2020 anniversaries: The defining dates to look out for in the next 12 months

Our incredulity that another year is over never wavers, but, as ever, there will be plenty to celebrate in 2020. Annunciata Elwes delves through the history books to pick out the big anniversaries which we'll note in the year ahead.


The oldest anniversary of note for 2020 (that we can think of) is the 1,500th of the Kingdom of East Anglia (founded 520).


A 700-year leap brings us to 1220, when the first stone of Salisbury Cathedral was laid; it now houses the Magna Carta, plus Britain’s tallest church spire.


Raphael dies; The National Gallery will mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death with a ground-breaking exhibition which opens on 3rd October.


74 men and 28 women stepped off the Mayflower into the New World 400 years ago. The anniversary will be celebrated in Britain as well as in the USA — visit www.mayflower400uk.org for UK events.

Recommended videos for you


It’s been 300 years since the birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the romanticised Young Pretender who, after defeat at Culloden in 1745, supposedly fled dressed as a woman and whose image now adorns copious shortbread tins.


Beethoven and Wordsworth were born and, aboard HMS Endeavour, Captain James Cook ‘discovered’ Australia.


Black Beauty author Anna Sewell was born, as was Anne Brontë, the Crimean War’s Florence Nightingale, who kept a pet owl in the pocket of her apron, and Sir John Tenniel, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ illustrator — the evolution of this surreal tale will inform a V&A show (from June 27, 2020).

An eventful year, 1820 also saw the accession of George IV, swiftly followed by the infamous trial of his wife, Queen Caroline. Revelations in the House of Lords, such as that the Queen employed a male exotic dancer (the witness even demonstrated a move or two) were relayed in twopenny papers — this was the first, but not the last, time that the demise of a royal marriage became public entertainment. The king lost the motion to divorce, but barred his wife from the Coronation and there was an embarrassing scene outside Westminster Abbey when she turned up.

Westminster Abbey and the new Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries (Photo © Paul Highnam/Country Life Picture Library)

Westminster Abbey (Photo © Paul Highnam/Country Life Picture Library)

Another scandal, the Cato Street Conspiracy, was exposed in 1820; those plotting to murder the Cabinet were the last in England to be decapitated post hanging. In the same year, naturalist Sir Joseph Banks died and the Tweed’s Union Chain Bridge — then the world’s longest wrought-iron suspension bridge at 449ft — closed the gap between England and Scotland.


Oscar Wilde’s spoilt young lover, poet Lord Alfred Douglas, was born 150 years ago, in a year that also saw the founding of the British Red Cross, the Married Women’s Property Act and the birth of witty Saki, also known as H. H. Munro. Dickens died in 1870, as did Alexandre Dumas.


A hundred years ago, the Imperial War Museum opened, Rupert Bear appeared, Molesworth cartoonist Ronald Searle was born and Joan of Arc canonised. In other 1920 firsts, women became jury members and obtained Oxford degrees.


Five years earlier the nation had become addicted to Monopoly, but in 1940 things were rather different. We had the Blitz, Dunkirk, food rationing and at least four epic speeches from Churchill — including ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’. John Lennon was born, Disney’s Fantasia thrilled the intelligentsia, the first McDonald’s opened and F. Scott Fitzgerald died, the Gatsby era well and truly over.


In 1945, 75 years ago, the Second World War ended and Hitler and Anne Frank died, as Eric Clapton and Bob Marley were born.


By 1970, the Royal Navy was issuing its final dose of grog as readers of The Sun caught a titillating glimpse of the new Page 3. The Beatles broke up, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was shockingly feminist and Nijinsky thundered in as the first horse in 35 years to win the English Triple Crown. Jimi Hendrix and E.M. Forster died, the Range Rover was launched and the half crown and 10s note went the way of the dodo.


Forty years ago, Alton Towers opened, Lennon was shot and Margaret Thatcher was ‘not for turning’. Barbara Pym, Sir Oswald Mosley and Cecil Beaton also died and strange lights and flying objects in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, panicked farm animals and convinced others of UFOs.


To the tune of Nothing Compares 2 U, John Major became the 20th century’s youngest Prime Minister (aged 47 — a record he held only until Tony Blair took the reins in 1997, aged 43), Roald Dahl died and Mr Bean bumbled in.


Twenty-five years ago, Bridget Jones started counting cigarettes and crushes and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights made dust interesting.


Thankfully, the prophesies of doom that surrounded the Millennium, 20 years ago, were mostly ill founded. Tate Modern opened, faring better than the Millennium Bridge, which opened and closed in the same day due to excessive wobbling — it at last became fully functional two years later. Let’s hope that 2020 enjoys a less shaky start.