London has nearly 2000 years of diverse and dynamic history. Tons of historical texts have been written about the long life of this amazing city. We will try to briefly take you through the most significant moments of London’s history. In our historical walk we will pass through hard times of wars, rebellions and violence to times of prosperity and development.
The great London history begins with a small settlement of Romans on the banks of the Thames. In 43 year A.D. the Roman invaded the land around the river, settled there and decided it is a good place to build a port. At first, the boundaries of the small city had no stone walls, therefore when the Queen of the resident Celtic tribes-Boudicca started a rebellion, it was easy to burn down the city.
The name London, comes from the Celtic word “Londinios”, which literally means “the place of the bold one”.
The city recovered fast and the Romans decided to build stone walls to protect the city. At this time, at the end of the 2nd century, the population of London has reached 45 000, which made it the largest town in Britain.
London continued its way of evolution in local production. The output of wool, grain and metal were the main occupation of the locals. The town had the structure of a Roman city with a forum and the basilica in the middle and amphitheater, donkey powered mills, workshops and city baths, near the outer border.
Getting close to the 500 AD all Romans have left the town. For some time London was abandoned. This didn’t remain for a long as the Saxon and Angles inhabitants of the Island were attracted by the area. They founded a smaller town of nearly 100 000 inhabitants, outside of London’s walls.
A century later the Christianity slowly, but surely settled on these lands. In the early 604 AD, the first bishop of London was assigned. In the same year the first St. Paul’s Cathedral was started being built.
The structure of the city was not as refined as during the Roman era, but still it was emerging. Wooden huts served as homes, and despite the migrating nature of the Saxon’s they were improving in blacksmiths and wool weaving.
Life was peaceful until the Danes /the inhabitants of Denmark/ invaded the Britain lands in 842. For just ten years of calm life, the Danes returned to first burn London and then conquer all of Eastern Britain. They were defeated for good in 878 by King Alfred the Great. King Alfred, realizing the benefits if stone walls, transferred the city into its previous borders, which eventually attracted many foreign merchants.
Some historians believe that the London Bridge collapsed in the early 11th century when the Norway Viking King Olaf invaded London. This might be an exaggerated story, only part of the legend about the king.
Between 1042 and 1066, Edward the Confessor ruled the London lands. Despite the rises and falls in his reign, Edward the Confessor left the Westminster Palace and Abbey to the world. He moved his court to the palace, which made the city a royal court.
London in the Middle Ages
London got into the Middle ages with the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which will remain in history as a violent result of the struggle for the British throne and the conquest of the Normans. The Norman invader William the Conqueror, occupied the royal palace and shortly after was crowned King of England. Though William spent most of his reign on the continent, after his ruling one more significant landmark remained- the Tower of London / which at this time was built of wood, and later in 1078 rebuilt in stone/.
London in 12th and 13th Centuries
Londoners met the 12th century with the first election of the Lord Mayor and the rebuilt of the London Bridge, this time in stone. At this time London’s population have reached 18 000 people, and the city was still developing. It had 13 monasteries and around 126 churches.
Hard times befell London’s inhabitants in 1348 with the appearance of the bubonic plague, also called Black Plague or Black Death. The Black Plague killed nearly 60% of Europe’s population and at the time it reached England, almost the half of the continent was infected. For more than 200 years London suffered from repeated plague explosions.
In 13th century orders of monks, who preferred to live amongst the society, instead in isolation appeared in London. They were called friars, to distinguish these orders, from other ascetic monks. There were many types of friar’s orders – Black Friars, wearing black clothes, Grey Friars – Franciscans, and White Friars- Carmelites. The place where the Black Friars lived, took their name and remained until present days- Blackfriars.
16th and 17th Century London
Reaching the 1600 London’s population bursted to nearly 250 000 people. England’s King Henry VIII, known for his conflict with the Roman church, broke up with it and pronounced himself as head of the Protestants. His reign is best known for his 6 marriages and his expansion of the royal power. Henry VIII made many changes to the English Constitution.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign started in 1558 and brought many positives to London. She managed to stabilize the country, which eventually led to great flourishment. The Globe Theater was built in 1599 and in 1622 the Banqueting House appeared.
After Elizabeth’s death, came the end of the Tudors and King James I, followed by Charles I sat on the throne. During the reign of Charles Hyde Park was opened and Richmond Park was released for hunting. In the first decades of the 17th century, London was growing, more merchants and rich people were coming to settle in the city, building houses. The first market at Covent Garden for fruit and vegetables opened then.
With the development and expansion of the city many small villages were swallowed. Southwark grew fast and became the center of entertainments with fighting rings and theaters.
In 1666 the Great London fire devastated more than 13 000 houses and left over 80 000 people homeless. The fire also ruined St. Paul Cathedral, which was later rebuilt, as well as big part of the city.
At this time in the middle 17th century London started to become fashionable. Districts like Knightsbridge, Bloomsbury, Soho, Hackney became luxury and attractive. In the same century, the wealthiest citizens got in touch with piped water for the first time. Gas lamps were installed to lit the streets of London. The Bank of England was established in 1694.
18th Century London
The 18th century, also called Georgian era, because of the reign of the four kings with the same name George was a time of development and built. Many new historical building opened doors- the Buckingham Palace was finished in 1703, the British Museum was founded in 1753 along with the Mansion House and the Summerset House in 1786.
London’s craftsmen started to create luxury goods like watches, furniture, and jewels. Until the beginning of 1800, London’s population grew to 950 000 people.
The Victorian Era – 19th Century
For just hundred years the population rose to 6 million during the Victorian century. The borders of the city exceeded even more including Camden Town, Clapham, Brixton, Fulham, Richmond, Putney, Wimbledon and also Greenwich. This fast growth was partly a result of the appearance of the railway. King’s Cross Station was built in 1852 and St. Pancras in 1868.
The evolution of the city continued to the use of gas light at first in 1807 and then electricity was introduced to London in 1883. Horse drawn carriages were crossing London since 1840, they were used to transfer people until 1897 when the first electrical taxi was born.
Learn about the history of the black cab.
One major event was the opening of the first underground railway in 1863 when the carriages were pulled by steam trains. Electricity was brought to the underground system in 1890.
The birth of Big Ben was a result of the reconstruction of the Parliament, which was destroyed by fire. At first only the clock was called Big Ben, but with the years people started to call the whole tower with the same name. London continued with the creating of great historical landmarks – the Trafalgar Square was finished in 1839 and the Royal Albert Hall opened doors in 1871.
Many more parks were designed – Victoria Park, Battersea Park, and Regent’s Park were opened in ten years time since 1838. As well three of the major museums started to function – V&A Museums opened in 1852, Natural History museum in 1881 and the Science Museum in 1857.
20th-century History and Beyond
The population of the city grew rapidly and as of 1900 8.7 million people were living in London. The industry moved its focus on modern manufacturing like air crafting, vehicle production, and production of electrical tools and machines.
The famous Wembley Stadium was opened in 1923 and the Westminster Cathedral in 1903.
London, with its glorious history and beautiful modern landscape, suffered badly as England took part in both World Wars. The Second World War left the city nearly devastated after the Blitz attacks led by the German Luftwaffe in 1940-1941. Few years after the Germans dropped their V1 and V2 rockets, which injured the city even more.
Despite the hard times during the war years London rose from the ash and for just some ten years the city was renewed. A council program gave the start to building of houses outside of the city’s borders, as well as flats in the city, and the rest of the household were modernized.
To the end of the century, many landmarks and mainly museums were opened to the public including the Waterloo Bridge, The Post Office Tower, The Museum of London, The Museum of Moving Image.
For the next decades after the war, during the 60’s and 70’s London’s docks suffered from low export and import. Quotes and the taxes for the incoming good were assigned. This led to wider unemployment, which continued in the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s. London’s difficult years are marked with effects of the Cold war in the post-war years. The restrictions on the trade, cultural exchange and travels reflected on the city.
The new history of London is our present time, the days we live in and experience the beauty and the diversity of London. Keep your interest reading more interesting materials, guides and attractions in London.