Majesty and Machinations: A Glimpse into Pre-1900s United Kingdom

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1 Medieval Weapon Laws

Medieval Weapon Laws

In medieval England, all freemen were legally required to possess weapons and armor based on their wealth. This ranged from basic gambesons and iron caps for the poorest to mail shirts and helmets for the wealthiest.

2 Bridgewater Canal Revolution

Bridgewater Canal Revolution

Nearly a century prior to the advent of railways, England’s Bridgewater Canal revolutionized transportation. A lone horse could pull 30 tons of coal, halving fuel costs. This achievement sparked an 18th-century “canal mania,” igniting the Industrial Revolution. Birmingham still has its canal, and their success inspired the construction of the enduring Erie Canal in the US.

3 Ashes of Cricket

Ashes of Cricket

When Australia defeated England in 1882’s cricket match, a British newspaper declared English cricket dead in an obituary. The ashes, symbolizing its demise, were placed in an urn, and both teams still compete to win that urn back every two years.

4 Burning for Treason

Burning for Treason

The last woman to be executed by burning at the stake in England (1789) was not killed for witchcraft but for counterfeiting coins, seen as a crime against the king and therefore treason. Catherine Murphy’s husband was hanged for the same offense.

5 Eel Currency Rentals

Eel Currency Rentals

In medieval England, eels were used and accepted, to an extent, as currency, mostly in rental agreements. Many rental agreements where the landlord stipulated the rent due in “eel currency” have been found. 25 eels would be a “stick,” and 10 sticks were a bind.

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6 Red Flag Carriages

Red Flag Carriages

United Kingdom’s Locomotives Act 1865, which mandated that motor vehicles abide by a 2 to 4 mph speed limit, be crewed by a minimum of three persons, and have a man walk at least 55 meters ahead of the vehicle, waving a red flag and sounding a horn.

7 Penny Public Toilets

Penny Public Toilets

George Jennings invented the public toilet. It premiered at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and cost one penny to use the toilet. Since then, “to spend a penny” became a euphemism for going to the toilet in the United Kingdom.

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8 Anti-Christmas Patrols

Anti-Christmas Patrols

In 1656, soldiers in the City of London were ordered to patrol the streets and seize any food they discovered being prepared for Christmas celebrations. They saw Christmas as a wasteful festival that threatened Christian beliefs.

9 Scotland’s Colonial Failure

Scotland's Colonial Failure

The Darien Scheme of 1698 was Scotland’s sole attempt at colonization. The effort failed but cost £400,000 (£71 million inflation-adjusted), which was about 20% of their nation’s capital. It crippled Scotland’s economy and was a major factor in its Act of Union with England in 1707, thus forming the United Kingdom.

10 London’s Poop Crisis

London's Poop Crisis

In 1894, London was “drowning” in horse poop. It was estimated that within 50 years, London streets would be buried in 9 feet of poop and horse carcasses. But the invention of the automobile resolved the problem.

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