London – A City With a Colourful Past

London is really two cities in one. The City of London pretty much retains its mediaeval square mile boundary, but London is also the name given to the greater metropolitan area that surrounds the City of London. The bulk of this wider area is governed by the elected Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

London has a lot of history and it can be traced back at least a couple of thousand years to the time when the Romans called it Londinium and settled the area in 43 AD. The early years of London were turbulent times but at the peak of Roman rule in the late 2nd century London had around 60000 inhabitants.

However, after the collapse of Roman rule in the 5th century, London was pretty much abandoned and another settlement not far away near what is now Covent Garden came in to being. This was the time of Anglo-Saxon rule and at that time the place was called Lundenwic. This new London was constantly falling under attack from the Vikings and in the 9th century the city was moved once more to the original Roman location of Londinium as this area was easier to fortify. This however, did not stop the viking attacks until Alfred the Great recaptured the city in 886 AD and made peace with the Danes. At this time the name of Lundewic was changed to Ealdwic, which means old city. The name still survives to this day as Aldwich which is in the City of Westminster.

Following the 10th century unification of England, the City of Westminster became more and more important as a trading and political centre. London was already the country’s largest city but Winchester also remained important as up until this time it had been the capital Wessex. However, after Edward the Confessor rebuilt

Westminster Abbey in the 11th century, London became a much more important royal residence and after the successful invasion of England in 1066, the new king, William of Normandy was crowned there. Royal coronations have taken place in Westminster Abbey ever since.

To celebrate his victory, and possibly also to intimidate the local population, William ordered the building of the Tower of London, which was one of many new and rebuilt stone castles built by him. In 1097, William II ordered the building of Westminster Hall, close by Westminster Abbey. Westminster Hall was to become the basis of the new Palace of Westminster. This was important, because up until now, the government of the country used to travel around and accompany the King wherever he happened to be. This became increasingly difficult to achieve due to its increase in both size and sophistication. Consequently, a permanent seat of power was required and so it was that the City of Westminster became the seat of government while a little further down the river, the City of London continued to flourish as England’s largest city and its centre of trade and commerce. Now that things had settled down somewhat, the population of London exploded. In 1100 AD the population of London was around 18000. By 1300 this had increased to 100,000. Having said that, London suffered a set back due to the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century when she lost nearly a third of her population.

By 1605 though, London had more than recovered to a population of around 225,000. This mainly due to the fact that during Tudor times and the time of the reformation, London was undergoing a change. Ownership of land was passing more and more into the hands of private individuals rather than the church and this kickstarted the creation of trading companies and other organisations that started to leverage London’s position is a North Sea trading port in order to expand influence into the New World and beyond. This led to an influx of migrants from the rest of England as well as from overseas.

During the time of the Tudors, William Shakespeare and others lived in a London that was still relatively small in land area. The Tudor period ended in 1603 and the city managed to move past the attempted assassination of King James I in 1605 by Guy Fawkes and the famous gunpowder plotters. However, two events came along in the 17th century that were not that easy to move past. The first was the great plague of London which took place between 1665 and 1666 and claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 inhabitants, which by that time represented around a fifth of the population. The second was the great fire of 1666 which although it didn’t cause loss of life, it did cause the loss of a significant portion of the buildings in London. The rebuild took ten years to accomplish, but saw such marvels as St. Paul’s Cathedral to be built. Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece was completed in 1708. This was a time for expansion as new bridges were constructed over the River Thames which allowed the development of South London. A new area called Mayfair also appeared to the West. This also encouraged the port of London downstream which allowed for trade and commerce to increase even more.

Another famous landmark gained in importance when in 1762 King George III acquired Buckingham House and over the next 75 years it was expanded and enlarged to become the Buckingham Palace that we know today.

The first professional police force, known as the Bow Street Runners was established in 1750 in order to cope with rising amounts of crime associated with the unprecedented population surge. In 1700 the population was around 550,000. By 1750 this rose to 700,000. By 1801, the population of London stood at 959,300 and the London as we know it today, with a population of over 7.5 million was well on its way.