Local traditions and culture in United Kingdom

  • Handsworth 'Mummers'
    Handsworth 'Mummers'
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    Terry Gorman Picture of 'Coles Corner'
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Most Viewed Local Customs in United Kingdom

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    by HackneyBird Written Sep 3, 2014

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    The word 'wassail' originates from Saxon times and means to be merry or cheery and is essentially an early form of the toast 'good health' or 'cheers'.

    It also alludes to the spiced drink or cider or ale, which, served hot, formed a part of the wassailing ceremonies traditionally held at Christmas time and New Year since the Middle Ages.

    Part of these ceremonies involved drinking from a cup or bowl filled with wassail, which was passed from person to person. Wassailers also went from house to house, begging for money or food for which they gave a song or a drink from the ceremonial bowl in return.

    Dating back to the fifteenth century, the wassailing of apple trees was practiced to ensure a good crop in the coming year in the apple growing and cider producing counties of the UK. Professional wassailers traveled from farm to farm and were payed for their services in food and drink.

    The wassailers would gather in the orchards, usually on Twelfth Night, the evening before Epiphany on 6th January, where they would sing folk songs and drink to the trees health. Hot cider was poured over the trees roots and bread soaked in cider was hung from the branches as an offering for the birds that guarded them. The wassailers then made much noise, howling and shouting to frighten off any passing evil spirits as well as any potential pests to the trees.

    Over the last hundred years, the wassailing ceremony has been revived in certain parts of the UK. The most well known ceremony, which ends in gunfire over the trees, is held at the village of Carthampton in Somerset.

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    Address to a Haggis

    by HackneyBird Written Sep 3, 2014

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    'Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face
    Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!'
    from 'Address to a Haggis' by Robert Burns.

    The haggis, a sheep's stomach stuffed with offal, spices and oatmeal, is the most well-known of Scottish dishes and forms the centrepiece of a Burn's Night supper: an evening of kilts, dancing, bagpipe-playing and all round drunken revelry.

    Burn's Night, held to commemorate the birth of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns in 1759, is held on 25 January every year. The first Burn's Night supper was held in 1796, but it wasn't until a century after the poet's birth that it became a Scottish institution.

    The guests are piped into dinner by a piper playing a traditional Scottish tune and once they are seated the host says 'The Selkirk Grace'. After the starter, usually a simple soup, everyone stands for the entrance of the haggis, which is brought to the host's table on a silver platter, led by a piper while the guests clap along to the tune. A speaker then recites Robert Burn's poem 'Address to a Haggis'.

    When the speaker reaches the line 'His knife see rustic Labour dight', he draws a knife and, at the line 'An cut you up wi' ready sleight', plunges it into the haggis, and slits the skin from end to end, spilling its contents onto the platter. A whiskey toast then follows and the guests are served the haggis along with neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes) all washed down with plenty of alcohol. The meal is followed by more speeches, poems, toasts and songs.

    At the evenings end, everyone present joins hand and sings 'Auld Lang Syne', Robert Burn's most famous work.

    Haggis, neeps and tatties
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    by arturowan Written Nov 26, 2014

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    A folly is a building with no actual purpose, built for its ornamental value alone, typically in the grounds of stately homes & parks...
    It should not be surprising then, that there are many such of these ornamental structures to be found throughout the British Isles...
    Most follies were constructed during the 18th Century, but their architectural-style is usually outside that of their own era...
    A folly is usually striking in its appearance, being an extreme form of fantastic Gothic, or in a style of architecture imported from other cultures, such as Tatar or Turkish tent, Egyptian pyramid, Japanese bridge, or Chinese pagoda...
    However, the most extreme example must be the Dunmore Pineapple in Scotland, with its stone roof shaped like a giant fruit...
    Although follies were really just a way for a landowner to demonstrate that they had enough extra cash in order to build something of no practical purpose, some were built in order to give employment to out-of-work artisans, during periods of low employment...
    There is some debate over what constitutes an actual folly, or just fantastic architecture - Freston Folly in Suffolk, said to be the oldest example of a folly in England, is a 6-storey, redbrick tower, which though it has no apparent purpose, could be used as a functional building...
    If a landowner really wanted to show-off, it was once fashionable to employ a resident hermit to inhabit the folly in his grounds!
    2 follies are to be found in Colchester, in the Castle Park, & at The Minories Art Gallery (see separate tips...)

    Gothic folly @ The Minories, Colchester...
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    Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail...

    by arturowan Written Oct 27, 2014

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    The Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail was founded in July 2004
    It is an initiative to promote better understanding of the Sikh faith in UK...
    Maharajah Duleep Singh was the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire - he emigrated to London with his wife, Maharani Duleep 0f Lahore, in 1945
    Their son, Prince Freddy, was born in London, before taking residence on the country estate at Blo' Norton (see separate Thetford tip...)
    Places & monuments to the Duleep Singh dynasty, whose trust fund has partially funded the initiative, are part of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail, as are other locations relevant to the Sikh culture around Britain...
    Eastnor Castle, which contains the first private collection of Sikh artefacts, might be regarded as the starting-point for the trail...

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    UK Passport...

    by arturowan Written Jan 21, 2015

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    The British passport is issued to anybody resident within the United Kingdom 0f Great Britain & Northern Island, & is valid for 10 years...
    The British passport was originally introduced in 1920, in a blue-cover; in 1998 the design was replaced with the current burgundy cover, but retained the 32-page format...
    The British Passport has become more than just a document & is an artwork in itself with pages featuring engravings of all the contrasting wildlife habitats in the British Isles, under the page titles;
    Geological Formation
    Fishing Village
    Coastal Cliff
    Formal Park
    Village Green (!)
    The British passport permits unlimited, visa-free travel within the EU member states, as well as other European countries, including Ukraine, & some nations outside Europe...
    Plans to replace this item of national heritage, by the Blair/Brown government, & to replace the passport with a plastic ID-card, were mercifully scrapped by the Coalition that replaced them...

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    British Beer!

    by Bjorgvin Updated Sep 25, 2003

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    1 pint = No change to your English
    2 pints = Your English goes up a level
    3 pints = Your English goes up a level
    (but the grammar disappears)
    4 pints = You become very fluent, but start mixing English with your own language
    5 pints = You discover you can sing in English, and are brilliant at karaoke
    6 pints = You suddenly know lots of taboo words in English (fortunately no one else seems to understand them)
    7 pints = You can?t speak English at all (and also forget your own language)
    over 7 = You start speaking American English

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    by leics Written Apr 28, 2004

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    'Good morning', 'good afternoon' and 'good evening' are all formal, and mainly used for sevices (e.g. in hotels) and if you don't know the person very well. To be less formal (for example, when greeting a stranger on a country walk) we often miss out the 'good' part' and just say 'morning', 'afternoon', evening'.

    'Hello' is often used on the phone, and is also suitable for meeting people in a less formal situation.

    'Hi' is very informal, is not often used by elderly people and is best kept for friends or for meeting new people in a relaxed situation.

    When we leave formally, we say 'goodbye', but often shorten this to 'bye' in less formal situations. There are also many informal ways to take your leave ....'see ya (you)'. 'tara', 'cheerio' etc.

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    April Fool's Day

    by leics Updated Nov 11, 2011

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    April 1st is April Fool's Day, when you can play tricks and jokes until midday.

    There are usually joke articles in newspapers, and sometimes on radio, television and websites as well.

    If you catch someone out with a trick, they are an 'April Fool'....but if you try a trick after 12 noon then you are the 'April fool'.

    The origins of the tradition are unclear but probably go way back to Medieval times (the Middle Ages, roughly 900-1600 in the UK). It possibly began with the Roman festival of 'Hilaria' (March 25th). Certainly the idea of a day 'for fools' has long been widespread in Europe. The French tradition on April 1st, for example, is the 'Poisson D'Avril', when one tries to attach a paper fish to the victim's back.

    Deer, deer (Leicestershire).
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    Pub Life

    by tvor Written Oct 13, 2004

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    Public Houses are a way of life in the U.K. and Ireland. The opening ours are mostly restricted and they usually close before midnight. Pubs are the heart of many villages and neighbourhoods. People meet and greet, gather to enjoy each other there. Beers and ales are wide and varied and it's fun to try different types. I've yet to pick a favourite, but i'm still looking. Pubs can be modern and cold, attracting the younger set. My favourites are the more traditional types of pubs. Most of them serve food and it's a great place to get relatively inexpensive meals and they aren't all deep fried heart attacks on plates anymore. Many of them are catering to more healthy choices and vegetarian choices as well as traditional fare like bangers (sausages) and mash (mashed potatoes loaded with gravy).

    A Ploughman's Lunch is often a filling meal, with cold meat, cheese, a dark rich relish called Branston pickle and let's not forget the pickled onion and sometimes, pate.

    You'll probably find some congenial company too. Well, at least the bartender will probably be chatty. Just remember, you have to get your drinks and order your food at the bar, they don't come to the table and wait on you. You don't tip either, but you can offer the bartender a drink and he or she will take the price of a drink from your change as the tip. "And one for yourself"

    Guide to pub etiquette:

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  • HackneyBird's Profile Photo

    'Saint Patrick was a Gentleman . . .'

    by HackneyBird Updated Sep 6, 2014

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    'Saint Patrick was a gentleman, who through strategy and stealth
    Drove all the snakes from Ireland, here's a drink to his health!
    But not too many drinks, lest we loose ourselves and then
    Forget the good Saint Patrick, and seem them snakes again!'
    Traditional Irish Toast.

    St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and his feast day is celebrated on 17th March, not only in Ireland but by Irish communities around the world.

    St Patrick was born in the fourth century somewhere in Britain. Evidence suggests that he was born in Northamptonshire, although some say it might have been Pembrokeshire or even London. There is also some suggestion that he was born near Glasgow, and in the Scottish Highlands his feast day is celebrated at the beginning of spring.

    As a young man, St Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. He later escaped, returned to England and became a priest. After he was ordained, he returned to Ireland and set about converting the Irish to Christianity. He used the three leaves of the shamrock (meaning 'little clover'), one of the national emblems of Ireland, to explain the Holy Trinity.

    Legend had it that he also set himself the task to catch all of Ireland's snakes in a box, which he then threw out to sea. The Irish Sea is said to have become extremely rough thereafter due to the writhing of the snakes as they tried to escape.

    St Patrick's Day is celebrated with parades, parties and general revelry and is still observed as a religious festival in Ireland.

    The flag of St Patrick
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    You may be thanked ..............

    by leics Written Apr 28, 2004

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    ......in several different ways. 'Thank you' and 'thank you very much' are quite formal, and are often replaced with just 'thanks'. 'Cheers' is increasingly popular (not just when you drink alcohol), and sometimes the( very informal) 'ta'. 'Much obliged' still exists, though it's a bit old-fashioned. English is a very confusing language!

    In Wales, of course, you may be thanked in Welsh ...diolch yn fawr (' dee-olk un vowr') which is often shortened to 'diolch'.

    Gloomy York summer's day
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    Nursery Rhymes...

    by arturowan Written Oct 22, 2014

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    Nursery Rhymes are typically regarded as short rhyming verses, intended to teach young children English language...
    However, the history of these verses goes back into the midsts of time, & many were written originally for reasons that were far removed from children's education...

    Humpty-Dumpty (see separate Colchester page...)
    Humpty-Dumpty is today a character comprising legs & arms, projecting from an egg, but this image is due to Victorian illustrators, for such books as Alice Through The Looking Glass...
    The quatrain itself makes no description of an egg, or anything else that Humpty-Dumpty actually was...
    Humpty-Dumpty was once slang for a glass of brandy; it was also slang for a short & clumsy person!
    Humpty-Dumpty has been attached to various persons important at crucial moments of British history, including Richard III (the humpback) at Bosworth Field...
    Humpty-Dumpty is often associated with the English Civil War, both as character & machine;
    Humpty-Dumpty has been said to have been the name of a 'tortoise' siege engine - an armoured frame used unsuccessfully by the Cavaliers during the Siege 0f Gloucester...
    Humpty-Dumpty has also been the name given to a cannon mounted on the Roman Wall in Colchester, by the Royalist defenders in 1648
    It is said to have fallen off when the Cavaliers attempted to raise it further out of reach of the Parliamentarians during the Siege 0f Colchester...
    Another version of the story, claims that it was a Royalist operating the cannon, who was known by the nickname; Humpty-Dumpty...
    However, no direct link with the original rhyme has ever been produced to support the contention that Humpty-Dumpty was ever such a historical figure...
    Humpty-Dumpty's identity has to be regarded as lost in time...

    London Bridge Is Falling Down
    Maybe the best known Englsh Nursery Rhyme, worldwide, refers to the famous London landmark brdige...
    Akin to many such nursery Rhymes, the basic verse is a quatrain, which emphasises double-repitition of keywords; which became traditional children's accompaniment to playground games, performed to the tune of 0ranges & Lemons...
    There is a theory that the involvement of children in the rhyme is actually quite sinister, due to the belief that a child was sacrificed on the site of the actual London Bridge...
    However, there is no archeological eveidence in order to support this theory, though the tradition that a human sacrifice lies under the Stoneleigh Park home of the Leigh family, is thought to be connected...
    The anonymous Fair Lady of the rhyme, who is frequently mentioned, but never identified, might be Lady Leigh...

    0ld King Cole
    This double-quatrain is thought to derive from the ancient Welsh, as Cole is a Brythronic name...
    Coel Hen was leader of the 0ld North, that area north of the Roman Hadrian's Wall...

    Ring A Ring 0' Roses
    This quatrain nursery rhyme & playground game, is also on the theme of death;
    "We all fall down" = collapsing from the Great Plague of 1665, (or Black Death of 1348)

    Who Killed Cock Robin?
    This quatrain was first recorded in the 18th Century, but it is thought to be much more ancient than that...
    The identity of Robin is ambiguous, but the obvious candidate would be Robin Hood...
    However, Robin Hood himself is a mythical character, connected with the 0ld Greenwood in such a folkloric way, that he was probably never an actual person, so this would mean that the death of Cock Robin refers to the incursion of winter on the land...
    Another theory is that the rhyme is a parody of the assasination of William Rufus in the New Forest in 1100
    The rhyme may originate with Norse mythology, whose god Baldur, is also sacrificed by shooting with an arrow...

    Jack & Jill
    This quatrain poses the nonsense theme that is typical of nursery rhymes;
    The pair concerned are said to go up the hill in order to find water, yet water naturally runs to the bottom of an incline...
    Although numerous, over-complicated, 'historical interpretations' of the verse exist, none of them really make any good sense...
    Jack is a popular boys name throughout English folklore, & has become associated with numerous rogues & villains, actually Christened other names...
    Jill, or Gill as was the original spelling, was the traditional name for a sweetheart...
    So, the most likely explanation for the simple tale, is that the pair were only using the fetching of water, in order to go to the hill, in order to do something else...

    Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
    This quatrain is believed to be 1 of the first political protest songs, although argument now exists as to what it was about...
    Some claim it was a protest about the wool taxes imposed during Medieval times, but others say it was written against the slave trade...
    This simple rhyme has incurred the wrath of politically correct campaigners, who regard the use of the word 'black' as a racial slur...
    In some nursery schools in Britain today, the rhyme is taught as Baa, Baa, Rainbow Sheep (!)

    Humpty-Dumpty gets everywhere!
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    by lou31 Written Jun 8, 2005

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    Tipping is a nationwide custom in Britain and for good reason. From what I've been told some employees have to rely on tips to make up their income as wages sometimes are not that good.
    Coming from Australia I was not familiar with this custom but tried hard to comply. I did'nt eat in restaurants where table sevice was given so didn't need to tip waiters etc. Cafes had small bowls on the counter where spare change could be deposited.
    Taxi drivers were always well tipped as my luggage got a bit heavy and and I was grateful for their help.
    Sometimes I just completely forgot to tip someone and I absolutely refused to tip bad service.

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    Proper telephone boxes.

    by leics Written Jun 20, 2004

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    Our public telephone boxes used to be red, enclosed and much-loved (although frequently abused). British Telecom decided to do away with them in the 90's, but some still remain. You are most likely to find them in small villages, where local people felt strongly enough to fight to keep the traditional box, which fits in so much better than the ugly modern glass ones.

    A proper telephone box.
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    Fluorescent Yellow Clothing Everywhere

    by scotlandscotour Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Sunglasses needed!
    Lots of people in the UK are wearing bright fluorescent yellow jackets - luckily it is not sunny so often or your eyes would hurt!

    This is not fashion - it is purely "health and safety" gone mad. First it was cyclists and motorcyclists, to be seen by drivers. Then it progressed to construction workers and anyone near machines, like at harbours and airports. Then the police and traffic wardens and little children on their way to school in winter.

    Most clothing in UK is quite dull, so these "high visibility" yellow jackets are a sight for sore eyes.

    It has gone crazy.

    The man in this picture is a labourer on his lunch break - in Kirkwall, Orkney.

    Bright Fluorescent Yellow Jackets Everywhere
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United Kingdom Local Customs

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The UK is packed full of local traditions, customs, dialects and accents. We certainly don't all speak like the Queen, or even the BBC announcers! You'll find that each part of the country has...

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