Britain’s superlatives

Here is a page for lovers of trivia and pub quizes.  What is Britain’s largest, smallest, oldest – and so on?

Ben Nevis, Loch Eil
Britain’s natural world

What is Britain’s longest river?

The longest river in Britain is the River Severn, which meanders for 220 miles (354 km) from the slopes of Plynlimon in Ceredigion, Wales, to the Bristol Channel in England.  The longest river in England is the River Thames, which is 215 miles (346 km) from its normally quoted source at Kemble in Gloucester, to the Thames Estuary and the North Sea.  The longest river in Scotland is the Tay, which is 117 miles (188 km) long.  It rises in the western Highlands and takes a circuitous route to the North Sea via the Firth of Tay, south of Dundee.

River Severn, Ironbridge
What is Britain’s highest mountain?

The highest mountain in Britain is Ben Nevis – Beinn Nibheis – (4412 feet, 1345 metres) near Fort William, Scotland.  The highest mountain in Wales is Snowdon – Y Widdfa – (3560 feet, 1085 metres) in the Snowdonia National Park and the highest in England is Scafell Pike (3210 feet, 978 metres) in the Lake District, Cumbria

What is Britain’s largest lake?

Britain’s largest lake is Loch Lomond, in Scotland.  It covers an area of 27.45 square miles (71 square km) and is almost 23 miles (36 km) long.  The largest lake in England is Windermere, in the English Lake District, which has an area of 5.7 square miles (14.8 square km) and is about 11 miles long (17.7 km).  The largest lake in Wales is Bala Lake – Llyn Tegid – in Gwynedd. It is 3.7 miles long (6 km) and a surface area of 1.87 square miles (4.8 km).

What is Britain’s largest island? 

The largest island in the British Isles is Britain itself, the second is the island of Ireland, which includes the independent state of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter being part of the United Kingdom.

Britain’s largest island (ie off the shore of Britain) is Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides, which is 841 square miles (2,178 km2.  Next is Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales at 276 square miles (714km2) and coming in third is the Isle of Wight on England’s south coast at 147 square miles (381 km2).

What are the most extreme temperatures in Britain?

The highest officially recorded temperature in Britain is 40.3°C (104.54°F) at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on 19 July 2022, beating the previous record of 38.7°C set in 2019 at Cambridge Botanic Garden.  The lowest officially recorded temperature is -27.2°C (-16.9°F), recorded most recently at Braemar in Aberdeenshire on 10 January 1982.

What is the largest animal in Britain?

The largest wild land animal is the red deer.  One, known as the Exmoor Emperor, was recorded as measuring 9 feet (2.74 metres) high from hoof to antler.

Britain’s man-made world

What is Britain’s largest city? 

Britain’s largest city, or urban area, is Greater London with an estimated population in 2017 of 8.9 million.  Second is Birmingham (estimated population 1.15 million), followed by Glasgow (more than 612,000).

What is Britain’s smallest city? 

The smallest city in Britain is St Davids in Pembrokeshire, with a population of less than 2000.  The smallest city by area is the City of London, which has a resident population of fewer than 8,000 people.  The smallest city in England is Wells, Somerset, with a population of about 10,500 and the smallest city in Scotland is probably Stirling, with a population of around 46,000.

St Davids Cathedral, largest in Wales, smallest city in Britain, River Alun
What is Britain’s oldest city?

That’s a tricky one. It is usually claimed that Colchester in Essex is Britain’s oldest recorded town.  It was given the status of a Roman colonia in 49 AD, was sacked by Boudicca in 60 AD and mentioned by Pliny the Elder in 77 AD. On that basis, Britain’s first cities were Roman; but occupation after the end of Roman rule cannot be guaranteed.

‘City’ has a very precise meaning as a town that has been created a city by charter, traditionally with a cathedral. Unfortunately, records are unreliable. However, British towns that have been considered cities for so long that there is no recorded date for them gaining city status include: Bangor, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chichester, Durham, Ely, Exeter, Lincoln, London, Salisbury, Winchester, and York.

A borough is a town with a corporation and privileges granted by a royal charter.  Malmesbury. Wiltshire, is considered the oldest borough in England, with a charter given by Alfred the Great around the year 880.

Of course, many of Britain’s towns date from well before the Romans came.  The Wiltshire town of Amesbury, including Stonehenge, has been continually occupied since c8820 BC and is generally considered to be the place with the longest continuous settlement in the United Kingdom.

What is Britain’s smallest house?

Britain’s smallest house is Quay House in Conwy, Wales  It is 5 feet (1.5 m) wide, just over 10 feet (3 m) high and about 10 feet deep.  Incredibly, it has a first floor.  It dates from the 16th century and was occupied until May 1900.

What is the longest place name in Britain?

It’s on the tip of your tongue, isn’t it? – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwiiiiantysiligogogoch, a village on Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in North Wales. The name means “Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave” and is often shortened to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll or Llanfair PG.

Britain's longest place name

What is Britain’s longest road?

Britain’s longest road is the A1, between London and Edinburgh – what used to be romantically known as ‘the Great North Road’.  It is 410 miles (660 km) long.

What is Britain’s longest bridge?

Britain’s longest bridge is the Second Severn Crossing, the Prince of Wales Bridge, opened by the Prince of Wales in 1996, which carries the M4 across the River Severn.  It is 16,824 feet (5,128 metres) long.  BUT, if viaducts are bridges, then the longest accolade goes to the Bromford Viaduct in Birmingham, an elevated section of the M6. It is 3½ miles (5.6 km) long.

 What is Britain’s oldest bridge?

Britain’s oldest bridge is generally reckoned to be the Tarr Steps, a clapper bridge over the River Barle in Somerset.  Legend suggests it was built by the Devil (who is fairly old); some believe it was built about 3,000 years ago, but it is at least medieval – possibly 14th century.

Tarr Steps, Somerset, Exmoor National Park

What is Britain’s oldest pub?

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of old pubs in Britain.  It will come as no surprise to learn that several of them claim to be Britain’s oldest – though I was shocked to discover that I’d only visited four of them.  Much depends on whether the claim relates to the current building, or one that was, or may have been, previously on the same site.  Apparently, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans is mentioned as being the official oldest in the Guinness Book of Records, but as I haven’t seen the entry I can’t be sure.  Besides, there may be an older one by now… Anyway, here’s a selection of ancient hostelries in ascending date order:

Claimed year of foundation
The Old Ferryboat Inn, Holywell, Cambridgeshire 560 AD – or 1400
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans 793 AD
The Porch House, Stow-On-The-Wold 947 AD
The Bingley Arms, Leeds 953 AD
The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield 1086
The Fleur de Lys, Pilley, Hampshire 1096
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham 1189
White Hart Inn, Holborn, London 1216
Ye Olde Salutation Inn, Nottingham 1240
The Adam and Eve, Norwich 1249
Ye Olde Man and Scythe, Bolton 1251
The Scotch Piper, Lydiate, Merseyside 1320
The George Inn, Norton St Philip, Bath 14th or 15th century
The Sheep Heid Inn, Edinburgh 1360
The Bell Inn, Nottingham 1437
The Prospect of Whitby, London 1520
The Skirrid Inn, Abergavenny 17th or 12th century
The Clachan Inn, Drymen, Stirlingshire 1734

See the Drink Business website (and they should know).

Trip to Jerusalem
What is Britain’s largest cathedral?

Britain’s largest cathedral is Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral (the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool).  Externally, it is 621 feet (189 m) long and 331 feet (101 m) high.  Britain’s tallest cathedral is Salisbury Cathedral, whose spire is 404 feet (123 m) high. Lincoln Cathedral’s was even taller until it collapsed in 1549.

What is Britain’s smallest cathedral?

Britain’s smallest cathedral is Millport Cathedral, the Cathedral of The Isles and Collegiate Church of the Holy Spirit, on the Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland.

What is Britain’s oldest cathedral?

Britain’s first cathedral is generally said to be Canterbury Cathedral, which was founded by St Augustine in 597 AD. However, nothing remains from this time.  Others believe the first British cathedral was Bangor, the Cathedral Church of St Deiniol founded by St Deiniol in 525 AD – though no trace of that survives either.  The oldest surviving part of a current cathedral in Britain is the crypt at Ripon, which dates from the mid-7th century – although Ripon did not actually become a cathedral until 1836.  St Albans Cathedral is thought to be the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain. It stands where Alban, the first British martyr, was buried after being executed by the Roman authorities; there was a church on the site from around 429 AD.  The present cathedral dates from 1077.

What is the oldest church in Britain?

The oldest church in Britain still in use is St Martin’s, Canterbury, which dates from 597 AD.  It was the private chapel of the Christian Queen Bertha of Kent and, according to Bede, it was built on an earlier church from the late Roman period.

St Martin's, Canterbury
En passant
, perhaps we should also mention St Andrew’s in Greensted, Essex.  Known as ‘Greensted Log Church’, or simply, ‘Log Church’, this is reputedly the oldest surviving wooden church in the world, constructed c1060 using split oak logs.

What is Britain’s oldest castle? 

The answer to that depends on what you mean by ‘castle’.  Britain’s Iron Age hillforts are often called ‘castles’ and date from hundreds of years BC.  Castles in the sense that most people understand them date from the Norman Conquest of 1066 and were typically of the motte and bailey type, built of earth and wood.  Of these, Berkhamsted Castle is said to be the oldest, dating from 1067.  The White Tower of the Tower of London is the oldest stone castle, begun in 1070.

Windsor Castle, also dating from 1070, is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and has been the family home of British monarchs for almost 1,000 years.

Which is Britain’s oldest university?

The oldest university in Britain, and in the English-speaking world, is Oxford.  There is no clear date of foundation but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096. Oxford developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris following a quarrel with Thomas Becket.  Second is the University of Cambridge in 1209 (founded by Oxford scholars) and third is the University of St Andrews in 1410.

All Souls Oxford

Where is Britain’s oldest garden?

The most likely candidate for this seems to be College Garden in Westminster Abbey, London, which has been in cultivation for over 900 years.  In monastic times, it was used to grow food and medicinal herbs for the occupants of the Abbey. There was an orchard, as well as fishponds, beehives, and a separate plot for growing vegetables. A herbarium was first set up in 1306.  Gardens are likely to have existed at other monastic sites in Britain, and possibly some castles.

The oldest botanical garden in Britain is the University of Oxford’s Botanic Garden, founded in 1621.  A botanical garden is one based on scientific principles, where the collection is documented and labelled.  Botanical gardens are usually open to the public.

Oxford Botanic Garden

What is Britain’s oldest restaurant?

In trying to ascertain Britain’s oldest restaurant – that is the oldest place established as somewhere to dine, rather than a restaurant set up in an old building (which are two a penny) – I can’t get past Rules.  Rules was founded by Thomas Rule in 1798 as an oyster bar and has a good claim to be the oldest restaurant in London.

What is Britain’s oldest theatre?

Britain’s oldest theatre is the Bristol Old Vic, which opened as the Theatre Royal in May 1766.

What is Britain’s tallest building? 

As of February 2024, the tallest building in Britain is The Shard in London. It stands at a height of 1,016 feet (309.6 metres).  It has 72 stories and was completed in 2012.

Which is Britain’s longest pier?

Britain’s longest pier is Southend Pier, in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, which is the longest pleasure pier in the world. It stretches for 1.33 miles (2.14km) out into the Thames Estuary.  Second is Southport Pier, which was originally 3,600 feet long and now 3,633 fee (1,108m).  As at January 2024, Southport Pier is closed – hopefully temporarily – due to severe structural deterioration.

The oldest pier in Britain is Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight, which opened in 1814 and was built to allow ferries to berth at low tide.  It is 2,235 feet (681m) long.

What is Britain’s oldest ship?

Britain’s oldest ship still in commission is HMS Victory, which has been in dry dock at Portsmouth since 1922 and is currently the flagship of the First Sea Lord.  Victory’s keel was laid in Chatham dockyard in 1759, but, due to a period of peace, she was not commissioned until 1778.  In fact, Victory is the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission – the second oldest is the USS Constitution, moored in Boston, launched in 1797, and which did pretty well against the Royal Navy in the war of 1812.  Victory is, of course, famous for being Admiral Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The oldest British warship still afloat is HMS Trincomalee, built of teak in 1817 in Bombay (Mumbai).  Trincomalee is now centrepiece of the National Museum of the Royal Navy based in Hartlepool.

HMS Victory, visit Portsmouth, Dockyard

Britain in the human world

Who was Britain’s oldest man?

The oldest British man to date (June 2020) was Henry William Allingham, who was born on 6 June 1896 in Clapton, London and died on 18 July 2009 in East Sussex.  He was 113 years and 42 days old.

Who was Britain’s oldest woman?

Britain’s oldest woman to date (June 2020) was Charlotte Marion Hughes, born Charlotte Marion Milburn on 1 August 1877 in Hartlepool, County Durham.  She died on 17 March 1993 in Redcar, Cleveland, aged 115 years and 228 days.

Who was the tallest Briton?

The tallest Briton so far was William Bradley, commonly known as Giant Bradley or the Yorkshire Giant.  He was born on 10 February 1787 in Market Weighton, where he died on 30 May 1820.  He stood 7 feet 9 inches (2.36 m) tall.

Who is the heaviest Briton?

The heaviest person so far recorded from Britain is Paul Jonathan Mason (born 1960), who at one time weighed 70 stone (980 lb; 444.5 kg).

Who is Britain’s longest reigning monarch?

Britain’s longest reigning monarch (of the United Kingdom) is Queen Elizabeth II (born 21 April 1926), who ascended the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952.  She was crowned on 2 June 1953.  The second longest reigning monarch was Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 – 1901.  The shortest reigning monarch is often given as Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen – but only of England – for just 9 days in 1553.  The shortest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom was Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, who was king from 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December.  See Britain’s monarchs from 1603-date.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, young and old

What is Britain’s best-selling album?

What is Britain’s best-selling music album?  The best-selling album in the United Kingdom is Volume 1 of Queen’s Greatest Hits, first released in 1981.  As of July 2022, it had sold over 7 million copies.  ‘Queen’ in this instance refers to the rock group, not the person.

Who is the best-selling British musical act?

The most successful UK musical act is The Beatles who, despite breaking up half a century ago, have sold 1 billion units.  Next come Led Zeppelin, with 300 million units sold.


Who is Britain’s best-selling author? 

Another one that’s hard to pin down, because there doesn’t seem to be a definitive league table.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie is the best-selling British novelist of all time. In various recent surveys, JK Rowling seems to dominate and Harry Potter is the best-selling book series in history.

What is Britain’s busiest airport?

Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport in Britain and the UK.  In 2022, more than 60 million passengers passed through it.  Second is Gatwick, followed by Manchester.

What is the worst battle in British history?

There are many candidates for this dubious title, depending on your point of view. Many would immediately think of the Battle of the Somme, in France, which lasted from July 1916 until November.  On the first day alone, I July 1916, the British suffered 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 killed. It was the worst day in the history of the British Army.

However, the Battle of Towton fought on 29 March 1461 between the Lancastrians and Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses is thought to have been the longest, largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil.  It lasted about 10 hours and the numbers said to have been involved are staggering – anywhere between 75-90,000 combatants, with the Lancastrians having a slight advantage in numbers.  The figures for the dead are obscene: estimates vary wildly, but the lowest is in the region of 20,000 and highest 38,000.  Many sources suggest losses of 28,000, of which 20,000 were on the Lancastrian side.


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