Were you surprised that the UK voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum? You really shouldn’t have been: it was anticipated a whopping 130 years ago!
At least, that’s one possible interpretation of an entry for a competition in 1888 to imagine what England would be like a century into the future. As rediscovered by Victorian pop-culture historian Dr Bob Nicholson, a long-defunct magazine called Answers asked its readers to foretell “What England will be like a Hundred Years hence?”
One crystal-ball gazer submitted the following:
“England will by her very policy of national aggrandisement slowly sink into the condition of a second-rate power (somewhat like Sweden of the present day), and her fall will in the end be accelerated by those whom she has in former years befriended. In the year 1988 she will hold no weight in the Councils of Europe”.
It didn’t win, and the prediction is out by some three decades, but the entry would surely have been among the front-runners if the magazine could only have known how eerily prescient it was.
Many of the ideas floated were fanciful and never came to pass. “Ships, houses, railway lines and carriages are made of … unbreakable, indestructible paper”, for instance. Or, a “Continuous railway from London to Pekin though Siberia”.
But others were surprisingly accurate.
“Electricity will take the place of gas and coal in dwellings”, wrote one. (Thomas Edison’s light bulb had been around less than ten years). While another predicted that “Armies shall meet in the air”. (They did in 1914 with the outbreak of the Great War).
My favourite was the suggestion that “invasion is made impossible by the intellectual, self-acting pyro-aqua vengeance bombs”. I’m not sure what the author was on, but laudanum (a mixture of alcohol and opium) was extremely popular in Victorian England.
I wonder: might our editor be inspired to emulate Answers magazine and invite Chronicle readers to share their vision of the Rock in 100 years’ time?
Here’s my advance entry:
Our political status is settled. Following the secession of Catalonia, the return of Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco and the creation of an independent Basque nation, Spain lost the appetite to continue to press its sovereignty claim and agreed to recognise Gibraltar’s decolonisation through the principle of self-determination. We’ve been removed from the list of non-self-governing territories of the United Nations but it means little in practice, since that ineffectual organisation collapsed soon afterwards.
In contrast with the UN the European Union is going from strength to strength, bolstered by the UK’s decision to stay in after all and its enlargement to 40 members. Gibraltar benefitted greatly from continuing EU membership. Our finance centre ranks among the top five in the world and income from tourism is at an all-time high, thanks in no small measure to the decision of leading cruise companies to choose Gibraltar as their home port for Mediterranean cruises.
A new era of rapprochement has seen the dismantling of the Gibraltar-La Línea frontier and relations with our nearest neighbour are vastly improved. Forty thousand Campo residents earn their living in Gibraltar and many local businesses have expanded across the border. Spanish is again being widely spoken by Gibraltarians, who increasingly shunned it during the years that Madrid’s claim to our land endured.
One blot on the horizon, or several to be more accurate, is the proliferation of cheap, 3D-printed high-rise buildings to create office space and accommodation for an ever-increasing workforce and resident population. But on the plus side the advent of the flying car has eliminated the Rock’s critical traffic, parking and congestion problem. Not to mention the need for cycle lanes.