London History

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The city of London has grown into a true metropolis and has become a financial and cultural hub of Europe and the world as well. The history of London is rich with magnificent achievements, stories of national pride, destruction, the establishment of empires, and so much more. London has a history of 2,000 years as it was established in the year 43 AD. The Romans called it Londinium and was only the size of today’s Hyde Park. After it was demolished by the Iceni the Romans quickly rebuilt it and the city began expanding and growing rapidly in the following decades. By the 2nd century it had expanded so much and gained importance that it was declared as the capitol of Roman Britain.

A Roman wall that still stands in London's financial district
A Roman wall that still stands in London’s financial district

More than 1,500 years later during the Tudor era is when London started visibly becoming one of Europe’s most important commercial centers. Because of its coastal shipping abilities and activities the city’s population grew rapidly from about 50,000 people in 1530 to roughly 225,000 in the year 1605. It was also during this period when culture and drama began flourishing and Willian Shakespear is arguably the most iconic and important artist from this era. The growth in population was mostly due to many immigrants coming to London seeking better lives for themselves. Unfortunately for them many were faced with very xenophobic ideologies from Londoners and much of them quickly sought refuge from violence in Dutch cities.

london 1600In 1666 more than half of the city was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. On the 2 of September in 1666 about one hour after midnight a fire broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane in the south of the city. Because of the strong eastern winds during those days the fire spread rapidly. The fire broke out on a Sunday and it was only extinguished on Thursday. The fire destroyed many landmarks such as the Old St Paul’s Cathedral, 87 churches, and the Royal Exchange. Taking into consideration the sheer intensity and the way the fire spread it’s estimated that only 16 people died during the event. Which is quite small a number. Parliament voted out the Rebuilding of London Act which stated that buildings should be made out of stones and bricks which would greatly reduce the risk of a fire like this occurring again.

Depiction of the Great Fire by an anonymous artist
Depiction of the Great Fire by an anonymous artist

The Great Fire of London happened only about a year after another great tragedy, The Great Plague. It broke out in 1665 and lasted until 1666. An estimated 60,000 people died during this short period of time. The city was overcrowded and living conditions were mostly highly unsanitary. The number of people who died from the plague was roughly one fifth of London’s population.

great plagueThe 18th century saw London grow at an astonishing rate. With the industrial revolution at its early beginnings and the British Empire’s role in the world London was a center of power and a constantly growing financial and commercial giant. This period had many sides to Londoners’ everyday lives. Literacy rates were going up partly thanks to the printing press and coffeehouses became popular places where people could talk freely and exchange ideas. However the rate of crime was also on the rise and people were often executed even for the smallest of crimes. In the middle of the 18th century London got its second bridge, the Westminster Bridge and no longer was the London Bridge the only way across the Thames.

During the 19th century London had become the largest capitol and city in the British Empire. From 1800 to 1900 the city had grown from a population of one million to roughly 6.7 million. Poverty was widespread and many of the city’s inhabitants were living in slum-like conditions. Charles Dickens wrote extensively about the poor and needy and many of his works reflect their struggles of living in London and surrounding areas. In 1836 London received its first railroad line that stretched from London Bridge to Greenwich. In the following years and decades more and more lines were built.

It was in this century when London made plans to construct sewage systems. Up until a certain point all the raw sewage was directed straight into the river Thames. Once the new sewage system became functional disease rates and epidemic outbreaks drastically dropped. Many iconic landmarks that make London so recognizable today were made in the 19th century, such as Trafalgar Square, Royal Albert Hall, Tower Bridge, and Big Ben. London had prepared itself well for the 20th century but once again tragedy and destruction will strike it in the biggest war the world has seen.

Sewage Tunnels beneath London
Sewage Tunnels beneath London

The city kept expanding and the Empire’s influence only grew as time went on. Because of the newly introduced public transportation system people slowly began living in the suburban areas that had much lower densities of population. The city had finally expanded into bordering counties of Essex, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey, and Hertfordshire. The Great Depression made life very difficult for all British people and Londoners weren’t excluded from the effects of the market crash.

World War 2 devastated London and shook its foundations to the core. The bombings killed around 30,000 people and more than 50,000 were injured. Tens of thousands of buildings were completely destroyed which left many families homeless. However London, and the whole of England, had just barely managed to recover from the devastation and the 1948 Olympic Games were held at Wembley Stadium. The after war planners didn’t rest until the city was restored to its former glory. The English mindset and mentality saw London rise from the ashes once again as it proudly rebuilt itself and once again established itself as the great city it always was.

WW2In the 21st century London remains to be a beacon of hope. It still continues to fascinate people from all around the world and is adamant to keep building a society that’s tolerant and one that learns from its previous mistakes. Being one of the oldest cities in the world means London has a responsibility, not only towards its own people, but to the rest of the world. Greatness has a price but pride and history is something London and Londoners can never lose.