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Made in England but do we know it? New poll reveals we attribute key moments in English history to other nations

  • We launch our major new campaign, Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical
  • Panel of judges including Mary Beard, George Clarke, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Professor Robert Winston call for public to nominate the places in England that have made global and national history
  • In a national poll, when asked to choose from a list, nearly a third said the atom was first split in Geneva, Switzerland (32%) and only 12% said Manchester, where it actually happened
  • More people believed bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand (41%) than in Bristol (10%), where it actually began

Image of Ernest Rutherford in his laboratory circa 1905
Ernest Rutherford in his laboratory circa 1905

A new YouGov poll has revealed a widespread lack of knowledge about where ground-breaking moments in England’s history happened.

From the laboratory where the atom was first split to the site where the technology in every skyscraper was first used, buildings and places across England have witnessed turning points that changed the country and the world.

But a new poll by Historic England, supported by Ecclesiastical, shows that a high percentage of people do not know where these moments happened, with many assuming they occurred in other countries.

The poll showed that 88% of people did not know where the atom was first split, with 32% thinking it happened in Geneva, Switzerland and only 12% correctly identifying Manchester as the place where Ernest Rutherford is widely acknowledged to have first split the atom.

Some 93% of people were unaware that Shrewsbury is home to the first building in the world with revolutionary iron framing technology, earning it the nickname the ‘Father of Skyscrapers’ (Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings).

Just under half of respondents (47%) thought this technology was first developed in Manhattan, New York.

The poll also revealed that 84% of Brits were not aware that trainers were first produced in Bolton (instead 42% chose Detroit, USA) and only 10% of people knew that the world’s first bungee jump happened in Bristol, off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Nearly half of respondents (41%) thought it happened in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Raising awareness of the way regions across England have broken new ground and changed the world is vital to national and local self-esteem, and integral to England’s ability to keep experimenting, inventing and creating in the future.

Find out more about Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

Test yourself on our quiz

Image of a woman looking up at the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, site of the world's first bungee jump
A woman looking up at the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, site of the world's first bungee jump

A History of England in 100 Places

Historic sites across the country have shaped England and are often still hotbeds of invention and creativity. These places bring our history to life; they hold a thread that runs between generations and they should be celebrated.

Historic England and Ecclesiastical are calling on the public, history groups and experts to help them create a list of the 100 buildings and places which best tell England’s remarkable story and its impact on the world.

The new year-long campaign, Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, which is sponsored by Ecclesiastical, will be divided into ten categories, from Science & Discovery and Homes & Gardens, to Music & Literature and Industry, Trade & Commerce. Each category will focus on ten places which will be chosen from a long list of public nominations by expert judges.

The panel of judges includes Mary Beard, George Clarke, Tristram Hunt, Professor Robert Winston, Bettany Hughes and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The places that make the list will feature in a podcast series and a handbook, which will be produced as part of the campaign over the following year.

Nominate a place which has made history.

Image of the main mill at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, which has a revolutionary iron frame. This technology inspired the inner steel framework now found in every skyscraper, so the building is dubbed the
The main mill at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, which has a revolutionary iron frame. This technology inspired the inner steel framework now found in every skyscraper, so the building is dubbed the "father of skyscrapers".

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “There’s a tree by a house in Lincolnshire where Isaac Newton once stood, and an apple fell and transformed our understanding of the world. Today anyone, from anywhere, can go to places like this and imagine.

By telling a history of England in 100 places, we want to help people understand the many spots, right across our country that have shaped the world, creating advances in science, the arts, trade and industry, and we want the public to nominate the ones they think are the most important to our national story.”

Mark Hews, Chief Executive of Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, said: “Ecclesiastical is proud to be trusted to protect so much of England’s irreplaceable heritage, being the leading insurer of Grade I listed buildings in the UK, as well as protecting palaces, castles and World Heritage Sites that are recognised by billions of people worldwide.

These are places that have shaped England, our history, our culture and ultimately, who each one of us is today. As such, we are delighted to support this campaign, which will unearth and celebrate the hidden gems of our nation’s history.”

Find out more about Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

Take the quiz

1. If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think the atom was first split?

  • a) Geneva, Switzerland
  • b) Cambridge, UK
  • c) California, USA
  • d) Manchester, UK
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: Manchester. 12% of respondents answered correctly.
32% answered Geneva; 31% answered Cambridge; 15% answered California; 10% answered none of these

2. If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think the world's first bungee jump happened?

  • a) Queenstown, New Zealand
  • b) Bristol, UK
  • c) Colorado, USA
  • d) Adelaide, Australia
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: Bristol. 10% of respondents answered correctly.
41% answered Queenstown; 28% answered Adelaide; 15% answered Colorado; 7% answered none of these

3. If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think the first pair of trainers was produced?

  • a) Trenton, USA
  • b) Northampton, UK
  • c) Bolton, UK
  • d) Mumbai, India
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: c) Bolton. 16% answered correctly.
42% answered Trenton, 23% answered Northampton; 11% answered Mumbai; 8% answered none of these

4. If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think the pencil was invented?

  • a) Athens, Greece
  • b) Cairo, Egypt
  • c) Cumbria, UK
  • d) Yorkshire, UK
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: c) Cumbria. 27% answered correctly.
23% answered Athens; 23% answered Cairo; 18% answered Yorkshire; 8% answered none of these

5. If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think is widely considered to be the "birthplace of feminism"?

  • a) Newnham College, Cambridge
  • b) Newington Green Unitarian Church, London
  • c) Cornell University, New York
  • d) University of Paris, France
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: b) Newington Green Unitarian Church, London. 20% answered correctly.
31% answered Newnham College; 19% answered Cornell University; 12% answered University of Paris; 18% answered none of these

6. If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think the first vaccine was developed?

  • a) Strasbourg, France
  • b) Boston, USA
  • c) Gloucestershire, UK
  • d) Botswana, Africa
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: c) Gloucestershire. 42% answered correctly.
37% answered Strasbourg; 9% answered Boston; 4% answered Gaborone; 8% answered none of these

7. All skyscrapers today have an inner steel framework, which is self-supporting and fireproof. This is known as "iron framing technology". If you had to choose, in which ONE, if any, of the following places do you think this technology was first used in a building?

  • a) Manhattan, USA
  • b) Shanghai, China
  • c) Liverpool, UK
  • d) Shrewsbury, UK
  • e) None of these

Show answer

Answer: d) Shrewsbury. 7% answered correctly.
47% answered Manhattan; 22% answered Shanghai; 17% answered Liverpool; 7% answered none of these

Reset answers

Find out more about Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

Image of the Jenner Hut in Gloucestershire where Edward Jenner developed the Smallpox vaccination in 1796, the first vaccination in the world
The Jenner Hut in Gloucestershire where Edward Jenner developed the Smallpox vaccination in 1796, the first vaccination in the world
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