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5 things you didn’t know about Bonfire Night

5 things you didn’t know about Bonfire Night

A brief history of turkeys, plus why we eat a turkey dinner at Christmas

How did turkeys come to Britain and when did we first start eating them? As 10 million homes across Britain prepare to tuck into one over the festive period, Julian Humphrys looks at the history of the bird that will never vote for Christmas

Where do turkeys come from?

They’re native to the Americas. They got the name because when Europeans first came across them they incorrectly thought they were a form of African guinea fowl which, because they were imported into Europe from Turkey, were commonly known as turkey fowl.

How did turkeys come to Britain?

Britain probably obtained its first turkeys from the Spanish, who had brought the birds back to Europe after encountering them in the Aztec empire. However it’s possible that they were introduced by William Strickland, a Yorkshire merchant and MP who travelled to the New World in the 16th century. He certainly seems to have wanted to promote a link with the bird, as the family coat of arms, which was granted in about 1550, has a turkey as a crest.

Why do we eat a turkey dinner at Christmas?

Geese and turkeys were, and still are, extensively reared in East Anglia. In the 18th century, before the introduction of the railways, thousands were walked to London in large flocks along what is now the A12. Norfolk farmers would dip turkeys’ feet in tar and sand to make ‘wellies’ for the walk to London, which could take up to two months.