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United Kingdom

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Established as an independent monarchy many centuries ago, England in time achieved political control over the rest of the island, all the British Isles, and vast sections of the world, becoming the nucleus of one of the greatest empires in history. The capital, largest city, and chief port of England is London, with a population in 1996 of 7 million. It is also the capital of the United Kingdom and the site of the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations...

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United Kingdom


England (Latin Anglia), political division of the island of Great Britain, the principal division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. England occupies all of the island east of Wales and south of Scotland, other divisions of the island of Great Britain. Established as an independent monarchy many centuries ago, England in time achieved political control over the rest of the island, all the British Isles, and vast sections of the world, becoming the nucleus of one of the greatest empires in history. The capital, largest city, and chief port of England is London, with a population in 1996 of 7 million. It is also the capital of the United Kingdom and the site of the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations.

England is somewhat triangular in shape, with its apex at the mouth of the Tweed River. The eastern leg, bounded by the North Sea, extends generally southeast to the North Foreland, the northern extremity of the region called the Downs. The western leg of the triangle extends generally southwest from the mouth of the Tweed along the boundary with Scotland, the Irish Sea, St. George’s Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean to Land’s End, the westernmost extremity of England and of the island. The northern frontier extends from Solway Firth on the west along the Cheviot Hills to the mouth of the Tweed on the east. The base of the triangle fronts the English Channel and the Strait of Dover. The total area of England is 130,410 sq km (50,350 sq mi), 57 percent of the area of the island. This total, approximately the size of the state of North Carolina, includes the region of the Isles of Scilly, southwest of Land’s End in the Atlantic Ocean; the Isle of Wight, located off the southern coast; and the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea.

       II         THE LAND  
One of the principal physiographic features of England, as well as of the entire island of Great Britain, is the deeply indented coast. Most of the indentations are excellent natural harbors, easily accessible to deepwater shipping, a factor that has been decisive in the economic development and imperial expansion of England. By virtue of the high tides that prevail along the eastern coast, a number of rivers and their estuaries provide this region with safe anchorages. The most important of these belong to such ports as Newcastle upon Tyne, on the Tyne River; Middlesbrough, on the Tees River; Hull, on the Humber River; Great Yarmouth, on the estuary of the Yare River; and London, on the Thames River. The most important harbors on the southern coast include those of Dover, Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, and Plymouth. The western coast, considerably more broken than either the eastern or southern coast, also has numerous anchorages. Of outstanding commercial importance are the harbor of Bristol, at the confluence of Bristol Channel and the Severn River; and Liverpool Harbor, at the mouth of the Mersey River.

The terrain of England is diversified. The northern and western portions are generally mountainous. The principal highland region, the Pennine Chain (or Pennines), forms the backbone of northern England. It is composed of several ranges extending south from the Cheviot Hills to the valley of the Trent River and numerous spurs and extensions that radiate in all directions. The extreme elevation of the Pennine Chain and the highest summit in England is Scafell Pike (978 m/3,209 ft above sea level). A large portion of the area occupied by the Pennine Chain comprises the Lake District, one of the most picturesque regions in England. The terrain east of Wales and between the southern extremities of the Pennine Chain and Bristol Channel is an extension of the rolling plain that occupies most of central and eastern England. Much of the western part of this central region is known as the Midlands; it contains an area that is known as the Black Country because of its intensive industrial development. To the east lies The Fens, a vast drained marsh area. To the south of Bristol Channel an elevated plateau slopes upward, culminating in the barren uplands and moors of Cornwall and Devon. Dartmoor (about 600 m/about 2000 ft above sea level), one of the wildest tracts in England, is situated in this region. Successive ranges of chalk hills, seen from the English Channel as white cliffs, project eastward from Devon to the Strait of Dover.

       A         Climate  
As a result of the relative warmth of the nearby seas, England has a moderate climate, rarely marked by extremes of heat or cold. The mean annual temperature ranges between 11 C (52 F) in the south and 9 C (48 F) in the northeast. Seasonal temperatures vary between a mean of about 16 C (61 F) during July, the hottest month of the year, and 4 C (40 F) during January, the coldest month. The average January and July temperatures for the city of London are 4 C (40 F) and 18 C (64 F), respectively. Fogs, mists, and overcast skies are frequent, particularly in the Pennine and inland regions. Precipitation, heaviest during October, averages about 760 mm (about 30 in) annually in most of England.

       B         Natural Resources  
England has some agricultural and mineral resources but must rely on imports of both. Approximately two-fifths of the land area is arable, with the richest soils found in the east. Substantial reserves of iron ore are concentrated in Cumbria, Staffordshire, and Lancashire. Waterpower resources are small and mostly concentrated in the highlands of Cumbria, in northern England.

       C         Plants and Animals  
In early times, England, like most of the island of Great Britain, was heavily forested, chiefly with oak and beech in the lowlands and pine and birch in the mountainous areas. Woodlands now constitute about 8 percent of the total land area. Various types of fruit trees are cultivated, including the cherry, apple, and plum. A common shrub is a species of furze known locally as gorse. Numerous varieties of wildflowers are also found.

Among the chief indigenous fauna of England are several species of deer, fox, rabbit, hare, and badger. The most widespread bird is the meadow pipit, and sparrows are abundant. Grouse are found in the northern counties. Other familiar species are the crow, pigeon, rook, starling, and several members of the thrush family. Reptiles, of which only four species occur on the entire island of Great Britain, are rare in England. The most common freshwater fishes found in England are trout and salmon.

       III       POPULATION  
The great majority of the people of England, like those of the British Isles in general, are descended from early Celtic and Iberian peoples and later invaders of the islands, including the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans. After 1945 substantial numbers of blacks and Asians immigrated into the country. England, once a nation of small rural villages, has become highly urban since the early 19th century. For information on language and literature, see English Language; English Literature.

       A         Population Characteristics  
The population of England (1996) was 49,089,000. The overall population density of about 376 persons per sq km (about 975 per sq mi) was one of the highest in the world.

            B         Political Divisions  
For local governmental purposes, England is divided into 34  counties, 46 unitary authorities, and Greater London (established in 1965 as a separate administrative entity). The counties are subdivided into  districts, which together are further divided into parishes. Each level of local government is presided over by a council, the members of which are elected to four-year terms. In districts that have the title of city or

borough, the chairperson of the council is the mayor. The present counties and former counties of England are described in separate articles.

       C         Principal Cities  
After London, Birmingham, population (1995) 1,017,500, is the second largest city and is the center of an extensive industrial area that contains major concentrations of the automotive and other industries. Liverpool (470,800) is the second largest port and a major cargo export outlet for Britain; it is also a great commercial and industrial center. Manchester (432,600) is the chief commercial hub of the cotton and synthetic-fiber textile industries, as well as an important financial and commercial center and a major port. Among other important cities are Sheffield (528,500), the heavy engineering center famous for its high-quality steels, cutlery, and tools, and Bristol (400,700), a leading port and commercial center.

       D         Religion  The Church of England, a Protestant Episcopal denomination, is the state church and the nominal church of nearly three-fifths of the population. The denomination next in importance is the Roman Catholic church, which has about 6 million members in England. Among the numerous Protestant denominations are the Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Society of Friends. England also has thousands of Muslims and Jews. Large communities of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs have immigrated to England since the 1950s.

       E         Education  For the development and administration of the educational system, see United Kingdom. In England and Wales school attendance is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. About 90 percent of the elementary and secondary schools are organized and maintained by local education authorities and supported entirely by public funds; the remainder are voluntary schools, provided and maintained by a private body, usually of a religious denomination.

       E1       Elementary and Secondary Schools  In the mid-1980s about 7.7 million pupils were attending publicly maintained schools in England and Wales. Enrollment in independent schools was about 512,000; these private schools are referred to in England as “public” schools. The transfer from elementary to secondary school generally takes place at the age of 11.

       E2       Specialized Schools  Children with conditions such as blindness, deafness, mental retardation, or other disabilities are given special aid in ordinary schools or attend one of the day or boarding schools established for such children. In the mid-1980s these special schools numbered nearly 1500 in England alone.

       E3       Universities and Colleges  
In the mid-1980s some 500 institutions provided part-time or full-time education beyond the secondary level (called “further education”) for students who do not go to a university. These schools included colleges, polytechnics, and institutes of agriculture, art, commerce, and science. Colleges of education numbered about 60.

Of the 34 traditional degree-granting universities in England, all except Oxford and Cambridge (see Cambridge, University of; Oxford, University of) were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, many of them since World War II (1939-1945). In the mid-1980s full-time university students totaled more than 290,000 annually.

       F          Culture  
Little is known of the earliest inhabitants of England. The megaliths at Stonehenge and a prehistoric temple found at Stanton Drew in 1997 attest to the early presence of an able people, as do early historical and archaeological reports, but the first lasting influence on English culture was contributed by the Celts. Roads and ruins bear witness to the Roman occupation, which began with the invasion of Julius Caesar in 55 BC and extended until the 5th century AD. Christianity was introduced by Roman soldiers but made little headway with the populace, and its spread awaited the arrival of Saint Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, in the 6th century.

Following the Roman departure, the Saxons became dominant. A record of their era is provided by the annals known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and by the writings of Saint Bede the Venerable, the theologian and historian. The Norman Conquest in 1066 overthrew the Saxon dominance and, in its mixing of elements from the Saxon and Celtic past with the Norman, created a new culture. The Normans introduced feudalism and the French language to the upper classes. From the 11th to the 14th century French was used at court and in vernacular literature; Latin was used in scholarly literature.

A major task for William the Conqueror and his successors was the amalgamation of Norman and Saxon and their common defense against warlike factions in Scotland, Wales, and Scandinavia. A stable social order directed toward these goals evolved slowly; elements of it still persist today. For example, both the strong class system of the English and their hereditary peerage have their roots in the Norman period.

The decline of feudalism, starting late in the 14th century, led in England as elsewhere to the rise of cities and the development of a middle class. By the 14th century a national secular culture was beginning to emerge, and the English language (an amalgam of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French elements) was being adopted by the educated. The English, however, had unique limitations caused by the size of their island and the limited type and amount of resources found there. To fill their needs they developed into a nation of traders and mariners. The exploits of Sir Francis Drake and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) led to commercial advantage as much as to naval victories. Supremacy at sea not only gained England an empire but put the English in touch with peoples the world over. Wealth flowed back to the island in consequence, and so did ideas that enriched the traditions of England. Limited local workforces contributed to the invention of machines and to the earliest manifestations of what became known as the Industrial Revolution.

Among the prime traditions of the English are a fierce pride in their freedom, a unity against adversity, and an ability to bring differing factions together in compromise. Pride in being English is also a national trait, although the English show considerable diversity in habits, manners, and even in speech. Queen's Birthday, observed on the second Saturday in June, is an important day of celebration in England. The sports most favored are cricket, rugby football, association football (soccer), and tennis. Both dog and horse racing are also popular.

       F1        Libraries and Museums  More than 500 public library authorities administer some 40,000 branch libraries throughout Britain. Among the libraries in London are the British Library, the various divisions of which constitute the largest library in Britain; the University of London Central Library; the Science Museum Library; and the Public Record Office Library, which contains the National Archives. Many cities and towns have museums of art, natural history, and archaeology. The best-known and largest museum is the British Museum in London, which contains collections of art and archaeological specimens from all over the world. Other outstanding museums in London are the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

       F2        Art and Archaeology  See United Kingdom

       F3        Music  See Music, Western.

       F4        Literature  See English Literature.

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