I never knew that about Britain – the Unexpected Treasures & Stories
BRITAIN IS PROBABLY THE MOST WRITTEN ABOUT COUNTRY IN THE WORLD AND YET DOWN EVERY LANE, ROUND EVERY CORNER, IN EVERY TOWN AND VILLAGE, THERE ARE STILL UNEXPECTED TREASURES AND SURPRISES.
When you visit a place, you learn about some memorable anecdotes and entertaining nuggets you may not have heard about. But knowing them will enrich your visit manifold! They will give you something to throw into the conversation, making friends exclaim, ‘I never knew that!’
How London came about
London owes its existence to the River Thames and was founded by the Romans in 52 AD at the north end of their wooden bridge across the river’s lowest crossing point. From that first London Bridge, London expanded to become the world’s largest city and port in the 19th century with over half the world’s shipping traffic sailing up the Thames into London’s docks. Because of this, a conference in Washington in 1884 decided that Greenwich in London should become the location of the Prime Meridian, or O degrees longitude, the place where East meets West, putting London at the very ‘centre’ of the world. Today it is the world’s most cosmopolitan city.
The Mystery that is Stonehenge
Stonehenge is the earliest known example in Britain of architecture, where building materials were shaped and molded together to create a structure. Built up over 2000 years from 3100 BC to 1100 BC, Stonehenge is the most recognizable prehistoric remain in Europe. The original bluestones were transported 150 miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales over 4500 years ago – around the same time that the Pyramids were being built. Initially the site served as Britain’s earliest crematorium and then as a solar temple and observatory, with the stones aligned to the summer solstice.
Famous Views of Salisbury
Direct successor to Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral was completed in under 40 years, from 1220 to 1258, and is the only English cathedral to be constructed in a single architectural style, Early English. The site was decided by the best archer of the time, who shot an arrow from the top of the previous cathedral at Old Sarum to the north – the foundation stone was laid where the arrow landed. Salisbury’s spire was added in 1320 and at 404 feet is the tallest spire in Britain and the tallest 13th century structure in the world. Inside the cathedral is Europe’s oldest working clock, dating from 1386. The view of Salisbury Cathedral from the water meadows, virtually unchanged since John Constable painted it in 1825, has been voted England’s favorite view.
Inspiration behind ‘Rebecca’
‘Last nigh I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’ In 1927 Daphne du Maurier was exploring Cornwall. She came across a romantically dilapidated Elizabethan house called Menabilly on the south coast near Fowey. Menabilly inspired Manderley, the house in her novel Rebecca. She went on to live there herself for 25 years from 1943 until 1969. After her death in 1989 du Maurier’s ashes were scattered on the cliffs at Menabilly. Locations from her books are found across Cornwall. Most notably Frenchman’s Creek on the Helford river and Jamaica Inn, standing alone on the bleak and eerie Bodmin Moor. Not far from Jamaica Inn stands Dozmary Pool, associated with another famous Cornish person, King Arthur. The pool, apparently bottomless, is the home of the Lady in the Lake and the resting place of Arthur’s sword Excalibur.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon on St George’s Day, April 23, 1564. He died exactly 52 years later on April 23, 1616. He was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity church where he was also baptized. When he returned to Stratford as a rich man in 1597, he bought New Place. This was the second largest house in the town and the only one made of brick. New Place was later purchased by a disagreeable parson called Francis Gastrell. The new owner became irritated by people gawping over his garden wall. Especially at the precious mulberry tree that Shakespeare had planted there. In a fit of rage, he chopped it down. This annoyed the people of Stratford. They started to throw stone’s through Gastrell’s window. This went on until the irascible parson finally lost his temper and razed the whole house to the ground. The residents threw him out of town. No one with the Gastrell name has been allowed to live in Stratford since.