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Monday, December 04, 2006

Rise of modern London


London's growth accelerated in the 18th century, and was the world's largest city from about 1831 to 1925 . This growth was aided from 1836 by London's first railways which put small countryside towns within easy reach of the city. The rail network expanded very rapidly, and caused these places to grow whilst London itself expanded into surrounding fields, merging with neighbouring settlements such as Kensington. Rising traffic congestion on city centre roads led to the creation of the world's first metro system — the London Underground — in 1863, driving yet further expansion and urbanisation.

London's local government system struggled to cope with the rapid growth, especially in providing the city with adequate infrastructure. Between 1855 and 1889, the Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw infrastructure expansion. It was then replaced by the County of London, overseen by the London County Council, London's first elected city-wide administration.

The British Airways London Eye, one of the many symbols of modern London.The Blitz and other bombing by the German Luftwaffe during World War II killed over 30,000 Londoners and flattened large tracts of housing and other buildings across London. The rebuilding during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was characterised by a wide range of architectural styles and has resulted in a lack of architectural unity that has become part of London's character. In 1965 London's political boundaries were expanded to take into account the growth of the urban area outside the County of London's borders. The expanded area was called Greater London and was administered by the Greater London Council.

In the decades following World War II, large-scale immigration from Commonwealth countries and beyond, transformed London into one of the most racially and culturally diverse cities in Europe. Integration of the new immigrants was not always smooth, with events such as the Brixton Riots in the 1980s.

An economic revival from the 1980s onwards re-established London's position as an eminent trading centre. However, as the seat of government and the most important city in the UK, it has been subjected to bouts of terrorism. IRA bombers sought to pressure the government into negotiations over Northern Ireland, frequently disrupting city activities with bomb threats — some of which were carried out — until their 1997 ceasefire. More recently, a series of coordinated bomb attacks were carried out by Islamic extremist suicide bombers on the public transport network on 7 July 2005 — just 24 hours after London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Medieval London

See City of London for details of city government in the Mediæval period.

The Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 is usually considered to be the beginning of the Medieval period. William, Duke of Normandy, killed English king Harold Godwinson in battle at Hastings. Although he burnt down Southwark, south of the bridge, he avoided London, instead waiting to the north-west at Berkhamsted until the city officials in London recognised him as King. They quickly did so, and William responded by granting the city a formal charter.

Under William (now known as William the Conqueror) several royal forts were constructed along the riverfront of London (the Tower of London, Baynard's Castle and Montfichet's Castle) to defend against seaborne attacks by Vikings and prevent rebellions. William the Conqueror also granted a charter in 1067 upholding previous Saxon rights, privileges and laws. Its growing self-government became firm with election rights granted by King John in 1199 and 1215.

In 1097 William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror began the construction of 'Westminster Hall'. The hall was to prove the basis of the Palace of Westminster which, throughout the Mediæval period, became the prime royal residence.


The Tower of London.In 1176 construction began of the most famous incarnation of London Bridge (completed in 1209) which was built on the site of several earlier wooden bridges. This bridge would last for 600 years, and remained the only bridge across the River Thames until 1739.

May 1216 saw the last time that London was truly occupied by a continental armed force, during the First Barons' War. This was when the young Louis VIII of France marched through the streets to St Paul's Cathedral. Throughout the city and in the cathedral he was celebrated as the new ruler.

It was expected that this would free the English from the tyranny of King John. This was only temporarily true. The barons supporting the 29-year old French prince decided to throw their support back to an English king when John died. Over the next several hundred years, London would shake off the heavy French cultural and linguistic influence which had been there since the times of the Norman conquest. The city, like Dover, would figure heavily into the development of Early Modern English.

During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 led by Wat Tyler, London was invaded. A group of peasants stormed the Tower of London and executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury, and the Lord Treasurer. The peasants looted the city and set fire to numerous buildings. Tyler was stabbed to death by the Lord Mayor William Walworth in a confrontation at Smithfield, thus ending the revolt.

During the medieval period London grew up in two different parts. The nearby up-river town of Westminster became the Royal capital and centre of government, whereas the City of London became the centre of commerce and trade. The area between them became entirely urbanised by 1600.

Trade and commerce grew steadily during the Middle Ages, and London grew rapidly as a result. In 1100 London's population was little more than 15,000. By 1300 it had grown to roughly 80,000. Trade in London was organised into various guilds, which effectively controlled the city, and elected the Lord Mayor of London.

Mediæval London was made up of narrow and twisting streets, and most of the buildings were made from combustible materials such as wood and straw, which made fire a constant threat. Sanitation in London was poor. London lost at least half of its population during the Black Death in the mid-14th century. Between 1348 and the Great Plague of 1666 there were sixteen outbreaks of plague in the city.

Saxon London

Although early Anglo-Saxon settlement avoided the area immediately around Londinium, there was occupation on a small scale of much of the hinterland on both sides of the river. There is no contemporary literary evidence, but the area must for some time have been an active frontier between Saxons and Britons. From the mid-6th century, the London area was incorporated into the East Saxons kingdom, which extended as far west as St. Alban's and included all of later Middlesex, and probably Surrey too for a time. In 604 Saeberht of the East Saxons converted to Christianity and London received Mellitus, its first post-Roman bishop. Mellitus founded the first St. Paul's Cathedral, traditionally said to be on the site of an old Roman Temple of Diana (although Christopher Wren found no evidence of this). This would have only been a modest chapel at first and may well have been destroyed after he was expelled from the city by Saeberht's pagan successors.

Later in the 7th Century a Saxon village and trading centre named Lundenwic ("London settlement") [2] was established approximately one mile to the west of Londinium (named Lundenburh or "London Fort" by the Saxons)[3] in what is now Aldwych, in the 7th century, probably using the mouth of the River Fleet as a trading ship and fishing boat harbour. It was 'rediscovered' during excavations organised by the Museum of London's Archaeological Service.

The new town came under direct Mercian control in c.730 as the East Saxon kingdom of which it had once been part was gradually reduced in size and status. Mercian lordship was replaced by that of Wessex after 825.

Recent excavations in the Covent Garden area have uncovered the extensive Anglo-Saxon settlement dating back into the 7th century. The excavations show that the settlement covered about 600,000 square metres, stretching from the present-day National Gallery site in the west to Aldwych in the east. The name "Aldwych" (from Anglo-Saxon ealdwīc = "old settlement") shows that, some time in the late 9th or early 10th century, the focus of settlement shifted from the 'Old District' back to the City of London. This may have been due to administrative changes introduced by Alfred the Great after his defeat of Guthrum and the Danes, or a move to a site easier to defend against Viking attacks.

Alfred appointed his son-in-law Earl Aethelred of Mercia, who was the heir to the destroyed Kingdom of Mercia, as Governor of London and established two defended Boroughs to defend the bridge which was probably rebuilt at this time. London was already known as Lundenburh, and the southern end of the Bridge was established as the Borough of Southwark or Suthringa Geworc (defensive work of the men of Surrey) as it was originally known.

In 1013, the Vikings sieged the city, forcing Aethelred to flee. Attacks continued under Canute, and they successfully over-ran London. A Norse saga tells of a battle during the Viking occupation where Aethelred returned to attack Viking-occupied London. According to the sage, the Danes lined London Bridge and showered the attackers with spears. Undaunted, the attackers pulled the roofs off nearby houses and held them over their heads in the boats. Thus protected, they were able to get close enough to the bridge to attach ropes to the piers and pull the bridge down. There is some speculation that the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is falling down" stems from this incident.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

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