Core Knowledge
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Year 5 History and Geography

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How Did Britain Gain an Empire?

Do you remember studying the exploration of the ‘New World’ during the 1500s and 1600s? In the years that followed, European merchants began to trade with these far-off lands. In order to improve their trade, European countries would take over territories in the New World. They built forts and towns for merchants and soldiers to live in, and these territories became known as colonies. By 1750, Britain had established colonies in West Africa, North America, South America, the Caribbean and India.

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British merchants would exchange British-made goods for new exotic luxuries. From Canada they would buy beaver and bear skins; from America tobacco and cotton; from the Caribbean sugar; from South Asia spices such as pepper, ginger and cinnamon; from China tea and cups to drink it from which they decided to call ‘china’; and from Africa they would buy slaves - you will read about the slave trade later in this chapter.

During the peace of the early eighteenth century, Britain’s overseas trade flourished. Ports such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol became very rich, and beautiful houses were built for the wealthy merchants and their families. However, such trade was not easy. European nations would argue over who could trade where, so small wars constantly broke out and profits were lost. Britain decided that to continue their profitable global trade they would have to rule the seas.


This activity is adapted from page 126 of What Your Year 5 Child Needs to Know. Other books in the Core Knowledge UK series can be purchased here.