A brief history of London in brief
A brief survey of the history of London, the capital of England.
The Romans founded London around 50 AD Its name derives from the Celtic word Londinios, which means the place of the bold. After invading Britain in AD 43, the Romans built a bridge over the Thames. They later decided that it was an excellent place to build a port.
The water was deep enough for ships to navigate the ocean, but deep enough to be safe from Germanic invaders. About 50 Roman merchants built a city next to the bridge. Thus London was born.
The earliest settlement in London did not have stone walls, but there may have been a ditch and earth wall with a wooden palisade on top.
Then in AD 61, Queen Boudicca led a rebellion against the Romans. Her army marched on London. No attempt was made to defend London. Boudicca burned down London, but after her rebellion was crushed, she was rebuilt. The wealthy built stone or brick houses with tiled roofs, but most people lived in wooden houses.
At the end of the 2nd century a stone wall was built around London. The wall was 6 meters high. Outside the wall was a ditch. In the middle of the 3rd century, 20 bastions were added to the walls (a bastion was a semi-circular tower protruding from the wall).
The population of Roman London was about 45,000, which seems small to us, but it was the largest city in Britain.
At the center of Roman London was the forum. It was a square with shops and public buildings arranged around it. The most important building in the forum was the basilica or town hall, which was 500 feet long and 70 feet high. In Roman London there were brick, pottery and glass factories. There were also donkey-powered mills for grinding grain into flour and bakeries.
Roman London was also an important port with wharves and wooden jetties. Grains and metals were exported and luxury goods imported. (Things like wine, olive oil, glass, fine pottery, silk, and ivory.)
Wealthy citizens had baths in their houses, but there were several public baths near the city gates. (Romans went to baths to socialize, not just to keep clean.) Most people in the city got their water from wells and used cesspools, but there were underground drains to extract rainwater.
Roman London also had an 8,000-seat amphitheater. Here the gladiators fought to the death. Cockfighting was also a popular sport.
The last Roman soldier left Britain in AD 407. Afterwards, London was probably abandoned. There may have been some people who lived within the walls for fishing or farming, but London ceased to be a city. But soon he got up again.
A new city appeared outside the walls on the site of Covent Garden. It was much smaller than Roman London, with about 10,000 inhabitants.
In 597 monks in Rome began the task of converting the Saxons to Christianity. In the year 604 a bishop was appointed for London.
In the 640s there was a mint in London making silver coins. In the 670s a royal document called London “the place where ships land”. In the early eighth century a writer called London “a center of commerce for many nations visiting by land and sea.”
Saxon London was made up of many wooden cottages with thatched roofs. Slag from metal forges has been found which proves that there were many blacksmiths working in the city. Archaeologists have also found a large number of loom weights (used in weaving wool) Saxon craftsmen also worked with animal bones making things like combs.
Saxon London’s main export product was wool, either raw or woven. Imports included wine and luxury foods such as grapes and figs. Pottery and millstones were also imported. Slaves were also bought and sold in London.
Disaster struck London in 842 when the Danes sacked London. They returned in 851 and this time burned much of the city (an easy task when all the buildings were made of wood). So the Danes stopped raiding and turned to conquest. They conquered the north and east of England, including London.
King Alfred the Great totally defeated the Danes in 878 and divided the country between them. The Danes took eastern England, including London, while Alfred took the south and west. Despite the peace treaty, Alfred’s men took London in 886. Alfred repaired the walls of the old Roman city.
Until then, Londoners lived outside the Roman walls, but during the reign of Alfred they moved inside them to protect themselves. Soon foreign merchants came to live in London. In the 10th century there were wine merchants from France in Vintners Place and Germans in Dowgate.
The Danes returned in 994, but this time the Londoners faced them. One writer said, “they proceeded to attack the city in earnest and wanted to set fire to it, but here they suffered more damage and harm than they ever thought any citizen could do to them.”
London Bridge is falling down’…so goes the nursery rhyme. This is believed to stem from an event that took place in the early 11th century. King Olaf of Norway attacked England, but was unable to navigate the Thames past London Bridge. So he ordered his men to erect canopies of wood and wicker over their boats. They then approached London Bridge. The Londoners on the bridge fired missiles, but could not stop the Vikings.
At that time London Bridge was made of wood. Olaf and his men tied ropes to the wooden struts that held it up. Then they rowed away and London Bridge collapsed. Some historians wonder if this event really happened or if it was just a legend that grew up around King (later Saint) Olaf.
Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) built a wooden palace at Westminster. Later, Parliament met here. Because of this Westminster became the seat of government and not the City of London. Edward also built Westminster Abbey, which was consecrated a few weeks before his death.
London in the Middle Ages
After the Battle of Hastings, an advance party of Normans approached London Bridge from the south, but were defeated. The Norman army then marched in a loop west of London to cut it off from the rest of England. William the Conqueror occupied the royal palace at Westminster and later won over Londoners by making various promises.
William was crowned King of England at Westminster on December 25, 1066. William gave London a charter, a document confirming certain rights. However, he built a wooden tower to watch over London. It was replaced by a stone tower in 1078-1100. That was the beginning of the Tower of London
The population of London at the time was perhaps 18,000, which seems very small to us, but it was very large by the standards of the time. London grew in size throughout the 12th century and some people began to build houses outside the walls. In 1176 the wooden bridge over the Thames was replaced by a stone one.
One writer described London about the year 1180: “London is happy in its clean air, in the Christian religion, in the strength of its fortifications, in its natural situation, in the honor of its citizens. The Cathedral is Saint Paul, but there are also 13 large monasteries in and around London, along with 126 parish churches.
On the east side is the tower, very large and strong with 4 gates and towers at intervals and runs around the north side of the city. To the north are fields and meadows with small rivers flowing through them, by these water mills they are driven with a pleasant murmur. Merchants from every nation under heaven come to this city, rejoicing to bring goods on their ships.
Someone else wrote of London: “Among the noble and celebrated cities of the world, that of London, the capital of the Kingdom of England, is one of the most renowned, possessing above all others abundant wealth, extensive commerce, great grandeur and significance. ».
Medieval London was a lively place. There was a horse market in Smithfield (originally smooth field) where horse races were held. Smithfield was also the scene of public executions, which always drew large crowds. Londoners also loved to dance in the open spaces that surrounded the city.
They liked archery and wrestling and the men fought mock battles with wooden swords and shields. In winter people ice skated on the frozen swamps of Moorfield using skates made from animal bones.
In the 12th or 13th century London was often spelled Lunden or Lundon. In Chaucer’s time, at the end of the 14th century, it was spelled London.
In the 13th century the friars came to London. The friars were like monks, but instead of living separate lives from the world, they went out to preach. There were different orders of friars, each with a different color of their dress. The Dominican friars were called Black Friars because of their black robes and the place where they lived in London is still called Blackfriars.
There were also gray friars (Franciscans), white friars (Carmelites) and crumbs. The word “crutched” is a corruption of crouche, the old English word meaning “cross.” His proper name was Friars of the Holy Cross.
The Jews suffered persecution during the Middle Ages. The first Jews arrived in England after the Norman Conquest. London Jews lived in a ghetto in the old Jewish quarter. They were some of the first people since Roman times to live in stone houses.
They had to do it because wooden houses were not safe enough! In 1189, a wave of persecution caused the death of about 30 Jews. In 1264, rioters killed about 500 Jews in London. Then in 1290 all Jews were expelled from England.
In medieval London, streets are sometimes named after the trades performed on them. Bakers lived on Bread Street and poultry was sold on that street. The cows were kept on Milk Street for milking.
In 1381 the Peasant Revolt broke out. On July 13, the rebels marched on London and sympathizers opened their doors to them. The king and his ministers took refuge in the Tower of London while the rebels opened the prisons and looted the house of John of Gaunt, an unpopular nobleman. On July 14, the king met with the rebels at Moorfield and made several promises, none of which he kept.
The next day the king went to mass at Westminster while he was away, the rebels stormed the Tower of London and killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and several royal officials who had taken refuge there. They confronted the king on his return from mass. The mayor of London stabbed the leader of the rebels, fearing that he was going to attack the king. Later, the king managed to calm the rebels and convinced them to return home.
London’s population may have reached 50,000 by the mid-14th century, making it far larger than any other city in England. However, at least a third of the population died when the Black Death struck in 1348-49, but London soon recovered. Its population may have reached 70,000 inhabitants at the end of the Middle Ages.
The population of London may have reached 120,000 in the mid-16th century and about 250,000 in 1600. In the Middle Ages the church owned about 1/4 of the land in London. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, he freed up a large amount of land for new construction.
The Banqueting House was built in 1622. In 1635 the King opened Hyde Park to the public. In 1637 Carlos I created Richmond Park for hunting. Also in 1637 Queens House was completed in the nearby town of Greenwich.
Wool remained London’s main export, but there was also “excellent saffron in small quantities, a large quantity of lead and tin fur, sheep and rabbit skins without number, with various other kinds of fine fur (skins) and leather, beer, cheese and other kinds of provisions’. The Royal Stock Exchange, where merchants could buy and sell goods, was opened in 1571.
In the early 17th century, wealthy men continued to build houses in West London. The Earl of Bedford built houses in Covent Garden, on the Strand and in Long Acre. He also obtained permission to hold a fruit and vegetable market in Covent Garden. Other wealthy people build houses in Lincoln Inn Fields and in St Martins in the Fields.
Across London hovels were built. The town of Whitechapel was “swallowed up” by the expanding city. The town of Clerkenwell also became a suburb of London. Southwark also grew rapidly.
All of this occurred despite outbreaks of bubonic plague. It arose in 1603, 1633 and 1665, but each time the population of London quickly recovered.
Then, in 1642, the Civil War began between the king and the parliament. The royalists made an attempt to capture London in 1643, but their army was met 6 miles west of St. Paul’s by a much larger Parliamentarian army.
The royalists withdrew. However, the Puritan government of 1646-1660 was hated by many common people and when Charles II arrived in London from France in 1660 some 20,000 people gathered in the streets to meet him. All the churches in London rang their bells.
The last plague outbreak in London was in 1665. But this was the last outbreak. In 1666 came the great fire of London. It started on September 2 in a bakery. At first it did not cause undue alarm. But the wind caused the flames to spread rapidly. People formed chains out of leather buckets and worked with hand pumps to no avail.
The mayor was advised to use gunpowder to create firebreaks, but was reluctant to do so, fearing that the owners of the destroyed buildings would sue for compensation. The fire continued to spread until the king took over. He ordered the sailors to make firebreaks. At the same time, the wind dropped.
Some 13,200 houses have been destroyed and between 70 and 80,000 people have been left homeless. The king ordered the navy to make tents and tarps available in their tents to help homeless people camping in the open spaces of the city.
Temporary markets were set up so homeless people could buy food, but the crowds of homeless people soon dispersed. Most of the houses in London were still standing and many of the homeless found accommodation in them or in nearby villages. Others built log cabins on the charred ruins.
To prevent such a disaster from happening again, the king ordered that all new houses in London be made of stone and brick and not wood. Citizens were responsible for rebuilding their own houses, but a tax was levied on coal brought by ship to London to finance the rebuilding of churches and other public buildings. Reconstruction work on San Pablo began in 1675, but was not completed until 1711.
In the late 17th century fashion houses were built in Bloomsbury and on the road to the town of Knightsbridge. Elegant houses were also built in plazas and wide straight streets north of Santiago’s palace.
Soho was also built. As well as building attractive suburbs, the wealthy began to live in attractive villages near London such as Hackney, Clapham, Camberwell and Streatham. In the east, the poor continued to build houses and Bethnal Green was ‘swallowed’ by the growing city.
French Protestants fleeing religious persecution arrived in London. Many of them were silk weavers who lived in Spitalfields, which also became a suburb of London.
In the 17th century, wealthy Londoners first obtained running water. It was brought down a canal from the countryside and then carried through the hollow trunks of trees under the streets. You had to pay to have your house connected. After 1685 oil lamps lit the streets. Hackney carriages became common on the streets of London.
In 1694 the Bank of England was formed. It was moved to Threadneedle Street in 1734.
Billingsgate was a general market until 1699, when an Act of Parliament made it a fish market.
London’s population grew from about 600,000 in 1700 to 950,000 in 1800. The fashionable suburbs stretch north along Tottenham Court Road and north-west to the town of Paddington.
By 1800 growth had spread to Islington and Chelsea. In the east the growth spread to Stepney, Ratcliffe, Limehouse and Wapping. In the south the city spread to Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Walworth and Kennington.
Several hospitals were founded in London in the 18th century, including Westminster (1720), Guys (1724), St Georges (1733), London (1740), and Middlesex (1745).
In the early 18th century, London was severely affected by gin consumption. Gin was cheap and offered the poor a chance to forget their poverty. In the 1740s it was estimated that 1 in 8 households sold gin without a prescription. In 1751, the consumption of gin was reduced when the tax on the drink was collected.
Many new buildings were built in Georgian London. Buckingham Palace was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham. It was altered in the 19th century by John Nash (1752-1835) and the first monarch to live there was Queen Victoria in 1837.
Marlborough House was built in 1711. The British Museum was founded in 1753. Also in 1753 Mansion House was built as the residence of the Mayor of London. In 1757 the houses on London Bridge were demolished.
In 1761, an Act of Parliament created a body of men called the Board of Commissioners with power to pave and clean the streets of London. The city walls were demolished between 1760 and 1766 and new bridges were built at Westminster in 1749 and Blackfriars in 1770.
Somerset House was built between 1776 and 1786 by Sir William Chambers (1724-1796).
On the south bank there were industries such as the tannery (at Bermondsey) and lumber yards (at Lambeth). There were also many craftsmen in London who made luxury items. Silk weavers in Spitalfields, watchmakers in Clerkenwell, coachbuilders and furniture makers in Long Acre.
There were also manufacturers of surgical and navigational instruments and jewelers. London was also the largest port in the country. By 1700 she handled 80% of England ‘s imports and 69% of her exports. There was also a large shipbuilding industry in London.
London was also a great market for the rest of the country’s production. In 1720 someone wrote that all over England people were employed to ‘furnish something and I may add best of all to supply the City of London with provisions’. I mean provisions, grain, meat, fish, butter, cheese, salt, “fuel, wood and cloth, also everything necessary for construction.”
London’s population grew from 950,000 in 1800 to 6 million in 1900. In the early 19th century, wealthy men built estates in Somers Town, Camden Town, Walworth, Agar Town, Bromley and Pentonville. The growth also spread to Battersea, Clapham, Camberwell, Brixton, Bayswater and Peckham. In 1850, Deptford was part of London.
The growth also spread to Fulham and Kensington. As early as 1839 Shepherds Bush was called a “pleasant town” but was soon swallowed up. In the east of Hackney, Poplar and Cubitt Town were built in 1850. Later in the century, growth spread to the east and west of the Ham.
After 1850 growth spread to Acton, Chiswick, Brentford, Richmond, Twickenham and Ealing. In the north it reached Willesden and Hampstead. The growth also extended to Hornsey and Tottenham. In the south it spread to Putney, Wimbledon, Streatham, Dulwich, Catford, Lewisham and to Greenwich and Charlton.
Beginning in 1850, Chinese immigrants began to settle in Limehouse. There were also many Irish immigrants in the Docklands. In 1850, London had 20,000 Jews. Their number doubled in the 1880s when many refugees arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Part of the reason for London’s growth was the railway, which made it possible for people to live far from the city center and commute to work every day. Euston Station was built in 1837 by Philip Hardwick (1792-1870). Kings Cross Station was built in 1852 by Lewis Cubitt (1799-1883). St Pancras was built in 1868 by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).
However, there were cholera epidemics in London in 1831, 1848-49 and finally in 1866. Construction of a city-wide sewage system began in 1859, but was not completed until 1875. After that, deaths from disease decreased dramatically.
In 1807 gaslighting was first used in Pall Mall and by the 1840s it was used throughout London. Electric light was first used in Holborn in 1883. By the 1840s there were horse-drawn buses, and from 1870 horse-drawn trams.
The first metro opened in 1863. At first, the cars were pulled by steam trains. The system was electrified in 1890-1905. Meanwhile, the Thames Tunnel was built in 1843.
In 1834 Parliament was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt to a design by Charles Barry. The new parliament included a large clock, now known as Big Ben. Originally only the bell that struck the hour was called Big Ben (it was probably named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the Commissioner of Works), but over time people began to call the entire clock tower Big Ben.
John Nash created Trafalgar Square in 1839 and Nelsons Column was erected in 1842. Also, many parks were created in London in the 19th century. Regents Park opened to the public in 1838. Victoria Park opened in 1845. Battersea Park opened in 1858. Another great London landmark, the Albert Hall, was built in 1871 by Francis Fowke (1823-1865).
New museums were created in Victorian London. The Victoria and Albert Museum opened in 1852. The Science Museum opened in 1857 and the Natural History Museum in 1881.
The new Scotland Yard was built in 1891 and the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Square was erected in 1892.
Meanwhile, London remained a great port. In the 18th century, ships were moored at the Thames docks, but the river became crowded and the docks were built. West India Dock (1802), London Dock (1805), East India Dock (1806) St. Catherine’s Dock (1828), Victoria Dock (1855), Millwall Dock (1868) South West India Dock (1870), Albert Dock (1880), and Tilbury Dock (1886).
In the 19th century, London was also a major manufacturing center. Food and beverages were important industries. There were flour mills and gravy factories at Lambeth and sugar refineries at Whitehall and St Georges in the East.
The first canned foods were made in Bermondsey. There were also breweries all over London. Bermondsey and Southwark were famous for their leather industry and hat making. Bethnal Green was noted for the manufacture of boots and shoes.
The clothing trade was also important. The chemicals were made in Silvertown and West Ham. Clocks, watches and jewelery were made in Clerkenwell. There were shipyards at Poplar, Deptford, Millwall and Blackwall. Other industries in London include furniture, machine and tool manufacturing and horse-drawn carriage manufacturing.
In the early 20th century, London continued to grow rapidly. Hendon and Finchley developed. The growth also spread to Harrow and Wealdstone, Twickenham, Teddington and Kingston Upon Thames. Wimbledon and Surbiton also became suburbs of London.
Also, in the early 20th century, London County Council began building council housing estates on the outskirts of the city. In 1903 the first ones were built in Tooting.
Estates were later built at Norbury, Tottenham, Roehampton, at Downham near Catford and at Becontree. Other estates were built at Watling and Morden. Despite these new estates, 75% of the houses built in London between 1919 and 1939 were private. The population of London increased from 6 million in 1900 to 8.7 million in 1939.
Westminster Cathedral was built in 1903. The Victoria and Albert Museum moved to its current location in 1909. The Geological Museum opened in 1935. White City Stadium was built in 1908. Wembley Stadium was built in 1923 and Gunnersbury Park opened in 1925. Chiswick Bridge was built in 1933.
In the early 20th century, old London industries (brewing, sugar refining, flour milling, engineering) were continued by the growth of new industries in the suburbs, such as aircraft construction, vehicle manufacturing, and electrical manufacturing..
London suffered greatly during World War II. When the bombing began in September 1940, Londoners began sleeping in tube stations and soon 150,000 people were spending the night there. Some 20,000 people were killed and 25,000 wounded in the bombing. The first bombing ended in May 1941, but in 1944 Germany began firing missiles at London, killing around 3,000 people.
In 1944 a plan for post-war London was published. The authorities considered the city to be overcrowded and planned to create a ring of satellite cities 20-30 miles from London. But the new towns attracted skilled workers from London. The new cities had modern industries that wanted skilled workers. The inexperienced and the old were left behind.
As well as building new towns, the council began building flats in London. The first ones were built in 1948. At first they were low-rise, but from 1964 high-rise flats, up to 24 stories, were built to replace the slums.
Unfortunately, the rehousing of slum tenants in high-rise flats broke up the communities. Then in 1968 came the Ronan Point disaster, when a gas explosion partially destroyed an apartment block and killed four people. After that, the slum demolition policy changed and homeowners received grants to modernize their houses.
Waterloo Bridge was built in 1945. The Royal Festival Hall was built in 1951. The Pollocks Toy Museum opened in 1956. The Shell Center was built in 1962. The Millbank Tower was built in 1963. A famous landmark in London, the Post Office Tower opened to the public in 1966. Haywards Gallery opened in 1968. The Museum of London opened in 1976.
In 1979 a Garden History Museum was opened. The London Transport Museum opened in 1980. The Museum of the Moving Image opened in 1988. Somerset House opened to the public in 2000. It includes the Courtauld Gallery and the Gilbert Collection.
In the 1950s, London was booming. The car factories were very busy. So were the aircraft factories in North London. The docks were also very busy, employing 30,000 men. But in the 1960s the docks began to suffer from the disintegration of the British Empire.
The newly independent countries began to trade with countries other than Great Britain, and London docks suffered as a result. Worse yet, in 1973 Britain joined the EEC. Imports from Commonwealth countries were limited by quotas or had to pay tariffs. This affected the London docks, as most of their trade came from the Commonwealth.
EEC imports used to go to ports such as Felixstowe and Dover. The London Port Authority tried to cut costs by moving to a container quay in Tilbury, but many of the old quays were forced to close. The old industries associated with them, such as sugar refining and food processing, were also affected.
In the early 1970s, when London was still prospering, the government tried to reduce congestion by encouraging businesses to move to the provinces. Then, in the mid-1970s, a recession hit and companies looked for ways to cut costs.
One way was to leave London with its high rents and high labor costs. Engineering and electrical companies left capital en masse, and unemployment soared.
After 1976, the GLC strongly opposed the policy of encouraging industry to leave London. The central government made a U-turn. In 1981 the Greater London Enterprise Council was created to encourage investment in London. However, unemployment remained high in the 1980s and 1990s. However, one industry boomed: tourism, with several million foreign visitors arriving each year.
In the 1950s West Indian immigrants began arriving in London and by 1955 20,000 were arriving each year. They were met with prejudice and hostility, culminating in the Notting Hill race riots in 1958.
Despite immigration, London’s population declined after 1945. However, in the last years of the 20th century the population began to grow rapidly again.
In the early 21st century, London continued to grow rapidly. The Greater London Authority was created in 2000. That same year the Tate Modern opened in a former power station. Also, the London Eye opened to the public in 2000. In 2012 a new building called the Shard opened in London.
Also in 2012 the Olympic Games were held in London, confirming its status as one of the largest cities in the world. In 2016 the number of visitors to London reached a new record of 37.3 million, making it one of the most visited cities in Europe. Today the population of London is 8.1 million.
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