This is a short review of the principal events in the history of London.
The Romans invaded Britain. After much contact through trade
over the previous centuries, and two previous invasion attempts by
Julius Caesar, the Roman legions finally began the assault that would
Romanise Britain. They originally settled on the south bank of the
River Thames, then moved to north of the river which was a more
defendable spot. They advanced through the south east of England and
established their capital at Colchester ( Camulodunum).
Following the death of her husband, King Prasutagus of the Iceni
tribe, and the ensuing cruelty inflicted on Queen Boudicca and her
daughters, Boudicca gathered a massive army and attacked Colchester,
destroying it completely. London (Lundinium) was next. All the
inhabitants were slaughtered and the city burnt to the ground. This was
the first Great Fire of London.
London became a walled city to protect the flourishing trade centre which it had become.
The walls of London, some parts of which are still visible, were
built of stone called Kentish Ragstone. They were 20 feet high ( 6.5
metres) and up to 9 feet thick (3 metres). Four gates were the access
points to the city- Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Newgate and Ludgate. These
names still exist as street names.
The Roman Empire had been in decline for some time with factions
within Europe and Britain declaring independence and setting up their
Roman troops were finally withdrawn from Britain by the Emperor of
Britain, Constantine III. Honorius, Emperor of Rome declared that
Britain should be left to run its own affairs. This left Britain much
weaker and vulnerable to attacks. The Saxons moved in .They had already
been part of Roman life in Europe. Thereafter began turmoil in Britain
with little known about London. These are known as ….
The Dark Ages
Vortigern had become the Romano- British King. He invited the
Saxons Hengest and Horsa to help in the fight against the Picts and
Irish. This proved to be literally the Trojan horse which brought about
the settlement and invasion of Britain by the Saxons. London continued
to be a commercial centre but on a lesser scale.
Saxons, Angles and Jutes from Europe continued to raid and
settle in Britain. They began to divide Britain into smaller kingdoms.
London was part of the Eastern Saxon lands. The old Roman city of
Lundinium was in decay. Other capital in the regions had been set up
which reduced London’s importance.
The first St. Paul’s Cathedral was built o n the site of the
Temple of Diana ordered by King Aethelbet , King of Kent, the first
Christian king of England.
The trading centre that used to be within the city had already begun
moving to the west (Lundenwic) where is now the Strand and Charing
Cross. It was on the border of several of the new Kingdoms, Kent,
Mercia and Wessex.
The Vikings who had been raiding England’s shores for many years
attacked and overcame London. Their fleet anchored off Greenwich and
their army camped on Blackheath for the winter.
King Alfred the Great who had previously become King of all the
English was based in Winchester. He and his army marched on London and
retook the city. From hereon London (Lundenburg) began its steady climb
to one of the most important cities in the world.
Soon afterwards, having rebuilt the old walls, Alfred handed responsibility of the City to Ealdorman, Aethelred of Mercia.
On the death of Aethelred the English Kings took over London.
The city became the most important commercial centre in England with
financial business thriving.
The Laws of London were issued by King Aethelred the Unready.
London was his capital. Throughout the rest of this century and the
next London was constantly raided by the Danes.
After some years of war King Canute (Knut Sveinsson) eventually became King of England
King Edward the Confessor, step son of King Canute from the
Saxon line, became the first Saxon King to move to the west and develop
an area outside the old Roman/Saxon city. On Thorney Island by the
marshy banks of the River Tyburn he built a new church dedicated to
St.Peter. He also built a new Palace. This eventually became the Palace
of Westminster, on a site now partially covered by the Houses of
The Collegiate Church of St.Peter (Westminster Abbey) was
consecrated. Edward the Confessor died eight days later. He was buried
in Westminster Abbey in January 1066. William of Normandy would be
crowned there later that year.
The year of the Norman Conquest. King William of Normandy
claimed that Edward the Confessor, William’s cousin, had promised him
the throne of England on a visit which he had made here in 1051. When
it was decreed by the Royal Council that the Crown should go to Harold,
William secured sanction from Pope Alexander II for a Norman invasion
On October 14th the Normans defeated the English under King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Harold was killed. William marched into London.
He was crowned King of England on Christmas Day.
William brought the defensive castle to England. At the eastern end
of the old Roman Wall the famous the Tower of London was built, the
most perfect fortress in Britain. This was the home every English King
from William II, the Conqueror’s son to Henry VII.
The Romans had built the first London Bridge which was made
of wood. The first London Bridge made of stone was built by Peter de
Colechurch who was a parish priest of St. Mary Colechurch in Cheapside.
It was 900 feet long( 290 metres), 20 feet wide (6.5 metres) and
40feet high(13 Metres). Shops and houses were built on the bridge and
gradually increased in number so much that a traffic flow system had to
be introduced to help the congestion. It is believed that this is where
driving on the left originated as it kept the Knights sword hand ,his
right, free to defend himself.
The gatehouse of London Bridge was where the severed heads of criminals and enemies were stuck on spikes.
Colechurch’s bridge was the only bridge over the River Thames until the 18th century.
Old St.Paul’s was finished, the fourth one to be completed on
the same site. It was twice the size of the present Cathedral with the
its tower and spire over 500 feet high (165 metres). The top of the
cross of the present Cathedral is only 365 feet high (120 metres).
London succumbed to a devastating outbreak of the Bubonic
Plague. It had been endemic in the east for centuries. Known as the
Black Death it had swept through Europe and reached London in September
of this year. There had been small outbreaks before, but this decimated
the population. It had spread easily through the filthy, narrow,
crowded streets. Up to 100.000 people may have died before it finally
burnt itself out in the 1350s.
Burial grounds were full and new ones had to be found. The foremost, in Southwark, had to cope with 200 bodies a day.
The people were still reeling from the effects of the Black Death and were further burdened by the increasing Poll -Tax which was imposed by the Government to finance the long war with France. Two rebellious groups revolted, one from Essex and one from Kent. Wat Tyler led the Kentish rebels. They marched on London and forced open prisons, beheaded the reviled lawyers of London in the street and threw jewels and valuables into the Thames. Previous attempts to meet them by the 14 year old King
Richard II had been thwarted. They eventually met at Smithfield. Wat Tyler increased the peasants’ demands and was stabbed to death by the Lord Mayor Sir William Walworth. This was The Peasants’Revolt.
The Guildhall of the City of London was constructed. The City of London Trade Guilds now had an official place in which to meet as well as their own Livery Halls. Here they agreed on common policy regarding the administration of the City.
Jack Cade’s Rebellion. Jack Cade marched
on London with an army of rebels. They were angry at the King Henry VI
because of loss of lands in France, high taxation to finance the war,
forced labour ,corruption and the seizure of peasant lands by nobles.
His band were not only peasants but property owners, as well as clergy.
They attacked the Tower of London, killing the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Henry’s clerk and the Sheriff of Kent .When a truce was
agreed, Cade issued his demands to officials. Some rebels were promised
a pardon for their participation and they dispersed. But the Government
did not agree to any of his demands. Henry ordered Cade’s arrest and he
was eventually killed in Sussex by The Sheriff of Kent. Cade’s body was
hung drawn and quartered and his head was stuck on a pole on London
Dissolution of the Monastries. Following the Pope’s refusal to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England. He seized all lands, buildings and possessions of the church. There were thirteen religious houses in London. They were either converted for private use or demolished. All that now remains are the names of areas of the city such as Whitefriars or Blackfriars.
Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn became Queen Elizabeth I.
The Royal Exchange was built by Sir Thomas Gresham and opened by Queen Elizabeth. Merchants now had a proper place to trade.
James I ( James VI of Scotland) became King. He was the first English King to believe in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ to rule. He believed that his bloodline contained Holy Blood . That was the reason for his hatred of Roman Catholics.
The Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy involving Roman Catholics planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament intending to kill the King and Queen as well as their ministers. The plotters were desperate to gain the religious tolerance they had been denied. Guido Fawkes, known as Guy Fawkes and his gang rented rooms in an unused part of the Palace of Westminster, where they placed several barrels of gunpowder. One of the co-conspirators, whose brother in law was a Member of Parliament, warned him not
to attend Parliament on November 5th. This aroused suspicion and Fawkes was discovered in the cellars. He was taken to the Tower of London where he was tortured to reveal the names of his gang. Four were killed resisting arrest . The remaining ones were executed and their heads were displayed on spikes on London Bridge. Ever since, the cellars of Westminster are checked by the Yeoman Warders before the State Opening of Parliament.
James I died. His son Charles I became King. Charles also believed in Divine Rule. It was not long before he was in conflict with Parliament.
The English Civil War began. The City of London allied itself with Republican forces under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. The Republican Cavalry used Old St. Paul’s as a barracks and stable. Hackney Carriage men (Taxi drivers) joined with the Republicans. They used their horses to pull cannon in defence of the City.
The Civil War ended. On January 30th King Charles II was beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Oliver Cromwell was offered the Crown but refused. He took the title of Lord Protector and became Chairman of the Council of State. Puritanism dominated political and social life. England became a Republic.
Oliver Cromwell died at Whitehall Palace. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Charles II , son of Charles I made a popular return from
exile.People had had enough of the strict Puritanism. He had the body
of Oliver Cromwell exhumed and symbolically hanged at Tyburn as a
The Great Plague killed 100.000 people. The plague was first recorded in Winter 1664, but because of the severely cold weather it seemed to be held at bay until the Spring of 1665. The warm, and later the hot weather provided ideal conditions for the disease to spread . It was thought that fleas on dogs and cats were the cause, and thousands of them were killed. This allowed the real carriers of the plague--rats- to multiply rapidly. In June King Charles left the City for Hampton Court.
September saw a decline in the death rate. King Charles returned in February 1666.
The Great Fire of London swept through the City from 2nd September and burned for four days. It started in the King’s Bakery in Pudding Lane (EC3). The baker, Thomas Farynor, had left a pile of kindling by the oven overnight. A spark from the fire lit the kindling and the most devastating fire ever to hit London began. Amazingly only 9 deaths were recorded, though the destruction of the City was immense. The flames consumed the Guildhall, Royal Exchange, Custom House, Baynard Castle, 52
City Livery Halls, 3 City Gates, Newgate and Bridewell Prisons plus 87 City churches including St.Paul’s. Of around 15.000 houses 13.200 were destroyed.
In Giltspur Street (EC1) there is a pub called the Golden Boy which
has a statue of a pot bellied boy above its door. This is where the
fire supposedly reached before it was extinguished or went out .The lesson is that the fire could have been divine retribution for the sin of ‘gluttony’. The poetic beginning and end being ‘Pudding Lane to Pie Corner’.
The reconstruction of a new St.Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
The Bank of England was founded. Once again England was
at war with France. King William III was short of money so it was
proposed a national bank be founded. In association with two City
merchants a plan was put together. The Tonnage Act was passed. All
profits from a levy duty on shipping and alcohol went to the new Bank
with an 8% rake off for the two merchants. The Bank began business in
the Mercers’Hall (Cheapside) then moved to the Grocers’ Hall (Princes
It moved to its present location in1724.
Gin Riots. The excessive consumption of gin by both adults and
children was out of control. Many adults and children drank gin by the
gallon. It was safer to drink than the water available. There were many
instances of typhoid particularly in the poorer east end of the city.
To curb the sale of gin, sales of which totalled about 8.000.000
gallons by 1743, the Government introduced the Gin Act in 1729 and
subsequent years. Taxation on gin distillation and sales was increased
.This led to violent riots which caused several deaths and much damage.
The River Police Force was founded. Originally called the Marine
Force, it was the first fully organised police force in the country.
The Port of London was the biggest trading port in the world, with two
thirds of the sea -borne trade passing through it.
Piracy and smuggling was rife.
The Metropolitan Police was founded.
On October 16th a clerk of Parliament was asked to
dispose of a load of unwanted ‘tally sticks’ so he put them into a
stove. They burnt so fiercely that by the following morning the Palace
of Westminster had been burnt to the ground. The high cost of the
insurance claim for this disaster eventually forced the Government to
set up a publicly funded fire brigade.
The Coronation of Queen Victoria. Buckingham Palace became the new official Royal residence in London.
City of London Police formed.
The year of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. It is
estimated that there were 6.000.000 visitors. Gate receipts raised
enough money to fund the building of the great museums of South
Kensington. The grand building, designed by William Paxton was known as
the Crystal Palace. The exhibition lasted six months whereupon the
enormous building was dismantled and re-erected in Sydenham, South
It was destroyed by fire in the 1930s.
The Knowledge of London came about because the millions of visitors
wished to go farther in their Cabs, so the drivers had to learn new
routes from then on.
Tower Bridge opened. This was built in response to the ever
increasing trade in London’s Docks. A bridge was needed that could
alleviate river traffic and also road congestion. A competition was
held and a committee chosen to select the winning design. Sir Horace
Jones, the City architect, who just happened to be the chairman of the
committee won the contract.
Tower Bridge is 800 feet long (270 metres) and has a clearance of
135 feet (40 metres). It is still lifted quite often to allow large
London County Council established. It was the first Metropolitan authority to be elected directly by the people of London.
Queen Victoria died. The longest reigning British Monarch to date.
London hosted its first Olympic Games which were held at the White City.
World War I began. London was bombed by the first aerial attacks by Zeppelin. Damage from day and night raids was suffered. Evidence of these
raids can be seen on Cleopatra’s Needle on Victoria Embankment (WC2)
The Battle of Cable Street. Fascists led by Oswald Mosley,
planned to march through the East End of London. Barricades were built
by communists, socialists and locals alike to stop them. This led to a
confrontation between the ‘stop the march protesters’ and the police,
who were trying to keep the street clear. The march was cancelled.
World War 2 saw massive areas of the City,
the East End and South East London sufferring continous day and night
bombing raids with tremendous loss of life and destruction of property.
The Docks and railway lines were prime targets. Indiscriminate killing
and damage was increased as the new V1 and V2 rockets were being
launched from Europe into London.
London hosted its second Olympic Games.
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The first Red Double -Decker buses arrived on the streets.
The Greater London Council was inaugurated.
England won the Football World Cup at Wembley Stadium.
Margaret Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minister, takes over at No. 10 Downing Street.
Brixton Riots. London saw its worst Race Riots in History.
The Greater London Council was abolished by Margaret Thatcher, which left the city with no overall governing body.
After Margaret Thatcher and her Government tried to impose a ‘Poll Tax’, serious riots broke out in Trafalgar Square.
The Greater London Authority was established.
The Congestion Charge was introduced in a limited area of Central London.
London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
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