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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

History and culture

There are many sources of information relating to historic documents and the cultural heritage of the United Kingdom (UK). Find out about these historic documents, the government departments involved in culture and heritage and the sites in the UK that have World Heritage status.

Key historical documents

Key sources

The National Archives, the British Library and the Parliamentary Archives hold the key documents relating to UK history.

There's a lot of information available online and some other sources are listed below.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta is often thought of as the corner-stone of liberty and the chief defence against arbitrary and unjust rule in England. In fact it contains few sweeping statements of principle, but is a series of concessions wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons in 1215. However, Magna Carta established for the first time a very significant constitutional principle, namely that the power of the king could be limited by a written grant.

Four copies of this original grant survive. Two are held at the British Library while the others can be seen in the cathedral archives at Lincoln and Salisbury.

Bills of Rights 1689

After the short-lived constitutional experiments that followed the Civil War, the supremacy of Parliament was finally enshrined in the Bill of Rights passed in December 1689.

Union with Scotland 1707

In the 16th century, legislation had united England and Wales. The 1707 Acts of Union were passed by the Parliaments of England and Scotland, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain. These Acts abolished the Scottish Parliament and transferred the Scottish representatives to Westminster.


The Act of Union 1800 created the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland'. 'Home Rule' for Ireland became a major issue in the late nineteenth century. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 partitioned Ireland and created Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

Rights to vote

In early-19th-century Britain very few people had the right to vote. The Reform Act of 1832 gave the vote in towns only to men who occupied property with an annual value of £10. Universal suffrage, with voting rights for women (though not for those under 30), did not arrive in Britain until February 1918.

Cultural heritage

Key departments and organisations

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for government policy on the arts, sport, the national lottery, tourism, libraries, museums and galleries, broadcasting, film, the music industry, press freedom and regulation, licensing, gambling and the historic environment.

It is also responsible for the listing of historic buildings and scheduling of ancient monuments, the export licensing of cultural goods, the management of the government art collection and for the Royal Parks Agency.

English Heritage maintains and cares for the historic environment of England. It aims to help people understand and appreciate why the historic buildings and landscapes around them matter.

UK’s World Heritage sites

World Heritage sites are places of natural beauty and historical importance that have an ‘outstanding universal value’. The UK has a number of these sites including:

  • Stonehenge
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Giant's Causeway (Northern Ireland)

For a full list of the UK’s sites and information on how new sites are put forward for World Heritage status, see the links below.

Additional links

World Heritage sites

Find out where the UK World Heritage sites are


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