Dave the Taxi Driver's

 

Guide to London

Introducing London

Thames River, London, EnglandBuckingham Palace GuardsTrafalger Square, London, England



London is enormous. There are many cities of the world that sprawl for miles and miles. London, although it does sprawl for miles in a gigantic circle in the south-east corner of England, is enormous within itself. Everything that is going on within this metropolis goes on with an intensity that can be an overwhelming experience for the first time visitor. You can do anything here and there is everything to do. All life is here.

London is served by five major airports and twelve principal railway stations. There is also the Eurostar Rail Service to Paris and Brussels which operates from Waterloo International. This will be replaced in November 2007 by the new High Speed Rail Link to and from St.Pancras International.

Transport in London is by The London Underground (Tube), Buses and Railway Network which includes the driverless trains on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). There is also an extensive network of cycle paths. There are also coaches which serve the outer regions and the airports.

London has just about everything. Two thousand years of history linked to the Romans, Saxons and later the Normans after the invasion of 1066.The Monarchy is regarded as the epitome of being British although in the17century during the English Civil War, England became a republic for some years until 1660 when the Monarchy was restored.

Millions of people visit London just to see the splendid pageantry associated with Royal occasions such as the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and the Trooping of the Colour which takes place in June.

Although most main events and activities take place within the central area which is known as the West End, there is nowhere in London that has not contributed to the city throughout history or indeed owes its existence to Londonís influence and expansion.

The West End, with its shopping ,theatres and nightlife and also such places like Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Notting Hill were merely a collection of small villages which were swallowed up and have developed to become part of Londonís world-famous fashionable identity, with their elegant hotels and restaurants. Kensington also has several museums which were built following the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Trafalgar Square, the peopleís square, as it is known is one of the main focal points for political meetings and outdoor concerts. There stands the Statue of King Charles 1st which overlooks Whitehall. It is the point from which all mileage distances from and to London are measured.

The classical National Art Gallery on the north side holds one of the finest collections in the world. There are many other art galleries throughout the city which include impressionism and surrealism. Modern and contemporary art can be found at the Tate Modern on the South Bank and the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

London began as an outpost of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. Following the invasion of the armies of the Emperor Claudius in 43AD a Roman settlement was established just south of the River Thames in Southwark. The Romans however saw that it was more advantageous to have a defensive stronghold on higher ground rather than the marshy area where they had settled. Thus the City of London was born on two hills north of the River Thames; Cornhill and Ludgate Hill as they are known today.

Oddly enough nobody can be sure of the origins of the names London nor The River Thames.

During ongoing city development archaeological finds are constantly being unearthed. After the Romans left in 410 AD there is very little known about the next few hundred years. These are known as the Dark Ages for that reason.

In 604AD the original St. Paulís Cathedral was built on Ludgate Hill by the first Christian King St. Ethelbert, King of Kent, on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Diana. After King Alfred the Great retook the City of London from the

invading Vikings in 886AD the Saxons ruled from then until 1066. Edward the Confessor built the world famous Westminster Abbey in 1065.

The invasion of William of Normandy in 1066 was the beginning of the organisation of England as a nation. William built the castle at the eastern end of the City that was to become the Tower of London. Throughout the years of Norman rule London became the official seat of government and subsequently the new capital in place of Winchester. The City became the financial and trading centre of the country. The first hospital, St. Bartholomewís was built in the 12th century.

Although this stability produced prosperity there were many traumatic events that became part of and shaped Londonís history;

The Black Death of 1348;the Peasantsí Revolt of 1381;the Gunpowder Plot 1605; The Great Plague 1665 and the Great Fire of London 1666 which destroyed 87 churches. This was not the only great fire though. London has had a habit of catching fire since the city was first built whether by divine planning(?) or human aggression.

Through the centuries the great City institutions were constructed. The Guildhall in 1411, The Royal Exchange in 1586 and the Bank of England in 1694.

There was always the threat of invasion from France and Spain and also Holland. Many religious disputes threatened the stability of the throne of England (and Scotland) after James 1st became King and united the two countries in 1603.

Throughout the years of exploration, discovery and empire London grew to become the largest and most influential city in the world.

In the dark days of harsh justice prisons such as Newgate were built to hold prisoners until they were executed at the infamous Tyburn Tree. Other infamous prisons include the Clink and Marshalsea and of course the Tower of London. Many hospitals were also built to house the sick but also to incarcerate the unfortunates who had strayed from law abiding ways or succumbed to mental illness. Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) was notorious.

Despite the stability London was not without its political troubles. There were the Gin Riots of 1743, the protesters rising up against the prospect of tax on gin. There were the Gordon Riots of 1780 which opposed Catholic Emancipation. Londonís prosperity grew from the British Empire, International Trade and alas, from the Slave Trade.

By the mid 18th century the Industrial revolution, the coming of the railways and immigration created an enormous population influx in London.

What used to be open land was taken over by development. London grew rapidly. Architecture varied considerably. The making of the modern world began.

The Underground was commenced in 1863.Bridges, canals and viaducts were built by the great engineers of that era, particularly by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There was the London sewer system of Joseph Bazalgette who was also responsible for the construction of the Embankments. Tower Bridge opened in 1886.The Victorians also had a propensity for copying ancient architectural styles such as classical and what became known as Victorian Gothic, The Houses of Parliament and St.Pancras Station.

In 1908 London held its first Olympic Games with the second following in 1948 and the third now under construction due to open in 2012.

When peace broke out in 1945 it took some time for the economy to recover but gradually London became the stage for the new music and fashion during the swinging sixties, particularly Carnaby Street (W1) and the Kingís Road (SW3). London suffered badly during World War Two. Shrapnel damage can still be seen on the side of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Since Britain entered the European Union London has changed considerably.

There is a mix of nationalities working and living in the area of Greater London which could never have been imagined fifty years ago. This has had a particularly positive effect on the type and number of restaurants which you can now see in the city plus cafť bars, coffee houses, sandwich bars. Even the English Pub menu has undergone a transformation over the years. Never let it be said again that food in England is boring. It might not be English but it is varied and interesting. Many will be glad to hear that the Cafť (Caff) is also still thriving.

 

Having endured the smoky years of industry the air in London has improved tremendously since the Clean Air Act was introduced in the last century. New emission strategies have since been put in place by the Mayor both for Taxis and Buses. LEZs (Low Emission Zones) will follow. London Parks are not the only places for fresher air now. Drivers in the central area are now required to pay a congestion charge to discourage unnecessary journeys. This is called the Congestion Zone. Buildings have been cleaned and with the advent of modern architectural styles London looks so different even when compared to only ten years ago.

So from prehistoric times London has become what could never have been dreamed of by Emperor Claudius. A world capital in a world that Claudius didnít even know existed. What did the Romans do for us? They created London. Thatís what they did!



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