During the two World Wars, the city experienced
destitution. Unemployment was high, and during the dark
days of 1940, over a third of the City was destroyed by
German bombs, and the London Docks were largely
demolished. The area worst hit was the City itself, but
strangely, St. Paul's Cathedral (pictured right) suffered
only minor damage.
Some 16 acres around the area that now houses the
Barbican development (pictured left) and the Museum
of London were totally flattened, and numerous historic
buildings were destroyed. Heavy immigration from
countries of the old British Empire changed the
character of the city after the war. Notting Hill was
populated by a large number of Caribbean people,
Hong Kong immigrants settled in Soho, Sikhs in
Southall, Cypriots in Finsbury and
Bangladeshis around Brick Lane.
Heathrow airport opened to
commercial flights in 1946, and the first double-decker red
buses dubbed the Routemasters (right) appeared in 1956.
The Thames Barrier (left) was built in 1972-82 to control
flooding along the river. This amazing engineering
achievement consists of 10 moveable underwater gates
supported by 7 shining steel half-domes, in the shape of
shells, spread across the river.
The dot com bubble of the 1990s boosted trade and
communication all over the world, and Britain was one
of the first countries to embrace the new technology of
computers and connectivity. Today, all of Britain's
internet activity goes through a hub at Canary Wharf
(right), right here in London.
The last great building project of the century was the
Millennium Dome (left), an exhibition centre beside the
Thames in North Greenwich. The Dome, which opened
on the 1st January 2000, is a massive complex,
displaying sponsored exhibits on the human experience
of life, including Faith, Science, and Biology.
London's latest project is the massive complex being built in East London to
serve as the 2012 Olympics sport facilities, and last for generations to
come, and is the latest notch in a very colourful city history.
A Short History
City of London
20th-21st CENTURY LONDON
PRO ART & CO
The history of London starts with the Roman invasion of 43 CE. Before the Roman
invasion, the site of London was just marshy ground with small islands of gravel
The Roman army could not
cross the river and the first
"London Bridge" was built. The
Roman settlement was on the
north side of the bridge and was
called Londinium, the
beginnings of London's name.
Londinium became an important
trading centre for goods brought
up the Thames by boat and
unloaded at wooden docks by
The first major attack against the city was
brought by Boudicca, warrior queen of the
Iceni tribe (from what is now EastAnglia),
when she launched her rebellion against
the Romans in 60-61 CE. She targetted
the traders, to destroy the city by striking its
livelihood, and thousands of the trade
settlers were killed.
But by 200 CE, Londinium had grown
again, and had one of the largest
Roman basilica - town hall, forum,
market place (today this is Gracechurch
Street in the City), a governor's palace,
a temple, bathhouses, and a large fort
for the city garrison with a wall built
around the city. This area within the wall
is now London's famous financial
district, nicknamed the Square Mile. The
best Roman remain in London is the
Temple of Mithras from the 2nd Century.
Artifacts from this site are now in the
Museum of London.
London Bridge today.
Statue of Boudicaa, Thames Embankment.
City of London, the "Square Mile"
In 1848, the Great Potato Famine struck Ireland bringing over
100,000 impoverished Irish refugees who fled their native lands and
settled in London, making at one time up to 20% of the total
population of the city.
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, was responsible for the Great Exhibition
of 1851. This was the first great world's fair, a showcase of technology and
manufacturing from countries all over the world. The Exhibition was held in Hyde
Park, and the centrepiece was Joseph Paxton's revolutionary iron and glass hall,
dubbed the "Crystal Palace". The proceeds from the Great Exhibition went
towards the founding of two new permanent displays, which became the Science
Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Londoners living conditions were still terrible; children as
young as 5 were often working, begging or sweeping
chimneys (Charles Dickens describes this in his novel
Oliver Twist). Only after the Industrial Revolution were
living conditions improved among London's poor, and
when the government provided compulsory education
for children between the ages of 5 and 12, in 1870.
However, the Industrial Revolution was very
important, because the idea of earning wages
was new to many of the new Londoners and
society was adjusting to the idea of money in
the hands of all classes of people. It was from
this that the consumer society emerged.
Left: Piccadilly Circus, centre of the shopping & entertainment district today
20th-21st CENTURY LONDON
This is when technology really started to
boom. In 1904, the first motor bus service in
London began, followed by the first
underground electric train in 1906. New
luxury hotels, department stores, and
theatres, particularly in the West End, soon
followed. The Ritz opened in 1906, Harrod's
new Knightsbridge store in 1905, and
Selfridges in 1907, as well as the London
Palladium and 60 more music-halls.
The population expanded during the 19th
century, from about 1 million in 1800 to
over 6 million a century later, exceeding
London's ability to look after the basic
needs of its citizens. Coal-fired stoves
and poor sanitation made the air heavy
and foul-smelling, and raw sewage was
dumped straight into the Thames River.
And yet new arrivals continued to crowd
into the city in search of work. Nothing improved until Joseph Bazalgette, an
engineer, built over 2100 km of tunnels and pipes to divert the sewage outside
the city. This made a drastic impact on the death rate, and outbreaks of cholera
dropped dramatically. Bazalgette was also responsible for the design of the
Embankment, Battersea, Hammersmith, and Albert Bridges.
In 1829, Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police to
handle law and order in areas outside the City proper. These
police became known as "Bobbies" after their founder. In
1830, Trafalgar Square (pictured) and the new National
Gallery were created.
The early part of the 19th century was the golden
age of steam. The first railway in London was built
from London Bridge to Greenwich in 1836, and a
great railway explosion followed. Major stations were
built at Euston (1837), Paddington (1838),
Fenchurch Street (1841), Waterloo (1848), and
King's Cross (1850). The first underground railway in
London, from Paddington to Farringdon Road was
completed in 1863. The Thames was congested with ships from all over the
world, and London had more shipyards than any other
place in the world. The Cutty Sark Clipper still
remains from this era (pictured above).
In 1834, the Houses of Parliament at Westminster
Palace burned down. They were replaced by the mock-
Gothic Houses of Parliament
designed by Charles Barry and
A.W. Pugin (pictured right),
this is the one which we have
today. The clock tower, Big
Ben (pictured left), wasn't
built till 25 years after.
London continued to grow, so more
people meant more trade and more
religion. In 604 CE, the first St. Paul's
Cathedral was founded, on the site of
the present St. Paul's (pictured).
However, the growing wealth of the city
was tempting, so London was
attacked, first by the Danes in 851 CE,
then by the Anglo-Saxons and
Norwegian Vikings in 1014. It was then
that London Bridge was destroyed,
and some people say that the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down"
descends from this event.
The city became the most prosperous and largest city in Britain under the French-
raised Edward the Confessor who brought trade and new immigrants. Edward
was an extremely religious man and
built a monastery and a church on
Thorney Island, on the river Thames,
Westminster Abbey on an island, and
moved his court there.
When Edward died in 1065, his
successor, Harold, was crowned in the
new abbey, confirming London's role
as the most important city in England.
Left: Harold, pictured on
the Bayeux Tapestry.
Right: Haley's Comet,
pictured on the Bayeux
Above: Westminster Abbey today.
The medieval history of London begun
on Christmas Day, 1066, when William
the Conqueror was crowned King of
England in a ceremony at the newly
finished Westminster Abbey, just three
months after his victory at the Battle of
William granted the citizens of London
special privileges, but he also built a
castle, the Tower of London, to keep the
city under the control. The Tower acted
as the royal residence,
and it was only later that
became famous as a
prison. During the
medieval period it also
acted as a royal mint,
treasury, and even
housed the beginnings of
After William's death, his
brother Henry needed
support from London
merchants to save the
throne and gave them the
right to levy taxes and
elect a sheriff.
In 1176, the first stone London
Bridge was built, at the site of
the original Roman bridge.
This bridge was the only one
in London until 1739. Because
the passage across this bridge
was narrow and clogged with
traffic, it was usually much
quicker for travellers to hire
boatmen to transport them
across the river.
Left: London Bridge as it used to be
William the Conqueror on the Bayeux Tapestry
The Tower of London today
The early years of the 18th century
brought the birth of newspapers in London.
The earliest was Richard Addison's
Spectator, satisfying the demands of an
increasingly literate population. Many of
the newspapers were along Fleet Street.
At the same time, there was the Palladian
Revival in architecture and art, so the
culture of fine arts started to flourish in the
capital. In 1739, Westminster Bridge was
the second bridge ever to be built other
than the London Bridge, which had become rather crowded as you can see
Following this boom in art and
architecture, the British Museum
opened its doors for the first time in
1759. The museum was based on a
collection of "curiosities" collected by
Sir Hans Sloane. It was then that
shops (see right) selling collectibles
emerged and continued being a
popular pastime in the coming eras.
Another major development was the popularity of coffee houses as a forum for
business, entertainment, and social activity. The London coffee houses were
immensely popular, and certain houses became associated
with different political viewpoints or kinds of
commercial activity. It was in one of these coffee
houses, New Jonathan's, that merchant
entrepreneurs gathered, and formed what was to
become the London Stock Exchange.
But it wasn't all quiet! In 1737, a series of satires staged at the
Theatre Royal Haymarket infuriated Puritans so much that the Lord Chamberlain
introduced censorship over all public theatre performances. This power was not
revoked until 1968!
The last major event in Georgian London happened in 1780 with the Gordon
Riots. The riots began as a march through the streets of London to protest the
Catholic Relief Act, which granted basic rights to Catholics. The marchers let their
religious prejudice boil over into a week of looting and murder. The Gordon Riots
terrified the authorities inciting them to bring repressive measures against any
form of protest or “dangerous” writing.
The second catastrophe was
the Great Fire. On the night of
the 2nd September 1666 a
small fire started in the shop of
the king's baker in Pudding
Lane. Fanned by a strong
wind, the fire soon became an
inferno. For four days the fire
raged through the close-
packed streets of wooden
houses, until the wind died. It
purified London, and stopped
the plague, and only 8 lives
were lost in the Great Fire, but four-fifths of the city was completely destroyed,
including 13,000 buildings, 89 churches, 52 company halls, and the old St. Paul's
Cathedral, so it is difficult to get a real sense of what the city was like at that time.
Within days after the Great Fire,
Christopher Wren, an architect and
scientist, came up with a plan for
rebuilding the city with broad
boulevards and open squares
replacing the maze of alleys and
small streets, but Wren's plan was
expensive so the new buildings
were built along the same street
pattern as before. Instead, Wren
rebuilt the destroyed churches, including St. Paul's Cathedral. Most of the
churches in London today are Wren's work, and it is difficult to find churches from
before the fire.
British involvement in India during the 17th and 18th
century had brought, among other things, a lucrative
trade ring, and the East India Trading Company
exclusively managed commerce between India and
Britain. Twenty or thirty ships a year were sent to Asia
and annual sales in London were worth up to £2
million, a gigantic sum in those days. India offered
foreign traders the skills of its artists and craftsmen in
weaving cloth and winding raw silk, agricultural
products for export, such as sugar, the indigo dye or
opium, and the services of substantial merchants and
Richard I acknowledged the right of London
to self-government in 1191 leading to the
election of the first Mayor. This was a
popular move, and won favour with the
residents and traders. The London
merchants continued to support the
monarchs, and when they finally helped
Edward IV to the throne in 1461, he
knighted many of them in gratitude. The
government of the city was a Lord Mayor
and council elected from the ranks of the
merchant guilds. These guilds effectively
ran the city and controlled commerce. Each guild had its own hall and their own
coat of arms, but there was also the Guildhall where representatives of the
various guilds met in common.
Medieval London was a maze of
streets and lanes. Most of the
houses were half-timbered
whitewashed with lime. The threat
of fire was constant, and laws were
passed to make sure that all
householders had fire-fighting
equipment on hand. Plague was
also a constant threat, particularly
because sanitation was so basic.
London was subject to 16
outbreaks of the plague between
1348 and the Great Plague of 1665.
Many of the streets in the city were named after the particular trade which
practiced there. For example, Threadneedle Street was the tailor's district, Bread
Street had bakeries, and on Milk Street cows were kept for milking. There was
also a very active livestock market at Smithfield.
The prime property in London was the Strand, where many rich landowners built
homes. Lawyers settled at Temple and along Fleet Street. The Fleet River was
navigable by boats and docks were set up at what is now Farringdon Street. The
Fleet River was covered over in the 18th century.
Merchant Guilds (Alderman), Hogarth.
London under the Tudors was a prosperous, busy city, full of life, with a
population of the City of about 75,000, rising to 200,000 around 1600.
Many aspects of life were changed. During Henry VIII's Dissolution of the
Monasteries, the 13 religious houses in London were either converted for private
use or pulled down for building materials, leaving only the names they gave to
areas of the city, such as Greyfriars, Whitefriars and Blackfriars.
In 1637, Charles I opened the royal
reserve of Hyde Park (left) making it
the first royal park to be made public.
Henry VIII's daughter Queen
Elizabeth I was one of the most
renowned monarchs in the world, and
it was under her that traders and
explorers started going further and
further out of the known world.
The mercer Thomas Gresham founded an
international exchange in 1566 to allow London to
compete for financial power with Amsterdam. This
became the Royal Exchange in 1560 (pictured
right), and is now housed in a massive Victorian
building beside the Bank of England Museum in
Mansion House Square.
After the Reformation, theatres were banned in the city of
London, because the city authorities (guilds) thought they
wasted workmen's time. The theatres moved across the
Thames to Southwark, outside the authority of the city
government, and became the entertainment district for
London. Left is a typical theatre advertisement of the
The Globe Theatre, staging Shakespeare's
plays, was built on the South Bank in 1599,
though it burned down in 1613. A modern
Globe replica (right) has been built near the
original site. Southwark was also a favorite
area for entertainment, like bull or bear-baiting.
TUDOR LONDON STUART LONDON
The history of Stuart London started
with Catholic conspirators planned to
blow up the Houses of Parliament
when they opened on 5th November
1605, hoping to kill the new king,
James I. The plot and Guy Fawkes, a
man who was supposed to blow it up,
were discovered in cellars beneath
Parliament with kegs of explosives,
causing Fawkes torture and execution.
This event, called the Gunpowder
Plot, is commemorated each year with
the celebration of Bonfire Night on the 5th November and by the popular poem
"Remember, Remember The Fifth of November".
In the early Stuart years, the landscape of
London was changed by a great architect
Inigo Jones who designed Covent Garden
piazza in 1631, the first purpose-built square
in the city. He also designed the Queen's
House (Greenwich), the Banqueting Hall
(Whitehall), and the Queen's Chapel.
The Stuart period had two major
disasters, the Great Plague and
the Great Fire. In 1665 Plague
broke out in the city, brought by
ship from Holland. The city
descended into a state of panic.
Ill people were locked in their
houses, along with their
families. It was thought that
dogs and cats spread the
disease, so the Lord Mayor
ordered them all killed. This made it even worse, because the rats carried the
plague, and there were no cats left to kill them. We estimate that 70,000 to well
over 100,000 lives may have been lost.
Covent Garden today.