London is the capital of the United Kingdom and it’s the most populous city of the United Kingdom. It resides on the River Thames in the southeastern part of Great Britain. Its history is long spanning many millennia. It’s a leading global city too. From its founding to the election of its first Muslim mayor, London is filled with interesting and exciting history and culture. London has a lot of strength involving the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, transport, and tourism. It has one of the 10 most powerful GDPs on Earth. It has the world’s largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic. It has the largest concentration of higher education institutes than any other city in Europe with 43 universities. London is very prominent in world software, multimedia development and design, etc. Many diverse peoples and cultures exist in London. There are not just Anglo-Saxons living in London. There are black people, Arabic people, Pakistanis, Chinese people, etc. who live and work in the city of London. More than 300 languages are spoken within Greater London. London has about 8,538,689 people. It is the largest municipality in the European Union (until 2016 when British voters voted to leave the EU). London’s urban area is the 2nd most populous in the EU after Paris with 9,787,426 inhabitants according to the 2011 census. The Tower of London, Kew Gardens, the Westminster Abbey, and other historic landmarks are found in the city too. People go into the London Underground constantly. Tourists visit Big Ben and other places. London has been in its thousands of years of its existence. London is a beautiful city and courageous people of London have blessed it in enumerable ways.
The Early Ages
People have lived in London for a long time. There have been harms and traces of habitation during prehistoric London, but not a pre-Roman city. Back then, London was most probably an agricultural 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 Uphall Camp, Ilford, but no city in the area of the Roman London, the present day City of London. In 1999, there have been remains of a Bronze Age bridge. It was found on the foreshore south of Vauxhall Bridge. The bridge either crossed the Thames or went to a now lost island in the river. Dendrology dated the timbers to 1,500 B.C. 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 larger timber structure was dated to 4,000 B.C. It was found on the Thames foreshore, south of Vauxhall Bridge. The function of the Mesolithic structure is not known. All of 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 London area. Many of them had clearly been used in battle. This suggests that the Thames was an important tribal boundary.
Londinium was created as a civilian town by the Romans about 7 years after the invasion of 43 A.D. 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. Early Roman London was a small area. It was about the size of Hyde Park. In about 60 A.D., it was destroyed by the Iceni led by their queen Boudicca. Iceni were a Brittonic tribes of eastern Britain during the Iron Age and early Roman era. They lived in present day Norfolk and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. 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 A.D., Londinium was at its height. It replaced Colchester as the capital of Roman Britain (Britannia). Its population back then was about 60,000 inhabitants. It boasted major public buildings, including the largest basilica north of the Alps, temples, bath houses, an amphitheater and a large fort for the city garrison. During the 3rd century A.D. and beyond, political instability and recession led to a slow decline. Between 180 and 225 A.D., the Romans built the defensive London Wall around the landward side of the city. The wall was about 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) long, 6 meters (20 ft.) high, and 2.5 meters (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. During the late 200’s, Londinium was raided on many 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 A.D., 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.
The Anglo-Saxon period
Until recently, it was believed that the Anglo-Saxon settlement initially avoided the area immediately around Londinium. Yet, 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 during 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 organization of this earlier Anglo-Saxon London, which was laid out on a grid pattern and grew to house a likely population of 10-12,000. Early Anglo-Saxon London belonged to a people known as the Middle Saxons. The name of the county of Middlesex is derived from the term Middle Saxons. They probably occupied the approximate area of modern Hertfordshire and Surrey. Yet, by the early 7th century, the London area had been incorporated into the Kingdom of the East Saxons. In 604 A.D., King Saebert of Essex converted to Christianity and London received Melitus or its first post-Roman bishop. During this time, Essex was under the over lordship of King Aethelberht of Kent. It was under Æthelberht's patronage that Mellitus founded 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 happened during the reign of King Sigeberht II in the 650’s. 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. Mercian control came over London seem to happen during the 730’s. For most of the 9th century, Viking attacks dominated the area. It was increasingly common from ca. 830 A.D. onwards. London was sacked in 842 and again in 851. The Danish “Great Heathen Army” rampaged across England since 865. It 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 of Wessex and reincorporated into Mercia, then governed under Alfred's sovereignty by his son-in-law Ealdorman Æthelred. During this time, there was a focus of settlement that moved within the old Roman walls for the sake of defense. The city became known as Hindenburg. The Roman walls were repaired and the defensive ditch re-cut, while the bridge was probably rebuilt at the time. A second fortified Borough was established on the south bank at Southwark, the Suthringa Geworc (of the 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. During the 900’s, the city of London started to develop its own unique local government. Following Ethelred’s death in 911, it was transferred to Wessex. It preceded the absorption of the rest of Merica in 918. Although, it faced competition for political pre-eminence in the United Kingdom of England from the traditional West Saxon center of Winchester, London’s size and commercial wealth brought it a steadily increasing importance as a focus of government activity. King Athelstan held many meetings of the witan in London and issued laws from there, while King Æthelred the Unready issued the Laws of London there in 978.
In the reign of Ethelred, Viking attacks resumed. 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, London repulsed an attack by the Danes and was the last place to hold out where 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 Wessex. London was then experiencing a siege by Snut. Yet, he was relieved by King Edmund’s army. Edmund left to recruit reinforcements in Wessex. The Danes resumed the siege, but they were again unsuccessful. However, after his defeat at the Battle of Assandun, Edmund ceded to Cnut all of England north of the Thames including London. He died a few weeks later and left Cnut in control of the whole country. There was a Norse sage about a battle when King Æthelred returned to attack Danish-occupied London. The saga said that the Danes lined London Bridge and showered the attackers with spears. Being undaunted, the attackers pulled the roofs off nearby houses and held them over their heads in the boats. They were protected, so they were get close enough to the bridge to attach ropes to the piers and pull the bridge down. Thus, that ended the Viking occupation of London. The story 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.
The extinction of Cnut’s dynasty happened in 1042 A.D. Edward the Confessor restored English rule. He was responsible for the foundation of Westminster Abbey and spent much of his time at Westminster (which from this time steadily supplanted the City itself as the center of government). Edward died in 1066 in Westminster. He has no clear heir. This caused a succession dispute and the Norman conquest of England. Normans are from the Norse people. The Norse were from Denmark, Iceland, and Norway. The Norman conquest involved Norman, Breton (who are descended from the Gauls and in some cases the Vikings. Many of their ancestors came from the Celts who traveled into Brittany, France after the Germanic tribes invaded the UK. They are the last vestiges of the ancient Celtic Britons), and French soldiers. 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 member of the witan met in London and elected King Edward’s young nephew Edgar the Ætheling as king. The Normans advanced to the south bank of the Thames opposite London where they defeated an English attack and burned Southwark, but they 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 citizens of 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 the Normans reached the city. Having occupied London, William was crowned king in Westminster Abbey.
Norman and Medieval London
The new Norman regime created new fortressses within the city. These fortressses were used to dominate the native population. The Tower of London was created at this time at the end of the city where the initial wooden fortification was rapidly replaced by the construction of the first stone castle in England. Along the waterfront, smaller forts of Baynard’s Castle and Montfichet’s Castle were created too. King William also granted a charter in 1067. This confirmed the city’s existing rights, privileges, and laws. Its growing self-government was consolidated by the election rights granted by King John in 1119 and 1215. In 1097, William Rufus or the son of William the Conquerer 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 wooden bridges. This bridge would last for 600 years and remained the only bridge across the River Thames until 1739. By 1216, during the First Barons’ War, London was occupied by Prince Lousis of France. Prince Louis 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 their Plantagenet allegiance, rallying round John’s son Henry III, and Louis was forced to withdraw from England. Over the next centuries, London would shake off the heavy French cultural and linguistic influence that had been there since the times of the Norman conquest.
The city would figure heavily in the development of Early Modern English. There was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. In that year, London was invaded by rebels led by Wat Tyler. In this situation, a group of peasants stormed the Tower of London and executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury, and the Lord Treasurer. Many of 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 streadily grew in the Middle Ages. London grew too as a result. More than 15,000 people lived in London by 1100 A.D. In 1300, London had about 80,000 people. The Black Death during the mid-14th century caused London to lose half of its population. Yet, 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.
Medieval London was made up of narrow and twisting streets, and most of the buildings were made from combustible materials such as wood and straw, which made fire a constant threat, while sanitation in cities was poor.
During the Reformation, London was the principal early center of Protestantism in England. Its close commercial connections with the Protestant heartlands in northern continental Europe, large foreign mercantile communities, disproportionately are 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.
There was Henry VIII’s “Dissolution of the Monasteries.” This policy had a huge effect on London. Nearly all of his property changed hands. This process started in the mid 1530’s 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. This period saw London rapidly rising in importance amongst Europe’s commercial centers. Trade expanded beyond Western Europe to Russia, the Levant, and the Americas. This period saw the development of mercantilism and monopoly trading companies like the Muscovy Company (1555) and the 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. Mercantilism is a policy of the English using colonies overseas caused by imperialism to bring their resources to England. Immigrants came to London not just from all over England and Wales. There were the Huguenots who came to the UK from France. The population rose from an estimated 50,000 in 1530 to about 225,000 in 1605. The growth of the population and the wealth of London was fueled by a vast expansion of the use of coastal shipping. During the late 16th and early 17th century, there was the great flourishing of drama in London. One prominent person involved in this era was William Shakespeare. During the mostly calm later years of Elizabeth's reign, some of her courtiers and some of the wealthier citizens of London built 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, was London still very compact. Unfortunately, xenophobia was rampant in London. It increased after the 1580’s. 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. Nothing is new under the sun as many people who support the Leave and Remain campaigns of Brexit are xenophobic.
London expanded during the time of 1603-1714. 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 travelers, who crossed it in order to get into London. Adjoining Moorfields were Finsbury Fields, a favorite practicing 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 was interrupted by a severe plague epidemic. This epidemic may have killed over 30,000 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. Back then, the general meeting place for 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. The unemployed looked for work in London. St. Paul’s Churchyard was the center of the book trade. Fleet Street was the center 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 go into West End in large numbers. Additionally, 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 season.” Lincoln’s Inn Fields was built about 1629. The piazza of Covent Garden was designed by England’s first classically trained architect Inigo Jones followed in about 1632. The neighboring streets were built shortly afterwards and the names of Henrietta, Charles, James, King, and York Streets were given after members of the royal family.
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 a few miles to the west of London. The City of London made and army. Charles hesitated and retreated. Later, a system of extensive fortifications was built to protect London from a renewed attack by the Royalists. This comprised of a strong earthen rampant, 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. 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 bells."
The Great London Fire of 1666
The Great Fire of London in 1666 was a historic, brutal event. It came after the Great Plague. ON Sunday, September 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London started at one o’clock in the morning at a bakery in Pudding Lane in the southern part of the City. The fire was fanned by an eastern wind the fire spread, and efforts to arrest it by pulling down houses to make firebreaks were disorganized to begin with. On Tuesday night, the wind fell somewhat, and on Wednesday, the fire slackened. ON Thursday, it was extinguished. Yet, on the evening of the day, the flames came about again 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. Over a century and a half, it bore an inscription attributing the conflagration to a “popish frenzy.” Back then, many Protestants and Catholics didn’t like each other in London. This happened less than 200 years after the Protestant Reformation. The word popish is a slang word for Papacy. 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 lot 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, east and west, to insulate all the churches in the conspicuous positions. He formed the most public places into large piazzas. He wanted 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 Black friars 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 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 street plan of the old one, and most of it has survived into the 21st century.
The new City was different from the old one. Many aristocratic residents never returned. They wanted to take new homes in the West End. The West Ned had fashionable new districts like St. James’s were built close to the main royal residence, which was Whitehall Palace (until it was destroyed by fire in the 1690’s and thereafter St. James’s Palace). The rural lane of Piccadilly sprouted courtiers mansions like Burlington House. There was the separation between the middle class mercantile City of London and the aristocratic world of the court in Westminster became complete. London moved from using wooden buildings to stone and brick construction in order for the reduction of risk of fire to happen. Parliament's Rebuilding of London Act 1666stated "building with brick [is] not only more comely and durable, but also more safe against future perils of fire". From then on only door cases, 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 of 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,Stepney and Limehouse, generally in slum conditions. During the winter of 1683-84, 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 Edicts of Nantes in 1685 led to a large migration of French Huguenots to London. They established a silk industry it Spitalfields.
The Bank of England was founded during this time. The British East India Company was expanding its influence. Lloyd’s of London also 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 emphasized 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 was a Dutchman. He cared little for London. The smoke of London gave him asthma. Later, after the first fire at Whitehall Palace (1691) he purchased Nottingham House and transformed it into Palace. Kensington was then an insignificant village, but the arrival of the court soon caused it to grow in importance. The palace was rarely favored 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 authorizing the building of 50 new churches to serve the greatly increased population living outside the boundaries of the City of London.
The 18th century
London was the capitalist capital of the bloody and evil British Empire during the 18th century. London’s population grew rapidly. There was the development of the Industrial Revolution which used machines in productions more instead of farming equipment. The 1707 Act of Union was passed. It merged the Scottish and English Parliaments. This caused the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1708, Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed on his birthday. The first service had been held on December 2, 1697. This Cathedral was replacing the original St. Paul’s which was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It has great architecture and represents the Baroque architectural style. Many tradesmen from different nations came to London to trade goods and merchandise. More immigrants traveled into London too. Many people came to work and do business. It or London became busier. Britain won the Seven years’ War. It opened more markets due to trade and the oppression of slavery continued. The Mayfair district was built for the rich in the West end. New bridges that came across the River Thames encouraged an accelerated of development in South London and in East End. The Port of London expanded downstream from the City. During this time, there was the uprising of the American colonies. The American colonies disliked the taxation without representation and many people in the American continent wanted independence. In 1780, the Tower of London held its own American prisoner. He was the former of President of the Continental Congress or Henry Laurens. By 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. 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 December 21, 1781 in exchange for General Lord Cornwallis. The era of the coffeehouse existed. This was where people came to debate ideas. The printing press developed and growing literacy existed. News involving the press grew. Fleet Street was a place where the press had a stronghold. There was crime in London during the 18th century too. This is why the Bow Street Runners was formed 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 public events. There were the Gordon riots of 1780. This was about Protestants fighting against Roman Catholic emancipation (or voting rights) led by Lord George Gordon. There was severe damage done to Catholic churches and homes and 285 rioters were killed. The Westminster Bridge was opened in 1750 to cross over the Thames not just the London Bridge. In 1798, Frankfurt banker 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. Great changes happened in the 18th century. American colonies broke away from London and the evil of the British Empire expanded in the Earth.
The 19th Century
During the 19th century, London was transformed into the world’s largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population grew from 1 million in 1800 to 6.7 million a century later. During this period, London became a global political, financial, and trading capital. It has an unrivaled position until the later part of the century. It was during that time when Paris and New York began to threaten its dominance. While the city grew wealthy as Britain’s holdings expanded, London was also a city of poverty. Millions of people back then lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Life for the poor was immortalized by Charles Dickens in novels like Oliver Twist in 1810, after the death of Sir Francis Baring and Abraham Goldsmith, 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 the neighboring counties from which middle class and wealthy people could commute to the center. This spurred the massive outward growth of the city, the growth of greater London also exacerbated the class divide as the wealthier classes immigrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas.
The first railway to be built in London was a lien 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). From 1863, the first lines of the London Underground were constructed. The urbanized areas continued to grow. London expanded into Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwark, and Lambeth. Towards the middle of the century, London’s antiquated local government system, consisted of ancient parishes and vestries, struggled to cope with the rapid growth of the population. In 1855, the Metropolitian Board of Works (MBW) was created. The MBW was created to provide London with the adequate infrastructure to cope with it growth. One of the first tasks of the MBW was to address London’s sanitation problems. During that time, raw sewage was pumped straight into the River Thames. This culminated in the Great Stink of 1858. So, Parliament gave consent for the MBW to construct a large system of sewers. The engineer to put in charge of building the new system was Joseph Bazalgette. This was one of the largest civil engineering projects of the 19th century. He oversaw constructing 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. Epidemics of cholera and other diseases were curtailed. Bazalgette’s system is still in use today. One of the most famous events of the 19th century London was the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was held at the Crystal Palace. The fair attracted 6 million visitors from all over the world. It displayed Britain at the height of its imperial dominance.
As the capital of a massive empire, London became a magnet for immigrants from the colonies and poorer parts of Europe. There was a large Irish population who settled in the city during the Victorian period. Many of the newcomers were refugees from the Great Famine (1845-1849). During on time, Catholic Irish people made up 20% of London’s population. They typically lived in overcrowded slums. London also became home to a sizable Jewish community. This community was known for its entrepreneurship in the clothing trade and merchandising. In 1888, the new County of London was established. It was administered by the London County Council. This was the first elected London wide administrative body. It replaced 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 local tier of administration than the county council.
Many of the 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
The early 20th Century.
By the start of the 20th century, London was at the height of its influence as the capital of the largest empires in history. Its imperialism continued. There were many challenges in London too. London’s population grew rapidly in the early decades of the 20th century. Public transport also greatly expanded. There was a large tram network being constructed by the London County Council through LCC Tramways, which was the first motorbus service to begin in the 1900’s. There were improvements to London’s over ground 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 airships killed about 700 people and caused great terror, but they 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, which was the Silverton 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 neighboring counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey. Like the rest of the country, London suffered severe unemployment during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In the East End during the 1930’s, politically extreme parties flourished. The Communist Party of Great Britain and the British Union of Fascists both gained serious support. Clashes between right and left culminated in the 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 in London during the 1930s, mostly in the East End.
London during World War II
World War II was the bloodiest war in human history. During World War II, London (like many other British cities) suffered severe damage. London and other cities were bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe as a part of the Blitz. Before the bombings occurred, hundreds of thousands of children in London were evacuated to the countryside to avoid the bombing. Civilians took shelter from air raids in underground stations. The Luftwaffe was the aerial warfare aircraft institution from the German Wehrmacht during World War II. The Luftwaffe in essence was part of the Nazi air force. Its commanders included people like RM Hermann Goring and Gfm Robert Ritter von Greim. The Blitz was the name of the campaign of large bombing raids carried out by the Nazis against Britain in 1940 and in 1941. The Blitz involved the bombings of industrial targets and civilian targets. It started on September 7, 1940 with the Battle of Britain. Between September 7, 1940 and May 21, 1941, London was attacked 71 times, Birmingham, Liverpool and Plymouth eight times, Bristol six, Glasgow five, Southampton four, Portsmouth and Hull three and a minimum of one large raid on eight other cities. From September 7, 1940, one year into the war, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the bombings, almost half of them in London. More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged. The heaviest bombing took place during The Blitz between September 7, 1940 and May 10, 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. Hitler and the Nazis couldn’t conquer the United Kingdom. The Nazis failed to defeat Britain, so Hitler turned his attention to the Eastern front and regular bombing raids ceased. They did again to bomb on a smaller scale with the “Little Blitz” in early 1944. By the end of the war, (during 1944-1945), London was under heavy attack by pilotless V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets. They 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.
Post-World War II Times
After 1945, massive changes happened in London. There was the 1948 Olympics in London, which were held at the original Wembley Stadium. At the time, the city barely recovered from the war. London’s rebuilding was slow to begin with. Yet, in the 1951 Festival of Britain occurred. This marked an increased mood of optimism and forward looking. In the immediate postwar years, housing was a major issue in London. The reason was because of a 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 1950’s and the 1960’s, the skyline of London altered dramatically. There were tower blocks being erected. Although, these blocks were 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 characteristic smog. London became known for its typical “London Fog.” It was also called “Pea Soupers.” It was called the smoke by many people too. In 1952, there was the disastrous Great Smog of 1952. It lasted for five days and killed over 4,000 people. In response to this, the Clean Air Act of 1956 was passed. This law mandated the creation of “smokeless zones” where the use of “smokeless” fuels was required (during this time, most households still used open fires). The act was effective. By the mid 1960’s, London was the center of a worldwide youth culture. This was influenced by the success of UK musicians like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Some of the London youth promoted the 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 Britpop era.
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 early 1980s. There were the times of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland in the early 1970’s until the mid-1990. The deal was that there was a fight between wanting Northern Ireland to be independent (and influenced by the UK) and those who wanted Northern Ireland to be reunited with the rest of Ireland. The outward expansion of London was slowed by the war. There was 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 32 new London boroughs. Greater London’s population declined steadily in the decades after World War II. It went 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 London moved downstream to the ports of Felixstowe and Tilbury. The docklands area had become largely derelict by the 1980’s, but was redeveloped into flats and offices from the mid-1980’s onwards. The Thames Barreier was completed in the 1980’s to protect London against the tidal surges from the North Sea.
By the early 1980’s, there were 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 the 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 Greater 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. London was recognized 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.
The Civil Rights Movement in London (during the 20th century)
The Civil Rights Movement in the UK has a long history. The UK organized the slave trade as early as 1562. There were about 14,000 black people living in Britain by the 1700’s. Few black people back then had real freedom. That is why activists fought back to promote freedom and justice for all. Abolitionists protested slavery in the UK until it was abolished throughout the British Empire by 1833. By 1892 Britain had its first Indian Member of Parliament, Dadabhai Naoroji.
Civil rights expanded with the Great Reform Acts that culminated in 1928 with universal female suffrage and the 1945 vision of the Welfare State. Many black Caribbean fought in World War II under the British against the Nazis. After World War II 150,000 Poles arrived in Britain along with hundreds of men from the West Indies and multi-cultural Britain grew. By the 1950’s, Britain invited workers from the Caribbean, especially from Jamaica, to fill job vacancies such as laborers and transport workers in order to help rebuild post war Britain. Immigration grew and racial violence grew in cities like London, Birmingham, and Nottingham. The government began to curb immigration and by 1972 non-whites could only settle in Britain with a work permit or if they had parents or grandparents who were born in Britain. By 1970 the amount of non-white residents in the UK numbered 1.4 million, although a third of this number were born in Britain. Racial discrimination existed in the UK. It was a big problem back then and now. Many immigrants were skilled workers, but racism and discrimination were done against immigrant workers. Many immigrants had to do semi and unskilled work as a product of discrimination. By the 1960s the economy in Britain was declining and black workers were the first to lose their jobs. Those that did manage to keep jobs usually did double the work for less pay. The racism and discrimination in Britain echoed that felt in America at the time.
Many black people would make a difference to the civil rights of black people in Britain. One was Paul Stephenson, who in 1963 led a boycott against a racist public bus company. The Bristol bus company operated a color bar that refused employment to blacks or Asians. Stephenson, a 26 year old teacher, organized the 60 day bus boycott on the city’s buses. Thousands of people supported the bus boycott and the news of the racism made headlines. By the 28 August 1963 the bus company lifted the employment colour ban. This was the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Stephenson would again hit the headlines when he stood trial for refusing to leave a pub until he was served a beer. It was not uncommon to see signs in Britain during the 1960’s proclaiming, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” Both cases helped to highlight the treatment of blacks and Asians in Britain during this period. During Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s term (1964-1976) he introduced tighter controls on immigration but also introduced legislation that made racial discrimination a legal offence.
CARD or Campaign against Racial Discrimination existed as a coalition to challenge racism in employment, housing, and public life. People fought for freedom in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, London, etc. In Britain, such mobilisations were much more ethnically diverse, and spread across a range of domains and organisations. The Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE), of which I am part, is undertaking an event-analysis of the local and national politics that shaped the British civil rights movement.
Today, racial discrimination is now a legal offence in the UK and these civil and human rights are afforded to every man, woman, and child. Racial discrimination includes discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, nationality and ethnicity. It is an offence to discriminate on these grounds in areas such as employment, education, housing, and the provision of goods and services. It is also an offence for public authorities such as the police or government departments to discriminate in its activities on these grounds. It is also an offence to discriminate on the grounds of religion, sexuality, gender and disability. Discrimination for any of these reasons can lead to legal consequences. It is important that people are aware of their civil rights in the UK as it is the best protection they have against discrimination. Discrimination hasn’t ended in the UK, but those who do discrimination could face legal consequences. We are still fighting for equality and freedom in the UK, in America, and all over the world. We want future generations to live in a society filled with equality and justice.
There are many unsung heroes of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements of England. Stella Dadzie set up the group called the Organization for Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD). The American civil rights movement influenced the radical politics of Europe. During the 1950’s, there were housing shortages and competition for jobs between the white working class and commonwealth citizens (in the UK). There were riots in Notting Hill, Liverpool, Bristol, and Nottingham during the 1950’s too. The 1958 race riots happened when hundreds of young white people attacked houses of West Indian residents. There were more race riots in Nottingham. Baron Baker and other black people defended their communities by August 1958. Many American black civil rights and black power activists came into Britain to speak at various demonstrations and public events during the 1960’s like Dr. King, Malcolm X, etc. Many social activists spoke in universities, and in participated in anti-war demonstrations across the UK. One of the greatest heroes of the UK civil rights movement was Claudia Jones. She was an organizer and writer. She led the early anti-racism campaigns in Britain. She believed in women’s rights and civil rights. She was born in Trinidad and worked in New York City during the 1920’s. Her most famous writing was her piece entitled, ‘An end to the neglect of the problems of the Negro woman!’ in 1949. In 1950 she was ordered to be deported for ‘un-American activities’. Trinidad and Tobago refused her entry on the grounds that she ‘may prove troublesome’ and in 1955 Claudia Jones was eventually offered residency in the UK. She continued to fight for racial equality, organizing many members of the Afro-British community into action. Claudia Jones suggested and organized a carnival for the black British community. This was first held in St. Pancras town hall in January 1959. By 1965, with the input of other organizers, it had become the Notting Hill Carnival, now one of the largest and most exhilarating street festivals in the world. Mukami McCrum is a Sister who has fought for freedom too.
During the 1950’s, the 1960’s, and the 1970’s, there was the growth of anti-colonial movements across the world. These movements in Africa, Asia, etc. wanted national liberation and protested against the evil exploitation of colonial powers. The white racist backlash in America included groups like the CCC and the Klan. In the UK, there was the white only, racist, neo-fascist organization National Front. In the 1970’s, they wanted the repatriation of all non-white immigrants and significant limits on immigration in the UK. In the mid-1970s the National Front had 20,000 members and their street protests, often opposed by anti-fascist groups, were a regular sight in British cities. This period was also marked by many incidents of police brutality, including the murder of Clement Blair Peach in 1979. Peach was attending an anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southall, London, when he was knocked unconscious, dying a day later of his injuries. Witnesses said they had seen members of the Metropolitan Police strike Peach, but nobody was charged for the assault. Peach’s funeral was attended by 10,000 people in support of his anti-racist activism. There were the Southall Black Sisters with leaders like Pragna Patel. The Britxon riots came about during the 1980’s. The 1980’s saw a decade of unemployment, housing shortages, class tensions, and racial tensions in UK (with the reign of the reactionary Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher). These tensions were in London, Leeds, Bristol and Nottingham. In London a national recession, exacerbated by poor housing and high unemployment among the African-Caribbean community in Lambeth, combined with unfair stop-and-search laws used by the police, sparked the 1981 uprisings. These lasted for two days and saw hundreds of people injured. Following these uprisings the government ordered an enquiry; the resulting ‘Scarman Report’ recommended changes in police training and law enforcement, which for many protestors was a vindication. However, in 1985 riots were sparked again by the police shooting of Dorothy ‘Cherry’ Groce, originally from Jamaica, while they were searching for her son Michael. Protesting members of the public and police clashed on the streets for two days. As late as 1999 the Macpherson Inquiry Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 claimed that the Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist.’ Today the National Association of Black Supplementary Schools has over 60 registered schools across the UK that offer a range of workshops and activities in addition to the national curriculum.
London in the 21st Century
At the beginning 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 called the “Millennium Wheel” or the London Eye. The London Eye was erected as a temporary structure, but soon became a fixture and draws four million visitors a year. The National Lottery released a flood of funds for major enhancements to existing attracting, for example the roofing of the Great Court at the British Museum. The London Plan was published by the Mayor of London in 2004. The plan estimated that the population would reach 8.1 million by 2016 and continue to increase 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 Cross rail remained a struggle. On a July 6, 2005, London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. It was the first city to host the modern games three times. Yet, 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.
In the public there was ambivalence leading-up to the Olympics, though public sentiment changed strongly in their favor following a successful opening ceremony and when the anticipated organizational and transport problems never occurred. In March 26, 2011, London anti-cuts protests start. The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton happened on April 29, 2011. The August 2011 England rebellions occurred. The Summer Olympics started in July 27, 2012 and the Summer Paralympics started in August 29, 2012. Today, by May 2016, Sadiq Khan was elected mayor. He is the first Muslim to be mayor of London in history. It represents a new era of history. Sadiq Khan is part of the Labour party. A member of the Labour Party, he is situated on the party's soft left and has been ideologically characterized as a social democrat. His wife is Saadiya Ahmed. The family has two daughters named Anisah and Ammarah. So, the new chapter of London’s history is continuing to be written.