The History London


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In 841 and 851 London suffered Danish Viking attacks and it may have been in response to these raids that the Anglo-Saxons decided to reoccupy the walled Roman city. After numerous sporadic attacks and the odd extended sojourn the Danish leader Cnut or Canute became King of All England in 1016 and made London the national...



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Roman Londinium

There is evidence of scattered
Celtic settlements along the Thames, but no firm proof that central London was permanently settled by the Celts before the arrival of the Romans in 43 AD. Although the Romans' principal settlement was at Camulodunum (Colchester) to the northeast, Londinium (London) was established as a permanent military camp, and became an important hub of the Roman road system.

In 60 AD, when the Iceni tribe rose up against the invaders under their queen Boudicca (or Boadicea), Londinium was burned to the ground, along with Camulodunum. According to roman the Roman historian, Tacitus, the inhabitants were "massacred, hanged, burned and crucified", but the Iceni were eventually defeated and Boudicca committed suicide. In the aftermath, Londinium emerged as the new commercial and administrative (though not military) capital of Britannia , and was endowed with an imposing basilica and forum, a governor's palace, temples, bathhouses and an amphitheatre. To protect against further attacks, fortifications were built, three miles long, fifteen feet high and eight feet thick.

Saxon Lundenwic and the Danes

By the fourth century, the Roman Empire was on its last legs, and the Romans officially abandoned the city in 410 AD (when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths), leaving the country - and Londinium - at the mercy of marauding Saxon pirates. The
Saxon invaders, who controlled most of southern England by the sixth century, appear to have settled, initially at least, to the west of the Roman city.

In 841 and 851 London suffered Danish Viking attacks, and it may have been in response to these raids that the Anglo-Saxons decided to reoccupy the walled Roman city. After numerous sporadic attacks, and the odd extended sojourn, the Danish leader Cnut (or Canute), became King of All England in 1016, and made London the national capital, a position it has held ever since.

Danish rule only lasted 26 years, and with the accession of Edward the Confessor (1042-66), the court and church moved upstream to Thorney Island. Here Edward built a splendid new palace so that he could oversee construction of his "West Minster" (later to become Westminster Abbey). Thus it was Edward who was responsible for the geographical separation of power, with royal government based in Westminster , and commerce centred upstream in the City of London .

From 1066 to the Black Death

On his deathbed, the celibate Edward appointed Harold, Earl of Wessex, as his successor. Having crowned himself in the new Abbey - establishing a tradition that continues to his day - Harold was defeated by
William of Normandy (William the Conqueror) and his invading army at the Battle of Hastings. On Christmas Day, 1066, William crowned himself king in Westminster Abbey. The new king granted the City numerous privileges, and, as an insurance policy, also constructed three defensive towers, one of which survives as the nucleus of the Tower of London.

Over the next few centuries, the City waged a continuous struggle with the monarchy for a degree of self-government and independence. In the Magna Carta of 1215, for instance, London was granted the right to elect its own sheriff, or Lord Mayor . However, in 1348, the city was hit by the worst natural disaster in its entire history - the arrival of the Europe-wide bubonic plague outbreak known as the Black Death . This disease, carried by black rats, and transmitted to humans by flea bites, wiped out something like half the capital's population in the space of two years.

Tudor London

Under the
Tudor royal family , London's population, which had remained constant at around 50,000 since the Black Death, increased dramatically, trebling in size during the course of the century.

The most crucial development of the sixteenth century was the English Reformation , the separation of the English Church from Rome. A far-reaching consequence of this split was Henry's Dissolution of the Monasteries , begun in 1536 in order to bump up the royal coffers. The Dissolution changed the entire fabric of the city: previously dominated by its religious institutions, London's property market was suddenly flooded with confiscated estates, which were quickly snapped up and redeveloped by the Tudor nobility.

Henry VIII may have kickstarted the English Reformation, but he was a religious conservative, and in the last ten years of his reign he executed as many Protestants as Catholics. Henry's sickly son, Edward VI (1547-53), however, pursued an even more staunchly anti-Catholic policy. By the end of his reign, London's churches had lost their altars, their paintings, their relics and virtually all their statuary. Following Edward's death, the religious pendulum swung the other way with the accession of " Bloody Mary " (1553-58). This time, it was Protestants who were martyred with abandon at Tyburn and Smithfield.

Despite all the religious strife, the Tudor economy remained in good health, reaching its height in the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). London's commercial success was epitomized by the millionaire merchant Thomas Gresham, who erected the Royal Exchange in 1572, establishing London as the premier world trade market. The 45 years of Elizabeth's reign also witnessed the efflorescence of a specifically English Renaissance , especially in the field of literature, which reached its apogee in the brilliant careers of Christopher Marlowe , Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare , whose plays were performed in the theatres of Southwark, the city's entertainment district.

Stuart London

In 1603, James VI of Scotland became
James I of England (1603-25), thereby uniting the two crowns and marking the beginning of the Stuart dynasty . His intention of exercising religious tolerance was thwarted by the public outrage that followed the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes, in cahoots with a group of Catholic conspirators, was discovered attempting to blow up the king at the state opening of Parliament.

Under James's successor, Charles I (1625-49), the animosity between Crown and Parliament culminated in full-blown Civil War . London was the key to victory for both sides, and as a Parliamentarian stronghold it came under attack from Royalist forces almost immediately. However, having defeated the Parliamentary forces to the west of London in 1642, Charles hesitated and withdrew to Reading, thus missing his greatest chance of victory. After a series of defeats in 1645, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to Parliament. Eventually, in January 1649, the king was tried and executed in Whitehall, and England became a Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. London found itself in the grip of the Puritans' zealous laws, which closed down all theatres, enforced observance of the Sabbath, and banned the celebration of Christmas, which was considered a papist superstition.

In 1660, the city gave an ecstatic reception to Charles II (1660-85) when he arrived in the capital to announce the Restoration of the monarchy, and the "Merry Monarch" immediately caught the mood of the public by opening up the theatres and concert halls. However, the good times that rolled came to an abrupt end with the onset of the Great Plague of 1665, which claimed 100,000 lives. The following year, London had to contend with yet another disaster, the Great Fire . Some eighty percent of the City was razed to the ground; the death toll didn't reach double figures, but more than 100,000 were left homeless.

Within five years, 9000 houses had been rebuilt with bricks and mortar (timber was banned), and fifty years later, Christopher Wren had almost single-handedly rebuilt all the City churches and completed the world's first Protestant cathedral, St Paul's . The Great Rebuilding , as it was known, was one of London's remarkable achievements, and extinguished virtually all traces of the medieval city.

Georgian London

With the accession of
George I (1714-27), the first of the Hanoverian dynasty, London's expansion continued unabated. The shops of the newly developed West End stocked the most fashionable goods in the country, the volume of trade more than tripled, and London's growing population - it was by now the world's largest city, with a population approaching one million - created a huge market, as well as fuelling a building boom.

Wealthy though London was, it was also experiencing the worst mortality rates since records began. Disease was rife, but the real killer was gin . It's difficult to exaggerate the effects of the gin-drinking orgy which took place among the poor between 1720 and 1751. At its height, gin consumption was averaging two pints a week, and the burial rate exceeded the baptism rate by more than two to one. Eventually, in the face of huge vested interests, the government passed an act that restricted gin retailing and halted the epidemic.

Policing the metropolis was also an increasing preoccupation for the government, who introduced capital punishment for the most minor misdemeanours. Nevertheless, crime continued unabated throughout the eighteenth century, the prison population swelled, transportations to the colonies began, and 1200 Londoners were hanged at Tyburn's gallows. Rioting became an ever-more popular form of protest among the poorer classes in London, the most serious insurrection being the Gordon Riots of 1780, when up to 50,000 Londoners went on a five-day rampage through the city.

The nineteenth century

nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of London as the capital of an empire that stretched across the globe. The city's population grew from just over one million in 1801 to nearly seven million by 1901. The world's largest enclosed dock system was built in the marshes to the east of the City, and the world's first public transport network was created, with horse-buses, trains, trams and an underground railway. Industrialization , however, brought pollution and overcrowding, especially in the slums of the East End; smallpox, measles, scarlet fever and cholera killed thousands of working-class families. It is this era of slum-life, and huge social divides, that Dickens evoked in his novels.

The accession of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) coincided with a period in which the country's international standing reached unprecedented heights, and as a result Victoria became as much a national icon as Elizabeth I had been. The spirit of the era was perhaps best embodied by the Great Exhibition of 1851, a display of manufacturing achievements from all over the world, which took place in the Crystal Palace erected in Hyde Park.

Local government arrived in 1855 with the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), followed in 1888 by the directly-elected London County Council (LCC). The achievements of the MBW and the LCC were immense, in particular those of its chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, who helped create an underground sewer system (much of it still in use), and greatly improved transport routes.

While half of London struggled to make ends meet, the other half enjoyed the fruits of the richest nation in the world. Luxury establishments such as the Ritz and Harrods belong to this period, personified by the dissolute Prince of Wales, later Edward VII (1901-10). For the masses, too, there were new entertainments to be enjoyed: music halls boomed and public houses prospered. The first "Test" cricket match between England and Australia took place in 1880 at the Kennington Oval, and during the following 25 years, nearly all of London's professional football clubs were founded.

From World War I to World War II

World War I (1914-18), London experienced its first aerial attacks, with Zeppelin raids leaving some 650 dead, but these were minor casualties in the context of a war that destroyed millions of lives and eradicated whatever remained of the majority's respect for the ruling classes.

Between the wars, London's population increased further still, reaching close to nine million by 1939. In contrast to the nineteenth century, however, there was a marked shift in population out into the suburbs . After the boom of the "Swinging Twenties", the economy collapsed with the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929. The arrival of the Jarrow Hunger March, the most famous protest of the Depression years, shocked London in 1936, the year in which thousands of British fascists tried to march through the predominantly Jewish East End, only to be stopped in the so-called Battle of Cable Street .

London was more or less unprepared for the aerial bombardments of World War II (1939-45). The bombing campaign, known as the Blitz , began on September 7, 1940, and continued for 57 consecutive nights. Further carnage was caused towards the end of the war by the pilotless V1 "doodlebugs" and V2 rockets, which caused another 20,000 casualties. In total, 30,000 civilians lost their lives in the bombing of London, with 50,000 injured and some 130,000 houses destroyed.

Postwar London

To lift the country out of its postwar gloom, the
Festival of Britain was staged in 1951 on derelict land on the south bank of the Thames, a site that was eventually transformed into the South Bank Arts Centre . Londoners turned up at this technological funfair in their thousands, but at the same time, many were abandoning the city for good, starting a slow process of population decline that has continued ever since. The consequent labour shortage was made good by mass immigration from the former colonies, in particular the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies. The newcomers, a large percentage of whom settled in London, were given small welcome, and within ten years were subjected to race riots, which broke out in Notting Hill in 1958.

The riots are thought to have been carried out, for the most part, by Teddy Boys , working-class lads from London's slum areas and new housing estates, who formed the city's first postwar youth cult. Subsequent cults, and their accompanying music, helped turn London into the epicentre of the so-called Swinging Sixties , the Teddy Boys being usurped in the early 1960s by the Mods , whose sharp suits came from London's Carnaby Street. Fashion hit London in a big way, and - thanks to the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Twiggy - London was proclaimed the hippest city on the planet on the front pages of Time magazine.

Thatcherite London

In 1979,
Margaret Thatcher won the general election for the Conservative Party, and the country and the capital would never be quite the same again. The Conservatives were to remain in power for seventeen years, steering the country into a period of ever-greater social polarization. While taxation policies and easy credit fuelled a consumer boom for the professional classes (the "yuppies" of the 1980s), a calamitous number of people ended up trapped in long-term unemployment. The Brixton riots of 1981 and 1985, and the Tottenham riot of 1985, were reminders of the price of such divisive policies, and of the feeling of social exclusion rife among the city's black youth.

Nationally, the opposition Labour Party went into sharp decline, but in the GLC (successor to the LCC), the party won a narrow victory, led by the radical Ken Livingstone , or "Red Ken" as the tabloids dubbed him. Under Livingstone, the GLC poured money into projects among London's ethnic minorities, into the arts, and most famously into a subsidized fares policy for public transport. Such schemes endeared Livingstone to the hearts of many Londoners, but it was too much for Thatcher, who abolished the GLC in 1986, leaving London as the only European capital without a citywide elected body.

Abolition exacerbated tensions between the poorer and richer boroughs of the city. For the first time since the Victorian era, homelessness returned to London in a big way, with the underside of Waterloo Bridge transformed into a "Cardboard City" sheltering up to 2000 vagrants. At the same time, the so-called " Big Bang " took place, abolishing a whole range of restrictive practices on the Stock Exchange and fuelling the building boom in the reclaimed Docklands, the most visible legacy of Thatcherism. Stocks and shares headed into the stratosphere, and shortly after, they inevitably crashed, ushering in a recession that dragged on for the best part of the next ten years.

Millennium London

On the surface at least, twenty-first century London has come a long way since the bleak Thatcher years. Redevelopment has begun again apace, partly fuelled by money from the National Lottery, which has funded a series of prestigious new
millennium projects that have changed the face of the city. A new pedestrian bridge now spans the Thames, leading to the new Tate Modern gallery, spectacularly housed in a converted power station. Numerous other national institutions have transformed themselves, too; among them the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, the Science Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Maritime Museum. And last, but not least, there's the controversial Millennium Dome, built and stuffed full of gadgetry for ?750 million, but which has yet to achieve the sort of success predicted by its backers.

The most significant political development for London has been the creation of the new Greater London Assembly (GLA), along with an American-style Mayor of London , both elected by popular mandate. The New Labour government, which came to power on a wave of enthusiasm in 1997, did everything they could to prevent the election of the former GLC leader Ken Livingstone. Yet despite being forced to leave the Labour Party and run as an independent, Livingstone won a resounding victory in the elections of May 2000. It remains to be seen whether Ken can make any impact on the biggest problems facing the capital: transport, crime and racism within the Metropolitan Police Force.


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