scotland

Prehistory & the Romans (3600 b.c.–ca. a.d. 400)

England and Scotland have several prehistoric sites, among which the most famous is Stonehenge near Salisbury (p. 230), which experts believe was a temple, possibly started in 3600 b.c. and added to over subsequent centuries. Hadrian’s Wall (p. 463) is the most dramatic piece of architecture to survive from the Roman era, although there are also Roman baths at Bath (p. 244) and remains of Roman walls, villas, temples, and forts elsewhere, including a Roman Theatre at St Albans (p. 174).

Little is known about the early tribes and invaders of Scotland. By the time the Romans tried to invade in a.d. 82, the land was occupied by a people known as the Picts (or Painted Ones). Despite spectacular bloodletting, the Romans failed to conquer the country, and so the building of Hadrian’s Wall marked the northern limits of Rome’s influence. Today, however, the remains of the great wall lie firmly in England, with the Scottish border farther north.

To the south in England, there were constant clashes between the tribes over territory, which is why they failed to unite to prevent the first Roman invasion by Julius Caesar, the Roman governor of Gaul (France and Belgium), in 55 b.c., and later in a.d. 43–44, when Emperor Claudius invaded, capturing present-day Colchester. Although Colchester remained the capital for a while, by a.d. 47 the Romans had founded Londinium as a garrison and trading settlement. Remains of Roman London are still being discovered as new developments are built, and you can see part of London’s original Roman wall near the Tower of London (p. 94).

Hadrian’s Wall at Walltown Crags.

There was little effective resistance to the Roman fighting machine, although there was one well-known uprising, led by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe who ruled parts of East Anglia. The Romans had tried to force their will on Boudicca by publicly whipping her, and she subsequently led a rebellion that razed Colchester. Then she marched on London (there’s a statue of Boudicca in Parliament Square; p. 76) and rampaged through St Albans, then known as Verulamium—70,000 people were supposedly killed. She was eventually defeated in the so-called Battle of Watling Street at an unknown location around a.d. 60.

After 350 years of rule, the Romans went home, abandoning the Romano-Britons. By 410, the Germanic Saxons, Jutes, and Angles had carved out settlements in southern and eastern England, and the Saxons went on to dominate all but the far north, where the Romano-Britons were forced to flee. The Saxon kings reigned supreme until the Vikings started taking an interest in England and Scotland. They were eventually driven from southern England by King Alfred the Great of Wessex, whose headquarters were at Winchester (p. 218). The Vikings were strong in the Northeast, as the Jorvik Viking Centre in York (p. 442) illustrates.

The Saxons maintained control of some southern regions, and Saxon king Edward the Confessor assumed the throne in 1042. Childless, he promised the crown to William, Duke of Normandy. Later his adviser, Harold Godwinson, swore to support William’s claim to the throne. When Edward died in 1066 and Harold succeeded him, he surely knew trouble lay ahead. After fighting a Viking invasion in the northeast, Harold had to march south to meet the Normans at Battle (p. 197), near Hastings, in Sussex. Harold lost and died—the end of the Saxon era.

A statue of ancient Queen Boudicca, Parliament Square, London.

The Middle Ages (1066–1599)

The Normans quickly colonized England—William’s success came partly from his building impregnable castles wherever they were needed. In 1078, for example, he built the original castle at Windsor (p. 151). He was crowned King William I at Westminster Abbey (p. 80) in 1067, and his supporters went on to build simple motte and bailey castles on the lands William gave them. The mottes—mounds of earth—still survive in many places; some were incorporated into the stone castles that replaced the original wooden baileys, or keeps.

The Normans are also renowned for their religious architecture, with Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire (p. 356) among the most glorious examples of their work.

The French Gothic style of architecture invaded in the late 12th century, trading rounded arches for pointy ones—an engineering discovery that freed churches from the heavy Norman walls and allowed ceilings to soar. The style is divided into three overlapping periods: Early English (1150–1300), Decorated (1250–1370), and Perpendicular (1350–1550). The best example of Early English is Salisbury Cathedral (p. 228). The first to use pointy arches was Wells Cathedral (p. 251).

In Scotland, cultural assimilation with England gained pace under David I (1081–1153), who made land grants to many Anglo-Norman families, providing Scotland with a feudal aristocracy and bringing in ancient names such as Bruce, Fraser, and Lindsay. He also embarked on a lavish building spree. The now-ruined abbeys of Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, and Dryburgh are his legacy.

England’s next significant king after William was Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet dynasty, who came to the throne in 1154. This French nobleman had made strategic marriages and, when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, he owned more of France than the French king. They had eight children, among them Richard the Lionheart, who came to the throne as Richard I in 1189 and became an English folk hero—ironic because he didn’t like cold, wet England and preferred to fight for Christianity in the Crusades. His brother and successor, King John was so unpopular that the Norman barons, whose families had been given their land by William I after the conquest, forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 to limit his power. The Magna Carta gave all freemen (barons) rights and liberties, but more importantly, meant English monarchs were no longer above the law. This became the basis of the American Bill of Rights.

Dryburgh Abbey in The Scottish Borders, burial place of Sir Walter Scott.

The Plantagenets ruled for the next 200 years. The most significant for the Scots was Edward I, who yearned to conquer the entire island. Many of Scotland’s legendary heroes lived during this period: Sir William Wallace (1270–1305), who drove the English out of Perth and Stirling; Sir James Douglas, the Black Douglas (1286–1330), who terrorized the English borders; and Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), who finally succeeded in freeing Scotland from England. Scotland’s independence was formally recognized in the 1328 Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton.

Meanwhile, ordinary folk were having a hard time. The Black Death, or plague, which had ravaged Europe reached England in 1348. It killed one-third of the European population and half of England and Scotland, and returned in 1361, 1374, and regularly thereafter until about 1670.

Among the Plantagenet courtiers was Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote The Canterbury Tales—stories told by a group of pilgrims as they journeyed from London to Canterbury where Thomas Becket, Henry II’s Archbishop, had been murdered by Henry’s knights. The Tales were written in English in the late 1300s, unusual at the time because Latin and French dominated the written word.

The Tudors (1485–1603)

The reign of Henry Tudor—as Henry VII of England—is considered to be the close of the Middle Ages. He ended rivalry and war between the Houses of Lancaster and York by marrying Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of former King Edward IV. Henry was a clever king: Avoiding costly wars, forging trade alliances to create more wealth, setting up councils in the north, and reforming the judicial system. Next in line, flamboyant Henry VIII inherited a fortune from his father in 1509, and a wife from his elder brother Arthur. Arthur had married the King of Spain’s eldest daughter, Catherine of Aragon, in 1501, but the sickly heir to the throne died 5 months later. Catherine came with a huge dowry so Henry VII petitioned the Pope to have the marriage annulled so that his new heir, Henry, could marry her and keep the cash.

The marriage went forth and Catherine gave birth to several children, but only daughter Mary survived—and Henry wanted a son. By now he also wanted Anne Boleyn, born at Blickling Estate in Norfolk (p. 379) and a member of his wife’s court. Henry now petitioned the Pope in 1530 for an annulment to his marriage with Catherine, but the Pope didn’t want to upset the Spanish king. A few years later, Anne became pregnant, and Henry secretly married her in 1533. When the Pope declared the marriage invalid, Henry announced himself Head of the Church of England, confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1534. The Reformation had begun. In 1538 Henry was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and eventually closed all monasteries and nunneries and sold off their land (the Dissolution of the Monasteries). Four more wives were to follow, before Henry was buried in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle (p. 151).

If Henry’s life was dramatic, what happened next was extraordinary. His sickly son succeeded him as Edward VI, aged 10. During Edward’s 5-year reign, the Church of England finally became Protestant and adopted an English Book of Common Prayer. Although Edward was devout, he obviously couldn’t have made those decisions himself, and that atmosphere of religious fervor intensified when Edward was succeeded by his Catholic elder sister in 1553. Mary reintroduced Catholic bishops, revived heresy laws, and pronounced Protestantism a treasonable offense punishable by death. She had 300 Protestants burned at the stake during her 4-year reign. It’s no wonder she was called Bloody Mary.

Her sister Elizabeth was under house arrest at Hatfield House (p. 177) when the news of Mary’s death arrived. She was crowned Queen in 1559 at Westminster Abbey. The Virgin Queen had many suitors but managed to play one against another so she could retain her own power. Elizabeth reversed Mary’s Catholic laws and worked with Parliament to create an Anglican form of Protestantism that tolerated Catholicism, but she was often the target of Catholic plots, many involving her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (see below).

The Tudor Age was a time of some of England’s finest literature. Shakespeare (1564–1616) was creating his vast body of work, with his plays being performed in London at the Globe Theatre, which opened on the south bank of the Thames in 1599. A re-creation today sits just along the river (p. 78). A contemporary was Ben Jonson (1572–1637), a playwright, poet, and actor, best known for his satirical plays.

Union Between Scotland & England, then Civil War

Mary’s son (see Mary Queen of Scots, above) succeeded where his unfortunate mother had failed. In 1603, James VI of Scotland also assumed the throne of England as James I, Elizabeth’s heir and the first Stuart monarch. His coronation united England and Scotland and finally broke the power of the Scottish lords.

Despite hopes for peace, religion again became the source of discontent. James—and his heir, Charles I—attempted to promote a Church of Scotland governed by bishops, in opposition to the Presbyterian Church’s self-ruling organization. So incensed were the Scots that in 1638 they signed the National Covenant, which not only reasserted the Reformation’s principles but also questioned the King’s right to make laws, a role the Covenanters believed should be filled by Parliament.

Yet Charles I believed strongly in the divine right of kings. When the English Parliament stripped away much of his authority in 1642, Charles went north to organize an army against the Parliamentary forces centered in London. A civil war ensued, with the forces of Parliament led to victory by Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658). Charles fled to Scotland, but the Scots turned him over to Parliament, and in 1649 he was convicted of treason and beheaded. Under the ensuing Commonwealth, Cromwell assumed a dominant political role and became Lord Protector in 1653. King in all but name, he ruled England until his death.

The Restoration (1660–89)

Among the legacies of Cromwell’s Commonwealth are a deep-seated unease about military rule and a religious tolerance colored by a suspicion of extremism. But the Restoration—when King Charles II returned—was notable primarily for its revelry, and at times shocking, licentiousness.

Sports and theatres were high on Charles’s agenda. He was patron of the theatre, and Restoration comedy was known for its bawdy plots and satire, poking fun at political figures and topical events. William Wycherley’s 1675 play The Country Wife is still performed today.

This was also a period of scientific expansion. Mathematician Isaac Newton studied the composition of light, invented a reflecting telescope, and, most famously of all, set out his theory of gravity and the laws of motion in 1687—2 years after Charles II’s death.

Architect Christopher Wren was also a mathematician, and in 1661 was made Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University. His knowledge of physics and engineering led to his being commissioned to design the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford (p. 164) in 1664. But it was the Great Fire of London in 1666, which really gave him the opportunity to shine.

The Monument to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666.

London at the time was still a medieval city of half-timbered buildings. Buildings were very close together in a maze of alleys and narrow streets. The city was filthy, with open sewers and little access to clean water, and plague was a recurring problem. It peaked in 1665 during a hot summer, with more than 1,000 Londoners dying every week. The plague continued to pick off victims, but in September 1666, a fire started at the king’s baker’s shop in Pudding Lane, in the old city. The ovens had not been put out properly overnight, sparks escaped, and fire spread through the wooden buildings. It was so intense that the lead roof of the old St Paul’s Cathedral melted before the building burned down, along with 84 other churches.

The fire is commemorated by the Monument (p. 90), a 61.5m (202-ft.) tower topped by an urn of golden flames. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and if you climb the 311 spiral steps you can see many of the other buildings Wren built after the fire, when modern London was created. Wren’s greatest triumph was the new St Paul’s Cathedral (p. 92). But Wren also designed 51 other new churches, as well as the Royal Observatory at Greenwich (p. 102), through which the Prime Meridian line runs. Wren also designed Trinity College Library in Cambridge (p. 349).

Charles II was succeeded by his brother James II in 1685, an unpopular heir because he was openly Catholic. He appointed Catholics to key posts and dismissed Parliament so he could rule without interference. In 1688 his wife gave birth to a son, which was the last straw for England’s Protestant nobility. They invited James’s Protestant daughter from his first marriage and her Dutch husband William of Orange to take the throne.

Glorious Revolution & Jacobite Rising

William of Orange arrived with a small army and was supported by the English military chiefs whom James had alienated, marching on London in what became known as the Glorious Revolution. James fled, and a new Parliament declared his abdication in 1689, leaving the throne free for the joint monarchs William III and Mary II. Their reign brought the end of a monarch’s divine right to rule England and Wales. Parliament passed the Bill of Rights, preventing the throne from passing laws or raising taxes without Parliament’s consent, so a monarch could never dismiss Parliament. The Bill also prevented Catholics from taking the throne.

Mary died of smallpox in 1694 and William died in 1702. They had no surviving children so Mary’s sister, Anne, succeeded William. It was during her reign that England and Wales became politically united with Scotland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain with the 1706 Act of Union.

When the English Parliament stripped Catholic James II of his crown and imported Protestant monarchs William and Mary from Holland, the exiled ex-king and then his son James Edward (the Old Pretender), became focal points for Scottish unrest. The Jacobites—the name comes from Jacobus, the Latin form of James—attempted unsuccessfully in 1715 to place the Old Pretender on the English throne and restore the Stuart line. Although James died in exile, his son Charles Edward (the Young Pretender), better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, carried on his father’s dream. Charismatic but with an alcohol-induced instability, he was the central figure of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. The Glenfinnan Monument at the head of Loch Shiel (west of Fort William; p. 636) marks the spot where he raised his standard.

Although the revolt was initially promising, the Jacobite forces were eventually crushed at the Battle of Culloden. You can still walk this battlefield near Inverness today (p. 600). Fearing a rebirth of similar types of Scottish nationalism, the clan system was rigorously suppressed; clans that supported the Jacobite cause lost their lands, and until 1782, the wearing of Highland dress was illegal.

One of the greatest legacies of Anne’s reign was architecture. Queen Anne buildings are particularly notable, and among the best known is Blenheim Palace (p. 171) in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. It was built for the Churchill family to reward the first Duke of ­Marlborough (John Churchill) for leading British troops to victory over the French in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, part of the complex and bloody Wars of the Spanish Succession. Sir Winston Churchill was born there in 1874.

Anne had 17 children but only one survived birth—and he died at age 11. Parliament had already passed the Act of Succession to ensure the Protestant heirs of Sophia of Hanover (James I’s granddaughter) could claim the throne, rather than James II’s Catholic heirs, so Anne was succeeded by George of Hanover in 1714.

The Georgians (1714–1830)

Neither George I, nor his son George II, learned to speak English, sticking to their native German. Unsurprisingly they were disliked by the people. George III was the first English-born king in the Hanover line, and although he is chiefly remembered for losing the American colonies and going mad (as portrayed in Alan Bennett’s 1991 play and the subsequent film The Madness of King George), at least he could speak English.

Georgian England was a cruel and lawless period. This was the era of Dick Turpin, the highway robber who brought terror to Essex until his death in 1739. It was also a time of piracy: Blackbeard was born in Bristol in 1718 and looted ships off North Carolina. There were at least 200 hanging offenses—from murder to stealing fish—while bear-baiting, badger-baiting, and cock fights were regarded as entertainment.

The Georgians had a keen eye for design, though, as evident from the period’s architecture. In London, architect John Nash was responsible for Regent Street and remodeled Buckingham Palace (p. 73), while architect John Soane designed the Bank of England in the City.

In the 18th century Scottish literature really started to blossom, with a spate of lucid and powerful prose written in English: novelist Tobias Smollett (Roderick Random), economist Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations), philosopher David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature), and James Boswell, friend and biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson. It was also in the 18th century that Robert Burns (1759–96) produced his famous verses combining the humor and vigor of Scottish speech with the lilt of Scottish songs. Burns, known especially for love lyrics and satires, is Scotland’s national bard, and revered throughout the world.

Buckingham Palace.

The infamous Clearances between 1750 and 1850 changed Scotland’s demographics forever. Small farmers, or crofters, were expelled from ancestral lands to make way for sheep grazing. Increased industrialization, continued civil unrest, migration to urban centers, and a massive wave of immigration to the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand all contributed to depopulation of the countryside and a dispersal of the Scottish ethic throughout the world. You can still see the ruins of deserted crofts, farmsteads, and villages all over the Highlands.

The Regency architectural style covers the years 1811 to 1820, the period before the Prince Regent became king. It is best illustrated in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion (p. 204), the Prince’s India-inspired summerhouse on England’s South Coast. Many of Bath’s beautiful Georgian buildings were also Regency haunts.

Bath became the most fashionable city outside London during the Regency period thanks to its ancient spa. Novelist Jane Austen included the city’s Assembly Rooms (p. 243) in two of her novels—Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. There’s a Jane Austin Centre at the handsome Royal Crescent (p. 247), built between 1767 and 1774 and regarded as the pinnacle of Palladian architecture in Britain.

The Georgian arts Scene

The arts flourished during the Georgian era: Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe visited the east of England and wrote about East Anglia (see chapter 11) in Tour Through the Eastern Counties of England 1722. In 1726 Gulliver’s Travels was published by Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish clergyman, and artist William Hogarth created satirical illustrations of the country’s low morals. Among his most famous work was A Rake’s Progress, a series of prints based on paintings now at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London (p. 71). His work was in sharp contrast to the genteel portraits by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, which are in London’s Tate Britain (p. 79).

William Blake, born in 1757, brought a vision of heaven and hell with his illustrations and engravings for books and poetry, and his epic Jerusalem. John Constable, born in the Suffolk countryside in 1776, was starting to make waves with his landscapes, which he produced until his death in 1837. J. M. W. Turner was a landscape painter whose work flourished well into the Victorian era. His depictions of light are remarkable; the Turner Contemporary museum is at Margate in Kent, where he spent time. His life was the subject of Oscar-­nominated 2014 biopic Mr. Turner.

The mid-18th century to the early 19th century was also the era of the Romantic Poets, including Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, whose Daffodils is perhaps the most oft-quoted for its simple sentiments, but much of the group’s work combined a romantic view of England with a social conscience.

The towering Scottish writer of the era was Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), novelist and poet, known for Medieval Romanticism (Ivanhoe) and perceptive description of character and locales (The Heart of Midlothian).

With the British defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, Britain was emerging as the most powerful country in Europe. The Industrial Revolution had started around the town of Ironbridge in Staffordshire, where the Ironbridge Gorge Museums can be found (p. 341), and the world’s first steam-driven passenger railway was opened between Stockton and Darlington in 1825. The National Railway Museum in York has possibly the world’s greatest rail-related collection (p. 442).

The Victorians (1837–1901)

England and Scotland are still often defined by the Victorian Age. Britain became the most industrialized country in the world, fueled mainly by coal. Urban development boomed. But Victorian Britain was a hard place. The most influential Victorian writer was Charles Dickens, who knew from first-hand experience the misery of poverty: His father’s financial problems landed them in a debtor’s prison in 1824. By Victoria’s time he had established himself as a journalist and wrote Oliver Twist (1837–39), David Copperfield (1849–50), and Great Expectations (1860–61).

Born in Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94) penned such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as poems, especially for children.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement transformed painting in the Victorian era. There are fabulous collections at Tate Britain in London (p. 79) and the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (p. 323). Art critic John Ruskin greatly promoted the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (notably its founder William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti), but he was also a poet, conservationist, and social revolutionary—campaigning for free schools and libraries. His home, Brantwood, in the Lake District (p. 428) was visited by luminaries like Charles Darwin.

The fairytale version of the Middle Ages portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelite painters influenced Gothic Revival architecture. Revival is a bit misleading, as its practitioners usually applied Gothic features at random. The best example is the Houses of Parliament in London (1835–52). Charles Barry designed it and his clock tower, usually called Big Ben after its biggest bell, has become an icon.

The queen that gave her name to the age, Victoria, was only 18 when she took the throne in 1837, and married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha 3 years later. Contrary to Victoria’s image as a gloomy killjoy, she was lively and independent when young, and very much in love with Albert. The couple was not popular, though, until Prince Albert began to win public recognition for his work on behalf of Britain.

His most impressive triumph was the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the huge glass-built Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park (p. 110). This showcased Britain’s industrial and technological achievements, as well as exhibits from colonized countries. The exhibition’s profits funded the construction of the Natural History Museum (p. 86), Science Museum (p. 88), and Victoria & Albert Museum (p. 88) in London. Tragically, 4 years later Albert was dead from typhoid.

Victoria never recovered from his death and retired to their favorite family home, Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. She wore black for the rest of her life, and withdrew from public life. But by her death at the beginning of the 20th century, Britain had the world’s largest Empire, a booming economy, and a growing middle class.

World Wars I & II (1914–45)

After the prosperity of the brief Edwardian era (1901–10), Britain joined World War I in August 1914, when Germany refused to withdraw from Belgium. Among the soldiers who chronicled the horror of trench warfare was Rupert Brooke, a Cambridge graduate who wrote the 1912 war poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. You can visit Grantchester (p. 355) to see the village church mentioned in his poem, where the clock has been stopped at ten to three—and where there’s honey still for tea.

The wartime prime minister was Liberal Party leader Lloyd George, who was put in charge of the war effort and given much of the credit for the Allies’ military success. Lloyd George said he wanted to create "a land fit