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A project to find the 100 events and places that played the most significant role in shaping the English language has been launched.

King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language 'English'
King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language ‘English’

 

From the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the fifth century to modern-day waves of immigration, the English language has been shaped by countless episodes in history.

Now The English Project, a charity dedicated to promoting the language, is compiling a list of the 100 most important events and locations which have made English what it is today

The journey starts in Lakenheath in Suffolk, where the Undley Bracteate medallion was found, dated to 475 and bearing the first evidence of written English.

Then in 731 the Venerable Bede completed his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear – the first text to speak of the English language and the English people.

And by 871 King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language “English”, was ordering translations from Latin into West Saxon, a dialect of Old English.

In recent times the language has adapted again and again, on its way to becoming the common tongue of 1.8 billion people worldwide.

The charity has already compiled a list of 20 of the most important events in the history of the language, and wants the public to help produce the final list of 100 crucial events
Bill Lucas, a trustee of the English Project and professor of learning at the University of Winchester, said: “This is a wonderful way of engaging people in a wider conversation about the English Language.

“We want to get the nation really thinking about the stories behind our evolving language.

“How, for example, do you rate the relative significance of Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, versus London’s part in the birth of the world wide web?

“English has now become the lingua franca of the world. It is the most exciting and exotic language partly because of its capacity to incorporate so many elements of other languages, and somehow to make these dynamic, descriptive and always exciting.

“The history of Britain and the history of the English language are also very closely intertwined.

“We’re excited about hearing people’s ideas about the places and events they think have shaped the language.”

Submit your suggestions on the charity’s website, www.englishproject.org

The 20 events and places nominated so far:

Date: 475

Lakenheath, Suffolk

The Undley Bracteate medallion, found at Lakenheath, has been dated to 475 and provides the first evidence of written English

Date: 731

Jarrow, Tyne and Wear

The Venerable Bede completed his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Although writing in Latin, he was the first person to speak of the English language and the English people.

Date: 871

Winchester, Hampshire

Translations from Latin into the West Saxon dialect of Old English were commissioned by King Alfred of Wessex between 871 and 899. He is the first person known to have called the language “English”.

Date: 1066

Hastings, Sussex

William the Conqueror and his Norman army defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, bringing with them a language that transformed English over the next 300 years.

Date: 1171

Waterford, Ireland

King Henry II of England landed in Waterford, beginning the worldwide exportation of English beyond the island of Great Britain – even though he himself mainly spoke French.

Date: 1362

Westminster, London

On October 13 the Chancellor of England opened Parliament with a speech in English rather than French for the first time.

Date: 1400

Westminster Abbey, London

Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in the Abbey. In 1556 he was moved into a more splendid tomb, beginning the tradition of burying great writers in Poets’ Corner.

Date: 1476

Westminster, London

William Caxton introduced printing to England, which became a huge force in the spread of English language literature.

Date: 1564

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

William Shakespeare, regarded by many as the greatest writer in the English language, is born.

Date: 1604

Hampton Court, Surrey

King James’s Hampton Court Conference set a translation team working on what came to be known as the King James Bible, published in 1611.

Date: 1665

Oxford

The first newspaper in English was the London Gazette, first published in Oxford in 1665 as the Oxford Gazette.

Date: 1709

Lichfield, Staffordshire

The birthplace of Samuel Johnson, creator of A Dictionary of the English Language. Published in 1755, it set new standards for the writing of English prose.

Date: 1847

South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh

The birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone in 1876, initiating a major stage in worldwide communication.

Date: 1901

Poldhu, Cornwall

In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi sent the first radio transmission to St John’s, Newfoundland. North American and British English began to converge again after 300 years of separation.

Date: 1922

Portland Place, London

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) begins transmission, influencing dramatically the way English language is used and spoken.

Date: 1945

Menlove Avenue, Liverpool

John Lennon lived here from the age of five. With his fellow Beatles, he revolutionised popular song.

Date: 1955

London

Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, is born. English is the dominant language of the internet, and the net is a major factor in the globalisation of English.

Date: 1988

Plumstead, London

Patrick Chukwuem Okogwu, also known as rap artist Tinie Tempah, is born. Rap music shows the English language at its flexible best.

Date: 1997

Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Nicolson’s Café. Published in June 1997, the series of books started a worldwide reading phenomenon.

Date: 2003

UK

On Valentine’s Day, mobile phone usage was so widespread that for the first time, more people said “I luv u” by text than said “I love you” by post. Text English is a new and thriving form of the language.

British Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Besy Tours in British History

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Wessex is the ancient kingdom of the West Saxons that defeated its rivals and created England. The counties of Essex, Middlesex and Sussex remain with us to recall the East, Mid and South Saxons that Wessex conquered but when King Edgar of Wessex was crowned as the first King of England in Bath in 973, Wessex, the dominant and most civilised of the Anglo-Saxon states, ceased to be a government entity.

Kingdom of Wessex Map

Kingdom of Wessex Map

The area with which Histouries UK is concerned was recognised in the early ninth century when the four West Saxon shires, now Counties, were created. The name of each reflected the name of the town on which the surrounding shire was dependent. They were:

West Saxon Shire Shire Town Present County
Dornsaete Dorchester Dorset
Somersaete Somerton Somerset
Wiltunscir Wilton Wiltshire
Hamtunscir Southampton Hampshire

The history of the area goes back much further than this. Its Neolithic inhabitants built a large number of sacred hills, camps, rings, barrows and henges to honour their dead, celebrate the seasons or mark their boundaries. Wessex has an almost unparallelled wealth of archaeological sites including Avebury and Stonehenge. It is a land of myths and legends. Among them are the story of Joseph of Aramathea bringing the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and, perhaps above all the legends, that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Wessex reached its peak in the ninth and tenth centuries and especially in the reign of Alfred the Great, one of the most remarkable men in England’s long history. He was not only a military genius who reformed the army and established the navy. He was also a learned man who greatly influenced the development of the English language and whose laws formed a base for much of the English law we know today.

In 1066, the Normans came to conquer and brought great changes with them. The name of Wessex fell into the background but the area remained important in the flow of English history. The concentration of its heritage with us now, bears witness to this. In more recent times, the work of writers, Thomas Hardy, in particular, has breathed new life into the use of “Wessex”to represent an area and now there are hundreds of companies that have it as part of their name.

WESSEX TODAY

Destination Wessex describes it this way:

“Wessex is the land of King Arthur and King Alfred, of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, of Bath and Stonehenge. It was the birthplace of England and England’s heritage remains very much part of the Wessex way of life. It is a land of beautiful countryside, historic market towns and ancient villages not far from London, but in every other way very far from the pressure, pace and congestion of the urban world.”

The four counties have a rural culture. Major urban communities such as Bristol, Swindon and Southampton are situated near the perimeter. Elsewhere, there is a feeling of timeliness. What you see has been there for hundreds of years and there it will be hundreds of years from now. The industrial revolution largely passed it by and, while the modern world may have a degree of physical presence, the flow of Wessex life and the priorities of its people stay much as they were.

The area has a common sense of place that is made up of green fields, hedges and woods, of stone, thatch, village churches and historic inns, of architecture and archaeology, of cows and sheep and horses and wildlife, and a serene balance between man and nature. County boundaries do not affect this. Unless there is a sign to tell you, you will not know when you cross, for example, from Somerset into Dorset. But, if you leave Wessex to go towards London, you feel the change. The pressure, the degree of urgency, the congestion begins to evidence itself. The sense of place has changed.

Wessex is a destination that overseas visitors will recognise, much as they recognise the Cotswolds or the Lake District. It is unique, compact and readily accessible. Beneath its common sense of place is a wealth of variety that can offer memorable holidays to a wide range of visitors. Come and stay for a few days and get to know Wessex, the heart of ancient England.

Cultural Wessex

Wessex Life. Rural, peaceful and timeless. The small market towns and villages, the churches and pubs, the local fairs and festivals, the farms and fields and hedgerows. And the people who live there. The annual Bath & West Show, market days in the small towns, race meetings, and village open garden days. They all reflect the Wessex way of life.

Christian Heritage Five cathedrals, twelve abbeys and some of the finest churches in England. Ecclesiastical history is also reflected in Bishop’s palaces, legends and tradition.

Family History Over the centuries, many people have migrated from Wessex, especially to North America. Wessex has excellent Records Offices where comprehensive data is maintained and family history associations keen to help visitors in tracing their ancestors.

Antiques Antique shops and dealers, shows and auctions are features of life in Wessex. Bath, Bradford on Avon, Shepton Mallet and Sherborne are well known antique centres .

Literary Wessex Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Evelyn Waugh, T.S.Eliot, John Betjeman, Geoffrey Chaucer, T. E Lawrence and many other outstanding literary figures have close associations with Wessex.

Arts and Crafts The arts are very much in evidence. The Theatre Royal in Bath, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the choirs of the cathedrals are perhaps the best known but there are also the local theatres, auditoriums, art galleries and craft centres. Music and drama festivals, art exhibitions and book fairs are scheduled every year.

Historical Wessex

Wessex in History From prehistory to the age of aviation. Special periods of interest are the bronze and iron age settlements, the Roman Wessex, the Saxon kingdom that gave birth to England, the Norman Conquest, Elizabethan Wessex, the Civil War and the Eighteenth century.

Historic Houses of Wessex There are 75 historic houses from which to choose. Some of them medieval, some Tudor and many from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Each reflects the society, culture and history of its time. Also included are some of the charming smaller manor houses.

Architecture The vast collection of ecclesiastical, military, manor house and domestic architecture in Wessex means that the area contains excellent examples of almost every period of architecture in England: Roman, Saxon, Norman, Medieval, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian.

Archaeology 40 archaeological sites are in the Wessex inventory including two World Heritage Sites, Stonehenge and Avebury, and the fortress of King Arthur at Cadbury.

Military Heritage This ranges from forts and castles and fortified manor houses to battle sites, regimental history and the outstanding naval, army and air force museums

Veterans Many military personnel from USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere were based in Wessex during the Second World War. Many left from Wessex harbours on D-Day. The area has many memories for them and much interest for their families.

Download PDF  tourist map of the Wessex area

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK  – The Best Guided Tours in Wiltshire

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Magical Glastonbury

Glastonbury is unique, sacred, spell-binding. It is a small town town in Somerset, cradled in a cluster of hills that are all different shapes. The highest is the Tor, a whaleback formation with a tower on top, once part of a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Near the Tor is the smooth dome of Chalice Hill. Wearyall Hill is a long narrow ridge pointing toward the Bristol Channel. Windmill Hill, on the side facing the cathedral city of Wells, is less clearly defined and covered with houses, Below are the ruins of a great medieval abbey.

Early in the Christian era, the hill-cluster was nearly encircled with shallow water, the river Brue provided a deeper channel enabling sea-going craft to reach it. An old name for it is Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass; “island” because, from most angles of approach, it would have looked like one. A more famous name is Avalon, the Apple-place. In Celtic lore Avalon was an isle of enchantment.

This area was probably sacred long before Christianity. Around the sides of the Tor is a strange system of terracing. Much weathered and eroded, but still well-defined, it has been interpreted as a maze following an ancient magical pattern, which is found in Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Pompeii, Crete and India, and even among the Hopi of Arizona, who call it the Mother Earth Symbol. If the maze on the Tor is real, human labour formed it four or five thousand years ago, during the period of vast ritual works that created Stonehenge and Avebury. There are grounds for thinking that the Tor would have been a sanctuary of Goddess-worship. To come down to a somewhat later time, archaeology has shown that toward the beginning of the Christian era, this neighbourhood became an important centre of Celtic population, with far-flung trade. The inhabitants lived on small artificial islands.

According to a much-loved legend, Christian Glastonbury began with the arrival of Joseph of Arimathea. He figures in the Gospels as a rich disciple who obtained the body of Christ and laid it in the tomb. Some say he was an older kinsman and had brought Jesus here as a boy, perhaps on a trading voyage to Britain. Reputedly, in the years after the Crucifixion, he came to this remote country on a mission with several companions. They made their home in Avalon and remained there as a community of hermits. An offshoot of the legend concerns a local variety of hawthorn known as the Glastonbury Thorn. It is said that Joseph planted his staff in the ground, and it became a tree that blossomed at Christmas. Descendants of a medieval hawthorn on Wearyall Hill actually do blossom at Christmas or thereabouts, While no other English hawthorn does this, there are some that do in the Middle East, including Palestine.

Whatever the facts may have been, the basic Joseph legend grew around something that was real and solid, an ancient church constructed of wattles – interlaced twigs or rods – with reinforcements of timber and lead. Bound with clay, wattle-work can be a stalwart material. It was used by early settlers in Wisconsin, and the remains of a wattle structure can be seen at New Harmony, Indiana, among the buildings in a community founded by the philanthropist Robert Gwen.

In the centuries after Britain broke from the Roman Empire, a group of Celtic British monks lived beside Glastonbury’s small wattle church. It may already have been so old that no one knew who the builder was. Chroniclers decided eventually that it was Joseph of Arimathea, and that idea was the nucleus of the tale of his coming to Glastonbury. There were other stories connecting him with Britain, but no one knows which came first, or why such an unlikely person was ever thought of. The belief may reflect a lost tradition. At any rate, the site of the “Old Church” came to be known as “the holiest earth of England,” where the Christian Faith was first planted. Today, the Lady Chapel among the ruins marks the place.

Hard evidence is lacking. Archaeologists have found traces of Christian settlement at least as early as the sixth century, on the Abbey site and on the upper part of the Tor. Gildas, a British author, seems to mention the Old Church about the year 530. Hermits may have lived hereabouts farther back, and there was some kind of Roman presence. But the more distant past is lost in obscurity. Those who wish to believe in Joseph are free to do so. Certainly, after the Gospel incident, history says nothing about his later life anywhere else.

When Christian Glastonbury began, most of the people of what is now England were British Celts, ancestors of the Welsh. But the pagan Anglo-Saxons, ancestors of the English, moved in from across the North Sea and gradually overran the country. At first they wiped out whatever Christian institutions they found. However, their advance slowed down. The West Saxon kingdom of Wessex did not expand far enough to absorb Glastonbury until the middle of the seventh century. By then its kings were Christians, themselves, and they took over the British community peaceably. At Glastonbury, as nowhere else in England, we have a major instance of Christian continuity right through from Celtic times, As one historian has put it, the Saxon kings made the place a temple of reconciliation between previously hostile peoples.

Its monastery grew into an abbey of the Benedictine Order. The greatest abbot, St. Dunstan, in the tenth century, started the drainage of the still-waterlogged country round about, embanking the river to prevent flooding. He launched the restoration of learning and religion in England after the Norse destruction of monasteries and monastic schools. His successors continued the reclamation of most of the territory down to the Bristol Channel, and protected it with sea-walls, so that it is now farming land.

Medieval Glastonbury played a part in the making of the legends of Arthur. Joseph of Arimathea, or a companion of his, was said to have brought the Holy Grail, the wonder-working vessel of the Last Supper, to Britain., From a first Avalonian resting-place, it had been removed to a mysterious castle, and, four hundred years later, many of Arthur’s knights rode out in quest of it. The King himself had at least one personal connection with Glastonbury: he had besieged it to rescue Guinevere from an abductor, and visited the Old Church when the matter was settled.

In 1191, the monks of the Abbey claimed to have found his grave in their cemetery. Guided by a hint from a Welsh bard, they had dug down and discovered a stone slab. Under it was a cross of lead with a Latin inscription saying “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” Digging farther down, they had unearthed a coffin made from a hollowed-out log. Inside were the bones of a tall man who appeared to have been killed by a blow on the head, because the skull was damaged. Some smaller bones were taken to be Guinevere’s. Modern excavation has shown that the monks did dig at a place south of the Lady Chapel, and did find an early burial. Most historians would deny that the bones were Arthur’s, and dismiss the inscribed cross as a fake. But some have been willing to accept the identity as possible, even probable.

Throughout the Middle Ages the Abbey was growing. Its main church, nearly 600 feet long, was the largest in England after St Paul’s Cathedral in London, with space for thousands of pilgrims on the principal holy days. The Abbot was Chief Justice in central Somerset, and the people for many miles around were his tenants. The Abbey maintained a school, and one of the finest libraries in England. It flourished until 1539, when Henry VIIl’s policy of dissolution caught up with it. The last abbot, Richard Whiting, was convicted on trumped-up charges and hanged on the Tor, and his Abbey was dissolved like the rest.

Surveying this long record, we can see that Glastonbury has been a place of great beginnings. It has a strange vitality. Its Christian community, if not literally the first in Britain, was the first that survived, carrying on without a break from early times. It brought together Celts and Saxons; in a symbolic sense, the United Kingdom was born here. It was the fountainhead of cultural recovery in the aftermath of the Norse. Its legends were at the roots of the national saga of King Arthur.

The Abbey’s downfall looked like the end. The buildings passed into private hands, and a succession of owners, who had no interest in preservation, used them as a quarry for saleable stone. Yet after all, Glastonbury was not dead, or reduced to a country town like many others. According to tradition, in 1587 an old man named Austin Ringwode, who had formerly been employed by the Abbey, prophesied on his deathbed that Glastonbury would be reborn and then “peace and plenty would for a long time abound.” The rebirth began (if in ways that Austin Ringwode hardly foresaw) in the twentieth century. The extraordinary spell of the place began to work again.

Several things happened. The Abbey’s last owner put it on the market, and the Church of England acquired it and has looked after it ever since. Each summer Anglican and Catholic pilgrims gather in thousands. Other developments were due to people with interests that were more secular, or, if religious, frequently offbeat and eccentric. In the 1920’s, Glastonbury was the venue of the first major English festival of music and drama, founded by the operatic composer, Rutland Boughton, with support from celebrities such as George Bernard Shaw and Sir Thomas Beecham. Rutland Boughton’s festival was the ancestor of others at Bath, Malvern, and elsewhere. Later came the establishment of a trust to preserve what is believed to be an ancient sacred spring, mentioned in one of the Grail stories and now called Chalice Well (pictured at right). The Chalice Well garden is a famous meeting place for visitors from many countries, with a variety of interests. Later again came a surprising discovery of Glastonbury by the alternative society, the so-called hippies. The “Glastonbury Fayre” in 1971 was a sort of mystical Woodstock. After much strife and controversy, it is still repeated in most summers and attracts tens of thousands, though, of course, it has changed considerably.

Today, Glastonbury’s role as a spiritual focus outside the churches is shown in a restored community centre, in a special-interest Library of Avalon, in healing clinics, in New Age conference rooms. Numerous tourists and seekers converge here especially from America. Some of the developments may look odd, but they cannot be ignored, and they involve many people of goodwill and intelligence. For a long time, “straight” and “alternative” elements in the town were sharply divided. The summer of 1996, however, may resolve some of the divisions with a new festival commemorating Rutland Boughton and bringing together musicians, artists, authors and others from different strata of the population. Is the reborn Glastonbury taking coherent shape? It may well be.

Visit Glastonbury with an expert local guide and perhaps combine it with Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle for a truly magical day.  We offer guided trips visiting these locations and others that depart from Salisbury, Bath or London.

Henry – British Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Bringing History alive

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