London, the capital city of
England and the United Kingdom, has a
history going back over 2,000 years. During that time it has grown to
one of the world's most significant financial and cultural capital
cities. It has withstood plague, devastating fire, civil war, aerial
bombardment, terrorist attacks, and rioting.
The City of London, often referred to simply as "the City", is Greater
London's historic core and today is its primary financial district,
though it now represents just a tiny part of the wider metropolis.
1 Legendary foundations and prehistory...
2 Early history
London (43-410 CE)
Anglo-Saxon London (5th century – 1066 CE)
Norman and Medieval London
Norman and Medieval London (1066 – late 15th century)
3 Modern history
Tudor London (1485–1603)
Stuart London (1603–1714)
3.2.1 Great Fire of
3.3 18th century
3.4 19th century
3.5 20th century
3.5.1 1900 to 1939
3.5.2 In World War II
3.6 21st century
4 Historical sites of note
5 See also
7 Further reading
7.3 Older histories
7.4 Archival and academic digital projects
8 External links
Legendary foundations and prehistory...
According to the legendary Historia Regum Britanniae, by Geoffrey of
London was founded by
Brutus of Troy
Brutus of Troy about
1000–1100 B.C. after he defeated the native giant Gogmagog; the
settlement was known as Caer Troia, Troia Nova (Latin for New Troy),
which, according to a pseudo-etymology, was corrupted to Trinovantum.
Trinovantes were the
Iron Age tribe who inhabited the area prior to
the Romans. Geoffrey provides prehistoric
London with a rich array of
legendary kings, such as Lud (see also Lludd, from Welsh mythology)
who, he claims, renamed the town Caer Ludein, from which
derived, and was buried at Ludgate.
Some recent discoveries indicate probable very early settlements near
Thames in the
London area. In 1999, the remains of a Bronze Age
bridge were found, again on the foreshore south of Vauxhall Bridge.
This bridge either crossed the Thames, or went to a now lost island in
the river. Dendrology dated the timbers to 1500BCE. In 2001 a
further dig found that the timbers were driven vertically into the
ground on the south bank of the
Thames west of Vauxhall Bridge. In
2010 the foundations of a large timber structure, dated to 4000BCE,
were found on the
Thames foreshore, south of Vauxhall Bridge. The
function of the mesolithic structure is not known. All these
structures are on the south bank at a natural crossing point where the
River Effra flows into the Thames.
Numerous finds have been made of spear heads and weaponry from the
Bronze and Iron Ages near the banks of the
Thames in the
many of which had clearly been used in battle. This suggests that the
Thames was an important tribal boundary.
Archaeologist Leslie Wallace notes that "Because no LPRIA settlements
or significant domestic refuse have been found in London, despite
extensive archaeological excavation, arguments for a purely Roman
London are now common and uncontroversial."
London (43-410 CE)
Main article: Roman London
Carausius coin from
Constantius I capturing
London (inscribed as LON) in 296
after defeating Allectus. Beaurains hoard.
Londinium was established as a civilian town by the Romans about seven
years after the invasion of CE 43. London, like Rome, was founded on
the point of the river where it was narrow enough to bridge and the
strategic location of the city provided easy access to much of Europe.
London occupied a relatively small area, roughly
equivalent to the size of Hyde Park. In around CE 60, it was destroyed
Iceni led by their queen Boudica. The city was quickly rebuilt
as a planned Roman town and recovered after perhaps 10 years, the city
growing rapidly over the following decades.
During the 2nd century
Londinium was at its height and replaced
Colchester as the capital of
Roman Britain (Britannia). Its population
was around 60,000 inhabitants. It boasted major public buildings,
including the largest basilica north of the Alps, temples, bath
houses, an amphitheatre and a large fort for the city garrison.
Political instability and recession from the 3rd century onwards led
to a slow decline.
At some time between 180 and 225 CE the Romans built the
London Wall around the landward side of the city. The wall
was about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) long, 6 metres (20 ft) high,
and 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) thick. The wall would survive for another
1,600 years and define the City of London's perimeters for centuries
to come. The perimeters of the present City are roughly defined by the
line of the ancient wall.
Londonium was an ethnically diverse city with inhabitants from across
the Roman Empire, including natives of Britannia, continental Europe,
the Middle East, and North Africa.
In the late 3rd century,
Londinium was raided on several occasions by
Saxon pirates. This led, from around 255 onwards, to
the construction of an additional riverside wall. Six of the
traditional seven city gates of
London are of Roman origin, namely:
Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate,
Bishopsgate and Aldgate
Moorgate is the exception, being of medieval origin).
By the 5th century the
Roman Empire was in rapid decline, and in
410 CE the Roman occupation of Britain came to an end. Following
this, the Roman city also went into rapid decline and by the end of
the 5th century was practically abandoned.
Anglo-Saxon London (5th century – 1066 CE)
Until recently it was believed that
Anglo-Saxon settlement initially
avoided the area immediately around Londinium. However, the discovery
in 2008 of an
Anglo-Saxon cemetery at
Covent Garden indicates that the
incomers had begun to settle there at least as early as the 6th
century and possibly in the 5th. The main focus of this settlement was
outside the Roman walls, clustering a short distance to the west along
what is now the Strand, between the
Aldwych and Trafalgar Square. It
was known as Lundenwic, the -wic suffix here denoting a trading
settlement. Recent excavations have also highlighted the population
density and relatively sophisticated urban organisation of this
Anglo-Saxon London, which was laid out on a grid pattern and
grew to house a likely population of 10-12,000.
Anglo-Saxon London belonged to a people known as the Middle
Saxons, from whom the name of the county of
Middlesex is derived, but
who probably also occupied the approximate area of modern
Hertfordshire and Surrey. However, by the early 7th century the London
area had been incorporated into the kingdom of the East Saxons. In 604
Saeberht of Essex converted to Christianity and
Mellitus, its first post-Roman bishop.
At this time
Essex was under the overlordship of King Æthelberht of
Kent, and it was under Æthelberht's patronage that
the first St. Paul's Cathedral, traditionally said to be on the site
of an old Roman Temple of Diana (although
Christopher Wren found no
evidence of this). It would have only been a modest church at first
and may well have been destroyed after he was expelled from the city
by Saeberht's pagan successors.
The permanent establishment of Christianity in the East Saxon kingdom
took place in the reign of King Sigeberht II in the 650s. During the
8th century the kingdom of
Mercia extended its dominance over
south-eastern England, initially through overlordship which at times
developed into outright annexation.
London seems to have come under
direct Mercian control in the 730s.
Silver coin of Alfred, with the legend ÆLFRED REX
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great at Winchester, erected 1899
Viking attacks dominated most of the 9th century, becoming
increasingly common from around 830 onwards.
London was sacked in 842
and again in 851. The Danish "Great Heathen Army", which had rampaged
England since 865, wintered in
London in 871. The city remained
in Danish hands until 886, when it was captured by the forces of King
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great of
Wessex and reincorporated into Mercia, then
governed under Alfred's sovereignty by his son-in-law Ealdorman
Plaque in the City of
London noting the re-establishment of the Roman
Around this time the focus of settlement moved within the old Roman
walls for the sake of defence, and the city became known as
Lundenburh. The Roman walls were repaired and the defensive ditch
re-cut, while the bridge was probably rebuilt at this time. A second
Borough was established on the south bank at Southwark, the
Suthringa Geworc (defensive work of the men of Surrey). The old
settlement of Lundenwic became known as the ealdwic or "old
settlement", a name which survives today as Aldwich.
From this point, the City of
London began to develop its own unique
local government. Following Ethelred's death in 911 it was transferred
to Wessex, preceding the absorption of the rest of
Mercia in 918.
Although it faced competition for political pre-eminence in the united
England from the traditional West Saxon centre of
Winchester, London's size and commercial wealth brought it a steadily
increasing importance as a focus of governmental activity. King
Athelstan held many meetings of the witan in
London and issued laws
from there, while King
Æthelred the Unready
Æthelred the Unready issued the Laws of London
there in 978.
Following the resumption of
Viking attacks in the reign of Ethelred,
London was unsuccessfully attacked in 994 by an army under King Sweyn
Forkbeard of Denmark. As English resistance to the sustained and
escalating Danish onslaught finally collapsed in 1013,
an attack by the Danes and was the last place to hold out while the
rest of the country submitted to Sweyn, but by the end of the year it
too capitulated and Æthelred fled abroad. Sweyn died just five weeks
after having been proclaimed king and Æthelred was restored to the
throne, but Sweyn's son Cnut returned to the attack in 1015.
After Æthelred's death at
London in 1016 his son
Edmund Ironside was
proclaimed king there by the witangemot and left to gather forces in
London was then subjected to a systematic siege by Cnut but
was relieved by King Edmund's army; when Edmund again left to recruit
Wessex the Danes resumed the siege but were again
unsuccessful. However, following his defeat at the Battle of Assandun
Edmund ceded to Cnut all of
England north of the Thames, including
London, and his death a few weeks later left Cnut in control of the
A Norse saga tells of a battle when King Æthelred returned to attack
Danish-occupied London. According to the saga, the Danes lined London
Bridge and showered the attackers with spears. Undaunted, the
attackers pulled the roofs off nearby houses and held them over their
heads in the boats. Thus protected, they were able to get close enough
to the bridge to attach ropes to the piers and pull the bridge down,
thus ending the
Viking occupation of London. This story presumably
relates to Æthelred's return to power after Sweyn's death in 1014,
but there is no strong evidence of any such struggle for control of
London on that occasion.
Following the extinction of Cnut's dynasty in 1042 English rule was
restored under Edward the Confessor. He was responsible for the
Westminster Abbey and spent much of his time at
Westminster, which from this time steadily supplanted the City itself
as the centre of government. Edward's death at
Westminster in 1066
without a clear heir led to a succession dispute and the Norman
conquest of England. Earl
Harold Godwinson was elected king by the
witangemot and crowned in
Westminster Abbey but was defeated and
killed by William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy at the Battle of
Hastings. The surviving members of the witan met in
London and elected
King Edward's young nephew
Edgar the Ætheling
Edgar the Ætheling as king.
Normans advanced to the south bank of the
Thames opposite London,
where they defeated an English attack and burned
Southwark but were
unable to storm the bridge. They moved upstream and crossed the river
at Wallingford before advancing on
London from the north-west. The
resolve of the English leadership to resist collapsed and the chief
London went out together with the leading members of the
Church and aristocracy to submit to William at Berkhamstead, although
according to some accounts there was a subsequent violent clash when
Normans reached the city. Having occupied London, William was
crowned king in
Norman and Medieval London
Norman and Medieval London (1066 – late 15th century)
Main article: Norman and Medieval London
A depiction of the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans, in the
London from a 15th-century manuscript.
The new Norman regime established new fortresses within the city to
dominate the native population. By far the most important of these was
the Tower of
London at the eastern end of the city, where the initial
timber fortification was rapidly replaced by the construction of the
first stone castle in England. The smaller forts of Baynard's Castle
Montfichet's Castle were also established along the waterfront.
King William also granted a charter in 1067 confirming the city's
existing rights, privileges and laws. Its growing self-government was
consolidated by the election rights granted by King John in 1199 and
In 1097 William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror began the
construction of '
Westminster Hall', which became the focus of the
Palace of Westminster.
In 1176 construction began of the most famous incarnation of London
Bridge (completed in 1209) which was built on the site of several
earlier timber bridges. This bridge would last for 600 years, and
remained the only bridge across the River
Thames until 1739.
In 1216 during the
First Barons' War
First Barons' War
London was occupied by Prince
Louis of France, who had been called in by the baronial rebels against
King John and was acclaimed as King of
England in St Paul's Cathedral.
However, following John's death in 1217 Louis's supporters reverted to
Plantagenet allegiance, rallying round John's son Henry III, and
Louis was forced to withdraw from England.
Over the following centuries,
London would shake off the heavy French
cultural and linguistic influence which had been there since the times
of the Norman conquest. The city would figure heavily in the
development of Early Modern English.
London in 1300.
Peasants' Revolt of 1381
London was invaded by rebels led
by Wat Tyler. A group of peasants stormed the Tower of
executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury, and the Lord
Treasurer. The peasants looted the city and set fire to numerous
buildings. Tyler was stabbed to death by the Lord Mayor William
Walworth in a confrontation at Smithfield and the revolt collapsed.
Trade increased steadily during the Middle Ages, and
rapidly as a result. In 1100 London's population was somewhat more
than 15,000. By 1300 it had grown to roughly 80,000.
London lost at
least half of its population during the
Black Death in the mid-14th
century, but its economic and political importance stimulated a rapid
recovery despite further epidemics. Trade in
London was organised into
various guilds, which effectively controlled the city, and elected the
Lord Mayor of the City of London.
London was made up of narrow and twisting streets, and most
of the buildings were made from combustible materials such as timber
and straw, which made fire a constant threat, while sanitation in
cities was of low-quality.
Tudor London (1485–1603)
Main article: Tudor London
Wyngaerde's "Panorama of
London in 1543"
John Norden's map of
London in 1593. There is only one bridge across
the Thames, but parts of
Southwark on the south bank of the river have
In 1475, the
Hanseatic League set up its main trading base (kontor) of
Britain in London, since called Stalhof or Steelyard. It existed until
1853, when the Hanseatic cities of Lübeck,
the property to South Eastern Railway.
Woollen cloth was shipped
undyed and undressed from 14th/15th century
London to the nearby
shores of the Low Countries, where it was considered indispensable.
During the Reformation,
London was the principal early centre of
Protestantism in England. Its close commercial connections with the
Protestant heartlands in northern continental Europe, large foreign
mercantile communities, disproportionately large number of literate
inhabitants and role as the centre of the English print trade all
contributed to the spread of the new ideas of religious reform. Before
the Reformation, more than half of the area of
London was the property
of monasteries, nunneries and other religious houses.
Henry VIII's "Dissolution of the Monasteries" had a profound effect on
the city as nearly all of this property changed hands. The process
started in the mid 1530s, and by 1538 most of the larger monastic
houses had been abolished. Holy Trinity
Aldgate went to Lord Audley,
and the Marquess of
Winchester built himself a house in part of its
precincts. The Charterhouse went to Lord North, Blackfriars to Lord
Cobham, the leper hospital of St Giles to Lord Dudley, while the king
took for himself the leper hospital of St James, which was rebuilt as
St James's Palace.
The period saw
London rapidly rising in importance amongst Europe's
commercial centres. Trade expanded beyond Western Europe to Russia,
the Levant, and the Americas. This was the period of mercantilism and
monopoly trading companies such as the
Muscovy Company (1555) and the
British East India Company
British East India Company (1600) were established in
London by Royal
Charter. The latter, which ultimately came to rule India, was one of
the key institutions in London, and in Britain as a whole, for two and
a half centuries. Immigrants arrived in
London not just from all over
England and Wales, but from abroad as well, for example
France; the population rose from an estimated 50,000 in 1530 to about
225,000 in 1605. The growth of the population and wealth of London
was fuelled by a vast expansion in the use of coastal shipping.
The late 16th and early 17th century saw the great flourishing of
London whose preeminent figure was William Shakespeare.
During the mostly calm later years of Elizabeth's reign, some of her
courtiers and some of the wealthier citizens of
themselves country residences in Middlesex,
Essex and Surrey. This was
an early stirring of the villa movement, the taste for residences
which were neither of the city nor on an agricultural estate, but at
the time of Elizabeth's death in 1603,
London was still very compact.
The "Woodcut" map of
London of c.1561.
Xenophobia was rampant in London, and increased after the 1580s. Many
immigrants became disillusioned by routine threats of violence and
molestation, attempts at expulsion of foreigners, and the great
difficulty in acquiring English citizenship. Dutch cities proved more
hospitable, and many left
London permanently. Foreigners are
estimated to have made up 4,000 of the 100,000 residents of
1600, many being Dutch and German workers and traders.
Stuart London (1603–1714)
Main article: Stuart London
A panorama of
London by Claes Jansz. Visscher, 1616.
Old St Paul's
Old St Paul's had
lost its spire by this time. The two theatres on the foreground
(Southwark) side of the
Thames are The Bear Garden and The Globe. The
large church in the foreground is St Mary Overie, now Southwark
London's expansion beyond the boundaries of the City was decisively
established in the 17th century. In the opening years of that century
the immediate environs of the City, with the principal exception of
the aristocratic residences in the direction of Westminster, were
still considered not conducive to health. Immediately to the north was
Moorfields, which had recently been drained and laid out in walks, but
it was frequented by beggars and travellers, who crossed it in order
to get into London. Adjoining
Finsbury Fields, a
favourite practising ground for the archers, Mile End, then a common
on the Great Eastern Road and famous as a rendezvous for the troops.
The preparations for King James I becoming king were interrupted by a
severe plague epidemic, which may have killed over thirty thousand
people. The Lord Mayor's Show, which had been discontinued for some
years, was revived by order of the king in 1609. The dissolved
monastery of the Charterhouse, which had been bought and sold by the
courtiers several times, was purchased by
Thomas Sutton for £13,000.
The new hospital, chapel, and schoolhouse were begun in 1611.
Charterhouse School was to be one of the principal public schools in
London until it moved to
Surrey in Victorian times, and the site is
still used as a medical school.
The general meeting-place of Londoners in the day-time was the nave of
Old St. Paul's Cathedral. Merchants conducted business in the aisles,
and used the font as a counter upon which to make their payments;
lawyers received clients at their particular pillars; and the
unemployed looked for work. St Paul's Churchyard was the centre of the
book trade and
Fleet Street was a centre of public entertainment.
Under James I the theatre, which established itself so firmly in the
latter years of Elizabeth, grew further in popularity. The
performances at the public theatres were complemented by elaborate
masques at the royal court and at the inns of court.
Charles I acceded to the throne in 1625. During his reign, aristocrats
began to inhabit the West End in large numbers. In addition to those
who had specific business at court, increasing numbers of country
landowners and their families lived in
London for part of the year
simply for the social life. This was the beginning of the "London
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields was built about 1629. The piazza of
Covent Garden, designed by England's first classically trained
Inigo Jones followed in about 1632. The neighbouring streets
were built shortly afterwards, and the names of Henrietta, Charles,
James, King and York Streets were given after members of the royal
Chronicler of Stuart London, Samuel Pepys.
In January 1642 five members of parliament whom the King wished to
arrest were granted refuge in the City. In August of the same year the
King raised his banner at Nottingham, and during the English Civil War
London took the side of the parliament. Initially the king had the
upper hand in military terms and in November he won the Battle of
Brentford a few miles to the west of London. The City organised a new
makeshift army and Charles hesitated and retreated. Subsequently, an
extensive system of fortifications was built to protect
London from a
renewed attack by the Royalists. This comprised a strong earthen
rampart, enhanced with bastions and redoubts. It was well beyond the
City walls and encompassed the whole urban area, including Westminster
London was not seriously threatened by the royalists
again, and the financial resources of the City made an important
contribution to the parliamentarians' victory in the war.
The unsanitary and overcrowded City of
London has suffered from the
numerous outbreaks of the plague many times over the centuries, but in
Britain it is the last major outbreak which is remembered as the
"Great Plague" It occurred in 1665 and 1666 and killed around 60,000
people, which was one fifth of the population.
Samuel Pepys chronicled
the epidemic in his diary. On 4 September 1665 he wrote "I have stayed
in the city till above 7400 died in one week, and of them about 6000
of the plague, and little noise heard day or night but tolling of
Great Fire of
Main article: Great Fire of London
The Great Plague was immediately followed by another catastrophe,
albeit one which helped to put an end to the plague. On the Sunday, 2
September 1666 the Great Fire of
London broke out at one o'clock in
the morning at a bakery in
Pudding Lane in the southern part of the
City. Fanned by an eastern wind the fire spread, and efforts to arrest
it by pulling down houses to make firebreaks were disorganised to
begin with. On Tuesday night the wind fell somewhat, and on Wednesday
the fire slackened. On Thursday it was extinguished, but on the
evening of that day the flames again burst forth at the Temple. Some
houses were at once blown up by gunpowder, and thus the fire was
The Monument was built to commemorate the fire: for
over a century and a half it bore an inscription attributing the
conflagration to a "popish frenzy".
John Evelyn's plan for the rebuilding of
London after the Great Fire.
The fire destroyed about 60% of the City, including Old St Paul's
Cathedral, 87 parish churches, 44 livery company halls and the Royal
Exchange. However, the number of lives lost was surprisingly small; it
is believed to have been 16 at most. Within a few days of the fire,
three plans were presented to the king for the rebuilding of the city,
by Christopher Wren,
John Evelyn and Robert Hooke.
Wren proposed to build main thoroughfares north and south, and east
and west, to insulate all the churches in conspicuous positions, to
form the most public places into large piazzas, to unite the halls of
the 12 chief livery companies into one regular square annexed to the
Guildhall, and to make a fine quay on the bank of the river from
Blackfriars to the Tower of London. Wren wished to build the new
streets straight and in three standard widths of thirty, sixty and
ninety feet. Evelyn's plan differed from Wren's chiefly in proposing a
street from the church of
St Dunstan's in the East
St Dunstan's in the East to the St Paul's,
and in having no quay or terrace along the river. These plans were not
implemented, and the rebuilt city generally followed the streetplan of
the old one, and most of it has survived into the 21st century.
Richard Blome's map of
London (1673). The development of the West End
had recently begun to accelerate.
Nonetheless, the new City was different from the old one. Many
aristocratic residents never returned, preferring to take new houses
in the West End, where fashionable new districts such as St. James's
were built close to the main royal residence, which was Whitehall
Palace until it was destroyed by fire in the 1690s, and thereafter St.
James's Palace. The rural lane of
Piccadilly sprouted courtiers
mansions such as Burlington House. Thus the separation between the
middle class mercantile City of London, and the aristocratic world of
the court in
Westminster became complete.
In the City itself there was a move from wooden buildings to stone and
brick construction to reduce the risk of fire. Parliament's Rebuilding
London Act 1666 stated "building with brick [is] not only more
comely and durable, but also more safe against future perils of fire".
From then on only doorcases, window-frames and shop fronts were
allowed to be made of wood.
Christopher Wren's plan for a new model
London came to nothing, but he
was appointed to rebuild the ruined parish churches and to replace St
Paul's Cathedral. His domed baroque cathedral was the primary symbol
London for at least a century and a half. As city surveyor, Robert
Hooke oversaw the reconstruction of the City's houses. The East End,
that is the area immediately to the east of the city walls, also
became heavily populated in the decades after the Great Fire. London's
docks began to extend downstream, attracting many working people who
worked on the docks themselves and in the processing and distributive
trades. These people lived in Whitechapel, Wapping,
Limehouse, generally in slum conditions.
In the winter of 1683–4 a frost fair was held on the Thames. The
frost, which began about seven weeks before Christmas and continued
for six weeks after, was the greatest on record. The Revocation of the
Edict of Nantes in 1685 led to a large migration on
London. They established a silk industry at Spitalfields.
At this time the Bank of
England was founded, and the British East
India Company was expanding its influence. Lloyd's of
began to operate in the late 17th century. In 1700
London handled 80%
of England's imports, 69% of its exports and 86% of its re-exports.
Many of the goods were luxuries from the Americas and Asia such as
silk, sugar, tea and tobacco. The last figure emphasises London's role
as an entrepot: while it had many craftsmen in the 17th century, and
would later acquire some large factories, its economic prominence was
never based primarily on industry. Instead it was a great trading and
redistribution centre. Goods were brought to
London by England's
increasingly dominant merchant navy, not only to satisfy domestic
demand, but also for re-export throughout Europe and beyond.
William III, a Dutchman, cared little for London, the smoke of which
gave him asthma, and after the first fire at
Whitehall Palace (1691)
Nottingham House and transformed it into Kensington
Kensington was then an insignificant village, but the arrival
of the court soon caused it to grow in importance. The palace was
rarely favoured by future monarchs, but its construction was another
step in the expansion of the bounds of London. During the same reign
Greenwich Hospital, then well outside the boundary of London, but now
comfortably inside it, was begun; it was the naval complement to the
Chelsea Hospital for former soldiers, which had been founded in 1681.
During the reign of Queen Anne an act was passed authorising the
building of 50 new churches to serve the greatly increased population
living outside the boundaries of the City of London.
Ogilby & Morgan's map of the City of
London (1673). "A Large and
Accurate Map of the City of London. Ichnographically describing all
the Streets, Lanes, Alleys, Courts, Yards, Churches, Halls, &
Houses &c. Actually Surveyed and Delineated by John Ogilby, His
A view of
London from the east in 1751
Main article: 18th-century London
The 18th century was a period of rapid growth for London, reflecting
an increasing national population, the early stirrings of the
Industrial Revolution, and London's role at the centre of the evolving
In 1707 an Act of Union was passed merging the Scottish and the
English Parliaments, thus establishing the Kingdom of Great Britain. A
year later, in 1708 Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's
Cathedral was completed on his birthday. However, the first service
had been held on 2 December 1697; more than 10 years earlier. This
Cathedral replaced the original St. Paul's which had been completely
destroyed in the Great Fire of London. This building is considered one
of the finest in Britain and a fine example of
The Clock Tower of Wren's St Paul's Cathedral
Many tradesmen from different countries came to
London to trade goods
and merchandise. Also, more immigrants moved to
London making the
population greater. More people also moved to
London for work and for
London an altogether bigger and busier city. Britain's
victory in the Seven Years' War increased the country's international
standing and opened large new markets to British trade, further
boosting London's prosperity.
During the Georgian period
London spread beyond its traditional limits
at an accelerating pace. This is shown in a series of detailed maps,
particularly John Rocque's 1741–45 map (see below) and his 1746 Map
of London. New districts such as
Mayfair were built for the rich in
the West End, new bridges over the
Thames encouraged an acceleration
of development in South
London and in the East End, the Port of London
expanded downstream from the City. During this period was also the
uprising of the American colonies. In 1780, the Tower of
its only American prisoner, former President of the Continental
Congress, Henry Laurens. In 1779 he was the Congress's representative
of Holland, and got the country's support for the Revolution. On his
return voyage back to America, the Royal Navy captured him and charged
him with treason after finding evidence of a reason of war between
Great Britain and the Netherlands. He was released from the Tower on
21 December 1781 in exchange for General Lord Cornwallis.
In 1762 George III acquired
Buckingham Palace (then called Buckingham
House) from the Duke of Buckingham. It was enlarged over the next 75
years by architects such as John Nash.
Buckingham Palace as it appeared in the 17th century
Buckingham Palace in 1837, enlarged by John Nash
A phenomenon of the era was the coffeehouse, which became a popular
place to debate ideas. Growing literacy and the development of the
printing press meant that news became widely available. Fleet Street
became the centre of the embryonic national press during the century.
18th-century London was dogged by crime, the
Bow Street Runners
Bow Street Runners were
established in 1750 as a professional police force. Penalties for
crime were harsh, with the death penalty being applied for fairly
minor crimes. Public hangings were common in London, and were popular
London was rocked by the Gordon Riots, an uprising by
Roman Catholic emancipation led by Lord George
Gordon. Severe damage was caused to Catholic churches and homes, and
285 rioters were killed.
In the year 1787, freed slaves from London, America, and many of
Britain's colonies founded
Freetown in modern-day Sierra Leone.
Up until 1750,
London Bridge was the only crossing over the Thames,
but in that year
Westminster Bridge was opened and, for the first time
London Bridge, in a sense, had a rival. In 1798, Frankfurt
Nathan Mayer Rothschild
Nathan Mayer Rothschild arrived in
London and set up a banking
house in the city, with a large sum of money given to him by his
father, Amschel Mayer Rothschild. The Rothschilds also had banks in
Paris and Vienna. The bank financed numerous large-scale projects,
especially regarding railways around the world and the Suez Canal.
The 18th century saw the breakaway of the American colonies and many
other unfortunate events in London, but also great change and
Enlightenment. This all led into the beginning of modern times, the
A detailed copy of John Rocque's Map of London, 1741-5.
Main article: 19th-century London
London as engraved by J. & C. Walker in 1845 from a map by R
Creighton. Many districts in the West End were fully developed, and
East End also extended well beyond the eastern fringe of the City
of London. There were now several bridges over the Thames, allowing
the rapid development of South London.
During the 19th century,
London was transformed into the world's
largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population
expanded from 1 million in 1800 to 6.7 million a century
later. During this period,
London became a global political,
financial, and trading capital. In this position, it was largely
unrivalled until the latter part of the century, when
Paris and New
York began to threaten its dominance.
While the city grew wealthy as Britain's holdings expanded,
19th-century London was also a city of poverty, where millions lived
in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Life for the poor was
Charles Dickens in such novels as
Oliver Twist In
1810, after the death of
Sir Francis Baring
Sir Francis Baring and Abraham Goldsmid,
Rothschild emerges as the major banker in London.
In 1829 the then Home Secretary (and future prime minister) Robert
Peel established the Metropolitan Police as a police force covering
the entire urban area. The force gained the nickname of "bobbies" or
"peelers" named after Robert Peel.
19th-century London was transformed by the coming of the railways. A
new network of metropolitan railways allowed for the development of
suburbs in neighbouring counties from which middle-class and wealthy
people could commute to the centre. While this spurred the massive
outward growth of the city, the growth of greater
exacerbated the class divide, as the wealthier classes emigrated to
the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas.
The first railway to be built in
London was a line from
to Greenwich, which opened in 1836. This was soon followed by the
opening of great rail termini which linked
London to every corner of
Britain. These included Euston station (1837),
Fenchurch Street station
Fenchurch Street station (1841), Waterloo station (1848),
King's Cross station (1850), and
St Pancras station
St Pancras station (1863). From 1863,
the first lines of the
London Underground were constructed.
The urbanised area continued to grow rapidly, spreading into
Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch,
Southwark and Lambeth. Towards the middle of the century, London's
antiquated local government system, consisting of ancient parishes and
vestries, struggled to cope with the rapid growth in population. In
Metropolitan Board of Works
Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was created to provide
London with adequate infrastructure to cope with its growth. One of
its first tasks was addressing London's sanitation problems. At the
time, raw sewage was pumped straight into the River Thames. This
The Great Stink
The Great Stink of 1858. Parliament finally gave
consent for the MBW to construct a large system of sewers. The
engineer put in charge of building the new system was Joseph
Bazalgette. In what was one of the largest civil engineering projects
of the 19th century, he oversaw construction of over 2100 km of
tunnels and pipes under
London to take away sewage and provide clean
drinking water. When the
London sewerage system was completed, the
death toll in
London dropped dramatically, and epidemics of cholera
and other diseases were curtailed. Bazalgette's system is still in use
One of the most famous events of
19th-century London was the Great
Exhibition of 1851. Held at The Crystal Palace, the fair attracted
6 million visitors from across the world and displayed Britain at
the height of its Imperial dominance.
The Houses of Parliament from
Westminster Bridge in the early 1890s
As the capital of a massive empire,
London became a magnet for
immigrants from the colonies and poorer parts of Europe. A large Irish
population settled in the city during the Victorian period, with many
of the newcomers refugees from the Great Famine (1845–1849). At one
point, Catholic Irish made up about 20% of London's population; they
typically lived in overcrowded slums.
London also became home to a
sizable Jewish community, which was notable for its entrepreneurship
in the clothing trade and merchandising.
In 1888, the new County of
London was established, administered by the
London County Council. This was the first elected London-wide
administrative body, replacing the earlier Metropolitan Board of
Works, which had been made up of appointees. The County of London
covered broadly what was then the full extent of the London
conurbation, although the conurbation later outgrew the boundaries of
the county. In 1900, the county was sub-divided into 28 metropolitan
boroughs, which formed a more local tier of administration than the
Many famous buildings and landmarks of
London were constructed during
the 19th century including:
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
The Royal Albert Hall
The Victoria and Albert Museum
1900 to 1939
Main article: History of
Cheapside pictured in 1909, with the church of
St Mary-le-Bow in the
London entered the 20th century at the height of its influence as the
capital of one of the largest empires in history, but the new century
was to bring many challenges.
London's population continued to grow rapidly in the early decades of
the century, and public transport was greatly expanded. A large tram
network was constructed by the
London County Council, through the LCC
Tramways; the first motorbus service began in the 1900s. Improvements
to London's overground and underground rail network, including large
scale electrification were progressively carried out.
During World War I,
London experienced its first bombing raids carried
out by German zeppelin airships; these killed around 700 people and
caused great terror, but were merely a foretaste of what was to come.
The city of
London would experience many more terrors as a result of
both World Wars. The largest explosion in
London occurred during World
War I: the Silvertown explosion, when a munitions factory containing
50 tons of TNT exploded, killing 73 and injuring 400.
The period between the two World Wars saw London's geographical extent
growing more quickly than ever before or since. A preference for lower
density suburban housing, typically semi-detached, by Londoners
seeking a more "rural" lifestyle, superseded Londoners' old
predilection for terraced houses. This was facilitated not only by a
continuing expansion of the rail network, including trams and the
Underground, but also by slowly widening car ownership. London's
suburbs expanded outside the boundaries of the County of London, into
the neighbouring counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent,
Like the rest of the country,
London suffered severe unemployment
Great Depression of the 1930s. In the
East End during the
1930s, politically extreme parties of both right and left flourished.
Communist Party of Great Britain
Communist Party of Great Britain and the British Union of Fascists
both gained serious support. Clashes between right and left culminated
Battle of Cable Street
Battle of Cable Street in 1936. The population of London
reached an all-time peak of 8.6 million in 1939.
Large numbers of Jewish immigrants fleeing from
Nazi Germany settled
London during the 1930s, mostly in the East End.
Labour Party politician
Herbert Morrison was a dominant figure in
local government in the 1920s and 1930s. He became mayor of Hackney
and a member of the
London County Council in 1922, and for a while was
Minister of Transport in Ramsay MacDonald's cabinet. When Labour
gained power in
London in 1934, Morrison unified the bus, tram and
trolleybus services with the Underground, by the creation of the
London Passenger Transport Board (known as
London Transport) in 1933.,
He led the effort to finance and build the new Waterloo Bridge. He
Metropolitan Green Belt
Metropolitan Green Belt around the suburbs and worked to
clear slums, build schools, and reform public assistance.
In World War II
World War II
World War II and The Blitz
Firefighters putting out flames at a bomb site during The Blitz, 1941.
During World War II, London, as many other British cities, suffered
severe damage, being bombed extensively by the
Luftwaffe as a part of
The Blitz. Prior to the bombing, hundreds of thousands of children in
London were evacuated to the countryside to avoid the bombing.
Civilians took shelter from the air raids in underground stations.
The heaviest bombing took place during
The Blitz between 7 September
1940 and 10 May 1941. During this period,
London was subjected to 71
separate raids receiving over 18,000 tonnes of high explosive. One
raid in December 1940, which became known as the Second Great Fire of
London, saw a firestorm engulf much of the City of
London and destroy
many historic buildings. St Paul's Cathedral, however, remained
unscathed; a photograph showing the Cathedral shrouded in smoke became
a famous image of the war.
Having failed to defeat Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the
Eastern front and regular bombing raids ceased. They began again, but
on a smaller scale with the "Little Blitz" in early 1944. Towards the
end of the war, during 1944/45
London again came under heavy attack by
pilotless V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, which were fired from Nazi
occupied Europe. These attacks only came to an end when their launch
sites were captured by advancing Allied forces.
London suffered severe damage and heavy casualties, the worst hit part
being the Docklands area. By the war's end, just under 30,000
Londoners had been killed by the bombing, and over 50,000 seriously
injured, tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed, and
hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless.
Shaftesbury Avenue, circa 1949.
Three years after the war, the
1948 Summer Olympics
1948 Summer Olympics were held at the
original Wembley Stadium, at a time when the city had barely recovered
from the war. London's rebuilding was slow to begin. However, in 1951
Festival of Britain
Festival of Britain was held, which marked an increasing mood of
optimism and forward looking.
In the immediate postwar years housing was a major issue in London,
due to the large amount of housing which had been destroyed in the
war. The authorities decided upon high-rise blocks of flats as the
answer to housing shortages. During the 1950s and 1960s the skyline of
London altered dramatically as tower blocks were erected, although
these later proved unpopular. In a bid to reduce the number of people
living in overcrowded housing, a policy was introduced of encouraging
people to move into newly built new towns surrounding London.
Through the 19th and in the early half of the 20th century, Londoners
used coal for heating their homes, which produced large amounts of
smoke. In combination with climatic conditions this often caused a
characteristic smog, and
London became known for its typical "London
Fog", also known as "Pea Soupers".
London was sometimes referred to as
"The Smoke" because of this. In 1952 this culminated in the disastrous
Great Smog of 1952
Great Smog of 1952 which lasted for five days and killed over 4,000
people. In response to this, the
Clean Air Act 1956 was passed,
mandating the creating of "smokeless zones" where the use of
"smokeless" fuels was required (this was at a time when most
households still used open fires); the Act was effective.
Young people in
Carnaby Street in the 1960s.
Starting in the mid-1960s, and partly as a result of the success of
such UK musicians as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones,
a centre for the worldwide youth culture, exemplified by the Swinging
London subculture which made
Carnaby Street a household name of youth
fashion around the world. London's role as a trendsetter for youth
fashion was revived strongly in the 1980s during the new wave and punk
eras. In the mid-1990s this was revived to some extent with the
emergence of the
From the 1950s onwards
London became home to a large number of
immigrants, largely from Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica,
India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, which dramatically changed the face of
London, turning it into one of the most diverse cities in Europe.
However, the integration of the new immigrants was not always easy.
Racial tensions emerged in events such as the Brixton Riots in the
From the beginning of "The Troubles" in
Northern Ireland in the early
1970s until the mid-1990s,
London was subjected to repeated terrorist
attacks by the Provisional IRA.
The outward expansion of
London was slowed by the war, and the
introduction of the Metropolitan Green Belt. Due to this outward
expansion, in 1965 the old County of
London (which by now only covered
part of the
London conurbation) and the
London County Council were
abolished, and the much larger area of Greater
London was established
with a new Greater
London Council (GLC) to administer it, along with
Greater London's population declined steadily in the decades after
World War II, from an estimated peak of 8.6 million in 1939 to
around 6.8 million in the 1980s. However, it then began to
increase again in the late 1980s, encouraged by strong economic
performance and an increasingly positive image.
London's traditional status as a major port declined dramatically in
the post-war decades as the old Docklands could not accommodate large
modern container ships. The principal ports for
downstream to the ports of Felixstowe and Tilbury. The docklands area
had become largely derelict by the 1980s, but was redeveloped into
flats and offices from the mid-1980s onwards. The
Thames Barrier was
completed in the 1980s to protect
London against tidal surges from the
In the early 1980s political disputes between the GLC run by Ken
Livingstone and the Conservative government of
Margaret Thatcher led
to the GLC's abolition in 1986, with most of its powers relegated to
London boroughs. This left
London as the only large metropolis in
the world without a central administration.
In 2000, London-wide government was restored, with the creation of the
London Authority (GLA) by Tony Blair's government, covering
the same area of Greater London. The new authority had similar powers
to the old GLC, but was made up of a directly elected Mayor and a
London Assembly. The first election took place on 4 May, with Ken
Livingstone comfortably regaining his previous post.
recognised as one of the nine regions of England. In global
perspective, it was emerging as a
World city widely compared to New
York and Tokyo.
An icon of 21st century London: the Shard
Around the start of the 21st century,
London hosted the much derided
Millennium Dome at Greenwich, to mark the new century. Other
Millennium projects were more successful. One was the largest
observation wheel in the world, the "Millennium Wheel", or the London
Eye, which was erected as a temporary structure, but soon became a
fixture, and draws four million visitors a year. The National Lottery
also released a flood of funds for major enhancements to existing
attractions, for example the roofing of the Great Court at the British
London Plan, published by the Mayor of
London in 2004, estimated
that the population would reach 8.1 million by 2016, and continue
to rise thereafter. This was reflected in a move towards denser, more
urban styles of building, including a greatly increased number of tall
buildings, and proposals for major enhancements to the public
transport network. However, funding for projects such as Crossrail
remained a struggle.
On 6 July 2005
London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics and
Paralympics making it the first city to host the modern games three
times. However, celebrations were cut short the following day when the
city was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks. More than 50 were
killed and 750 injured in three bombings on
London Underground trains
and a fourth on a double decker bus near King's Cross.
London was the starting point for countrywide riots which occurred in
August 2011, when thousands of people rioted in several city boroughs
and in towns across England. In 2011 the population grew over 8
million people for the first time in decades.
White British formed
less than half of the population for the first time.
In the public there was ambivalence leading-up to the Olympics,
though public sentiment changed strongly in their favour following a
successful opening ceremony and when the anticipated organisational
and transport problems never occurred.
A few farmers
Historical sites of note
Battersea Power Station
Monument to the Great Fire of London
Palace of Westminster
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
St Paul's Cathedral
Tower of London
Waterloo International station
Archives for London
Economy of London
Culture of London
Fortifications of London
Geography of London
Geology of London
History of local government in London
Timeline of London
Timeline of London history
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Library resources about
History of London
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
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Ball, Michael, and David T. Sunderland. Economic history of London,
1800–1914 (Routledge, 2002)
Billings, Malcolm (1994), London: A Companion to Its History and
Archaeology, ISBN 1-85626-153-0
Bucholz, Robert O., and Joseph P. Ward. London: A Social and Cultural
History, 1550–1750 (Cambridge University Press; 2012) 526 pages
Clark, Greg. The Making of a World City:
London 1991 to 2021 (John
Wiley & Sons, 2014)
Inwood, Stephen. A History of
London (1998) ISBN 0-333-67153-8
London. Let's Go. 1998. OL 16456334W.
Mort, Frank, and Miles Ogborn. "Transforming Metropolitan London,
1750–1960." Journal of British Studies (2004) 43#1 pp: 1-14.
Porter, Roy. History of
London (1995), by a leading scholar
Weightman, Gavin, and Stephen Humphries. The Making of Modern London,
1914–1939 (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984)
London in the 20th Century: A City and Its People (2001)
544 pages; Social history of people, neighborhoods, work, culture,
London in the 19th Century: 'A Human Awful Wonder of
God' (2008); Social history of people, neighborhoods, work, culture,
power. Excerpt and text search
London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous
Thing (2013) 624 pages; Excerpt and text search 480pp; Social history
of people, neighborhoods, work, culture, power.
Yale, Pat (1998), London, Lonely Planet, OL 16041426W
Allen, Michelle Elizabeth. Cleansing the city: sanitary geographies in
Brimblecombe, Peter. The Big Smoke: A History of Air Pollution in
London Since Medieval Times (Methuen, 1987)
Ciecieznski, N. J. "The Stench of Disease: Public Health and the
Environment in Late-Medieval English towns and cities." Health,
Culture and Society (2013) 4#1 pp: 91-104.
Hanlon, W. Walker. "Pollution and Mortality in the 19th Century (UCLA
and NBER, 2015) online
Jackson, Lee. Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth
Jørgensen, Dolly. "'All Good Rule of the Citee': Sanitation and Civic
Government in England, 1400–1600." Journal of Urban History (2010).
Landers, John. Death and the metropolis: studies in the demographic
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Mosley, Stephen. "'A Network of Trust': Measuring and Monitoring Air
Pollution in British Cities, 1912–1960." Environment and History
(2009) 15#3 pp: 273-302.
Thorsheim, Peter. Inventing Pollution: Coal, Smoke, and Culture in
Britain since 1800 (2009)
Feldman, David, and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds. Metropolis, London:
Histories and Representations since 1800 (Routledge Kegan & Paul,
Edward Godfrey Cox (1949). "London". Reference Guide to the Literature
of Travel. 3. Seattle: University of Washington – via Hathi
George Walter Thornbury. Old and new London : a narrative of its
history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Pelter, & Galpin,
Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6.
Frederick Crace (1878), Catalogue of Maps, Plans & Views of
Westminster & Southwark, London: Spottiswoode &
London (Harper & Bros., 1892)
Charles Welch (1893–1894), "Notes on
London Municipal Literature",
Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, London: Bibliographical
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Green + v.2, v.3, Index
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