Britain is home to 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (plus one in Northern Ireland) from Orkney in the North to the tip of Cornwall. Many of the sites are deeply ingrained in Britain's pioneering Victorian industrial heritage and mining culture, especially so in Wales and northern England. In the south, Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast make up the share of natural sites, whilst many of London's biggest attractions are also UNESCO sites including the imposing Tower of London, beautiful Kew Gardens, the towering Palace of Westminster and idyllic Greenwich.
Founded in 1945, just after the war, UNESCO represents 193 member states. Its core goal is to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights by facilitating collaboration between nations.
Blenheim Palace is the only country home in the UK to hold the title of palace, despite being non-royal and non-episcopal. It was constructed between 1705 and 1722 to celebrate victory over the French at Blenheim in 1704. The house, one of the largest in the UK, was designed by architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor in the rare and short-lived English Baroque style. The surrounding parkland and gardens were laid out by Capability Brown. It is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, & St Martin's Church (cultural, 1988) Kent [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
Founded in 597, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1174, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the England's oldest and most famous Christian buildings. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Throughout its long history, it is seen both murder and destruction; Archbishop Thomas Beckett was killed in the the north-western transept in 1170 knights of King Henry II and has been rebuilt fully on two occasions and partially on many others.
Famously known for, and built around its Roman baths, the city of Bath in Somerset, south-western England is a UNESCO world heritage site in itself and as part of the Great Spa Towns of Europe, a UNESCO transitional site as of 2021. Although it's baths existed prior to the arrival of the Romans, the current baths were built in around 60 AD. The city was laid out later in the 18th century. Pride and Prejudice novelist Jane Austin resided in the city in the late 19th century.
This site, consisting of former mines, engine buildings, small settlements, harbours, and other associated structures, makes up the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape as listed by UNESCO and inscribed in 2006. Tin and copper were the main materials exploited in this area from the 15th century onwards. The last mine closed in 1998, and many of the sites are now protected by National Trust with funding from UNESCO.
Belper, north of Derby, is home to perhaps Britain's most well-known factory building. Derwent Valley Mills are a collection of factories that operated in the 18th and 19th centuries, first producing silk and then moving into the cotton industry. Richard Arkwright brought advancements in manufacturing technology, using water to power looms meaning cotton could be produced continuously without the need for skilled workers.
Although pay was likely low and conditions questionable, workers were provided with homes in newly-built communities with schools, chapels and markets.
Stretching from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is noted for its geological history spanning 185 million years including the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The stretch of coast is also known for its natural features like Durdle Door (pictured below), pinnacles, coves and dramatic cliffs.
The Lake District is a region in the north-west of England, characterised by its mountains, quaint towns and its many lakes. It also known for the poets and writers that lived in the area such as William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin. England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike, can be found here, as can England's deepest and largest natural lakes, Wast Water and Windermere respectively.
Frontiers of the Roman Empire (cultural, 1987) Northern England/Southern Scotland [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
The Frontiers of the Roman Empire are a series of defence forts and walls marking the border of the Roman Empire although they were not used by the Romans for that purpose. These defence systems can be found in Germany and the UK, perhaps the most notable being Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Despite many people believing Hadrian's Wall forms England's border with Scotland, it lies entirely within England and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border.
Further north in Scotland, Antonine Wall, also a UNESCO world Heritage site, is thought by some to be based on Hadrian's wall.
Cutting deep through the Shropshire countryside, flows the River Severn following the route of the mighty Ironbridge gorge, named so due to the famous iron bridge – first of its kind in the world – that spans the gorge. Historically the site was useful to early industrialists due to the easy exploitation of raw materials such as coal, iron ore, limestone and clay, used to manufacture iron, tiles and porcelain. The bridge, opened in 1781, was the first major bridge in the world to be made of cast iron and is a celebrated symbol of the industrial revolution.
Forming part of the Jodrell bank Centre for astrophysics at the University of Manchester, the Observatory was established in 1945 by Bernard Lovell. Earlier on in the observatories history, the research Centre played an important role in the tracking of space probes at the start of the space age, nowadays it's one of the largest astrophysics research groups in the UK with research into cosmic microwave background radiation, gravitational lenses, active galaxies, as well as research into wavelengths, star formation and astrochemistry.
At 76m (250ft) in diameter, the Lovell telescope was the world's largest steerable dish radio telescope when it was constructed in 1957.
The Old Royal Naval College (pictured below), is the architectural centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich. UNESCO comments "[Greenwich] is the finest and most dramatically cited architectural and landscape ensemble in the British Isles". The buildings, opened as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, were designed by Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712. They served as the Royal Naval College between 1873 and 1998, before being passed on to the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.
One of the most impressive buildings in the complex is the Painted Hall which, from the outside, looks no different to other buildings but inside it is ornately decorated with a painted ceiling, grand columns and detailed wall decoration.
Palace of Westminster & Westminster Abbey incl Saint Margaret's Church (cultural, 1987) London [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
The Palace of Westminster, also informally known as the Houses of Parliament, is the most politically important site in the UK. It serves as the seat of government and is the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Construction of the current building (the New Palace) began in 1840 and took 30 years to complete. It replaced the Old Palace which was destroyed by a fire in 1834. The then King William IV offered Parliament the use of Buckingham Palace but it was considered unsuitable and plans were put in place for a Gothic Revival replacement to sit on the same site and make use of reclaimed land to the south, on the banks of the Thames.
Located in the affluent London borough of Richmond upon Thames, Kew Gardens, founded in 1840, houses "the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world". Across 121 hectares, some 27,000 species of plants are planted in specified areas including lawns, lakeside, forested, decorative spaces and in large glasshouses. The Temperate House is the largest of the glasshouses at Kew, covering 4,880m/sq and is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure.
Saltaire is a Victorian mill complex and model village located in the city of Bradford. Built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, an industrialist in the woollen industry, the textile mill formed part of Salt's model village which contained everything his workers needed, from a house, educational buildings, a church, allotments, parks and other recreational services. It closed its doors in 1986 but can still be visited as it now houses shops, restaurants and an art gallery.
Perhaps one of Britain's most culturally important sites, Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. Its large upright stones, strategically placed, line up with the sunrise on summer solstice. It is believed that the structure was constructed some time between 3000BC and 2000BC with each two ton stone being transported from Pembrokeshire via a system of lifting and carrying on rows of poles.
The site is owned by the Crown, and managed by English Heritage and National Trust. Whilst access is limited for most of the year, access is permitted during the summer and winter solstice and spring and autumn equinox.
Studley Royal Park incl the Ruins of Fountains Abbey (cultural, 1986) North Yorkshire [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
Studley Royal Park was developed around the majestic ruins of Fountains Abbey, the largest and best preserved Cistercian monastery in England. The surrounding parkland is laid out over 323 hectares and features an 18th century landscaped garden, Jacobean mansion and Victorian church.
Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by Henry VIII, the abbey and surrounding land was sold by the Crown to Sir Richard Gresham, who passed it down through generations of his family. After passing hands many times over the centuries, it was taken over by the National Trust in 1983.
The Tower of London has played a vital part in England's history, and is now one of London's most-visited attractions. Founded in 1066 by newly-crowned William the Conquerer as part of the Norman Conquest, it served as a grand royal residence for the first part of its history before being used as a prison with famous inmates such as the Kray Twins. During in its long and tumultuous history, it has also housed The Royal Mint, a public records office and, to this day, is home to the Crown Jewels.
Truly a wonder of the natural world, Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland is an area of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. Between 40 and 50 million years ago, County Antrim was subject to highly volcanic activity which pushed molten basalt up through chalk beds which, when cooled, formed this unique landscape.
The Forth Bridge, often considered a symbol of Scotland, opened in 1890 to carry rail traffic across the Firth of Forth. With a total length of 2,467m, it was the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world when it opened. It was constructed to replace the Tay Railway Bridge which suffered catastrophic collapse due to "bad design, bad construction and bad maintenance".
Orkney is home to a group of largely, well-preserved Neolithic monuments. The collective site is made up of four areas on mainland Orkney including Maes Howe; a burial monument that is aligned with the sun at winter solstice, the Standing Stones of Stenness; the remaining four megaliths that would've formed a henge, the Ring of Brodgar; a stone circle measuring 104m in diameter, and Skara Brae; Northern Europe's best-preserved Neolithic village.
New Lanark is an early example of a planned settlement and considered an important milestone in the historical development of urban planning. Founded in 1786 by Scottish industrialist David Dale, and in partnership with his son-in-law, Robert Owen, a Welsh utopian socialist, it became a successful business and made use of the only waterfalls on the River Clyde. Unlike other factories and mills at the time, New Lanark provided clean, healthy industrial environment, a content and vibrant workforce and an astonishingly prosperous and viable business venture.
Old & New Towns of Edinburgh (cultural, 1995) Edinburgh [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
Capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is split into the Old Town and New Town which, together, make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town is largely preserved, retaining much of its medieval street plan and Reformation-era buildings. The New Town, named so because of its later construction between 1767 and 1850, is built in new-classical and Georgian styles.
The landscape around the town of Blaevavon, Wales is listed as such due to its industrial past as a major centre of iron production. Roads, railways and canals were built to transport quarried materials to the factories to be processed, houses for workers were constructed and other industrial processes were put in place to make for a highly efficient working environment. The area was active until 1980 when the last mine closed. It is now a museum, open to the public.
Castles & Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (cultural, 1986) Conwy/Isle of Anglesey/Gwynedd [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
This site covers the castles of Beaumaris and Harlech, and the castles and walls of Caernarfon and Conwy in Wales. UNESCO considers the sites to be the "finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe". All four of the fortifications were built at the orders of King Edward I following his invasion of North Wales in 1282. It was part of his major campaign to colonise Wales, defeating local princes and building castles in which the English could safely reside whilst acting on orders from the King. Construction on Caernarfon and Beaumaris ceased in 1330 and were never fully completed due to dwindling royal funds.
Carrying the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest in Great Britain and the highest in the world. The canal was to be part of a largest commercial plan to construct a series of waterways connecting the River Severn at Shrewsbury and the Port of Liverpool but after the construction of the aqueduct, the plans were dropped.
The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales (cultural, 2021) Gwynedd [Wikipedia] [UNESCO]
The slate industry in Wales has existed since the Roman period, but it expanded rapidly during Britain's industrial revolution. Penrhyn and Dinorwig were the largest slate quarries in the world, which, towards the end of the 19th century, were producing over half a million tons of slate a year across a workforce of 17,000 men. As the 20th century approached, the demand for slate dropped and many of the larger quarries and mines closed in the sixties and seventies. Slate is still mined here on a small scale.
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