Great Britain

Geographical position of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelands. The Southeast as the most densely populated region of England. Cambridge as one of the best-known towns in the world, its University. The Midlands, the Heart of England.

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Great Britain

england cambridge midland

The United Kingdom of G.B. and Northern Irelands is situated on the British Isles. The British Isles consists of two large islands, G.B. and Ireland, and about five thousand small islands. Their total area is over 244,000 square kilometres.

The UK is made up of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. GB consists of England, Scotland and Wales and doesn't include Northern Ireland. The capital of the UK is London.

The British Isles are separated from European continent by the North Sea and the English Channel. The western coast of GB is washed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.

The surface of the British Isles varies very much. The north of Scotland is mountainous and is called the Highlands, while the south, which has beautiful valleys and plains, is called the Lowlands.

There are a lot of rivers in GB, but they are not very long. The Severn is the longest river, while the Thames is the deepest and the most important one.

The mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and the warm waters if Gulf Stream influence the climate of the British Isles. The weather in GB is very changeable. A fine morning can change into a wet afternoon and evening and the wrong side out. The English people say: "Other countries have a climate; in England we have weather." The English also say that they have three variants of weather: when it rains in the morning, when it rains in the afternoon or, when it rains all day long.

The weather is the favourite conversational topic in GB. After they greet each other they start talking the weather.

The best time of the year in GB is spring (of course, it rains in spring too). The two worst months in Britain are January and February. They are cold, damp and unpleasant. The best place in the world then is at home by the big fire. Summer months are rather cold and there can be a lot of rainy days. So most people who look forward to summer holidays, plan to go abroad for the summer.

The most unpleasant aspect of English weather is fog and smog. This is extremely bad in big cities especially in London. The fog spreads everywhere so cars move along slowly and people can't see each other. They try not to be run over by a car but still accidents are frequent in the fog

The United Kingdom and Its Component Parts

As it has already been said, the British Isles today are shared by two separate and independent states. The smaller of these is the Republic of Ireland, with its capital in Dublin. The larger, with London as its capital, is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This long title (usually shortened to the United Kingdom or UK) is the result of a complicated history.

The island of Great Britain contains three “nations” which were separate at earlier stages of their history: England, Scotland and Wales. Wales had become part of the English administrative system by the sixteenth century. Scotland was not completely united with England until 1707. The United Kingdom is a name which was introduced in 1801 when Great Britain became united with Ireland. When the Republic of Ireland became independent of London in 1922, the title was changed to its present form.


The Largest Part of the UK

Of the four parts which make up Great Britain England is the largest, the most industrial and most densely populated part of the United Kingdom. Over 46 million people out of the population of the UK live in England.

The greatest concentrations of population are in London, Birmingham and northwest industrial cities. The coasts of England are washed by the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the English Channel and the Strait of Dover. No part of England is more than 120 kilometres from the sea.

It is interesting to note that the sea has always been important in the history of England. It was a good protection against the attacks of outside peoples. Fishing has always been an important industry, especially in the east. The sea also has a great effect on England's climate.

There are many rivers in England. The longest is the Severn (388 km), the most important is the Thames (354 km). The rivers are of great importance for communication and especially for carrying goods.

England is mostly a lowland country. There are upland regions in the north and the southwest, but the rest of England is almost flat.

Northern England, Midlands and South England - each part of England is different. Lake District in Northern England with its lakes, mountains and valleys is a favourite holiday resort. On either side of the Pennines the plains of Yorkshire and Lancashire stretch to the sea. Swift rivers that flow down from the hills into valleys are called “dales”.

The wool industry is centred in Leeds and Bradford, the cotton industry in Manchester, the iron ore goes to the steel, heavy machinery and shipbuilding industries of Newcastle and other cities. The industries of Midlands with Birmingham as its chief city produce metal goods, from motor car and railway engines to pins and buttons. The Midland plain makes farming land.

In South England between Highlands lie Lowlands. In this part of England some of the oldest British settlements and traces of ancient monuments such as Stonehenge are found. London is the chief city of South England.

The Southeast

The Southeast is the most densely populated region of England. It is only 11 per cent of the land area of the country, but a third of the total population lives here. Because of this a large part of the region is affected by urban development: housing, factories, offices and a complex network of roads and motorways. However, there is still attractive countryside to be found in all counties outside the influence of London. The south cost has a mild and sunny climate which makes it popular both with holiday-makers and with the elderly, who find it a comfortable area to retire to.

The county of Kent is known as the Garden of England because it produces a lot of the fruit and vegetables which are eaten all over the country. The soil and climate make ideal growing conditions.

Brighton, on the south coast, is a famous seaside resort. There are entertainments of all kinds. Brighton Pier is a popular place to spend a few hours, especially if the weather is not good enough to stay on the beach. Brighton is also well known as a conference centre, all the major political parties, as well as the Trade Union Congress, may hold their conferences there in autumn.

Canterbury is a town in Kent with a population of about 120,000. It is the religious capital of England because its cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is head of the Church of England.

From the 12th to the 15th centuries, it was a place of pilgrimage. Thousands of people came to pray at the shrine of a former Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170. His name was Thomas Becket.

The best-known Canterbury pilgrims are probably those who appear in the book by Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Canterbury Tales”. It was written in the 14th century, when the pilgrimage had become a rather pleasant holiday for the groups of people who travelled together for protection and companionship. “The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories told by the members of a group of pilgrims. Through the stories we get a vivid picture of the religious and social life of the 14th century. There are twenty-nine pilgrims altogether, including a knight, a doctor, a miller, a middle-aged widow and numerous members of religious orders of one kind or another.

East Anglia

East Anglia is extremely flat, and it is dominated by agriculture. It has beautiful cities with fine historic buildings (such as Cambridge, Ely, Norwich, Peterborough and Colchester), and it has many sandy beaches and inland waterways.

In mediaeval times, it became rich because of the wool trade. It was not affected by the industrial revolution, and even today there is little heavy industry. It was, however, the home of the agricultural revolution and is now best known as a farming region.

It is rather isolated from the rest of Britain because of its position away from the main national routes and because of its shape. It is more than half surrounded by sea.

Cambridge must be one of the best-known towns in the world. The principal reason for its fame is its University, which started during the 13th century and grew rapidly, until today there are more than twenty colleges. Most of them allow visitors to enter the grounds and courtyards. The most popular place from which to view them is from the Backs, where the college grounds go down to the river Cam.

Every year, in summer, thousands of folk music fans arrive in Cambridge for one of the biggest festivals of folk music in England. The festival is held in the grounds of an old house, where there is plenty of room for people to put up their tents if they want to stay overnight.

The Midlands, the Heart of England

Birmingham is the most important city in the Midlands, one of England's most productive regions, with large industrial areas such as the Black Country in the West Midlands. However, there is also a lot of farming country, for example in the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Leicestershire. This region has some beautiful countryside in the Peak District National Park, the Cotswold Hills and the Malvern Hills.

Stratford-upon-Avon is well-known all over the world. Here, at Henley Street, a son was born to John and Mary Shakespeare in April 1564. His mother was the daughter of Robert Arden, an important farmer in Warwickshire. His father was a rich citizen whose business was making and selling leather gloves.

The parents did not guess that their son, William, was going to be such an important figure in English poetry and drama, and that his plays would still be acted four hundred years later-not only in England, but all over the world!

While still a teenager of nineteen, William married Anne Hathaway, a farmer's daughter some years older than himself. We don't know how he earned his living during these early years. He may have helped his father in the family business or he may have been a country schoolmaster for a time. During these years his three children were born: Susannah, the eldest, then twins-a son, Hamnet (not Hamlet!), and another girl, Judith. In 1587 Shakespeare went to work in London, leaving Anne and the children at home. One story says this is because he killed some deer which belonged to a rich landowner nearby, and that he had to run away from the law.

Shakespeare soon began to act and to write plays. By 1592 he was an important member of a well-known acting company, and in 1599 the famous Globe Theatre was built on the south bank of the river Thames. It was in this theatre that most of his plays were performed and, like all Elizabethan theatres, it was a round building with a stage in the centre open to the sky. If it rained, the actors got wet! If the weather was too bad, there was no performance.

By 1603, the year when Queen Elizabeth I died, Shakespeare was already the leading poet and dramatist of his time. He continued to write for the next ten years, but in 1613 he finally stopped writing and went to live in Stradford where he died in 1616. He is buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stradford-upon-Avon.

Ben Jonson, who lived from 1572 to 1637, and who was also a famous writer of plays, called Shakespeare “Sweet swan of Avon”. Shakespeare has been known as the “Swan of Avon” ever since.

There has been a town where Oxford now stands for many centuries-even before 912, the first written record of its existence.

The University began to establish itself in the middle of the 12th century, and by 1300 there were already 1,500 students. At this time Oxford was a wealthy town, but by the middle of the 14th century it was poorer, because of a decline in trade and because of the terrible plague, which killed many people in England. Relations between the students and the townspeople were very unfriendly, and there was often fighting in the streets. On 10th February 1355, the festival of St. Scholastica, a battle began which lasted two days. The townspeople were punished for this in two ways: they had to walk through the town to attend a special service on every St. Scholastica's day until 1825. Worse than this, the University was given control of the town for nearly 600 years.

Nowadays, there are about 12,000 students in Oxford, and the University and the town live happily side by side!

However, Oxford is not only famous for its University and its magnificent architecture. (The best-known description of Oxford is by Matthrew Arnold, the 19th century poet, who wrote about “that sweet city with her dreaming spires”.) In the 20th century, it has developed quickly as an industrial and commercial centre. The British Leyland factory at Cowley, for example, is an important part of Britain's motor industry. It is also an important centre in the world of medicine, it is the home of Oxfam, the charity which raises millions of pounds to help poor people all over the world; and its airport contains Europe's leading airtraining school.

* * *

On Wednesday 24th October 1962, Love Me Do, entered the British Top Thirty. It was the first single by an unknown group from Liverpool called The Beatles. It was the first of a number of big hits that would make John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr the most successful group the world has ever known.

However, the road to success was not always easy. John and Paul had spent many afternoons listening to American stars like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley before they were able to write the famous Lennon and McCartney songs.

Although the long evenings spent playing in hot nightclubs in Liverpool and Hamburg in Germany had not earned them much money, they found the experience very useful when playing to huge audiences later on.

Not only was their style of singing new and exciting but their unusual haircuts - Beatle “mops”! - and crazy sense of humour immediately became the latest fashion.

One of the most important people at the start of their careers was Brian Epstein, a Liverpudlian record-dealer. He managed to change four ordinary working-class lads into international superstars. George Martin, their record producer, encouraged them to introduce all kinds of unusual instruments on their records and combined popular and classical styles in a new and original way.

During the 1960s the Beatles were always in the news headlines; films, world tours and sometimes scandal. John once suggested that the Beatles were better known than Jesus Christ. This caused hundreds of young Americans to burn their Beatle records. In addition some people thought there were hidden messages about drugs in some of the songs.

After a decade of successful music and films, the Beatles finally decided to break up in the early seventies, after public disagreements about money and personalities.

Although many fans hoped there would be a reunion throughout the 1970s, this became impossible with the tragic murder of John Lennon in New York in 1980.

The surviving Beatles are still deeply involved in musical and film projects, but many fans still long for the music of the 60s.

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