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Modern Britain

Modern Factoids

Edited by Peter Kessler, 20 November 2010

A selection of the best of quotes from around modern Britain from 1714 onwards. Sometimes it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same...


  • '...present day extravagance was due to the electorate rather than to politicians. Electors insisted on being bribed with promises and as it was illegal to bribe them with their own money, candidates found it cheaper and as easy to bribe with other people's money...'

    '...Taxation was driving not only capital but brains and enterprise out of this country. They were comparatively easily shifted, whereas labour, which depended on them, was immovable...'

    Bribing the Electorate, Mr G Peto on effects of taxation (addressing the 1922 Committee)
    The Times, 11 March 1931
    Jackie Speel - 18 November 2010


  • '...housing rates have gone up in the previous quarter by 33 1/3%, and this increase had been maintained for the present quarter - from 1 1/2d [one and-a-half old pence] to 2d in the pound.'

    Complaint in The Times, mid-1850s
    Jackie Speel - 30 January 2009


  • 'Following yesterday's controversial ruling from the EEC Harmonisation Committee, Britain has been ordered to export 3% of its place names to the Continent. The UK, says the committee's report, has exercised a monopolistic control over this commodity for some centuries, having nationalised materials and installations originally supplied by Continental and Scandinavian sources... Our nearest neighbours are a bit short of interesting nouns...'

    The Times, February 1984
    Jackie Speel - 22 January 2009

Newspapers of the nineteenth century were much more heavily text-based than their modern day counterparts, but the headlines were often no less inventive and alarmist

  • 'The present generation has developed a new passion, the love of anniversaries... That something or other happened a thousand years ago is so excellent a reason for a commemoration that it is almost a waste of pains to prove any virtue or beauty in the incident celebrated...'

    The Times, 1879
    Jackie Speel - 12 January 2009


  • 'The greater part of the legislation of the present Parliament had been thrown to the winds by the irresponsible political poltroons who represented nobody but themselves, and who safeguarded no interest but their own.'

    Mr E J C Morton MP Devonport, Liberal Party public meeting, 1894
    Jackie Speel - 5 January 2009


  • 'I should be unwilling to close this paper without advertising to the advantage which might be derived from a general convention dollar of all the civilised kingdoms, bearing the insignia of each separate kingdom upon its obverse, and some general conventional symbol upon its reverse... (Countries to be included France, Austria, Saxony, Bohemia, and Sicily and Naples - ie. Kingdom of the Two Sicilies)... it would not only facilitate our commerce as an instrument of exchange, but would eventually become the basis upon which a general convention dollar would ere long be current throughout the world.'

    The Times, 25 August 1838 p6, speech read by IP Cory before the Numismatic Society in May 1838 on the introduction of the decimal system
    Jackie Speel - 27 November 2008

  • 'The Automobile Association was asked to find a route between two zoos which would suit the transport of "a giraffe on a truck". A route was eventually provided, with a remark to the effect that the lowest bridge clearance was 14 foot 6 inches, at X, which would suit the giraffe unless it wore a top hat, under which circumstances bridges Y and Z would also have to be bypassed. [The beast was eventually transported by boat.]'

    The Times, 1938
    Jackie Speel - 12 September 2008


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Original text copyright © sources quoted. An original feature for the History Files.