Purpose: This paper aims to analyse normative corporate governance evolution in the UK between 1995 and 2014 against the benchmark of Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) regulatory principles. Design/methodology/approach: Methodologically, the authors conduct an empirical, longitudinal data set analysis of the formative years of UK normative corporate governance development between 1995 and 2014. We provide a qualitative discussion of the empirical evidence that links the type of UK regulatory corporate governance development to financial market growth thereby adopting a mixed approach based on quantitative and qualitative research methods. Findings: The authors find that compared to the OECD model of corporate governance, the UK model is less rigid following a more self-regulatory approach based upon a “comply or explain” paradigm. Thus it is scored below corporate governance systems that follow a compulsory implementation model. However, even with such “low” tilt towards formal shareholder primacy norms, the UK has the best performing financial market. As a quasi-empirical study, the authors suggest that there are several historical and economic reasons for this, which together with a robust rule of law in the UK contribute to this performance – and the law especially the type or tilt is less relevant. Originality/value: This is the first of its kind empirical, longitudinal data set analysis with qualitative elements that links empirical evidence to regulatory developments in the wider context of UK corporate governance evolution.