The United Kingdom is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. In 2019, 93.1 million people travelled to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland from other countries to see the sights, go shopping, and learn more about the culture there.
Whether you’ve been to the UK or not, you probably know plenty of facts about it. Of course, we all know that the country is led by the Queen whose name is Elizabeth. The capital city, London, is located in the south and is packed with iconic red double-decker buses and black cabs. And which side of the road do these vehicles drive on? The left, of course, the same as only a handful of other countries on the planet.
But there are many other facts about the UK that you probably didn’t know about; here are some of them.
1. The Official Language of England Used to Be French
England and France are two historic and powerful countries separated by a thin strip of water. Across centuries, a rivalry has built up between either side of the Channel which, today, has resulted in many humorous but well-meaning jokes about each other.
Despite all the bickering and banter, the two sides do get on well with many Brits having connections to friends, colleagues, and loved ones in France and vice versa.
Part of this comes from the historical ties between the two populations. One of the most notable events that bound the two countries together was the Norman Conquest of 1066 when William the Conqueror lived up to his name and took control of England. For the next three centuries, the official language of the country became French, though English was still spoken by the lower classes.
2. Brits Created Their Own Version of Roulette
Roulette is a game that most of us are familiar with. Today, it’s possible to play many different variants of it online at sites like PokerStars Casino, with popular options including European and American rules which use different numbers of pockets to change the house edge.
The game was actually created by a French inventor called Blaise Pascal, though his original intention was to build a perpetual motion machine. While he failed to achieve his goal, the legacy of his work lives on today.
Like many things from the continent, Brits created their own version in the 1960s. This British roulette came about because of a quirk in the law which meant that casino owners couldn’t make a profit from their games. So, while European and American roulette wheels had green pockets, British ones were strictly red and black only creating odds of 50/50 for both red and black.
The UK game is very rare today as the law was quickly changed, but you might discover the occasional historic table every now and then.
3. London Invented the Underground Rail System and It Had a Second Secret One
Most major cities around the world now have metro systems. These underground railways move millions of people each day as they go from home to work and back again. They’re much faster than travelling on the surface since they can pass under buildings and avoid traffic.
The world’s commuters have the United Kingdom to thank for this convenience as it was in London where the first underground rail network was constructed. Opened in 1863, The Metropolitan Railway ran between Paddington and Farringdon, a relatively short journey.
In 2022, the London Underground network has 11 lines spanning 402km (250 miles) that cover 272 separate stations.
But that isn’t the only railway that lives below the streets of the capital city. In 1927, the Post Office opened its London Post Office Railway network to ferry letters and parcels across the city without the risk of theft which was common at the time.
The system, which was nicknamed Mail Rail, ran all the way up until 2003. In 2017, the Postal Museum reopened the tunnels for the public to get a glimpse of the system. It’s a tight squeeze as humans are somewhat bigger than a bag of letters, but it’s worth it to see this unique piece of history.
4. Brits Have Separate Taps in Their Sinks Due to an Old Quirk
If Britain is famous for anything, it’s that it loves its traditions. There are, of course, plenty of famous examples of this, including the nation’s love of tea, its strangely-shaped police helmets, and the pomp and ceremony seen at major events.
A lesser-known example of British tradition is one that often leaves foreign visitors to the country scratching their heads.
On your first visit to a bathroom in the UK, you’ll most likely notice that there are two separate taps (faucets) attached to the sink, one labeled hot and the other cold. This means that there is no way to get an ideal temperature of water, you just have to pick freezing cold or boiling hot.
The reason for this Sophie’s choice of water temperatures is due to a historic quirk in the design of British homes.
When running water systems were first installed, the hot water was usually stored in a tank in the roof. To save money and resources, the top of the tank was left uncovered. This meant that animals, dust, and dirt could find their way into the tank, making it unsafe to drink.
Therefore, the two systems weren’t allowed to connect since the hot would contaminate the clean cold water. So at the time, the solution was to just use two separate taps.
Today, these open-top hot water systems are a thing of the past and hot water is (generally) safe to drink. However, due to tradition and an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude, many sinks continue to have two separate taps.
Gradually, Brits are being won over by mixer-taps, but it’s a slow and gradual process that is unlikely to be over anytime soon.