On the other side of the Pond, our American friends also celebrate the 4th of July, also known as Independence Day. This is a bank holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence, adopted on the 4th of July 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain.

The American revolution acted the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain on the 2nd of July 1776 when the congress approved a resolution of independence put forward by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, declaring the United States independent from Great Britain.

This is a day marked by patriotic displays, parades, barbecue and fireworks amongst other celebrations. All non essential federal institutions are closed on that day and festivities are held in celebration of national heritage, law, history, society and people.


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As British Public schools are very often historical schools, they have a host of strange and wonderful traditions. Here are a few

The Eton Wall Game – Eton College

First recorded in 1766, Eton College’s ‘Wall Game’ is played on the Furrow, a five metre wide by 110 metre long strip of land, next to a brick wall, on college grounds. The wall, built in 1717, gave its name to the game.

The teams participating are chosen from Collegers (King’s scholars) and Oppidans (the rest of the students).

The object of the game is to get the ball down to the far end of the wall to score, without either handling the ball or touching the ground with any part of their bodies except their hands and feet.

The traditional and most important match of the year is played on St Andrew’s Day, as the Collegers (King’s Scholars) take on the Oppidans (the rest of the school).

eton-students-reuters-300x225On that day, the Oppidans throw their caps over the wall and climb over the wall in defiance of the Scholars, while the Collegers march down from the far end of College Field, arm-in-arm, towards the near end, where they meet the Oppidans.

The rest of the school’s students watches on, perched on the wall.

The Wall Game is also played on Ascension Day, immediately after the early morning service on the roof of College Chapel.

Illumina – Winchester College

The tradition started in 1862 when the wall separating scholars and commoners was destroyed. On the last day of the Autumn term, old candle stubs kept during the year were used to light the wall enclosing the school playing fields, a tradition known as ‘Illumina’. Nowadays, the festival includes a bonfire, carol singing and food and drinks, giving staff, parents and students the chance to celebrate Christmas and the end of term.

Singing at Harrow

The school has had a long tradition of singing songs, at least for the past 150 years. Songs are sung regularly at school events throughout the year but also at reunions of old Harrovians. The most famous Harrow song, called Forty Years On is only famous by name as it is not actually authorized to perform this song in public, a public other than Harrovian, that is.

 The Greaze – Westminster School

On Shrove Tuesday, the “Greaze”, a tradition started in 1753, is celebrated in Westminster school. The cook tosses a pancake (reinforced with horse hair) over a high bar and students must try to catch the biggest part of the pancake during a one minute fight, overseen by the Dean and the Headmaster. The student who manages to catch the biggest bit of the pancake is awarded a gold sovereign (which is given back for the following year) and the dean gives the school a half-day holiday.

Rugby Football – Rugby College

Rugby college is famous for having invented the game of Rugby in 1823 when a boy named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it during a game of football. The sport quickly became popular as former Rugby students taught it to their respective classmates at the universities they attended.

Morning Hills – Winchester College

Since 1884, Winchester College has taken part in the twice yearly ceremony of Morning Hills. Everyone in the school gets up early and walks in their uniform to the top of St Catherine’s hill, a hill owned by the college. They say prayers at the top, as a way of reinforcing the school’s historic right to the land. Although the event is said to take place during summer and autumn terms, the weather can cause the event to be cancelled.


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Save a few exceptions, school uniforms are the norm for all British school children. They were first introduced during the reign of Henry VIII in the form of long trench-coat style jackets in dark blue. This was supposed to teach humility amongst children.

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 offered elementary education for all children in England and wales and the school uniforms became very popular.

Uniforms reflected the fashion of the time with girls wearing blouses, tunic dresses and pinafores and boys short trousers and blazers until the age of 14 when they wore long trousers.

The Butler reform in 1950 made school free and compulsory until 15. Schools were encourage to harmonize school uniforms codes with other schools.

Nowadays, school uniforms are required to be fair for both gender, not be too costly and accommodate religious freedom. Nowadays, this consists in a shirt, skirt or trousers and a coloured jumper. Some schools also add a tie and a blazer for a smarter look.


School uniforms have sparked a controversy. On the one hand, it is believed to     create pride in belonging to a school, remove distraction from the classroom as there is no social pressure to dress in any particular way and erase social discrepancies.

But proponents of abolishing school uniforms say that while this is true on paper, uniforms come at a cost and cheaper alternatives can mean the child is punished for not wearing the right uniform, or mocked by his/her peers for wearing a cheaper version.



Some private, or independent schools take pride in their radically different uniforms.

Harrow’s public school for example requires students to wear a white shirt, black silk tie, grey trousers and dark blue jacket.  In addition to this smart outfit, students must wear a Harrow hat, a varnished straw with a dark blue ribbon. The had must be worn between all lessons and when meeting a teacher, a forefinger must be raised to the brim of the hat as a sign of respect.

Photo by Robertvan1 at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

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Despite its misleading name, a “public” school in England is a exclusive prestigious private school, often with a rather distinguished historical background. Sometimes a boarding school, it is financed by bodies other than the state, in general private charitable trusts and charges fees for attendance.

They are called “public” schools because historically, they were open to any member of the public willing to pay the fees as opposed to home education with a tutor or religious schools in which membership to the church was compulsory.

Public schools today are strongly associated with the elite since they are highly selective on academic grounds as well as social and financial means. Historically, they educated the sons of the elite of Victorian politics, officers and senior administrators of the British Empire. This reputation of educating the elite remains today. In 2010 for example, a study showed that over half of Cabinet Ministers had been educated at public schools.

Some public schools for boys in England are


Winchester College,

Charterhouse School,

Rugby School,


Marlborough College,

Dulwich College,

Harrow School,

St Paul’s Boys’ School,

Wellington College.



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The Fourth of July, which, like the Queen’s official birthday, is not actually celebrated on the 4th of July but rather on the Wednesday before the first week-end of June, is a celebration of King George III’s birthday. George III (1760-1820) spent a lof ot time in Windsor and frequently visited the school. He often entertained the students’ at Windsor castle and the school marked the King’s birthday by turning the day into an official holiday. The festival includes various events, such as the very famous Procession of Boats.

Eton-Procession-of-Boats-10During this event, the best crews from the past four years, wearing naval uniforms from the 19th century, row vintage boats past the banks of the River Thames between the school and Windsor and salute spectators including her majesty the Queen by performing a rather perilous move.  

The entire cox and crew stand up in the boat, raise their oars vertically, facing Windsor Castle and tip their hats, decorated with flowers to cheer the memory of George III.Eton-Boating-3 The crew then sits down again and continues rowing. The day also sees a host  of speeches and other sporting events such as a cricket match and a picnic with parents and families on the school grounds.

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Just opposite Marble Arch and adjacent to Park Lane, Hyde Park’s Speaker’s corner is the stuff of legends.  Standing in the place where London’s public hangings were held until early 19th Century, Speaker’s corner has been a public meeting place and the heart of free speech in London since the public protests and riots of 1855.  256px-Speakers_corner_-_Muslim_preacher_-_2005-01-30

With notorious speakers such as Marx, Lenin, Orwell and Bernard Shaw, Speaker’s corner has been at the center of protests, from the suffragette movement to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Anyone can take a soap box and speak but contrary to legend, free speech doesn’t mean that the speaker is allowed to say just about anything. Under British law, speakers can be arrested for blasphemy, obscenity, inciting violence and anything derogatory about the Royal Family.

In practice however, the police is fairly lenient and rarely arrests speakers unless a specific complaint has been made or the speaker is clearly inciting violence.

The weekly event draws people by the hundreds. Most of those in the crowd are tourists, but there are a substantial number of locals who come regularly to watch and heckle.

As a general rule, a speaker is given a couple of minutes to start developing his or her speech while a crowd is gathering around and then the heckling starts and so does the fun, as many people will tell you.

Although the greatests minds of our era seem to have deserted Speaker’s corner, it still stands tall as a focal point for free speech in England.

In the last few decades, others cities around England have seen the creation of their own version of Speaker’s corner.


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Summer time is coming and all over England, men in white start appearing on greens and commons to play cricket.

To an outsider, cricket seems really complicated so here is a beginner’s guide to help you understand the basic rules of the game.


Cricket is played on an oval. A large expanse of green  grass usually surrounded by a white picket fence. In the centre of the oval is the cricket pitch which is a  strip of paler grass with wickets on each end.



Cricket is played in teams of 11 players. The team which scores the most runs and gets the other team out wins. You score points by running between the wickets, two sets of three wooden sticks or by hitting the ball all the way to the boundaries of the oval.

The bowler must hit the wicket causing the bar at the top to fall. He has to “throw” the ball at the batsmen, in a straight line with his arm going over head, in order for it to be counted. If he crosses that line It’s counted as a “NO BALL” and the umpire gives the opposite team another ball plus a run.

If the ball is bowled to far to the left or right, it’s a WIDE, and the opposite team is given a run. A run equals one point.

The batsmen, from the opposite team, work in pairs to defend the wicket by striking the ball away with their bat. When a batsman manages to hit the ball away from the wicket, batsmen run between the wickets.


The team can also score 4 to 6 runs if the batsman hits the ball  to the boundaries. This is a fast and efficient way to score runs.



Each run brings one point. While the batsmen are running, the fielders, who are in the same team as the bowler, try to catch the ball and hit the wicket before a batsman gets to them. There must always be 2 batsmen to play so when the 10th batsman is out, the inning is finished.

The game is played in overs. An over consists of six balls thrown by the bowler. There are hundreds of overs during a match. Each team bats for 50 overs each with a short break in the middle. 50 overs is called an inning.

A cricket match can take a long time to play. In fact, a test cricket match is usually played over a 5 day period with each team having 2 innings.

Photo courtesy of Prescott Pym  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ppym1/87330394/

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512px-Trooping_the_Colour,_the_Colours Did you know that the queen of England celebrates her birthday twice? Once  on her actual birthday, the 21st of April and once on her Official birthday.

The Queen’s official birthday is a date arbitrarily selected to host official  birthday celebrations in all the Commonwealth countries. The dates vary with  each country but generally take place between the end of May and the middle  of June, to ensure good weather for all the outdoor ceremonies.

The monarch’s official birthday was celebrated for the first time in 1748.  Nowadays, it is celebrated on the first, or second Saturday in June. The date  was moved to Autumn by King Edward VII as he was born in November, then  summer in the hope of getting good weather. This year, the ceremonies were  held on the 13th of June in the UK.

On this day, the queen is joined by other members of the Royal Family to watch the parade which moves between Buckingham Palace, the Mall and the Horseguards’ Parade. This parade, known as Trooping of the colours is carried out by operational troups from the Household Division, Foot Guards and Household Cavalry.

This ceremony dates back to the early Eighteenth century when the flags (or colours) were carried out down the ranks of soldiers so they could be seen and recognised.

Nowadays, the Queen is greeted by a Royal salute and inspects the troops. The Regimental colour is then carried down the ranks. Then the soldiers then march past the Queen.

The Queen then rides in a carriage back to the Palace ahead of her Guards where she receives the salute and a fly-past by the Royal Air force from the palace balcony. Members of the Royal Family are invited to witness the Royal Air Force display.

On the Queen’s private birthday, on the other hand, public celebrations are limited gun salutes at midday: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London and a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park.

Image from Carfax2




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As the world, and more particularly the United Kingdom, is eagerly awaiting the birth of Prince William and Princess Catherine’s second child, we thought it topical to clarify the delicate matter of the order of succession to the British throne.



In the United Kingdom, succession is governed by the Act of   Union of 1800, which reinstated the Act of Settlement of 1701  and the Bill of Rights of 1689.


These stated that Protestant heirs of Princess Sophia, grand    daughter of King James Ist only may become monarchs of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Catholics, individuals who marry a Catholic or individuals born out of wedlock cannot remain in the line of succession.

In practice, the crown was passed from the monarch to the eldest son. If a monarch had sons, they took precedence over the daughters.  In the case of Elisabeth II, King George VI had no sons and the crown was handed down to his eldest daughter. In turn, the crown will be handed down to her eldest son, Prince Charles of Wales.  This meant that even though, the Princess Royal, Princess Ann, is older than her brothers Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, they come before her in the line of succession.

However, a law passed on March 26th 2015 has removed the male bias from the succession rules, which means that the future Princess of Cambridge will not lose her place in the line of succession even if she were to have one or more younger brothers.

The current line of succession is the following.

  1. Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
  2. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
  3. Prince George of Cambridge
  4. Princess (?) of Cambridge
  5. Prince Henry of Wales
  6. Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  7. Princess Beatrice of York
  8. Princess Eugenie of York
  9. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  10. James Mountbatten-Windsor, Viscount Severn
  11. Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor
  12. Princess Ann, the Princess Royal

Incidentally, thanks to the new law, both Prince George and his little sister will also be able to marry Catholics without losing their place in the line of succession.



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The 8th of May, also known as VE Day, is a public holiday held to mark the end of World War II in Europe, and the Allied forces formal acceptance of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and its armed forces.speeches_churchill

As Adolf Hitler had commited suicide on April 30th, his successor Karl Dönitz decided to surrender and travelled to Reims to sign the act of military surrender on the 7th of May.

In the United Kingdom, where the cost of war had been high with half a million homes destroyed, thousands of civilians killed and millions of lives disrupted, people went in the street to party and rejoice when they heard on the wireless at 3pm that Germany had surrendered.

On the 8th of May, huge crowds gathered in London in Trafalgar square and up the Mall all the way to Buckingham Palace to see King George VI, Queen Elisabeth and Prime Minister Winston Churchill appear on the balcony palace. The king and his wife appeared 8 times in all on the balcony to the cheers of the crowd.

The two princesses, Elisabeth and Margaret were allowed to leave the palace incognito and take part in the street celebrations.

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Germany’s surrender and 3 days of festivities are planned across Britain.

A national two-minute silence will be held at the Cenotaph at 3pm on 8 May, marking the moment prime minister Winston Churchill broadcast his historic speech to formally announce the end of the war, before the lighting of more than 100 beacons, stretching across the country from Newcastle to Cornwall.

On the 9th of May, cathedrals across the country will ring bells at 11am in celebration. In London, stars will perform at a 1940s-themed concert held on Horse Guards Parade in the evening.

On the 10th of May, there will be a service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey attended by veterans and their families, members of the royal family, politicians, members of the Armed Forces and representatives of Allied nations and Commonwealth countries that fought alongside Britain.


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