6.9 Scholarship


Ancient literacy: the religion of Drudism arose in Britain, according to the Gauls encountered by Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC), and the Druids were literate, said Caesar, using Greek characters; that means that long before the coming of the Romans the Ancient Britons were writing things down and that Britain was literate [see More 10, Druidism, Romans in Britain]; the fullest account of Ancient Britain is the Tysilio Chronicle, started in the AD 600s by the monk Tysilio [see Sources]; it can be conjectured that this was based on written-down sources from many hundreds of years before

Medieval scholarship

The Venerable Bede: c672-735; England’s first historian and the father of English history; St Bede wrote of the Paradise of Albion; he named Easter, which originally represented a pagan goddess of Spring, Eostre; Bede is the only Englishman encountered by Dante in his fictional heaven; he caused the adoption of the Christian dating system, BC/AD

'Bede was universally honoured as the greatest scholar of his day. It is to his influence that the world owes the practice, adopted later, of reckoning the years from the birth of Christ.' (Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, 1956)

In Britain the Anno Domino system of dating was officially adopted by the Council of Chelsea in 816 [Source: Robertson/Shell]; ‘B.C.’ was first used as an acronym to denote dates ‘Before Christ’ by John Blair in his Chronology and History of the Ancient World of 1756 [Source: Robertson/Shell]


Alcuin of York: 732-804; England’s second great scholar, after Bede, and the most brilliant and prominent scholar at the court in Aachen of King Charlemagne (742-814), the Holy Roman Emperor 

‘A man of prodigious learning and a prolific writer, Alcuin is often regarded as the architect of the Carolingian Renaissance [revival of learning]; he was characterised by Einhart  [biographer of Charlemagne] as ‘a man most learned in every field’. ’ (‘Alcuin’ In: The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, 2013) 

Alcuin was responsible for collecting and copying ancient literature, thus preserving it; in addition to the vast impact he had in his own day, Alcuin is regarded as one of the progenitors of the fifteenth-century Renaissance; he wrote his own epitaph, saying that ‘…wisdom was always dear to me’; a papal decree in AD 789 called for writing reform, to bring consistency to the then-prevailing chaos; in response to this decree Alcuin developed for Charlemagne a hand now known as Carolingian minuscule; this consisted of Roman capitals and lower case letters that are nearly identical to the ones we use today; Alcuin’s new alphabet was heavily influenced by the ‘English half-uncials’ he had learnt in his youth, with borrowings from elsewhere as a result of his travels and studies 

‘...the crusading Frankish king Charlemagne commissioned the first standard lowercase letters to create a unified script that all his literate subjects could read. No longer bound to the solemn, square “majuscules” that suited the stonemason’s chisel, the monk Alcuin of York used the scribe’s dexterous quill to massage the Holy Roman Empire’s divergent regional scripts into a single lowercase alphabet known as Carolingian miniscule. Sporting distinctive ascenders, descenders, and flourishes, Alcuin’s script is the direct progenitor of today’s lowercase roman letterforms.’ (Keith Houston, Shady Characters, 2013) 

Alcuin also systematized punctuation in manuscripts and the division of text into sentences and paragraphs, with capitals at the beginning of sentences; in AD 789 Alcuin gave us the way we now organise and punctuate the written word and is thus the father of modern text formatting, to put it in modern parlance 

‘When refugees from [German printing press inventor] Johannes Gutenberg’s hometown of Mainz first brought the technology of printing to Italy in the mid-1460s, they created type that matched the prevailing local handwriting, and in doing so, they unwittingly set a historical blunder in stone. Obsessed with the classical world, fashionable Renaissance writers had revived what was erroneously thought to be lettera antica―the ‘ancient letters’ of Rome―but their “roman” script was, in fact, the much later Carolingian minuscule of the monk Alcuin.’ (Keith Houston, Shady Characters, 2013; see Typography)

Versions of the Bible in Latin eventually appeared according to Alcuin’s rules and Stephen Langton (1150-1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the text up into the chapters we know today [see Archbishops]


Adelard of Bath: c1080-c1152; he believed Nature could be studied without invoking its first cause, God

John Duns Scotia: c1266-1308; he was one of the most important theologicals and philosophers of the High Middle Ages; for his subtlety and cleverness he was hailed by his contemporaries as ‘Doctor Subtilis’

William of Occam: c1288-c1348; one of the major figures in medieval thought; Occam’s Razor states that ‘plurality is not to be assumed without necessity’, i.e. opt for the simplest explanation

Later scholars

Edward Gibbon: 1737-94; The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, is the greatest work of research in the historical canon

William Jones: 1746-94; father of hitorical linguistics, Orientalist of the Enlightenment, putting forward first the idea of a common Indo-European progenitor language

Adam Ferguson: 1723-1816; introduced the method of studying humans in groups; he is the father of sociology

Thomas Babbington Macauley: 1800-59; author of the magisterial History of England, 1848

Edward Fitzgerald: 1809-83; transcendent translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; a famous verse goes thus:

'The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.'

Francis Galton: 1822-1911;polymathic statistician of astounding fecundity across a number of fields, including weather forecasting, fingerprinting, social studies and heredity; trained in medicine, he travelled widely, becoming the archetype of a gentleman scientist  

Arnold Toynbee: 1852-83; universal historian who came up with the term ‘industrial revolution’

Norman Lockyer: 1836-1920; father of archaeoastronomy, describing in the early 1900s the apparent solar, lunar and stellar alignments of Britain’s megalithic monuments; Lockyer also deduced the existence of helium from studies of sunlight – Greek, Helios, Sun – and was the founder in 1869 and first editor of the science journal Nature

Joseph Needham: 1900-95; legendary English historiographer of China’s early scientific and technological advances (e.g. paper, gunpowder, compass); the ‘Needham Question’ is ‘Why has China produced no idea or invention of global impact for more than 500 years?’

James Lovelock: b1919; chemist; his invention of an electron capture device enabled pollutants to be detected at unprecedented sensitivity and helped start the environmental movement of the 1970s; he made pioneering measurements of CFC pollutants, right down to the Antarctic; he engendered the theory of a self-regulating Earth, acting like a superorganism; metaphorically this was ‘Gaia’, a wise and bountiful goddess; the planet’s human denizens are threatening their own existence by unsustainable practices, Lovelock was to write; we may already be beyond the tipping point for climate change

Fred Sanger: b1918; he pioneered the sequencing of proteins in the 1950s, specifically establishing the amino acid sequence of insulin; in 1977 Sanger sequenced the first DNA-based genome, that of a bacteriophage, which is a virus that preys on bacteria; his method of sequencing DNA was essentially that used to determine the sequence of the human genome [see Human genome], in draft form in 2001 and in near-complete form in 2003; for establishing methods of protein and DNA sequencing, Sanger, a double Nobel laureate, was the greatest biologist of the 20th century

Seats of learning

Universities: (over 100), further education colleges (more than 700)

Neolithic academy?: a storm in 1850 uncovered the remains of an extensive stone-built Neolithic settlement, in Skara Brae, Orkney; the people had used Grooved Ware pottery, which is unique to Britain and is regarded as originating in the Orkneys themselves; Skara Brae comprises ten clustered houses, with each dwelling boasting a toilet; it was occupied in the period 3200-2500 BC; researchers tend to think it a simple village, Europe’s most complete New Stone Age example, of hardy resourceful folk, but there has also been enjoyable speculation that it was a prehistoric academy for astronomer-priests, one of the world’s earliest universities

Oxford University: AD 1100s, though a startlingly earlier foundation date of 900s BC (sic) is claimed by the historian of the restored Stuarts, Percy Enderbie [see More 24]: in any event, Oxford is claimed to be the oldest university in the English-speaking world, one of earliest anywhere and the most enduringly influential of all, across more than eight centuries; Oxford debating tradition was started by Alfred the Great in 872, for whom wisdom was the ‘loftiest of virtues’; schoolmaster Theobald of Étampes settled in Oxford in 1095; others followed; the rest is history

Cambridge University: this institution asserts for itself a foundation date of 1209, yet scholarship can claim a vastly greater antiquity there than that:

‘Mr. Broughton proving that the nine Schollers of Cambridge were converted to the faith [in 2nd century AD] and became fervent labourers in the Vineyard of our blessed Saviour, saith, which is further confirmed by the publick Charter of priviledges and immunities of King Arthur [see Arthur] to that renowned ancient Town, School and University of Cambridge, where among other memorable things he declareth that his Christian predecessours, Kings of Brittain, had been instructed there in learning and Religion, and in particular speaking there of King Lucius, what immunities he granted to that University, testifieth further, that this our first Christian King [2nd century AD; see Lucius] did receive the faith of Christ, by the preaching of the learned Christian Schollers of Cambridge. This Charter was dated at London, in the year of Christ 531 the 7th. day of April.’ [Source: Enderbie, II, p187; Enderbie’s marginal note in support of this material is as follows: Cambridge the School of the Brittish Kingdomes. K. Arthur a Benefactor to Schollers, Learning, and Religion. Apud Caium li. 1. de. Antiq. Cant. & in arce London. Howes. fol.53’]

St Andrews University: nearly six centuries

The Open University: 1969; world’s first virtual university for distance learning

Royal Institution of Great Britain: 1799; this is the world’s oldest independent research body; Davy invented the miner’s lamp there in 1815, saving many lives underground; Faraday showed how to generate electricity without batteries there, using a dynamo, 1831, also inventing the transformer in the same year; Dewar invented the vacuum (‘thermos’) flask there in 1892; public lectures at the Royal Institution became so popular that Albermarle Street, on which it lies, was made into world’s the first one-way system

Cavendish Laboratory: this Cambridge research facility has seen three particular eras of greatness, associated with Maxwell, Rutherford, and Watson and Crick [see Science]

Eton College: the world’s most famous school was founded in 1440

Examinations: the first school examination and grades system was that of Shrewsbury School; the earliest recorded written school exams there were 1817, though that was probably not their year of introduction [Source: Robertson]

Sex education: 'The first sex education course as part of a school curriculum wsa introduced in England at the private Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire by its progressive headmaster, Cecil Reddie, during the semester beginning 1 October 1889.' [Source: Robertson]

Ancient history

Iolo Morganwg: 1747-1826; this Welsh Archdruid’s name is pronounced ‘Yolo Morganug’; according to a commentator

'Edward Williams – better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg…was known as the most learned man in Wales, and he had the greatest influence in the preservation and revival of the ancient Welsh culture…He organized bardic assemblies and continued throughout his life to study and extol the principles behind their ancient doctrines, which he found identical with those of primitive Christianity…He proclaimed that English, equally with Welsh, was a bardic language…Throughout all his years of collecting and copying ancient Welsh texts and publishing them together with his own bardic contributions, Iolo still kept up his other life as Edward Williams the journeyman mason. His craft was always his stable livelihood. Walking far and wide in search of work, he became a familiar figure on the roads of South Wales…The controversy about which of them [Iolo’s manuscripts] are genuinely ancient and which are of Iolo’s writing is still brewing…Iolo revealed to them [the Welsh] the nobility of their ancient traditions and the sublime universal philosophy upheld by their Druid ancestors...the Druid alphabet as discovered by Iolo Morganwg.' (John Michell, Eccentric People and Peculiar Notions, 1984)

[see Druidism]

Thomas Young: 1773-1829; deciphered the first Egyptian hieroglyphs, one of history’s great polymaths he was a physician and also a physicist, estimating the size of a water molecule and formulating the wave theory of light (calculating its wavelength); he was also musically gifted, playing instruments from an early age; ‘In 1819, the English physician and polymath Thomas Young – known for his discovery of the interference of light – published a pioneering article on ancient Egypt in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It offered a partially correct translation of the Rosetta Stone’s hieroglyphic and demotic texts and outlined the new science of Egyptology.’ (Andrew Robinson, Nature, 468, 632-3, 2010); the baton on hieroglyphics was then taken up by Frenchman Jean-François Champollion

Henry Rawlinson: 1810-95; deciphered Persian cuneiform and was the scholar who first established the existence of the Sumerians; Rawlinson’s protégé George Smith (1840-76) was a pioneering Assyriologist who discovered the Epic of Gilgamesh, which includes accounts of Creation and of a Great Flood; Smith died at a relatively young age on a field expedition and was succeeded by E A Wallis Budge (1857-1934), who became a celebrated Egyptologist

Charles MacLaren: in 1822 he pointed out where the ancient city of Troy had been in Asia Minor, i.e. modern-day Turkey, and the brilliantly determined German excavator Heinrich Schliemann, who believed that truth underlay the stories of Homer, dug it up in 1870s, with Briton Frank Calvert

Austen Henry Layard: 1817-1894; discovered ancient Ninevah

Henry Sayce: 1843-1933; pioneer Assyriologist; discovered the Hittites and deciphered their script

Arthur Evans: 1851-1941; uncovered Knossos in modern-day Crete and was the discoverer of the Minoan civilisation there; Evans named this civilisation after King Minos of Greek mythology

Ethel Drowser: befriended the Mandeans, the marsh-dwellers of the Tigris and Euphrates delta, in the 1920s and 30s and was the first to translate their ancient legends, including one telling of a Great Flood of Noh (sic)

William Flinders Petrie: 1853-1942; pioneering Egyptologist and the father of modern archaeology; a maverick, abundantly bearded genius and a truly Influential Islander, worthy of a full meaure of renown [see More 4]; the approach of Flinders Petrie was obsessively systematic, distinguishing him from many of his predecessors and contemporaries; he had a passion for record-keeping, measurement and classification, that set the standard for field archaeology; early in his career he conducted the definitive survey of the pyramids on the Giza Plateau, winning fame by establishing their true dimensions; in Egypt he went on to excavated at Naukratis, Tanis, Abydos and Amarna, among many other places, over many seasons of incredibly dedicated labour; his most important find was the Merneptah Stele, 1896, which is regarded as bearing the only certain reference in any Egyptian document to Israel; he developed the technique of seriation – pottery dating – based on his pioneering archaeological work in Palestine and was an outstanding photographer; as a professor in University College London he established the world’s first degree course in archaeology; one of his students, Howard Carter, went on to make the most sensational archaeological find ever, in 1922, that of the tomb of Tutakhamun; immobilised by the First World War, Flinders Petrie immersed himself in British intellectual life; he was baffled as to why his nation’s scholars, who have done so much to dig up and elucidate the histories of other nations, took so little interest in the story of their native land; in 1917 Flinders Petrie wrote an essay entitled Neglected British History [reproduced as More 19], citing the Tysilio Chronicle  [reproduced as More 18] in the following terms:

'By any one reading the best modern authorities on history, it would hardly be expected that the fullest account that we have of early British history is entirely ignored. While we may see a few, and contemptuous, references to Nennius and Gildas, the name of the so-called Tysilio’s Chronicle is never given, nor is any use made of its record. Yet it is of the highest value…'

This inspirational man went on:

'The present requirement for British History, so much neglected, is a scholar…who will deal as an historian, and not as a mythologist, with the [ancient sources]… From these a consecutive narrative should be framed, from which suitable outlines might some day penetrate the general school books.'

Petrie's Neglected British History is the greatest single paper in British historigraphy

Laurence Austine Waddell: author of The Phoenician Origin of Britons, Scots & Anglo-Saxons, 1924, which among other things takes seriously the existence of the ancient kings of Britain [see More 21]; note that Waddell's 'Phoenicians' are of a more ancient vintage than the Phoenicians of the early centuries BC and are to be identified ultimately with the Ancient Sumerians, of whom they were a seafaring branch; Waddell (1854-1938) has suffered neglect because his search for the roots of civilization in Ancient Sumer involved investigating Indo-European roots, which in common with other scholars he termed 'Aryan', a word which later came to have unfortunate racial connotations, consigning Waddell's work to an undeserved oblivion; ‘Aryan’ is anciently what the speakers of Old Persian and Sanskrit called themselves; the word 'aristocrat' shares the same root; Waddell had no political agenda and was simply reconstructing the past; his view was that the Sumerians had come from Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey, with mastery of agriculture and irrigation and the worship of a god in heaven represented by the sun; they journeyed to Sumer in Mesopotamia, before founding daughter colonies in the Indus Valley and Egypt

'He [Waddell] studied Sanskrit and Sumerian, but in contrast with the fame he experienced in the earlier phase of his career in Tibetology, he gained no recognition as a Sumerologist, and his works ‘in a new field’ on topics of the history of civilization and with an Aryan theme were received as controversial…His comparative studies permitted him to recover the fact that the dynasty Ur-Nina founded was the very first dynasty of the Sumerians. Waddell’s history of civilization is truly unique and still unknown…Ur-Nina…was deified as Zakh…Waddell contended that this king’s achievements were told in the Elder Edda as Thor’s. He was of the opinion that Zeus and Jehovah, gods of thunder like Thor, derived from Zakh, the deified form of this king, as the Greeks and Israelites inherited legacies from older nations, i.e. the Egyptians and Babylonians…Ur-Nina ruled over a second ‘Edin’ situated in the indus Valley, his first ‘garden’ (of agriculture) being in Mesopotamia…Further evidence of this [Sumerian] empire is on the basis of Waddell’s discovery that Manis-tusu, son of the Sumerian Sargon I, was Menes, and inscriptions excavated by Flinders Petrie at Abydos (that Egyptologists could not decipher) were Sumerian and of Sargon’s time. It was Waddell’s opinion that Menes’ first Egyptian dynasty started out as a Sumerian dependency; he was known to the Minoans as King Minos…the notion of the Aryans as diffusers of civilization and the Sumerians being non-Semitic in contradiction of the Biblical view…Stories about the genesis of civilization were exported along the routes of migration from the ancient Near-East to Western Europe, either with a first wave of megalithic Syro-Phoenician builders, or a second one of Trojan Greeks who settled in the British Isles.' (Christine Preston, The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: A Biography of L.A. Waddell, 2009; see More 21)

The civilizers:

'…imposed their laws and spread their Sun-cult. Their knowledge caused a spritual ‘Rise of Man’ and in this context civilization is synonymous of spirituality. When the sense of the ‘rise of man’ was lost, an oral tradition circulated in the Ancient Near-East about the ‘creation of man' and tradition was penned down in a corrupt form. In a period of decline the golden age of civilization was remembered as a lost paradise.' (Christine Preston, The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: A Biography of L.A. Waddell, 2009; see More 21)

William Comyns Beaumont: historical revisionist of jaw-slackening audacity and originality, steeped in the scholarship of the ancient world, which erudition Beaumont (1873-1956) used to astounding narrative effect

'Comyns Beaumont, the Fleet Street editor, whose writings included books on Bacon as the author of Shakespeare and on ancient catastrophes on earth caused by the fall of comets. In his later works he claimed that Jerusalem was not originally in Palestine but at Edinburgh, and he produced a revolutionary world history, in which every famous event and site was located in the British Isles....he believed in Atlantis and in the past destruction of civilization on earth by the impact of a comet...Beaumont identified the British Isles as Atlantis...Nationalistic writers of many different countries have made sweeping claims for their own people as the original culture-bearers; but, in the audacity of his pretensions on behalf of the British, Beaumont surpassed them all... Having appropriated the whole of antiquity for Britain, Beaumont had the problem of finding enough British sites to accomodate the cities and landmarks of many different lands. This he solved by giving each of the prominent places in Britain several names from a variety of ancient cultures... catastrophist, Immanuel Velikovsky [Worlds in Collision, 1950]; Velikovsky was mean with his acknowledgements, referring...not at all to Comyns Beaumont. Yet Beaumont's theory of destructive comets was the same as Velikovsky's in all but some minor details.' (John Michell, Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions, 1984)

To quote Comyns Beaumont himself:

'...the ancient civilization of Ur of the Chaldeans, of the Egyptians, the Phoenicians and the Greeks in its origins must have emanated from the north, where they can and should be traced to their true habitats. This is my endeavour, and to throw a new light on the great achievements of our remote ancestors, and thus to restore Britain to the proud position she may claim as the real motherland of world civilization, the heart of a once great Celtic Empire which taught the world.' (Comyns Beaumont, The Riddle of Prehistoric Britain, 1946)

In the same line as Comyns Beaumont but a lesser exponent was Dr William Price of Wales (1800-93) [see William Price]

Howard Carter: 1874-1939; discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, in the River Nile’s Valley of the Kings; of the 63 subterranean tombs there, Tutankhamun’s tomb has been the only one found intact; this was the most fabulous treasure ever found – 32,000 objects in all, many of gold; Tutankhamun’s tomb is the greatest archaeological story of all time, complete with alleged ‘Pharoah’s curse’; Carter was a student of the archaeology legend, Flinders Petrie [see above]

Charles Leonard Woolley: 1880-1960; excavated Ur of Chaldees of Abraham

Michael Ventris: 1922-56; with John Chadwick (1920-98) Ventris deciphered Mycenean Linear B

Alan Wilson: in 1984 Wilson, together with co-author Baram Blackett, used the Ancient British Coelbren (Druid) Alphabet of the Khymry purportedly to decipher texts of the Etruscans (Italy), Rhaetians (Switzerland) & Pelasgians/Phyrygians (Aegean and Asia Minor, the Pelasgians being the first known inhabitants of Greece), right back to the Assyrians; they subsequently claimed to have improved the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs by the use of Khymraec, asserting the deep roots of the latter in the ancient world [for book titles, see the biographical note in More 2]


Freemasonry: the modern movement started in Rosslyn, Scotland, in the mid-1400s; the Earl of Orkney, one of the Sinclairs of Rosslyn, completed a transatlantic voyage in 1398, before Columbus’s own journey westward in 1492 [see America]; the Universal Grand Lodge of England is the senior Masonic authority in the world

School of Night: meetings in London of late 16th century figures including Walter Raleigh, John Dee, Giordano Bruno, Francis Bacon, Inigo Jones, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson; forerunner of Rosicrucian Order, which John Dee is credited with founding

Lunar Society: 1765-1813; meetings of industrial age luminaries in Birmingham; Boulton, Watt, Murdoch, Wedgewood, Priestley, Darwin (i.e. Erasmus), Smeaton etc; these were among history’s greatest gatherings

Society for Psychical Research: the world’s oldest such, 1882; devoted to study of ‘those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any recognized hypothesis’; Britain is the home of psychical research with Britain having the greatest number of hauntings in the world; Brighton is said to be the most haunted city


Plus & minus signs: the plus (+) and minus (-) signs were promoted in 1540 by Robert Recorde (c1510-58), though their use for these purposes was possibly not pioneered by him [see also below, Equals sign]; it has been conjectured that the + sign, like the ampersand (&), is derived from a ligature (joining of letters) of et, the Latin for ‘and’ [Source: Keith Houston, Shady Characters, 2013]

Division sign: the obelus (÷), also known as a lemniscus, existed in antiquity as a punctuation mark; the suggestion that it be used as the division sign was probably made by John Pell (1611-85)


Multiplication sign: the x as in 'times' sign was invented by William Oughtred in 1631; in 1621 he had invented the slide rule


Equals sign: Robert Recorde (c1510-58) invented the equals sign (=) in 1557 [see also  above, Plus & minus signs]



‘The slash-like mark called the “solidus” (/) , often used to set fractions such as “1/4”, owes its existence to the £sd convention for pre-decimilization British currency. S for “shilling” was often rendered as an elongated “long s”, or ∫; written out hurriedly, ∫ became the attenuated /.  Thus it is that wartime British concertgoers might have shelled out a princely “two and six,” or “2/6,” to see a show.’ (Keith Houston, Shady Characters, 2013) 

Decimal point: though he wasn’t the first to use it, John Napier (1550-1617) was a great proponent of the decimal point, which is why it is used worldwide today; in 1614 Napier invented logarithms; these enabled Keplar to produce astronomical tables that were thirty times more accurate than those of Copernicus


Pi: the Greek letter π, 'pi', was first used for the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter by William Jones in 1706


Calculus: the mathematics of change was mastered independently around 1665 by Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and the German Gottfried Leibnitz; Newton, besides making multiple contributions to mathematical physics also developed the binomial theorem [see Isaac Newton]


Statisticians: John Graunt, first statistical analysis, early 1600s; Thomas Bayes (1701-1761; theorem published posthumously to calculate probabilities based on partial information; only in 1980s did sufficient computing power arrive for the theorem’s full exploitation); Richard Price, also 1700s, was the founding father of actuarial science; Benjamin Gompertz, William Farr, Florence Nightingale, William Playfair, all flourished in the 1800s, as did Francis ‘regression to the mean’ Galton (1822-1911)


George Boole: 1815-64; invented Boolean algebra, the basis of modern computer logic; Boole was thus (unwittingly) one of the founders of computer science; it is a historical curiosity that the mathematics to operate the computer were delivered up by Britain before the computer was invented


Greatest mathematical collaboration ever: this was in the theory of numbers and was between G H Hardy, a Cambridge academic, and S Ramanujan, a former clerk in the port of Madras, in the period 1914-9


Darwinian put-down: 

'A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there'  (Charles Darwin, 1809-82) 

Yet one black cat has been found, the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem…

Fermat’s Last Theorem: proved in 1995 by Andrew Wiles (b1953)

Census: the world’s first reliable one was taken in Britain in 1801; there has been a British census every tenth year since, with the exception of wartime 1941; a decennial count duly took place in 2011; not a census as such but one of the world’s oldest national surveys of landowning and resources, the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 [see William the Conqueror]

Units of measurement

'Mo': according to an old English system, a ‘moment’ is equal to one and a half minutes; e.g. ‘I’ll be back in half a mo.’

Ancient British counting system:

‘Eeny, meeny, miny, mow, catch a monkey by the toe. If he squeals let him go. Eeny, meeny, miny, mow’

This is believed to be a remnant of an Ancient British counting system from more than 4,000 years ago; this tells you if your flock of 20 sheep are all present and correct, for example


'...Professor Piazzi Smith, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland and leading authority on the Great Pyramid...his reading of the prophetic scripts which he found geometrically expressed in the dimensions of the Pyramids inner passages. To interpret these it was necessary to use the 'pyramid inch' unit, differing by only one part in a thousand from the modern English inch and equal to a 500,000,000th part of the earth's polar axis. In scientific journals Piazzi Smyth urged the French to give up their atheistic metre in favour of the Pyramid inch, whose preservation had been the sacred commission of the British.' (John Michell, Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions, 1984)

All alternative, Roman derivation of 'inch' is given in the next item [see Foot]; Professor Smith would doubtless have been pleased to hear that the inch is preserved to this day, inter alia, as a unit of measurement in typography: 

‘The “pica point” used in Britain and in the United States is equal to 1/72 inch...’ (Keith Houston, Shady Characters, 2013; see Typography)

Foot: the Roman foot was 29.62 cm while the British – and American – foot is 30.48 cm; this makes the Roman foot 97.2% of a British foot; on the other hand the much earlier Minoan Foot was just a fraction over 1 mm shorter, at 30.36 cm, making it 99.6% of a British foot; surprisingly, the British foot seems to be a metric version of a geometrical slice of the Earth’s polar circumference, using a 366º geometry [see Stone structures worldwide]; if the Romans probably did not contribute their foot to Britain, they probably contributed the concept of a twelfth part of a foot, the inch (Latin uncia, a twelfth part of anything) - but an alternative take on the history of the inch is given in the previous item [see Inch]; the velocity of light, c, in E = mc², is a curiously accurate 1 British foot per nanosecond, to within about 2%; Thomas Jefferson, who became the third president of the United States of America, noticed that a cubic foot of rainwater weighed precisely 1,000 ounces; he studied all known British measures and concluded in 1790 that the apparently arbitrary units "must have been the result of design and scientific calculation, and not a mere coincidence of hazard…from very high antiquity."

Megalithic yard: see Megalithic structures

Mile: from Latin milia pasuum, a ‘thousand paces’, though 2,000 would be nearer the mark, to pace out a modern mile of 1,760 yards, each yard being of three feet

Metric units: more have been named after eminent British scientists than after individuals from any other single nation; thus watt, kelvin, farad, newton, dalton, joule (James Joule, 1818-1889, law of conservation of energy; related energy and work) and gray (Louis Harold Gray, 1905-1965, radiobiology); the earliest concept of a metric system was invented by John Wilkins, the first secretary of the Royal Society, in 1668; the metric system devised by the French in the late 1700s had been used in nearly identical form in the land of Sumer, 4,500 years previously, according to Livio Stecchini, a professor of metrology (measurement)


‘ “How much does a kilogram weigh these days?” may sound like an odd question. Does a kilogram not weigh just that, a kilogram? In fact a kilogram is the mass of a cylindrical lump of platinum-iridium alloy that was cast in 1879 in Hatton Garden, the jewellery district of London, and then despatched to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sèvres, near Paris. It sits there still, nestled beneath three cheese-dome like bell jars in a safe that can be unlocked (though it rarely is) only by turning a set of three keys, each entrusted to a high-ranking BIPM dignitary.’ (The Economist, 29 January 2011)

Preferred by scientists to this quaint British-made hallowed-by-tradition artefact is a kilogram based on the fundamental laws of nature, but that is a work in progress

Wellcome Trust: one of world’s biggest medical research charities; it was particularly crucial in funding the decoding of the human genome at the end of the 20th century

International recognition: innumerable awards (e.g. of Nobel laureates, 15% have been British)

William Caxton : c1422-92; he established the first printing press in Britain in 1476, in Westminster, having been a printer on the other side of the Channel before that; after Caxton died his foreman took over, the splendidly named Wynkyn de Worde

'Book printed in the English language: The first was The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, a translation from the original French published by William Caxton at Bruges in 1474. Caxton prefaced the work with the explanation, "It is not wreton with penne and ynke as other bokes ben...for all bokes of this storye...were begonne in oon day, and also fynysshid in oon day." ' [Source: Robertson]

[see Children's book]

Johnson's Dictionary: Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1755, contained 43,000 words; the entry under ‘Lexicographer’ reads ‘a writer of dictionaries – a harmless drudge’; the first monolingual English dictionary, though, was not Johnson’s but that of Robert Cawdrey, 1604; Cawdrey spelt words two ways on the title page; The Oxford English Dictionary, showing historical usage, is the product of over a century and a half’s scholarship and is perhaps the greatest work of scholarship ever produced; the OED’s first publication was in 1884

Shorthand: the world's first shorthand system based on phonography (Greek: ‘Sound writing’) was that of Isaac Pitman, 1837; Pitman shorthand has since gone worldwide, though in some places it has been superseded by a system first published in 1888 by another Briton, John Robert Gregg; the Teeline shorthand system of James Hill appeared in 1968

1859: notable publications in that year included those of John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin and Samuel Smiles; John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, saw British history as the history of a free people who had struggled for centuries against enemies overseas (most recently Napoleonic France) and against their own despotic kings in order to preserve the values of freedom and democracy represented by fourth-century Athens; Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is a candidate for book of the millennium, articulating as it does evolution by natural selection [see Charles Dickens]; Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help launched self-improvement books as a genre and has been translated into 50 languages; Smiles wrote that “The crown and glory of life is Character. It is the noblest possession of a man, constituting a rank in itself, and an estate in the general goodwill; dignifying every station, and exalting every position in society.”[see Self-improvement];deaths in 1859 included those of historian Thomas Babbington Macauley and of engineers Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Robert Stevenson, the last-mentioned being the son and collaborator of railway pioneer George Stevenson

Encyclopedia Britannica: the classic edition was the 11th, published in 1911; this became the first online encyclopedia, renamed the Gutenberg Encyclopedia [Source: Robertson]; 'encyclopedia'  means 'learning within the circle'

Times Atlas of the World: first published in 1895

Guinness World Records: first published in 1955 as The Guinness Book of Records; bestselling copyrighted series of all time, with sales of 120m copies in 100 countries; therein, numerous record-breaking Britons

Cambridge University Press: world’s oldest publisher, founded in 1584

GCHQ: in the 1970s Britain’s spook listening post at Cheltenham developed the first completely unbreakable two-way (sender-receiver) code

Mensa: world’s oldest High IQ society, founded in 1946

The National CV of Britain: the first draft of this forward-looking history was produced by John Hart (b1953) of Tadley, Hampshire, UK, and circulated privately; it was dated 2 October 2008; this is the first known attempt to relate a nation’s history and accomplishments in the form of a personal career history (curriculum vitae, CV); The National CV Group, comprising five members, met for the first time in person on 21 January 2009, in Tadley, after a virtual existence in 2008 [see About us]; the group’s mission was to distill Britain’s history by compiling a CV for the nation to encourage a buoyant sense of belonging and to inspire the Influential Islanders (i.e. the denizens of the UK) as they ‘apply for the future’; the items in the CV would be validated by reference to an underlying CVpedia database, whose compilation began in 2009; below the CVpedia was to be a stratum of specialist essays and scholarly resources on topics of particular interest, the CVpedia More Articles [see More Articles]; the prototype More article was dated 21 March 2010; the first draft of The National CVpedia of Britain was uploaded to this website in October 2011; an extract of The National CV of Britain 2012 was uploaded in January 2012; meanwhile a lively presentation had been developed based on The National CV; this was prototyped at the Priory Primary School, Pamber Heath, Tadley, Hampshire, on 28 April 2010, and has since been given to many schools

© The National CV Group 2013
All Rights Reserved





History in the news
About Us
Contact us
Local Colour