Did Britain make the modern world?

The British empire has receded into history. Yet despite its difficult legacy, says Tristram Hunt, the cities that the empire helped forge are fast becoming the economic powerhouses of the 21st century...

Crowds in Coronation Park, Delhi, celebrate the coronation of King George V in 1911. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine

On 30 June 1997, the United Kingdom’s 99-year lease on Hong Kong’s New Territories came to an end. With it died the final embers of the British empire. At the stroke of midnight the Union Jack was lowered to the strains of God Save the Queen, the Hong Kong police ripped the royal insignia from their uniforms, and Chinese troops poured over the border. Britain’s last governor, former Conservative party chairman Chris Patten, recorded the final, colonial swansong in all its lachrymose glory: its “kilted pipers and massed bands, drenching rain, cheering crowds, a banquet for the mighty and the not so mighty, a goose-stepping Chinese honour guard, a president and a prince”.

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