The history of English runes transverses several countries. The ancient characters were used in Scandinavia and Teutonic countries before they made themselves known in Anglo Saxon territories. The first users were the East Goths who probably derived the lettering from ancient Hellenic-Italic glyphs. The Goths began carving them on wood and stone around 300 A.D. The word rune comes from an early Anglo-Saxon word that means “secret” or “mystery.”

These English Runes looked like small tablets and were carved on wood, stone or gemstones. The markings themselves consisted of a few curved and straight lines. There were two types of alphabets used. One called the Futhark consisted of 24 runes and one called the Futharks contained 16 runes. In the history of the English Runes the Futhark runes are also sometimes called the “town” runes.

The town runes were used by many cultures throughout North Europe, Iceland, England, Scotland and Ireland. As their origins were Hellenic, Germanic and Nordic they were seen as pagan so the form of writing and divining was not considered to be very Christian. The arrival of Christianity in England did not make their use obsolete but their use was more hidden. Many ancient churches in England have rune writing on their walls or hidden in the constructions as many people were erring on the safe side when they were built. By concealing pagan symbols in the church they were betting on both God and the old ways to protect them. Until most major religious manuscripts and histories of the kingdom were written in the language of the old English Runes.

The Runic alphabet was always distinguished by other alphabets is because each rune is like a letter that has its own meaning as well. The runes also have religious or magical significance as well. Each time anything was written with a rune it was thought to also be performing magic. By naming something in words you were in essence using the rune language to make it happen. The interesting thing about the runes is that they could simultaneously spell words or sentences depending on how you arrange them.

Old English Runes were also routinely used for story telling and fortune telling. Telling a positive story with the runes was thought to trigger fortunate events in your life. You could also curse your neighbors by putting together an unfortunate story about crops being ruined. In some systems of Runic interpretation the runes also corresponded to Celtic or Nordic gods or goddesses.

Ordinary people for fortune telling also commonly used old English Runes. They are still used today, as they always have been to tell fortunes. Runes are shaken, scattered or pulled from a bag and the tiles inscribed with symbols are read. This is an inexpensive and traditional form of divination that can be enjoyed by everyone.

The English adventurers and Spanish conquistadors were most certainly “brothers under the skin” in that they both set out to reap the rewards of the New World with little to no regard for the local peoples. They both faced the same problems back in Europe. These problems included disease, poverty, and overcrowding. There were simply too many people competing for the same things, whether they were money, food, or land. This coupled with stories of fortune and a Northwest Passage to Asia created a sense of hope that voyages west would solve the many problems of a needy continent. For this reason, both the English and the Spanish looked to the New World with the goal of finding treasures and later on, colonization. The idea that there were valuable land, resources, and treasures located in the New World that would alleviate or solve European problems motivated both countries to try their hand at exploration.

Of course, these rewards came at a cost to the native peoples of the Americas. As “brothers under the skin,” the English and Spanish viewed the natives as savages. They both believed that they had not only a right, but also a duty to instruct these people in that ways of European civilization and Christianity. However, they both used this as an excuse to exploit the local people. When Hernando Cortes raided Tenochtitlan, he wrote of attacking before dawn, vowing to do all the harm that he could. This included murdering woman and children, leaving them to rot in the streets while the Spanish conquistadors looted the homes and businesses of the city. The Aztecs had done no great harm to Cortes; in fact, they treated him and his men as gods. However, greed spurred Cortes and his men on to kill thousands. Of course, this did not bother anyone because the men, women, and children that they killed were savages that could not be saved.

Richard Hakluyt, an Englishman, wrote a letter detailing an almost identical plan to get England involved in the Americas. They would go over under the guise of spreading Christianity, but they would make full use of the resources and advance the economic interests of the country. He talked of putting the poor of England to work in the Americas. However, similarly to the Spanish, the plans necessitate the exploitation of the natives. He wrote, “If we find the country populous and desirous to expel us and injuriously offend us, that seek but just and lawful traffic, then, by reason that we are lords of navigation and they are not so, we are the better able to defend ourselves by reason of those great rivers and to annoy they in many places.” (Origins of English Settlement) As you can tell by this passage, not only is there a sense of entitlement and superiority that exists within the mind of the English, there are already plans to conquer the Indians.

To the royal governments of England and Spain, the English adventurers and the conquistadors served the same purpose. That is to secure a foothold in the New World from which to advance the causes of the country. More than that, the conquistadors and adventurers were men meant to bring civilization and religion to the uncouth idol worshippers of the New World. I am sure the leaders of England and Spain truly believed that they were doing a service to the Aztecs and other Indians by murdering them and taking their things. Both the English and the Spanish believed that the natives were savages that were beyond saving for the most part. For this reason, killing many was an evil that was necessary in order to save a few. They believed that as stronger, more developed countries, it was their duty to rid the world of this evil. It was their duty to instruct the savages in the ways of the Lord. To them, the adventurers and conquistadors were good, moral men that were doing the will of God. While in actuality, they were brutal, self-righteous thieves.

In 18th century America, a flourishing household has within its walls, furniture and silverware made in America itself. Mahogany tables were commissioned from New York, exquisite Chippendale chairs imported from Philadelphia and exclusive silverware and cutlery brought directly from Massachusetts. However, when it came to seeking fine drinking glassware, America had to turn to England, as stemware was not yet manufactured until much later in the century.

During the entire 18th century, fine glass was produced in vast amounts in England. Materials such as lead crystal or flint, was first commissioned by George Ravenscroft in 1676 by combining potash and lead oxide in a batch made of silica. These flint glasses were an instantaneous hit, and coveted for their lucidity and immense beauty. Ravenscroft early works however, were flawed, as his glasses began to breakdown due to fragility. This was quickly rectified, and Ravenscroft proceeded to better his designs and make, resulting in glassware of unsurpassed beauty.

The English-made flint glass was predisposed as weighty, more sturdy and deflective than the unleaded soda glass used vastly around the world. Flint glass continued to be revered, and highly prized by connoisseurs. Because of its weight, flint glasses tend to possess more resonance; and make a beautiful sound when lightly tapped by a fork. In comparison, a soda glass just gives out a loud ‘thudding’ sound. It is interesting to note that many high quality flint, German and Venetian glassware mimicked the exterior of rock crystal. This is why we utilize the term crystal when referring to fine glassware.

Drinking glassware in the 18th century was rendered in varying dimensions and silhouettes. They usually possess bowls, and smaller in capabilities compared to more contemporary counterparts. Some others however, were by design much larger, and used for beer, stout or in ceremonial proceedings. Size notwithstanding, Georgian glassware was always remarkably designed, with dimensions that are congruent.

Glassware made by the English in the 18th century echoes the augmentation of a consumer-based culture in England. For each drink presented, the trend-cognizant buyer would use a different glass style. Some of the more fashionable silhouettes were those used for cordials, ale and wines. In fact, special glassware was used as tumblers and toastmaster glasses. Toastmaster glassware possesses dense bowls that housed an illusory amount of liquids, so that the toastmaster appears to be drinking a hefty amount whilst making toasts. This is also to guarantee that the toastmaster reaches home safely and not drunk.

Well into the 18th century, numerous household items were rendered in glass. Household glassware comprised dessert and sweetmeat glasses, candle and taper sticks and salvers.

The 18th century was also an era where a lot of drinking commenced, and decanters were a great necessity. They range in several sizes, from a capacity for a quarter bottle, and all the way up to housing eight bottles, known as the ‘Methuselah’ decanter. These decanters were purchased not just because of convenience, but also for their intricate designs and workmanship. Rare examples include enameled decanters produced by the Beilby family in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and James Giles’s gilded ones.

Later on, decanter producers promoted decanters for specific beverages, which were then labeled as port, sherry, claret, ale and Madeira. The accompanying drinking glassware was also exquisitely done. But that, is another story.

There are many terms floating around that describe the United Kingdom and its associated components and I’m hoping to shed some light on what they mean as I’m so used to hearing them used interchangeably and it frustrates me.

Firstly, I am a citizen of a country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, often shortened to the United Kingdom or the UK. And so, what is the United Kingdom?

Well, it all started with the Kingdom of England which was formed following a conquest by King Athelstan in 927AD unifying ‘the English lands’, which comprised of modern day England and Wales.

The infamous Battle of Hastings in 1066 saw the Normans take control of the Kingdom, though boundaries and names remained the same.

Fast forward 700 years to 1707 and the Acts of Union which saw the unification of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland (whose boundaries match those of modern-day Scotland). This followed about 100 years of the two Kingdoms sharing a monarch, after King James VI of Scotland inherited the English crown from his distant relative Queen Elizabeth I, who has Queen of England. And so the Kingdom of Great Britain was born, taking its name from the island the Kingdom now covered (the island of Great Britain consists of modern day England, Scotland and Wales).

In 1801, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland (which encompassed the second of two major islands comprising the British Isles – Ireland, or Eire in Gaelic) merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This was also referred to simply as the United Kingdom, though it does not reflect the United Kingdom of today. It is also the only time that a single country covered the whole of the British Isles (Ireland, Great Britain and minor outlying isles).

This ended in 1922 when the Irish regained their independence from the UK, though a portion of the island in the northeast, referred to as Northern Ireland, exercised their right to opt out of seceding from the United Kingdom and thus, the modern day country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was formed.

So the British Isles currently consists of two countries: the UK and the Republic of Ireland (consisting of the island of Ireland minus Northern Ireland).

The United Kingdom then is comprised of four entities, some formerly countries in their own right: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, though none of these can now be referred to as countries in their own right.

The reason for this is that in order to be recognised as a country, that country must meet eight criteria and in the case of all four constituent parts, they fail at least one of the criteria, thus not making them eligible to be called a country.

So what should we call modern day England, Scotland or Wales for example? Well, the truth is, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. They are still colloquially referred to as countries and though this is not technically correct, each country still thinks of itself as such. They all have their own flag, Wales has its own language, Scotland prints its own bank notes and England has its own football team. All entities make their own laws in certain devolved areas of government, such as healthcare and education.

The truth is, the United Kingdom probably has the most complex history of all nations on Earth in terms of how it came to be what it is today and as such, there comes a lot of complications when defining certain areas and entities, especially when historic terms live on. But the following is a basic summary of all the associated terms:

  • United Kingdom: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Great Britain: the largest island in the British Isles
  • British Isles: the archipelago north of France
  • Northern Ireland: the part of Ireland which decided to remain as part of the United Kingdom following Ireland’s independence
  • Ireland: the second largest island in the British Isles (also known by its Gaelic name Eire)
  • Republic of Ireland: the portion of Ireland which gained independence from the UK in 1922
  • England: a formerly independent nation as the Kingdom of England now part of the United Kingdom, retaining its original, well-defined boundaries
  • Scotland: a formerly independent nation as the Kingdom of Scotland, now part of the United Kingdom retaining its original, well-defined boundaries
  • Wales: a formerly independent nation prior to being enveloped in the Kingdom of England, now part of the United Kingdom retaining its original, well-defined boundaries
  • British/Briton/Brit: a citizen of the United Kingdom or something originating from the United Kingdom
  • Irish: a citizen of the Republic of Ireland
  • English: a resident of England; also, the language that originated in England (and is now spoken almost everywhere in the world)
  • Scottish: a resident of Scotland; also, a dialect of English, spoken in Scotland
  • Welsh: a resident of Wales; also, one of the two languages officially spoken in Wales (the other being English)

So when people ask me if I am English, I reply yes and when people ask me if I am British, I say yes. The first response is a reference to what region I am from and the second is a reference to what country I am a citizen of. The equivalent would be someone in Florida saying they are both an American and a Floridian.

So, use the terms above as a guide and try to remember that England is not the be all and end all of the UK. If you’re having trouble, ask yourself if Sean Connery is British. If you reply yes, then you’ve got it, otherwise, you’ve got more homework to do!

Nowadays, people all around the world speak English as a first or second language. It’s hard to imagine a world without it, but there was a time when no one spoke English. Long ago, the people in Britain spoke the Celtic language. When three Germanic tribes successfully invaded Britain in the 5th century, they brought their own language with them. This was known as Englisc and it gave us the beginnings of the English language that we know today.

Languages develop and change over time and the oldest form of English seems foreign to the speakers of it today. The first type to be spoken is what we now call Old English, which was spoken in Britain from around 450 to 1100 AD. About half of the words we commonly use today came from Old English.

The change from Old to Middle English occurred after William the Conqueror invaded England from Normandy, which we now know as part of France. The Norman conquerors spoke something like the French we know today and they brought this with them to England. French did not overtake English, as it was spoken by the upper classes. The lower classes continued to speak English, although many French words slipped in during this time. By the 14th century when it became the dominant language again, it included many French words and some of these are still part of the dialect we speak today. However, Middle English is not easy for today’s speakers to understand.

Early Modern English began with British people having contact with people from all around the world. This also meant that many new words came into the language. When the printing press was invented at this time, it led to a solidification of the language. With English now in print through books, pamphlets and papers, there was a standardised common language and fewer differences between the regions. The printing houses were based in London, so the dialect spoken and written in London became the standard for the rest of the English speaking people. Spelling and grammar were fixed and the first English dictionary was published in 1604.

The main distinction between Early Modern English and the English spoken today – known as Late Modern English – is vocabulary. We have many more words in our vocabulary than were commonly used before the 1800s. This is largely due to the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of more and more foreign words and new technology.

Today, many people from all around the world learn English as a second language.

University graduates

White teenagers are less likely to apply to university than youngsters from any other ethnic group, according to research.

Fewer than three in 10 white 18-year-olds have applied to start degree courses this autumn, while applications from black pupils have increased significantly since 2006, data published by Ucas shows.

It also provides evidence that women are outnumbering men at university, with young women nearly a third more likely to apply this year.

The statistics come in a Ucas report looking at the demand for university courses, based on applications made by 24 March.

The findings show that 29% of white, state-educated 18-year-olds in England applied by the March deadline this year, compared with more than 50% of those from a Chinese background and 40% for those from an Asian ethnic group.

Application rates for black 18-year-olds have risen from 20% in 2006 to 34% this year, the report says.

In total, around 44% of young people in England apply to go to university by the time they are 19, but there are differences between the sexes, with young women 29% more likely to apply this year than men.

The report also shows that 18-year-olds from the richest areas are still 4.3 times more likely to apply to one of the UK’s most selective universities – those asking for the highest entry grades – than teenagers from the poorest areas. In 2004 they were six times more likely to apply to these institutions.

Eighteen-year-olds from London are the most likely to want to study for a degree, with 42% applying this year. At the other end of the scale, the north-east has the lowest application rate, at 31%. The north-west has recorded the biggest proportional increase in youngsters wanting to go to university, with 35% applying this year compared with 26% in 2004. The smallest increase was in the south-west, where rates have risen to 31% this year from 28% in 2004.

The Ucas chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said: “Young application rates for higher education are rising again after falls in 2012 and the gap between rich and poor is closing as disadvantaged groups are applying at record levels.

“Our new analysis of demand by ethnic group shows that white pupils at English schools now have the lowest application rate of any ethnic group. There has been significant growth in demand from black pupils.

“There are eye-catching regional variations in demand, with the north of England generally showing higher growth rates than the south.”