The British have a long and interesting history. After having established themselves as a superpower, they have conquered, flourished and are now a substantial part of three continents. Despite all their might and power, they couldn’t escape the strange events that were part of their history. Here we’ve gathered some weird facts about British history that you wouldn’t want to miss…
1. During the First World War, the secret service agents used semen as invisible ink. They had a motto “Every man his own stylo”.
According to the diary of Walter Kirke, during World War I, the Deputy Head of Military Intelligence in France, Mansfield Cumming, used invisible ink to communicate secret messages. He was told that using semen was best for this purpose because it didn’t react to any regular methods used for detection such as iodine vapors. The method was soon abandoned because of the smell the receiver got.(1, 2)
2. Margaret Thatcher, first female British prime minister, was part of the team that was improving soft serve ice creams.
Mister Softee is a US ice cream distributor that had then partnered with J. Lyons and Co. where Margaret Thatcher was working. They were trying to develop a soft serve recipe that they could use on their machines. While Thatcher was at Lyons, she worked on cakes and pies as well, apart from ice creams. Referring to her work, her opponents often commented on her politics saying she “added air, lowered quality and raised profits”.(source)
3. King Henry III had a polar bear in his Royal Menagerie. It went fishing in River Thames and attracted many viewers.
Haakon IV of Norway is said to have gifted a polar bear to King Henry III. The King’s fancies were a problem for the sheriffs because they were ordered to pay four pence per day for the bear’s upkeep in the year 1251. That wasn’t all that the King did for his animals. He ordered the sheriffs again in 1254 to financially support the construction of an elephant house at the Tower. After his demise, the Kings and Queens continuously received many animals as gifts with the result that by 1828, there were more than 280 animals of 60 different species.(source)
4. King Henry VIII introduced tax on beards in the 16th century. The tax varied on the social status of the man sporting the beard.
The tax was reintroduced by the King’s daughter Elizabeth I for every beard that was older than two weeks. England was not the only country that had the beard tax. As part of modernization of Russia, Emperor Peter I introduced it as well. Whoever paid the tax, received a copper or silver token and whoever did not, was forcibly and publicly shaved.(source)
5. The City of London sold the 1831 London Bridge because it wasn’t strong enough to support the increased traffic in 1967. The bridge was bought by Robert P. McCulloch and relocated to Arizona, US.
The 1831 London Bridge was built by John Rennie and his son across River Thames. In 1967, the bridge was dismantled, after being sold, to be shipped to Arizona. The bridge finished being reassembled in 1971 across Lake Havasu which McCulloch received from the US government for free with a promise to develop it. It took almost a year to take the bridge apart, ship it to Port of Long Beach and transport it by land to the lake. The assembly and reconstruction took around three years to finish.(source)
6. During the late 19th century, an attempt to suicide was treated at par with attempt to murder and was punishable by hanging the offender.
Suicide was widely considered as against since the dawn of Christianity and other modern religions. The Church either excommunicated anyone who attempted suicide or punished them. One such practice was seen in France in the 17th century when the person was dragged into the streets face down, then hung or thrown onto a garbage heap along with confiscation of property. There were many people through history including Thomas Moore who supported the victims.(1, 2)
7. In the early 19th century, the British government spent 40 percent of its annual expenditure to free slaves and as compensation for slave owners’.
According to the terms of Slavery Abolition Act, the British government raised 20 million pounds, which equals 69.93 billion pounds as of 2013, along with an additional 400, 000 pounds (1.4 billion as of 2013) to free slaves. The Act provided compensation for slave owners who would be losing their property. The movement to abolish slavery started as early as 1772 when a slave was freed in England after Lord Mansfield’s judgement. Since then there have been many anti-slavery movements that set into motion its complete abolition.(source)