What are Britain’s main imports and exports?
Despite having only one per cent of the world’s population, Britain is the fourth largest trading nation in the world. Machinery and transport, manufactures and chemicals are Britain’s largest export earners. Since the 1970s, oil has contributed significantly to Britain’s overseas trade, both in exports and a reduced need to import oil. British Petroleum (BP) is Britain’s biggest and Europe’s second biggest industrial company.
British pharmaceutical companies make three of the world’s best selling meedicines:‘Zantac’(made by Glaxo Wellcome) for ulcer treatment;‘Tenormin’(ICI),a beta-blocker for high blood press-ure; and‘AZT’(Glaxo Wellcome), a drug used in the treatment of AIDS.
Britain is also a major supplier of plastics, aerospace products, electrical and electronic equipment. Britain is responsible for 10 per cent of the world’s export of services, including banking, insurance, stockbroking, consultancy and computer programming.
Britain imports six times as many manufactures as basic materials. EU countries account for seven of the 10 leading suppliers of goods to Britain and the United Sttates is Britain’s biggest supplier of imports. Food, beverages and tabacco account for half of non-manufactured imports, whilst machinery and road vehicles account for two-thirds of finished imported manufactures. Other major imports include chemicals, fuels, clothing and footwear.
What does the Un
should it be flown?
The flag of Britain, commonly known as the Union Jack (which derives from the use of the Union Flag on the jack-staff of naval vessels), embodies the emblems of tree countries under one Sovereign. The emblems that appear on the Union Flag are the crosses of three patron saints:
the red cross of St. George, for England, On a white ground;
the white diagonal cross, or saltire, of St. Andrew, for Scotland, on a blue ground.
the red diagonal cross of St. Patrick, for Ireland, on a white ground.
The final version of the Union Flag, including the cross of St. Patrick, appeared in 1801, following the union of Great Britain with Ireland. The cross remains inn the flag although now only Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.
Wales is not represented in the Union Flag because, when the first version of the flag appeared. Wales was already united with England. The national flag of Wales, a red dragon on a field of white and green, dates from the 15th century and is widely used throughout the Principality. The dragon as a symbol was probably introduced into Britain by the Roman legions. According to tradi-tion, th
The Union Flag should be flown with the broader diagonal band of white uppermost in the hoist (near the pole) and the narrower diagonal band of white uppermost in the fly (furthest from the pole).
Perhaps the most famous national costume in Britain is the Scottish kilt with its distinctive tartan pattern. The kilt is a length of woollen cloth, pleated except for sections at each end.
The kilt is worn around the waist, with the pleats at the back and the ends crossed over at the front and secured with a pin.
The kilt forms part of the tradition Highland dress, worn by Scottish clansmen and Scottish regiments. In addition to the kilt, a plaid or tartan cloak is worn over one shoulder, and a goatskin pouch or sporran is worn at the front of the kilt. Sometimes tartan trousers or trews are worn instead of a kilt. Women do not have their own distinctive national dress in Scotland, although tartan fabrics are widely used in clothing, and the kilt is also wo
The national costume of Wales is based on the peasant costume of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because Wales was isolated geographically from the rest of Britain, many of the individual traits of costume and materials were retained in Welsh dress long after they had died out elsewhere.
Unlike Scotland, the distinctive folk costume of Wales was worn by the women, consisting of a long gown (betgwn) or skirt, worn with a petticoat (pais-the favoured colour was scarlet) and topped with a shawl folded diagonally to form a triangle and draped around the shoulders, with one corner hanging down and two others pinned in front. Aprons were universally worn, sometimes decorated with colourful embroidery.
The most distinctive part of the costume was the tall black ‘Welsh hat’or ‘beaver hat’, thought to have originated in France at the end of the 18th century. The hats had a tall crown, cylindrical or conical in shape with a wide brim, and were usually trimmed with a band of silk or crepe.
Early Irish dress, based on Gaelic and Norse costumes, consisted of check trews for men, worn with a fringed cloak or mantle, or a short tunic for both men and women, wo
Although a strong tradition of wearing folk costume does not survive in Northern Ireland today, folk music and folk dancing are very important.
What powers does the Queen have?
The Crown, which represents both the Sovereign (the person on whom the Crown is constitutionally conferred) and the Govern-ment, is the symbol of supreme executive power. The Crown is vested in the Queen, but in general its functions are exercised by Ministers responsible to Parliament and thus Britain is governed by Her Majesty’s Government in the name of the Queen. However, the Queen’s involvement is still required in many important acts of government.
The Queen summons, prorogues (discontinues unit the next session without dissolving) and dissolves Parliament. She normally opens the new session of Parliament with a speech from the throne which is written for her by the Government and outlines her Government’s programme. Before a Bill becomes law the Queen must give it her Royal Assent, which is announced to both Houses of Parliament.
The Queen can, on ministerial advice, pardon or show mercy to those convicted of crimes. In law the Queen as a private person can do no wrong: she is immune from civil or criminal proceedings and cannot be sued in courts of law. This immunity is not shared by other members of the royal family.
Honours and appointments
The Queen has the power to confer peerages, knighthoods and other honours. She normally does this on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, although a few honours are conferred by the Sovereign personally. The Queen makes appointments to many important state offices, on the advice of the Prime Minister or the relevant Cabinet Minister.
Foreign diplomatic representatives in London are accredited to the Queen, and she has the power to conclude treaties, to declare war and to make peace, to recognise foreign states and govern-ments and to annex and cede territory.
The Queen presides over meetings of the Privy Council. At these, among other things, Orders in Council made under the Royal Prerogative or under statute are approved. The Royal Prerogative mainly comprises executive government- powers controlled by constitutional conventions (rules which are not part of the law, but which are regarded as indispensable to the machinery of government). In nearly all cases acts involving the Royal Prerogative are performed by Ministers who are responsible to Parliament and can be questioned about policies. Parliament has the power to abolish or restrict a prerogative right.
In addition to being informed and consulted about all aspects of national life, the Queen is free to put forward her own views, in private, for the consideration of her Ministers.
Which religions are represented in Britain?
Everyone in Britain has the right to religious freedom. Britain is predominantly Christian-one British citizen in 10 is a member of the Roman Catholic Church and there are 1.7 million members of the Anglican church-the ‘established church’, that is the church legally recognised as the official church of the State.
In Scotland, there are 1.1 million members of the Presbyterian Church-the established church in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, about half the people regard themselves as Protestants and nearly 40 per cent as Roman Catholics.
It Wales, the Anglican church was disestablished in 1920. This means that there is no one officially established church, but Methodism and Baptism are the two most widespread religions.
Britain has one of the largest Muslim communities in Western Europe, estimated to be between 1.5 and 2 million people, with over 600 mosques and prayer centres. One of the most important Muslim institutions in the Western world is the Central mosque in London and its associated Islamic Cultural Centre.
The Sikh community in Britain comprises between 400.000 and 500.000 people, with the largest groups of Sikhs concentrated in Greater London, Manchester and Birmingham. The oldest Sikh temple was established in London in 1908.
The Hindu community in Britain accounts for a further 400.000 people. The first Hindu temple was opened in London in 1962 and there are now over 120 throughout Britain. Other religious groups include about 285.000 members of the Jewish faith.
Does Britain have a National Day?
National Days in Britain are not celebrated to the same extent as National Days in countries like France or the United States.
Scotland’s national day is St. Andrew’s Day (30 November), which has now largely been overshadowed by Burns’ Night. St. Andrew, one of Christ’s twelve apostles, is the patron saint of Scotland. Some of his bones are said to have been brought to what is now St. Andrews in Fife during the 4th century. Since medieval times the X-shaped saltire cross upon which St. Andrew was supposedly crucified has been the Scottish national symbol.
St. David’s Day (1 March) is the national day of Wales. St. David (c.520-588), the patron saint of Wales, was the founder and first abbot-bishop of Menevia, now St. David’s in Dyfed, South Wales. The day is commemorated by the wearing of daffodils or leeks by patriotic Welsh people. Both plants are traditionally regarded as the national emblems of Wales.
England’s national day is St. George’s Day (23 April). St. George is the patron saint of England. A story that first appeared in the 6th century tells that St. George rescued a hapless maid by slaying a fearsome fire-breathing dragon! The saint’s name was shouted as a battle cry by English knights who fought beneath the red-cross banner of St. George during the Hundred Years War (1338-1453). This is immortalised in Shakespeare’s play Henry V in the lines:
“ I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!”
Today the red cross of St. George still flies above every English parish church to mark the saint’s day.
St. Patrick’s Day (7th March) is an official Bank Holiday in Northern Ireland. The work of St. Patrick (c.389-c.461) was a vital factor in the spread of Christianity in Ireland. Born in Britain, he was carried off by pirates, and spent six years in slavery before escaping and training as a missionary. The day is marked by the wearing of shamrocks (a clover-like plant), the national badge of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
What is the oldest university in Britain?
The University of Oxford was the first university to be established in Britain. Dating from the 12th century, it is organised as a federation of colleges which are governed by their own teaching staff known as ‘Fellows’. The oldest college, University College, was founded in 1249. Other notable colleges include All Souls (founded in 1438), Christ Church (founded in 1546 by Cardinal Wolsey),the college chapel of which is also Oxford Cathedral, and Lady Margaret Hall (founded in 1878), which was the first women’s college.
Today Oxford University is made up of 39 separate colleges, of which one is for women students only, and the rest take both men and women.
In 1209, scholars running away from riots in Oxford set up the first academic community in Cambridge. The University is also organised as a federation of colleges: the oldest, Peterhouse, dates from 1284. The largest college, Trinity, was founded by King Henry VIII in 1546.
Scotland also boasts a number of long-established universities. By the end of the Middle Ages Scotland had four universities at Edinburgh (founded 1583), Glasgow (founded 1451), Aberdeen (founded 1495) and St. Andrew’s (founded 1441) compared to England’s two!
The University of Wales was founded in 1893. It consists of six colleges, the oldest one being the University of Wales, Lampeter, founded as St. David’s College in 1822.
The Queen’s University of Belfast was founded in 1845 as one of the three ‘Queen’s Colleges in Ireland’. It received its charter as a separate university in 1908.
Why is the Tower of London so popular with tourist?
The Tower of London is one of the most popular and imposing of London’s historical sites. It comprises not one but 20 towers, the oldest of which, the White Tower, dates back to the 11th century
and the time of William the Conqueror. It is the Tower’s evil reputation as a prison that ensures it remains a much visited tourist spot today, together with the rich and varied history that surrounds it.
Many stories associated with British history come from the Tower. In 1483 King Edward IV’s two sons were murdered in the so-called Bloody Tower, and over two centuries later the skeletons of two little boys were found buried beneath steps in the White Tower, assumed to be the bodies of the princes.
Traitor’s Gate, set in the southern wall of the Tower, has steps leading down to the River Thames. Countless prisoners, including the future Queen Elizabeth I of England, were brought to the Tower by barge, and ascended the steps before being imprisoned- -for many it was their last moment of freedom before their death. Fortunately, Elizabeth was released from the Tower and became Queen.
Elizabeth I’s father, Henry VIII, made the Tower the dread destination of his enemies. Sir Thomas More was beheaded there in 1535 and the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was brought to trial there in 1536 and beheaded on Tower Green. Six years later her cousin, Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, suffered the same fate.
The Tower is famous as home of the Crown Jewels. Today they can be viewed in the jewel house from a moving pavement, designed to cope with the huge numbers of tourists. They include the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother which contains the celebrated Indian diamond, the Koh-i-noor (mountain of light), and St. Edward’s Crown which is used for the actual crowning of the Sovereign and weighs over two kilograms.
Everyone has heard of the Yeoman Warders of the Tower or ‘Beefeaters’, whose striking Tudor uniform has changed little since 1485. The uniform consists of a knee-length scarlet tunic, scarlet knee-breeches and stockings, and a round brimmed hat called a Tudor bonnet. Their distinctive white neck ruff was introduced by Queen Elizabeth I.
No visit to the Tower would be complete without seeing the ravens; huge black birds who are an official part of the Tower community. Legend states that if the ravens were to leave the Tower the Crown will fall, and Britain with it. Under the special care of the Raven Master, the ravens are fed a daily diet of raw meat paid for out of a special fund set aside by Parliament. There is no danger of them flying away, as their wings are clipped!