The culture of England is defined by the idiosyncratic cultural norms of England and the English people. Owing to England’s influential position within the United Kingdom it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate English culture from the culture of the United Kingdom as a whole.
However, since Anglo-Saxon times, England has had its own unique culture, apart from Welsh, Scottish or Irish culture.
Architecture and gardens
English architecture begins with the architecture of the Anglo-Saxons. At least fifty surviving English churches are of Anglo-Saxon origin, although in some cases the Anglo-Saxon part is small and much-altered. All except one timber church are built of stone or brick, and in some cases show evidence of reused Roman work. The architectural character of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical buildings ranges from Coptic-influenced architecture in the early period, through Early Christian basilica influenced architecture, to (in the later Anglo-Saxon period) an architecture characterized by pilaster-strips, blank arcading, baluster shafts and triangular-headed openings. Almost no secular work remains above ground.
Following the Norman Conquest Romanesque architecture (known here as Norman architecture) superseded Anglo-Saxon architecture; later there was a period of transition into English Gothic architecture (of which there are three periods, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular). In early modern times there was an influence from Renaissance architecture until by the 18th century Gothic forms of architecture had been abandoned and various classical styles were adopted. During the Victorian period Neo-Gothic architecture was preferred for many types of buildings but this did not continue into the 20th century.
Other buildings such as cathedrals and parish churches are associated with a sense of traditional Englishness, as is often the palatial ‘stately home’. Many people are interested in the English country house and the rural lifestyle, evidenced by the number of visitors to properties managed by English Heritage and the National Trust.
Landscape gardening as developed by Capability Brown set an international trend for the English garden. Gardening, and visiting gardens, are regarded as typically English pursuits.
English seaside piersFollowing the building of the world’s first seaside pier in July 1814 in Ryde, Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, the pier became fashionable at seaside resorts in England and Wales during the Victorian era, peaking in the 1860s with 22 being built.Providing a walkway out to sea, the seaside pier is regarded among the finest Victorian architecture, and is an iconic symbol of the British seaside holiday. By 1914, more than 100 piers were located around the UK coast. Today there are approximately 55 seaside piers in the UK.A staple of British seaside culture, the quarrelsome couple Punch and Judy made their first recorded appearance in Covent Garden, London in 1662The various episodes of Punch and Judy are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy — often provoking shocked laughter — and are dominated by the anarchic clowning of Mr. PunchRegarded as British cultural icons, they appeared at a significant period in British history, with Glyn Edwards stating: “[Pulcinella] went down particularly well with Restoration British audiences, fun-starved after years of Puritanism. We soon changed Punch’s name, transformed him from a marionette to a hand puppet, and he became, really, a spirit of Britain – a subversive maverick who defies authority, a kind of puppet equivalent to our political cartoons
Astley’s Amphitheatre, London circa 1808. Astley performed stunts in a 42 ft diameter ring; the standard size used by circuses ever since
The circus is a traditional form of entertainment in the UK. Chipperfield’s Circus dates back more than 300 years in Britain, making it one of the oldest family circus dynasties. Philip Astley is regarded as the father of the modern circus. Following his invention of the circus ring in 1768, Astley’s Amphitheatre opened in London in 1773. As an equestrian master Astley had a skill for trick horse-riding, and when he added tumblers, tightrope-walkers, jugglers, performing dogs, and a clown to fill time between his own demonstrations – the modern circus was born.The Hughes Royal Circus was popular in London in the 1780s. Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, among the most popular circuses of Victorian England, showcased William Kite, which inspired John Lennon to write Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! on The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Joseph Grimaldi, the most celebrated of English clowns, is considered the father of modern clowning.The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event that has taken place on the streets of Notting Hill, London since 1966.Led by the British African-Caribbean community, the carnival has attracted around one million people, making it Britain’s biggest street festival and one of the largest in the world In 2006 the public voted the carnival onto the list of icons of England
The Christmas Pantomime 1890, UK. Pantomime plays a prominent role in British culture during the Christmas and New Year season.
Pantomime (often referred to as “panto”) is a British musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. It is performed in theatres throughout the UK during the Christmas and New Year season. The art originated in the 18th century with John Weaver, a dance master and choreographer at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in LondonIn 19th century England it acquired its present form, which includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, employing gender-crossing actors, combining topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale.It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience sing along with parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers, such as “It’s behind you
Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment popular from the early Victorian era to the mid 20th century. The precursor to variety shows of today, music hall involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts and variety entertainment. British performers who honed their skills at pantomime and music hall sketches include Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Dan Leno, Gertrude Lawrence and Harry ChampionBritish music hall comedian and theatre impresario Fred Karno developed a form of sketch comedy without dialogue in the 1890s, and Chaplin and Laurel were among the music hall comedians who worked for him.A leading film producer stated; “Fred Karno is not only a genius, he is the man who originated slapstick comedy. We in Hollywood owe much to him.
English philosophers include Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas More, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell.
In England, Christianity became the most practiced religion many centuries ago. Polytheistic religions, often referred to as paganism, were practised before Christianity took hold. These religions include Celtic polytheism, Norse paganism, Roman polytheism, and others. Some were introduced by the Anglo-Saxons, who had their origins in ancient Germanic tribes.
Christianity was first introduced through the Romans. According to legends the introduction of Christianity to England was due to Joseph of Arimathea who came to Glastonbury; there is also a legend of Saint Lucius. Archaeological evidence for Christian communities begins to appear in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Romano-British population after the withdrawal of the Roman legions was mostly Christian.
Christianity was reintroduced into England by missionaries from Scotland and from Continental Europe: the era of St Augustine (the first Archbishop of Canterbury) and the Celtic Christian missionaries in the north (notably St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert who came from Scotland) begins in 597 AD. The Synod of Whitby in 664 ultimately led to the English Church being fully part of Roman Catholicism. Early English Christian documents from this time include the 7th century illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels and the historical accounts written by the Venerable Bede. The Durham Gospels is a Gospel book produced at Lindisfarne.
In 1536, the Church in England split from Rome over the issue of the divorce (technically, the marriage annulment) of King Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon. The split led to the emergence of a separate ecclesiastical authority. Later the influence of the Reformation resulted in the Church of England adopting its distinctive reformed Catholic position known as Anglicanism which maintains episcopacy while adopting a Lutheran theology. For more detail of this period see the following article: Timeline of the English Reformation.
Today, the Church of England is the established church in England. It regards itself as in continuity with the pre-Reformation state Catholic church (something the Roman Catholic Church does not accept) and has been a distinct Anglican church since the settlement under Elizabeth I (with some disruption during the 17th-century Commonwealth period). The British Monarch is formally Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Its spiritual leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is regarded by convention as the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In practice the Church of England is governed by the General Synod, under the authority of Parliament. The Church of England’s mission to spread the Gospel has seen the establishment of many churches in the Anglican Communion throughout the world particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations.
A strong tradition of Methodism developed from the 18th century onward. The Methodist revival was started in England by a group of men including John Wesley and his younger brother Charles as a movement within the Church of England; it developed as a separate denomination after John Wesley’s death. Other non-conformist Protestant traditions were also established in England.
Saint George is recognised as the patron saint of England. Before Edward III, St Edmund was recognised as England’s patron saint, and the flag of England consists of the cross of St George. However, Saint Alban is venerated by some as England’s first Christian martyr.
Celebration of Christmas
In 17th-century England, the Puritans condemned the celebration of ChristmasIn contrast, the Anglican Church “pressed for a more elaborate observance of feasts, penitential seasons, and saints’ days. The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglicans and Puritans. The Catholic Church also responded, promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity. Following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I during the English Civil War, Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647
Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with “plow-boys” and “maidservants”, old Father Christmas and carol singing.The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban. Following the Restoration, Poor Robin’s Almanack contained the lines: “Now thanks to God for Charles return, Whose absence made old Christmas mourn. / For then we scarcely did it know, Whether it Christmas were or no.
The English have played a significant role in the development of science and engineering. Prominent individuals have included Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, Henry Cavendish, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Francis Crick, Abraham Darby, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, James Chadwick, Joseph Swan, Barnes Wallis, Alan Turing, Frank Whittle, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Stephen Hawking. Furthermore, it is home to the Royal Institution, the Royal Society, the Greenwich Observatory and its associated meridian.
Sport and leisure
There are many sports which have been codified by the English, and then spread worldwide, including badminton, cricket, croquet, football, field hockey, lawn tennis, rugby league, rugby union, table tennis and thoroughbred horse racing. In the late 18th century, the English game of rounders was transported to the American Colonies, where it evolved into baseball. Association football, cricket, rugby union and rugby league are considered to be the national sports of England.
The rules of football were first drafted in 1863 by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, and England has the oldest football clubs in the world. Recognised by FIFA as the birthplace of club football, Sheffield F.C., founded in 1857, is the world’s oldest football club. The first ever international football match was between England and Scotland in 1872 Referred to by the sport’s governing body FIFA as the “home of football”, England hosted the 1966 FIFA World Cup, and won the tournament With a British television audience of 32.3 million, the 1966 final is the most watched television event ever in the United Kingdom.The English Barclays Premier League is the most-watched football league in the world It’s biggest clubs include Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. The current champions are Leicester City who were 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the season. By some measures it was the greatest sporting upset ever: multiple bookmakers had never paid out at such long odds for any sport. As is the case throughout the UK, football in England is renowned for the intense rivalries between clubs and the passion of the supporters, which includes a tradition of football chants, such as, “You’re Not Singing Any More” (or its variant “We Can See You Sneaking Out!”), sung by jubilant fans towards the opposition fans who have gone silent (or left early).
First played in 1877, the Wimbledon Championships is the oldest tennis tournament in the world.
The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England in the 1860s,and after its creation, tennis spread throughout the upper-class English-speaking population, before spreading around the world.Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is credited as being a pioneer of the game.The world’s oldest tennis tournament, the Wimbledon championships, first occurred in 1877, and today the event takes place over two weeks in late June and early July.Created in the Tudor period in the court of Henry VIII, the English dessert Strawberries and cream is synonymous with the British summer, and is famously consumed at WimbledonEngland, and other countries in the United Kingdom, compete as a separate nations in some international sporting events, especially in football, cricket, rugby league and rugby union. The England cricket team actually represents England and Wales. However, in the Olympic Games, England competes as part of the Great Britain team. English supporters are now more likely to carry the Cross of Saint George flag than the British Union Flag.
Football maintains a consistent popularity across the country and is often indicative of trends across wider culture in England, such as in clothing and music. Different sports directly represent the different social classes within England. Rugby league, for instance, was traditionally associated with the old mill towns of north-west England, whereas cricket and rugby union have their origins in the private schools of the 18th and 19th centuries respectively.
The English use as their national flag the red cross of St George. St George’s Day in England is marked as the day of the patron saint, and is also celebrated as the day of birth and death of William Shakespeare.
In 1198, King Richard the Lionheart introduced the coat of arms of England, depicting “three lions”.The three lions form the basis of several emblems of English national sports teams, such as the England national football team,and the English national cricket team (though in blue rather than gold). The English oak and the Tudor rose are also English symbols, the latter of which is (although more modernised) used by the England national rugby union team.
England has no official anthem; however, the United Kingdom’s “God Save the Queen” is commonly used. Other songs are sometimes used, including “Land of Hope and Glory” (used as England’s anthem in the Commonwealth Games), “Jerusalem”, “Rule Britannia”, and “I Vow to Thee, My Country”. Moves by certain groups are encouraging adoption of an official English anthem following similar occurrences in Scotland and Wales