A Timeline of Britain in the 20th Century

By Tim Lambert

1901 Queen Victoria dies. Her son becomes Edward VII.

1904 Britain signs the Entente Cordiale (friendly understanding) with France

1906 The first dreadnought, a new and powerful battleship is launched

1908 Kenneth Grahame published The Wind In The Willows

1909 The first old-age pensions are paid

1910 Edward VII dies. George V becomes king.


The National Insurance Act is passed. Some workers are allowed unemployment benefit and sickness benefit is created.

The Parliament Act greatly reduces the power of the House of Lords

1914 In August the First World War begins


The Battle of the Somme is fought. Tanks are used in battle for the first time.

Conscription is introduced

Battle of Jutland

1917 The Battle of Passchendaele is fought


The First World War ends in November

Women over 30 are allowed to vote if they meet a property qualification

The school leaving age is raised to 14

1922 The BBC is founded


Workers hold a General Strike but they are defeated

A. A. Milne publishes Winnie The Pooh

1928 Universal suffrage is introduced. (Everyone over the age of 21 is allowed to vote).


Frank Whittle invents the jet engine

Following the Wall Street Crash, the depression bites and unemployment rises sharply

1932 Unemployment reaches 22.8%

1933 Unemployment starts to fall. Britain starts to recover from the depression


In January unemployment in 13.9%. It continues to slowly fall.

George V dies. Edward VIII becomes king but soon abdicates. George VI becomes king.

Television begins in Britain

The Jarrow March is held

The writer G K Chesterton dies


Second World War begins

All workers are given one weeks annual paid holiday

About 10% of households in Britain now own a car


The British army is evacuated from Dunkirk

Battle of Britain

The Germans begin bombing British cities


The Dieppe Raid is carried out. It is a failure.

The Battle of El Alamein is fought. The British army crushes the Germans and Italians.

The Beveridge Report is published. It proposes a new welfare state.


In May German forces in North Africa surrender

In July the allies invade Sicily


Allied invasion of France

The Germans fire V I flying bombs from June and V II missiles from September

The Butler Education Act is passed


Second World War ends

George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is published

Labour win the general election

1947 The school leaving age is raised to 15

1948 The National Health Service is founded

1949 George Orwell’s novel 1984 is published

1950 George Orwell dies


The Festival of Britain is held

Conservatives win a general election.

1952 George VI dies. Elizabeth becomes queen.


Coronation of Elizabeth II

T.V. becomes increasingly common. (Many people buy a TV. to watch the coronation). By the end of 1953, approximately 25% of households in Britain have a TV.

1954 Food rationing ends


ITV begins broadcasting

The Conservatives win a second general election


The Suez crisis in Egypt. Britain sends troops but is soon forced to withdraw. The event proves that Britain is no longer a great power.

The first nuclear power station opens at Calder Hall


The Conservatives win a 3rd election victory

Cars are becoming increasingly common. A survey shows 32% of households own one.

1960 Britain is becoming increasingly affluent. A survey shows 44% of households own a washing machine.

1962 The Beatles release their first single ‘Love Me Do’


Doctor Who is broadcast for the first time

Dr Beeching axes minor railways


The Labour Party wins a general election. Harold Wilson becomes prime minister.

A survey shows 90% of households in Britain own a TV. It is now the main form of entertainment in Britain.

The last executions in Britain are carried out

1965 Capital punishment is abolished for an experimental period of 5 years

1966 Labour wins a second general election

1967 Color TV. begins

1969 Capital punishment is abolished permanently


Conservatives under Edward Heath win the general election

The minimum age for voting is lowered from 21 to 18

1971 Britain switches to decimal currency

1972 The school leaving age is raised to 16


Britain joins the EEC (forerunner of the EU)

Unemployment stands at 3%


The Sex Discrimination Act is passed

Unemployment passed one million. It is over 5% for the first time since 1945.


Harold Wilson resigns

In June and July, a heatwave creates a very hot summer and water shortages

1978 The first test-tube baby is born

1979 The Conservatives win a general election. Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first woman prime minister.

1980 Britain enters a recession. Unemployment rises sharply and reaches 2 million.


The Falklands War is fought against Argentina

The Mary Rose is raised from the sea bed

Channel 4 begins


The Conservatives win a second general election with a large majority

1984 The miners strike begins

1985 The miners strike ends. The miners are defeated.

1986 Unemployment reaches a peak. The ‘official’ figure reaches 14.1%

1987 Corporal punishment ends in state schools


Margaret Thatcher falls from power. She is replaced by John Major.

Britain enters a recession. Unemployment starts to rise rapidly.

Conservatives win a 4th general election


Britain starts to recover from the recession. Unemployment starts to fall.


The Channel Tunnel opens

The National Lottery begins


Labour wins the general election