History of London
Legendary foundations and prehistoric London Of Paul Lombardo and Kevin Fodor
The Mediæval mythology of Geoffrey of Monmouth tells that London was founded by Brutus the Trojan in the Bronze Age, and was known as Troia Nova, or New Troy, which was corrupted to Trinovantum. (The Trinovantes were the tribe who inhabited the area prior to the Romans). King Lud renamed the town CaerLudein, from which London is derived. Geoffrey provides prehistoric London with a rich array of legendary kiings and interesting stories.
However, despite intensive excavations, archaeologists have found no evidence of a prehistoric or major settlement in the area. There have been scattered prehistoric finds, evidence of farming, burial and traces of habitation, but nothing more substantial. It is now considered unlikely that a pre-Roman city existed, but as much of the Roman city remains unexcavated, it is still possible that some settlement may yet be discovered.
So, during the prehistoric times, London was most likely a rural area wiith scattered settlement. Rich finds such as the Battersea Shield, found in the Thames near Chelsea, suggest the area was important; there may have been important settlements at Egham and Brentford, and there was a hillfort at Uppall, but no Ci
Londinium was established as a town by the Romans after the invasion of 43 led by the Emperor Claudius. Archaeological excavation (undertaken by the Department of Urban Archaeology of the Museum of London now called MOLAS) since the 1970s has also failed to unearth any convincing traces of major settlement before c. 50 – so ideas about Londinium being a military foundation around the Fort that protected London Bridge are now largely discounted.
The name Londinium is thought to be pre-Roman in origin although no consensus on what it means. One suggestion is that it derived from a personal name meaning ‘fierce’. However, Recent research by Richard Coates has suggested thhat the name derives from pre-Celtic Old European – Plowonida – from 2 roots, “plew” and “nejd”, meaning something like “the flowing river” or “the wide flowing river”. Londinium therefore means “the settlement on the wide river”. He suggests that the river was called the Thames upriver where it was narrower, and Plowonida down river where it was too wide to ford. For a discussion on the legends of London and Plowonida see  (http://chr.org.uk/legends.htm). The story of the settlement being named after Lu
Archaeologists now believe that London was founded as a civilian settlement by 50. A wooden drain by the side of the main roman road excavated at No 1 Poultry has been dated to 47 which is likely to be the foundation date.
Ten years later, the British queen Boudicca, leading the Iceni, sacked Londinium (c. 60). Excavation has revealed extensive evidence of destruction by fire at this date, and recently a military compound has been discovered in the City of London which may have been the headquarters of the Roman fight back against the British uprising.
The city recovered after perhaps 10 years, and reached its population height by about 140, thereafter began a slow decline. However habitation and associated building work did not cease. By 375 London was a small wealthy community protected by completed defences. By 410 Roman occupation officially came to an end, with the citizens being ordered to look after their own defenses. By the middle of the 5th Century the Roman city was practically abandoned.
After being abandoned for perhaps 150 years, its strategic position on the Thames meant that by 600 AD Anglo-Saxons had revived settlement in the area. These Saxon settlements were not in the ancient walled City of London, but to th
The Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 is usually considered to be the beginning of the Mediæval period. Under William the Conqueror several forts were constructed in Lo
Its growing self-government became firm with election rights granted by King John in 1199 and 1215. The nearby up-river town of Westminster became the Royal capital, and the area between them entirely urbanised by 1600.
See City of London for details of city government throughout the Mediæval period.
In 1097 William Rufus the son of William the Conqueror began the construction of ‘Westminster Hall’, the hall was to prove the basis of the Palace of Westminster which throughout the Mediæval period became the prime royal residence.
In 1176 construction began of the famous London Bridge (completed in 1209) which was built on the site of several earlier wooden bridges. This bridge would last for 600 years, and remained the only bridge across the River Thames until 1739.
In 1196 a populist uprising of the poor against the rich led by William Fitz Osbern took place.
During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 led by Wat Tyler, London was invaded. A group of peasants stormed the Tower of London and 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, thus ending the revolt.
Mediæval London was made up of narrow and twisting streets, and most of the buildings were made from combustable materials such as wood and straw, which made fire a constant threat. Sanitation was poor, and between 1348 and the Great Plague of 1666 there were sixteen outbreaks of plague in the city.
The Great Plague in 1665 significantly reduced London’s population, and in 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the city. Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for rebuilding many of London’s churches including St. Paul’s Cathedral. The destruction of housing in the city encouraged many former residents to build new homes outside the walls.
19th century London
Palace of Westminster in the 1800’s.
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 million a century later. This was the period when London became a global political, financial, and trading capital, and hosted the Great Exhibition of 1851.
However Victorian London (the Victorian period covered most of the century) was also a city of extreme poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Life for the poor was immortalised by Charles Dickens in such novels as Oliver Twist.
19th century London was transformed by the coming of the railways. A new network of metropolitan railways allowed commuting and the invention of suburbs from where wealthier people could commute to the centre. This spurred the massive outward growth of the city. This also exacerbated the class divide, as the wealthier classes emigrated to the suburbs, the poor were left to inhabit inner city areas.
The first railway to be built in London was a line from London Bridge 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), Paddington station (1838), Fenchurch Street station (1841), Waterloo station (1848), King’s Cross station (1850), and St Pancras station (1863). And from the 1850s, 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, the massive population growth created a public health crisis, with raw sewage being pumped straight into the River Thames. By the 1850s the stench was so bad that the curtains on the windows of the Houses of Parliament were soaked in lime in an attempt to disguise the smell. The polluted drinking water (sourced from the Thames) also brought disease and epidemics to London’s populace.
Old London Bridge in the early 1890s.
Parliament finally gave consent to the construction of a massive system of sewers, and established the Metropolitan Board of Works to take charge in 1855, as well as to oversee transport. The engineer put in charge of building the new sewer 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 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.
One of the most famous events of Victorian London, the Great Exhibition of 1851, attracted visitors from across the world and displayed Britain at the height of its Imperial dominance.
London also became home to a large Irish population during the Victorian period, largely due to refugees from the Irish potato famine, at one point Irish immigrants made up over 20% of London’s population. London also became home to a sizeable Jewish community.
The Crystal Palace in 1851.
In 1888, the new County of London was established, administered by the London County Council which was the first elected London-wide administrative body, it replaced the earlier Metropolitan Board of Works which was made up of appointees. The County of London covered what was then the full extent of the London conurbation, although the conurbation later outgrew the boundaries of the county.
Many famous buildings and landmarks of London were constructed during the 19th century. Including:
• Trafalgar Square
• Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
• The Royal Albert Hall
• The Victoria and Albert Museum
• Tower Bridge
20th Century London
London at war
St. Paul’s Cathedral during the bombing of London.
London suffered its first bombing raids during World War I carried out by zeppelin airships; these killed around 700 people and caused great terror, but were merely a foretaste of what was to come.
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.
London suffered severe damage during the bombing, the worst hit part being the Docklands area of the East End. By the war’s end, nearly 35,000 Londoners had been killed, and around 50,000 seriously injured, tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless.
Immediately after the war, the 1948 Summer Olympics were held at Wembley Stadium, at a time when the city had barely recovered from the war.
The population of London actually peaked during the 1930s at around 8.6 million. However after the war 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. As a result the total population of the city declined somewhat during the post-war years.
The bombing during the war, gave the authorities a good opportunity to redevelop London, and to replace older slum housing with lower density development, it was replaced largely by high-rise blocks of flats, which altered the appearance of London quite radically, although these later proved unpopular.
The outward expansion of London was slowed by the war, and the Green Belt established soon afterwards. 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 32 new London boroughs.
However in the early 1980s, due to political disputes between the GLC run by Ken Livingstone and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher the GLC was abolished in 1986, with all of the powers devolved to the London boroughs this left London as the only large metropolis in the world without a central administration. In 2000, the Greater London Authority was established, covering the same area of Greater London as before and representing one of the nine regions of England, distinct from the rest of the South East. The London Commuter Belt covers an area much wider, but is not normally considered part of London.
Starting in the mid 1960s, and partly as a result of the success of such UK musicians as the Beatles, London became an epicentre for the world-wide 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.
At the turn of the 21st century, London hosted the much derided Millennium Dome at Greenwich, to mark the new century.