From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present
Greater London
AD 50

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London is the capital city of England. It is known as the Square Mile or just The City and is only a tiny part of the metropolis of London.

The city started life around AD 50 and was built by the Romans. Known as Londinium, it was a small fort and town about the size of Hyde Park. It did not last long as it was destroyed by the Iceni tribe led by Queen Boudica.

The city was rebuilt as a typical planned Roman town and grew rapidly. During the second century Londinium replaced Colchester as the capital of Roman Britain but in the third century instability and recession led to its decline. It was during this time that a defensive wall was built around the city and stretched for about 3 miles, this wall would last well into the 16th century. Six of the seven city gates of London are of Roman origin, Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate. Moorgate is of medieval origin. The Roman Empire continued to fall into decline, and by 410 the Roman occupation was at an end and Londinium abandoned.

For around 100 years London lay in ruins, sparsely settled by a few families that started to trickle into the City. As these families prospered more people flooded into London until the population grew to at least 10,000 people. The Saxons called there settlement Lundenwic and it became a large market town but the bulk of the settlement was outside the Roman walls.

Lundenwic was sacked in 842 and 851 by the Vikings. In 871 the 'Great Danish Army' which had been fighting across England for the last five years, wintered in Lundenwic. They set up a permanent settlement in the city which remained in Danish control until 886 when it was taken by King Alfred the Great. The small town was moved inside the Roman walls and changed the name to Lundenburgh. The Roman wall were repaired and a second fortified borough was established on the south bank.

The city grew and gained power becoming a rival with Winchester, the power centre of the Saxon world. The Danish attacked the city time and time again, but every time they were driven away until captured by Sweyn in 1013. Sweyn was proclaimed King and King Æthelred fled. Sweyn was only King for five weeks when he died and King Æthelred was restored to the throne. King Æthelred died in 1016 leaving the throne to his son, Edmund Ironside. Almost straight away London was under seige by Cnut, but he failed to take the city. King Edmund was defeated at the Battle of Ashdown leaving Cnut in control of the whole country.

In 1042 English rule was restored under Edward the Confessor. He founded Westminster Abbey and spent most of his time there. He died in 1066 without clear succession which led to the Norman conquest.

The Normans built Motte and Bailey castles to help dominate the native population. At this time the castle of the Tower of London was built. A simple construction of wood was soon replaced with a stone keep and defensive walls. London grew rapidly under the new regime.

In 1097 William Rufus, son of William constructed Westminster Hall, which later became Westminster Palace.

In 1176 London Bridge was replaced by a stronger stone bridge and was completed in 1209. It would last for 600 years and was the only bridge across the Thames until 1739.

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.

The Peasants Revolt of 1381 saw London invaded by Wat Tyler and his rebels. They executed the Lord Chancellor, set fire to many buildings and looted the city.The revolt ended when Wat Tyler was stabbed to death by the Lord Mayor, William Walworth in a confrontation at Smithfield.

London grew during the middle ages, its population soared and trade increased. By 1300's the population was at least 80,000 but by the 1400's the black death had killed over half of the population. London recovered swiftly, trade increased as did the population.

Most of the city was owned by the monasteries but this all changed in the late 1530's when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Property changed hands and religious buildings were converted into palaces and homes for the rich or destroyed and sold off to fill the coffers of the King.

With the formation of the British East India Company in 1600, established in London by Royal Charter trade to europe was never better. The company was one of the key institutions in London, and in Britain as a whole, for two and a half centuries. Immigrants arrived in London from all over England and Wales and from abroad as well, the population rose from an estimated 50,000 in 1530 to about 225,000 in 1605. This period saw London was rapidly rising in importance amongst Europe's commercial centres. Trade expanded beyond Western Europe to Russia, the Levant, and the Americas. This was The growth of the population and wealth of London was fuelled by a vast expansion in the use of coastal shipping.

London's expansion beyond the boundaries of the City was decisively established in the 17th century.

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 and Southwark. 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.

The Great Plague was immediately followed by another catastrophe, ironically it 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 and ineffective. 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 finally mastered. The Monument was built to commemorate the fire.

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.

At this time the Bank of England was founded, and the British East India Company was expanding its influence. Lloyd's of London also began to operate in the late 17th century.

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 British Empire.

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.

During the Georgian period London spread beyond its traditional limits at an accelerating pace. 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 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 later 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 immortalised by Charles Dickens in such novels as Oliver Twist.

In 1829 the 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.

In 1855 the 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 culminated in The Great Stink of 1858. The polluted drinking water sourced from the Thames also brought disease and epidemics to London's populace.

Parliament finally gave consent for the MBW to construct a massive 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 today.

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 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. Towards the end of the war, during 1944 - 45 London came under heavy attack from the V-1 and V-2 rockets These were fired from Nazi occupied Europe.


Historian Regum Britanniae, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth claims London was founded by Brutus of Troy after he defeated the incumbent giants Gog and Magog and was known as Caer Troia, Troia Nova - Latin for New Troy and 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 King Lud who, renamed the town CaerLudein, from which London was derived, and was buried at Ludgate.

Evidence of prehistoric settlement have been found in the area which inclide farming, burial and traces of habitation.