The best wacky British inventions

The British have always been a busy bunch, pioneering a range of wacky innovations that enrich our lives. Here is our selection of the best:


Pimm’s was first produced in 1823 by James Pimm, a farmer’s son who became the owner of an oyster bar in the City of London.

Pimm offered his gin tonic to aid digestion. Six types of Pimm’s, each based on a different mind, were quickly developed.

Today, Pimm’s No. 1 (gin) and Winter Pimm’s (brandy) are the most popular.

Treats: Pimm’s No. 1 (main image) is the favorite drink of the English summer, especially at Royal Ascot and Henley Regatta.

2. Viagra

The erectile dysfunction drug, also known as sildenafil citrate, was first synthesized by pharmaceutical chemists working for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer at a factory in Sandwich, Kent.

It was initially studied for use in hypertension and angina pectoris, but while clinical trials have shown a lack of results in these treatments, the drug has been shown to put the head back on the line.

Treats: Viagra is sometimes taken by MDMA or ecstasy users in an attempt to reverse the side effects of erectile dysfunction. This is called a “trail mix”.

3. Cat eyes

The retro-reflective safety device used in road markings originated in the UK in 1933 and is used worldwide today.

The inventor of cat eyes was Percy Shaw of Halifax, West Yorkshire, who was inspired by the reflection of the eyes of a cat sitting by the side of the road on a dark night.

Treats: One wonders if the cat had faced the other way if Shaw could have invented the pencil sharpener instead.

4. Lawn tennis

In the 19th century, Harry Gem and Augurio Perera began playing a game combining elements of racquet sports and a Basque ball game on a croquet lawn in Birmingham.

In 1872 they founded the world’s first tennis club at Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.

Around the same time, Welshman Walter Clopton Wingfield patented a similar game, which he called ancient Greek sphairistike meaning “skill in playing the ball.”

Treats: Wimbledon starts on June 21, but Queen’s is also a big lawn tennis tournament in London. It begins on June 7 and is played at the West Kensington club.

5. Tennis

Developed as beachwear in the 1830s by the Liverpool Rubber Company, the tennis design – a canvas upper and rubber sole – endures today.

The shoes were called tennis because the colored horizontal stripe joining the upper to the sole resembled the Plimsoll line on the hull of a ship.

For a period in the UK, these shoes were compulsory footwear in school physical education classes.

Treats: Australians will be more familiar with Dunlop Volleyball, which is what tennis is known as Down Under.

6. Fish and chips

Fish and chips became popular with the British working class alongside the growth of North Sea trawl fishing.

In 1860 the first fish and chip shop was opened in the East End of London by Jewish owner Joseph Malin, and by 1910 there were 25,000 fish and chip shops in Britain.

Treats: Founded in 1871, Rock & Soul Plaice is London’s oldest fish and chip shop. It is located at 45-47 Endell Street, WC2H 9AJ. Hop off the underground at Covent Garden.

7. Corkscrews

The metal spiral that pierces the cork of a bottle has long been known as a worm and has been in use as such at least since 1681.

But in 1795 the first patent for a corkscrew was granted to the English Reverend, Samuell Henshall, who attached a flat disc, now known as the Henshall knob, between the worm and the handle to prevent the spiral from go too deep into the stopper.

Treats: The design of the corkscrew may have come from the worm, which was a device used by Musketeers to remove unused charges from the barrel of a musket since at least the early 1630s.

Madness aside, the British took care of these important inventions:

Bulbs: Chemist Humphry Davy invented electric light by attaching two wires to a battery and then securing a strip of charcoal between them.

TV: In 1925, Scottish engineer John Logie Baird became the first man to televise moving images, after being first labeled a madman by the British press.

Penicillin: When scientist Alexander Fleming discovered a Petri dish, he accidentally created a substance with antibiotic properties that would revolutionize medicine.

The locomotive : In 1804, Cornish inventor Richard Trevithick’s unnamed steam locomotive made the first train journey to the Penydarren Ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.

The World Wide Web: Sir Timothy Berners-Lee was a professor at MIT when, in 1990, he set up the first communication between an HTTP client and a server over the Internet.


Comments are closed.