The following passages, dealing with quotation marks, were extracted from: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
The book is in the Bookshare library, and it's an interesting read.
Dave ----------- Until the beginning of the 18th century, quotation marks were used in England only to call attention to sententious remarks. Then in 1714 someone had the idea of using them to denote direct speech, and by the time of the first edition of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones in 1749, inverted commas were used by printers both to contain the speech and to indicate in a general, left-hand marginal way that there was speech going on. ... Since the 18th century we have standardized the use of quotation marks -- but only up to a point. Readers are obliged to get used to the idea from an early age that "Double or single?" is a question not applicable only to beds, tennis and cream. We see both double and single quotation marks every day, assimilate both, and try not to think about it. Having been trained to use double quotation marks for speech, however, with single quotations for quotations-within-quotations, I grieve to see the rule applied the other way round. ... when single quotes serve both functions, you lose this distinction. Also, with the poor apostrophe already confusing people so much, a sentence that begins with a single quote and contains an apostrophe after three or four words is quite confusing typographically, because you automatically assume the apostrophe is the closing quotation mark: "I was at Still Thomas" Hospital," she said. There is, too, a gulf between American usage and our own, with Americans always using double quotation marks and American grammarians insisting that, if a sentence ends with a phrase in inverted commas, all the terminal punctuation for the sentence must come tidily inside the speech marks, even when this doesn't seem to make sense.
I suspect British books just use two apostrophes otherwise known as single quotes, but I'm only guessing, so don't rely on my theories. I can't remember finding a quote within a quote in any of the books I have looked at with apostrophes instead of quotes.