13 (not so) British favourites

PUBLISHED: 17:54 31 March 2017 | UPDATED: 18:05 31 March 2017

(Delfi de la Rua/ Unsplash)

(Delfi de la Rua/ Unsplash)


You don’t have to be a rabid Brexiteer to feel a patriotic glow at the thought of tea, jam and fish-and-chips. But these and many other items are not quite so quintessentially British as they may seem

1. Fish’n’chips

Battered fried fish most likely arrived in Britain in the 16th Century when Jewish travellers from Spain brought their pescado frito recipe with them. Many food experts claim that chips originated in Belgium – but there’s an ongoing disagreement between the French and Belgians about this. It’s thought the first fish’n’chip shop opened in England in 1860, when Londoner Joseph Malin sold “fish fried in the Jewish fashion”.

2. Tea

Tea was first grown and drunk in China centuries before it reached England. From China it was introduced in the 19th century into India by the British. It became popular in India and Britain from then on, but it was not until the invention of the tea bag in New York in the early 20th century that its popularity really grew. Even then, it was not until the 1950s when British tea producer Tetley spotted the tea bag’s potential. Tetley sells around 200 million tea bags every week now.

3. Jam

The preservation of fruit into what we know as jam most likely first started in the Middle East. It’s thought knowledge of the process was brought back to Europe some time during the Crusades of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.

4. Biscuits

Romans had a biscuit called buccellum, that was boiled wheat flour spread on a plate until it hardened. It was cut up, fried crisp, then served with honey. Also, by the 7th century, Persian cooks were making bread-based mixtures with eggs, butter, and cream, then sweetening them with fruit and honey. With the arrival of the Moors in Spain plus the Crusades, the cooking skills and ingredients of north Africa and Arabia spread into northern Europe, including England.

5. Polo

The first-ever recorded polo tournament was in 600BC when the Turkomans (located primarily in Central Asia) beat the Persians. The game spread and became popular among Indians, introduced to it by Arabian travellers in the 13th century. The British then learned polo from Indians 500 to 600 years later.

6. Football

Ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have played games that involved kicking inflated balls. But it’s Tsu’ Chu, an ancient Chinese game involving kicking a ball through an opening into a net, that is seen by FIFA as the earliest form of football for which there is evidence. Britain’s claim as the originator of the game comes from the fact that in the mid-19th century some English public schools wrote rules for “mob football”, a game played between neighbouring villages with an unlimited number of players on opposing teams aiming to get an inflated animal’s bladder to a specified target. Those rules form the basis for the game the world loves today.7. Pubs

Say cheers to the Romans! When they created their road network, they opened places called Tabernae where travellers could take a break with food, wine and ale. These became the basis for our own much-loved taverns.

8. Mods

These provided one of the first English music fashions. Mods were initially a group who were into modern jazz – but who took their style inspiration from the French and Italians. It soon become known as a quintessentially English look.

9. Punk rock

Here’s another one that the English 
took and skilfully repackaged as their 

It was American music critic Dave Marsh who first used the words “punk rock”, in a 1971 issue of Creem magazine describing garage rock band ? And The Myterians as delivering a “landmark exposition of punk rock”.

Then in the mid-1970s the punk scene and its attitude started in New York, centring on the CBGB club with acts like Patti Smith, Television, the Stooges, New York Dolls and The Ramones.

It was Television’s bassist/singer Richard Hell with his spiked hair and ripped shirts, who Malcolm McLaren was inspired by when he returned from NY to manage the Sex Pistols in London.

10. Doctor Martens

From boot boys and skinheads to punks, goths and indie kids, Doc Martens are part of a look that is typically British. But it’s a look that started in Germany. Klaus Martens was a German doctor who designed some boots with air-padded soles made of tires to help him recover from a foot 

He started producing these and, by 1959, the company had grown large enough for Martens to start marketing the footwear internationally.

British shoe manufacturer R Griggs bought rights to manufacture the footwear, added the trademark yellow stitching, and trademarked the soles as AirWair. The first Dr Martens boots went on sale in the UK in 1960.

11. St George

The patron saint of England is actually thought to have been born in Turkey or Syria, possibly of Greek origin, and to have then gone on to become a Roman soldier. King Edward III made him England’s official saint in 1327 as he thought St 
George had possessed the characteristics that his kingdom wanted to project to the world.

As well as England, St George is the patron saint of Portugal, Malta, Georgia and Romania.

12. Morris dancing

The word “Morris” most likely derives from the word “Moorish” – and its popularity is thought to come from a 15th century European desire for Moorish spectacle.

These roots could explain the continuing tradition of some English dancers to black up their faces.

13. English language

It’s the world’s second most spoken language with more than 335 million native speakers and more than 600 million speaking it as a second language. But it’s borrowed a lot.

Even the name England is derived from the Old English name England, which means “land of the Angles”.

The Angles were one of the Germanic tribes that settled in England during the Middle Ages. Likewise, so many of our English words come from other nation’s words: in fact, the English language has smatterings of Latin, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese and Spanish, but is mostly made up of a strong mix of Scandinavian, French and German.

For instance, take the word “leave”: it comes from Old English “laefan” meaning “bequeath” or “allow to remain”, and is related to German “bleiben” – meaning to “remain”.

Now there’s a thought.

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