London (England), city, capital of the United Kingdom. London is situated in southeastern England along the Thames River. With a population of about 7 million, this vast metropolis is by far the largest city in Europe, a distinction it has maintained since the 17th century. In the 19th century it was the largest and most influential city in the world, the center of a large and prosperous overseas empire. Although it no longer ranks among the world’s most populous cities, London is still one of the world’s major financial and cultural capitals.
By European standards, London is physically spread out and dispersed, without a predominant focal point. It therefore defies easy general description, as the city’s character is found in its diverse and distinct sections. Many of these sections began as separate villages, and today they maintain some of their individual identities. London’s image is partly defined by its past, as its major buildings and institutions represent 2000 years of community history. Its image is also the product of a new multiethnic mix of people and the creative impulse of the new popular culture of “Cool Britannia,” a phrase Britain’s promoters conceived in the mid-1990s to portray Britain as modern and trendy.
London’s climate is generally mild and damp, although it can be erratic. This region is one of the driest parts of Britain, and the average annual rainfall is only 750 mm (30 in). However, the weather is generally cloudy, and some rain is liable to fall on half the days of the year. With a mean temperature in July of about 18° C (about 64° F), London has warmer summers than most of the island, although heat waves are infrequent and seldom last long. Temperatures rarely go above 26° C (78° F). Winters are relatively frosty, however, and the mean temperature in January is 4° C (40° F). Fog frequently develops in winter. In the past, foggy days were aggravated by smoke, resulting in London’s traditional “pea-soupers.” However, since the use of coal has significantly declined, these have largely disappeared.
|II||LONDON AND ITS METROPOLITAN AREA|
London’s metropolitan area extends for more than 30 miles at its widest point, covering some 1610 sq km (620 sq mi). This vast urban territory is divided into 33 political units—32 boroughs and the City of London. At the core of this immense urban area is Central London. Most of Central London is located north of the Thames, on a gentle slope that rises to the north. It contains about 12 of the 33 political units, including the City of London, the City of Westminster, and districts in the West End. The City of London is the traditional heart of the city and stands as its own political unit. The City of Westminster is the seat of the national government. Much of the outer portion of this huge conglomeration of people and activities is made up of low-rise residential development.
|A||The City of London|
The historical center of London is now a relatively small area still known as the City, which covers only about 2.6 sq km (about 1 sq mi). The City is capitalized, to distinguish it from the larger metropolis. This is where London began as a Roman colonial town around ad 50, at the point where the Romans built the first bridge in London. Today this area is one of the world’s leading financial centers. Most of the financial activities are crowded along Threadneedle Street, near the intersection known as the Bank, which includes the huge Bank of England complex, the Royal Exchange, and the Stock Exchange. The permanent residential population of the City is now less than 6000, but about 350,000 commute here daily to work. The only large residential portion of the City is the Barbican Centre, a concrete complex of towers, parking garages, and pedestrian walkways located on the northern edge of the City. The Barbican was built to replace older buildings destroyed in World War II (1939-1945), when the Germans heavily bombed London.
Some of the City’s older elegance and significance remains despite the architectural havoc caused by the Blitz and postwar developers. The most prominent landmark is Saint Paul’s Cathedral, designed by English architect Christopher Wren to replace the original church, which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. At the City’s eastern boundary is the Tower of London, where the Crown imprisoned many important figures. It was begun in the 11th century by the Norman invader, William the Conqueror, to awe a city he had not completely conquered. Successive monarchs added to the original, central White Tower, and built walls to enclose the 7-hectare (18-acre) site. Its function now is primarily ceremonial, although it still guards the Crown Jewels.
Some of the City’s traditional functions have disappeared. The newspaper industry was concentrated in the Fleet Street area for centuries, but during the 1980s the Times and other papers moved to highly automated quarters at the Docklands in the East End. The old wholesale fish market, Billingsgate, located for centuries on the river between the Tower and London Bridge, also moved to the Docklands.
|B||The City of Westminster|
The City of Westminster, about two miles upstream from the City of London, emerged as England’s political and religious center of power after the 11th century. At the heart of Westminster is Westminster Abbey, begun by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 13th century. It has always been closely associated with the monarchy and is used for such state occasions as coronations and royal funerals. It is also a giant mausoleum, and more than 3000 notable people are buried there. Statues and monuments line the magnificent nave. Virtually across the street are the Houses of Parliament, officially called the New Palace of Westminster. Farther west is the monarch’s permanent residence in London, Buckingham Palace.
To the north, Trafalgar Square links the political and religious section of Westminster to the rest of west London. This square is a modest version of the great ceremonial squares of Europe, and was built in dedication to British naval commander Viscount Horatio Nelson, whose monument is at the square’s center. It has long been a popular site for large-scale political demonstrations. Some significant buildings, such as the National Gallery, are on the square. On the northeast corner is Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, the classical-style church designed by James Gibbs in the 1720s.
|C||The West End|
To the west and north of Trafalgar Square is the West End, which is usually regarded as the center of town because it is London’s shopping and entertainment hub. The busiest shopping area is Oxford Street, where such large department stores as Selfridges, John Lewis, and Marks and Spencer are located. Other well-known shopping areas include Knightsbridge, the location of Harrods department store; and Piccadilly, where Fortnum and Mason specializes in fine food. The main entertainment attractions are scattered throughout the Soho and Covent Garden sections, northeast of Piccadilly. Soho and Covent Garden were created as residential areas in the 17th century, but now are home to shops, theaters, and street entertainers. The Royal Opera House and most of London’s 40 or so major theaters are here, as are the large movie houses, and hundreds of restaurants, cafés, and bars.
Located just west of Soho and Covent Garden in the West End is a more residential area. Much of the urban design here is based on the residential square, an imitation of European precedents, with uniform houses built around an open space. The houses on these squares were often built for the aristocracy and the upper middle class. The relatively dense development of this area is broken up by a series of Royal Parks, areas once owned by the Crown, including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Regent’s Park.
In the northern part of the West End is Bloomsbury, the city’s traditional intellectual center, with its concentration of bookshops and homes of writers and academics. In the early 20th century a number of famous writers, critics, and artists who lived here became known as the Bloomsbury Group. Here, too, is the British Museum, one of London’s chief tourist attractions. Nearby is the giant complex of the University of London, whose various colleges and departments have taken over much of Bloomsbury.
|D||The East End and Docklands|
The East End, beyond the City of London and the Tower, has long been the home of London’s docks and immigrants. It has frequently been characterized by slums, poverty, and crime. This is the area where the notorious criminal Jack the Ripper prowled. Some portions, such as Bethnal Green, were slums during the Victorian period. Many poorer immigrants and working-class Londoners still reside in the East End, but its weekend street markets are very popular, especially Petticoat Lane, which runs along the length of Middlesex Street. Although Middlesex Street is no longer the center of the clothing trade, its merchandise is still geared toward apparel. Much of the old dockyard area has been abandoned and is being redeveloped as the Docklands, an ambitious project designed to lure London’s financial activities away from the congested City. The heart of the Docklands is the Isle of Dogs, a peninsula where the Royal Kennels were once situated.
North London was made up of satellite villages until the 19th century when the underground railroad (known locally as the Tube) opened this area up to development. Camden Town, on Regent’s Canal, has a popular weekend market that sells inexpensive clothing and jewelry. Farther north are elegant 18th-century villages, such as Hampstead, a center for writers; and Highgate, renowned for London’s best-known cemetery, which includes the grave and a large bust of Karl Marx. A central fixture of north London is the 324-hectare (800-acre) Hampstead Heath, a large public park.
The area south of the Thames has long been regarded with disdain by the rest of the city. For centuries Southwark, originally the area around the southern end of London Bridge, was the disreputable entertainment center of London, with brothels, bars, and theaters outside of the City’s jurisdiction. The sacred and the profane lived in close proximity here. Not far from the infamous Bankside, where brutal sports like cockfighting and bearbaiting took place, was the beautiful Southwark Cathedral, which dates from the 13th century. Bankside was also the location of Elizabethan theaters, which were restricted in the City because they were considered places of vice. One of these, the Globe Theatre, where William Shakespeare put on his greatest plays, was recently reconstructed.
Farther along the river to the west is the South Bank Centre cultural complex, begun as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Festival of Britain was a vehicle for lifting the spirits of Londoners after the trials of World War II. The most important building in the center is the Royal Festival Hall, a concert hall that was built for the festival. The Royal National Theatre and the National Film Theatre are also part of the South Bank Centre.
The population of metropolitan London in mid-1996 was about 7 million, which represents about 12 percent of Britain’s total population of 58.8 million. The population has declined since 1951, when more than 8 million people lived in London. Since 1985, however, the city has been growing at the rate of about 10,000 people per year. London’s population is heavily concentrated by British and North American standards, with a population density of about 4480 persons per sq km (about 11,400 per sq mi).
London has always attracted immigrants from Britain’s towns and villages. In the mid-19th century, half of the people of London had been born outside the city. During the Irish Famine of the 1840s, there was an influx of people from Ireland. At the turn of the century, Eastern European Jews settled in the East End. Chinese immigrants settled near the docks in the East End during the late 19th century, creating a Chinatown at Limehouse. More recently, Chinese immigrants, mostly from Hong Kong, have formed the highly visible Chinatown in the Soho area of the West End.
Since World War II, two groups of immigrants have transformed London into one of the most multiethnic capitals in Europe. One of these groups is usually referred to simply as “Asian,” and refers to those who originally came from the Indian subcontinent. The 525,000 people in this diverse group speak many languages—Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu—and belong to several religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, or Sikh. Some of these subgroups are associated with particular districts or professions. Southall, near Heathrow Airport, is primarily Punjabi, with Sikhs forming the largest religious group. They have established the largest Asian shopping district in London, centering on The Broadway and South Road. The Bangladeshis have congregated in Spitalfields in the East End where they specialize in the garment industry and the catering trades. Many Asians have started their own businesses, purchased and renovated older terrace housing (row houses), and entered professions in law, medicine, and finance.
A second influential group is the black population, which represents about 425,000 people, mostly from the Caribbean, but recently also from African countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia. During the late 1940s Jamaicans were the first and largest group to emigrate from the Caribbean. They tended to settle in south London, notably in Brixton, which still has a large black community. Jamaicans are also noted for their distinctive Rastafarian culture, made popular by reggae artists such as Bob Marley. Immigrants from Trinidad, Dominica, and Saint Lucia reside in Notting Hill, once one of the West End’s most run-down areas, but now one of London’s trendiest multicultural neighborhoods. Other areas with significant black populations are Hackney and Harringay in northeast London.
|IV||EDUCATION AND CULTURE|
|A||Institutions of Higher Learning|
Although Britain’s most prestigious universities are located outside London, the city attracts large numbers of students seeking postsecondary education and has a vast array of colleges, universities, academies, and institutes. The centrepiece of this educational establishment is the University of London in Bloomsbury, founded in 1836. It is made up of a number of colleges, schools, and attached institutes, which range from the London School of Economics and Political Science to King’s College and several medical schools. Lesser-known universities in London include Kingston University and the University of Westminster. London is also the home of a host of related institutions offering advanced education in the fine arts, such as the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Royal College of Music, the Royal Ballet School, and the London Contemporary Dance School.
London is one of the world’s great centers for classical and popular culture. It has enjoyed a reputation for superb theater since the time of Shakespeare in the 16th century. The variety ranges from the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Centre and the Royal National Theatre at the South Bank Centre, to the West End’s commercial theaters. Major musicals, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, dominate the West End scene. Classic and contemporary works are also presented in places such as the Drury Lane Theatre.
The lavish Royal Opera House is the home of the Royal Opera Company and the Royal Ballet, while the English National Opera performs operas in English at the London Coliseum, and the Spitalfields Market Opera brings chamber opera to this East End area. Regular seasons of classical and modern dance are performed by the Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, the Rambert Dance Company, and several others. The sheer number of symphony orchestras is impressive and includes the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as smaller ensembles such as the English Chamber Orchestra and the Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields. Some of the most well-known concert halls in the world provide venues for the cornucopia of performances in London. These halls include the large Royal Festival Hall in the South Bank Centre, the Barbican Concert Hall, the splendid iron-and-glass-domed Royal Albert Hall, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and Wigmore Hall, known for its excellent acoustics. Free lunchtime concerts are given in a number of historic churches, such as Saint Martin-in-the-Fields and Saint Mary-le-Bow.
The popular music scene in London is dynamic and in a constant state of flux. Major performances take place in some of the larger concert halls, others in megavenues, such as Earl’s Court and Wembley Arena, when major bands come to London on world tours. Examples of the diverse offerings in the 1990s include jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, indie rock (music produced on independent labels) at the Amersham Arms, world music at the Africa Centre, and dozens of dance clubs. Black musicians are a significant force in British popular music. Not only are black bands an important part of the London dance scene, but black musicians promote reggae music and British versions of American soul music. There are also radio stations devoted to music by black artists.
|C||Museums and Galleries|
London itself is a living museum, with more than 2000 years of history and culture. But it also boasts one of the greatest concentrations of significant museums (more than 100) of any city in the world. The jewel in this cultural crown is the British Museum, with 4 km (2.5 mi) of galleries and more than 4 million exhibits. Its collections range from Egyptian and classical antiquities to exhibits on Roman and Anglo-Saxon Britain, China, Japan, India, and Mesopotamia. The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington displays an important and varied collection of applied arts. Decorative arts on display range from tapestries, furniture, and sculptures to paintings, clothing, and metalwork. Across the street are the Natural History Museum with its dinosaurs, and the Science Museum, which includes a renowned section on the history of medicine. The Museum of London, next to the City’s Barbican Centre, effectively introduces visitors to London’s history by walking them through successive eras chronologically.
London is a major repository of the greatest Western art and a creative center for contemporary artists. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square contains Britain’s premier art collection, with holdings from every major European art school. Next door is the National Portrait Gallery, with thousands of striking portraits of Britons, both the well known and the unfamiliar. The Tate Gallery contains the principal collection of British art and modern international art. The smaller Courtauld Institute Galleries specialize in works by impressionists and postimpressionists. Commercial galleries exhibit the best of what is currently being produced in London and internationally, such as the Saatchi Collection in Saint John’s Wood, a growing contemporary collection established in a former warehouse; and Flowers East in the East End, which features artwork by young British artists.
Other specialty museums are the National Army Museum; the Theatre Museum, which traces the history of the performing arts; and the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI), focused on the history of film and with a vast array of motion pictures and moviemaking equipment. Some excellent smaller museums are Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, based on this eccentric and talented architect’s own home and drawings, and the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, which specializes in dolls and toys.
Annual cultural events demonstrate a broad range of interests among Londoners. The best known of the classical music festivals is the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts (“the Proms”). Held in the Royal Albert Hall from July to September, they have been a London tradition for more than a hundred years. A wide selection of classical works is offered, at relatively low prices, ending with the celebrated “Last Night at the Proms,” when concertgoers can indulge their nostalgia for the former British Empire by belting out “Rule Britannia,” “Land of Hope and Glory,” or “Jerusalem.” Other annual events are the six-week Dance Umbrella, featuring new works by young artists and choreographers; the London Film Festival, held at cinemas throughout the city every November, which features the best new films from around the world; and the Soho Jazz Festival every fall.
One of London’s most popular public events is the Notting Hill Carnival, held each year during the August Bank Holiday (last weekend in August). This Caribbean street festival originated out of dance parties organized in the 1950s by Trinidadians. The festival features dozens of bands playing soca, soul, and reggae music and Caribbean food sold on the streets. Costume parades are the main attraction. More than a million revelers take part in the festival, making this one of the largest street festivals in the world.
While London is intensively built up, it has a plentiful supply of green space set aside for parks, playgrounds, and sports fields. The largest open space in central London is Hyde Park and its western extension, Kensington Gardens. At the northeast corner of Hyde Park is Marble Arch, which originally stood in front of Buckingham Palace. Separating Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens is the Serpentine, a lake created for boating and swimming. Directly to the east, two other Royal Parks, Green Park and Saint James’s Park, provide a continuous stretch of greenbelt ending at the heart of Westminster. Other major parks include Battersea Park, with many activities for children; Hampstead Heath, with its expanse of grassland and woodland; and Regent’s Park, where the London Zoo is located.
Sports are big business in London. Football, the sport known as soccer in the United States, draws huge crowds for matches between two north London rivals, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. The Football Association Cup Final is held annually at Wembley Stadium, which is scheduled to be replaced with a new 90,000-seat facility by 2004. World-class tennis takes place on the grass courts at Wimbledon each summer, and Lord’s, the home of English cricket, hosts the international Test matches between England and its former colonies.
London is at the heart of Britain’s economy. More than one-third of Britain’s population and economic activity is concentrated in southeastern England, in and around London. The annual size of London’s economy, estimated in 1997 to be about $122 billion, is comparable to the economies of industrialized nations. More than a hundred of the world’s major companies have their headquarters in London.
What Londoners do for a living has changed considerably since the city was a commercial and industrial center in the 19th century. Manufacturing has steadily declined and today accounts for only 10 percent of total employment. The printing and publishing industry is now a leading employer. Also important are electrical and electronic engineering; food, drink, and tobacco; and chemicals and synthetic fibers.
Far more important is the services sector, which employs 85 percent of London’s workforce. This is led by financial and business services concentrated in the City and, to a lesser extent, in the rejuvenated Docklands business district. London is a major global financial center, rivaled only by Tokyo and New York. It leads other cities in the number of international banks, the amount of foreign lending, the activity of the foreign exchange market, and the size of its international insurance business. Many banks are clustered around the Bank of England, insurance companies around Lloyd’s of London, and stockbrokers around the London Stock Exchange.
British companies traditionally focused their services on only one of these activities. However, with the deregulation of the London Stock Exchange in 1986, known as the Big Bang, many large integrated merchant banking and securities companies arrived from abroad to offer a variety of financial services. In response, London merchant banks, such as Warburg’s, joined with stockbrokers and foreign banks in new “financial supermarkets” that are able to provide a range of services to customers under one roof.
Tourism is another important part of the services sector. London attracts more than 24 million visitors annually, more than half of them from outside the country. Serving tourists is thought to employ at least 300,000 Londoners.
London is the hub of the national transport system of arterial roads, motorways, railway lines, and air connections. Port facilities left the traditional Docklands area starting in the late 1960s for newer accommodations that spread out along the Thames all the way to the river’s estuary on the North Sea, in what is known as the East Thames Corridor. The new Port of London, the largest port in Britain, has 84 independently operated wharves and terminals that handle more than 50 million tons of imports and exports annually. Four airports serve the city: Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest international airports, to the west; Gatwick to the south; Stansted to the northeast; and City Airport, to the east, for business travelers to continental Europe. London’s internal transportation system is one of the most extensive in the world. According to London Transport, the public body that operates the transit system, in 1995 and 1996 almost a million people traveled into central London each weekday morning, 83 percent of them by public transport. Of these commuters by public transport, 40 percent traveled by British Rail, the rest on London Transport’s network of buses and underground trains.
London is identified with the center of British government as represented by the concentration of power in Westminster. Ironically, London itself has had a rather uneasy relationship with the central government since William the Conqueror guaranteed the City a degree of autonomy by not making the citizens change the way they ran the City when he took power; he did not want to upset his position by going against the citizens of the strongest city in England.
Efforts to deal with the problems of a greatly expanded community in the 19th century began with the creation of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855, which provided the different neighborhoods with common services such as sewerage, fire services, parks, and slum clearance. The next stage was the establishment of the London County Council (LCC) in 1889 (whose jurisdiction did not include the City). The LCC eventually expanded to include public ownership of such services as gas, water, electricity, and transport. The LCC was replaced in 1965 by the Greater London Council (GLC) when the present system of 32 borough councils plus the City of London was set up. In this two-tiered system, local boroughs set property tax rates and were responsible for housing, local planning, local parks, and other local issues. The top tier, the GLC, handled overall planning, traffic control, roads, sewage, garbage disposal, and protected heritage sites.
Tension between the national government and London’s government increased dramatically after Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979. She often clashed with the GLC, which was dominated by the Labour Party. Led by Ken Livingstone (nicknamed “Red Ken” by London newspapers), the GLC spent money on the arts, on improvement projects in ethnic neighborhoods, and on subsidized fares for public transport. Livingstone was one of the loudest critics of Thatcher’s economic policies. Thatcher retaliated against what she perceived as the GLC’s wasteful spending by abolishing it in 1986, leaving each of the 33 separate units to operate by themselves. Any larger-scale coordination of the Greater London area was in the hands of the central government itself.
Since the defeat of the Conservatives in 1997, the new Labour government headed by Tony Blair has moved to restore London’s municipal autonomy. In a referendum in May 1998 Londoners overwhelmingly favored the government’s proposals for a Greater London Authority, with a mayor elected to a four-year term and a 25-member elected assembly, to run the city. In May 2000, Ken Livingstone, the former head of the Greater London Council, was elected mayor of London in a landslide.
Like everything else about London, its current problems are also immense. The most obvious is the growing social polarization of the rich and the poor. The unemployment rate in London in 1996 was 10%, compared to the national unemployment average of about 7% for the United Kingdom. Much of this unemployment is a result of the decline in manufacturing jobs and manual and unskilled labor work, as substantial employment growth takes place in sectors such as advertising, marketing, and computing, which require technical and professional skills.
Recent government policies have accentuated the situation. As in other Western nations, cutting taxes has enriched a growing middle class and led to a consumer boom. But lower taxes have also meant less government spending on health, welfare, and public housing, which has weakened Britain’s welfare state. The spending cuts in the social welfare areas have accentuated class differences, and the disparity is evident when contrasting expensive new developments like the Docklands with the decaying public housing complexes that have not been maintained to the proper standards. It remains to be seen whether national and metropolitan policies will attempt to bridge the growing gap between those who do and don’t benefit from the new prosperity.
Another issue is London’s decaying physical infrastructure. London has an aging and crumbling housing stock, more than a third of which were built before 1919, and some 232,000 dwellings do not meet government standards for human habitation. London has one of the most comprehensive bus and underground systems in the world, moving some 6.2 million passengers daily, but parts of the system are old and poorly maintained, leading more people to use cars. Since London was primarily built before the automobile age, its streets cannot handle the increased traffic. According to the Times of London, the average speed of traffic in the morning rush hour has dropped from 23 km/h (14 mph) in the mid-1970s to 18 km/h (11 mph) in the mid-1990s. Solutions include a massive reinvestment in public transport, and changing many streets from one-way to two-way traffic, rather than building freeways to handle the increased automobile traffic.
|A||Roman and Saxon London|
London was founded as a communications center by the Romans shortly after they invaded Britain in AD 43. Known as Londinium, the town was located at the northern end of the bridge the Romans had built across the Thames, on a route to their provincial capital at Colchester in eastern England. Londinium’s rectangular plan was typical of Roman colonial towns, with two main streets intersecting at the large basilica, or public building, about where the Bank of England stands today. Other elements of the urban fabric were a forum, a temple complex, a governor’s palace, a wharf along the river for landing, a large fort (portions of which can still be seen at the Barbican Centre), and a great wall, built about ad 200, which roughly enclosed the area that later became the City.
The Romans withdrew from London and Britain in the early 5th century, and little is known about the city until the Saxons, under Alfred the Great, regained the city from Danish invaders in the 9th century. At the end of the Saxon period, which lasted until the 11th century, London’s population is estimated to have been between 10,000 and 12,000, about a third of what it had been under the Romans. London’s commercial role depended on its strategic location between the wool-growing areas of England, which were located north of London and in East Anglia, and the manufacturing towns of the Netherlands. The foundations for some of London’s most enduring features were laid during the Saxon years. One such feature, London’s various and unique neighborhoods, resulted from the Saxons modifying the Romans’ orderly street pattern into an informal settlement made up of scattered villages. And the twin poles of the future London, with the monarchy and government in the west (Westminster) and business in the east (the City), hail back to the last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor. He moved his palace two miles west of the walled city to be near the church he was building, Westminster Abbey.
The Norman conquest in 1066 set the stage for mixing French into London’s Saxon character. William the Conqueror, who had himself crowned William I of England, built a great tower “against the fickleness of the vast and fierce population.” The original portion, the 27-m (90-ft) stone White Tower, was whitewashed to intensify its dramatic appearance. It was both a royal residence and a jail for political prisoners. The tower’s Romanesque style, with its rounded arches, still conveys a sense of solidity and strength. William also guaranteed the city would retain the rights and privileges it had under the Saxons, such as its local court system run by elders.
During this period, London emerged as the English capital and as an active commercial city on the fringe of the northern European trading system. The commercial City, where most people lived and worked, filled in the walled area of the old Roman site. The monarchy and court resided at Westminster, connected to the City by the Strand, which later developed into a major street. In 1300 London’s total population was probably about 35,000, less than half that of Paris, the largest city in Europe. In the 1340s about a third of London’s residents fell victim to the Black Death (bubonic plague), but the population recovered to about 40,000 by 1500.
London’s place in the international wool trade led many foreign traders to take up residence in the City: Danes, Germans, Flemings, and especially northern Italians, who established themselves as bankers. Local trade was concentrated in two large markets, Cheapside (cheap was the Saxon word for “market”), a general produce market, and Eastcheap, a market for fish and meat. Side streets specialized in products still remembered by names such as Milk Street, Bread Street, Poultry Lane, and Ironmonger’s Lane. The main fish market was at Billingsgate quay on the river.
During this period, artisans started organizing into guilds, which not only set standards for their particular craft but helped and protected their artisans. Along with the merchants, the guilds effectively governed the City and regulated its trade. The first mention of a mayor dates back to 1189. A Common Council, a group of citizens that met regularly with the city elders on common affairs, dates from the 14th century. The seat of civic government for the City was, and still is, the Guildhall, whose current building dates to the 15th century.
The bustling commercial city was also an actively religious community. At Westminster, the original Romanesque Westminster Abbey was replaced in stages in the 13th century by the present magnificent French Gothic structure (see Gothic Art and Architecture). In the City, the Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral was greatly enlarged during the 13th century, with a spire rising to more than 140 m (450 ft). There were small parish churches on almost every street. Dozens of monasteries, set in large grounds, dominated many parts of the city. Convents and hospitals of various orders were located in the suburbs.
The medieval labyrinth of London was characterized by narrow, congested streets lined with tiny shops and houses built of wood and plaster, with second stories jutting out beyond the ground floor. This tendency to cluster into crowded spaces even applied to London Bridge, which was considerably more than just a river crossing. A new stone bridge was begun in 1176 to replace the old wooden bridge that had been repaired and rebuilt multiple times over the preceding 1000 years. The new bridge was crowded with houses and shops and even a chapel.
|C||Tudor and Stuart London|
Between 1485 and 1600 London’s population grew to 200,000, then by the end of the 17th century shot up to 575,000, surpassing Paris as the largest city in Europe. During this period, the city was the center of a tremendous expansion in trade, colonization, and finance. This immense growth was exemplified by the establishment of the Royal Exchange in the 1560s by financier Sir Thomas Gresham; the founding of the English East India Company in 1600; the organizing of joint stock companies by London investors to colonize Ireland and Virginia early in the 17th century (see Ulster Plantation); and the founding of the Bank of England by City merchants in 1694. London was also the center of the English cultural Renaissance, particularly in literature, with major figures such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare.
The urban fabric of London was transformed in this period, partly due to Henry VIII dissolving the Catholic monasteries in the 1530s as part of the English Reformation. Aristocrats acquired these former church properties from the king and opened them to development, which led to building inside and outside the City walls on a large scale. An example was the development of Covent Garden as a residential square by the earl of Bedford, whose family had obtain this valuable property once associated with Westminster Abbey. One of London’s first squares, Covent Garden was designed by architect Inigo Jones in the early 1630s. As the king’s surveyor general, Jones brought classical architectural style to London with such buildings as the Banqueting Hall in 1619 and the Queen’s Chapel in 1623. Classical architecture, modeled after ancient Greek and Roman architecture, is known for its use of columns, arches, and vaults.
London survived the disruption of the English Revolution during the 1640s and 1650s, and like much of southeastern England, supported the Parliamentary cause against the king. More devastating to London was the Great Plague of 1665, which killed as many as 100,000 Londoners, and the Great Fire of London that followed in the next year. In three terrifying days in September 1666, 80 percent of the City burned to the ground, including Saint Paul’s Cathedral, 87 churches, and 13,200 houses.
Rebuilding London after the fire took place quickly using the tangle of preexisting property lines and streets, in spite of hopes for a more formal plan by architect Christopher Wren. New building regulations dictated the use of brick rather than wood as a way to prevent future calamities. Wren’s designs for the new Saint Paul’s, with its great dome and baroque towers, made it a key symbol of the modernized city. He also designed about 50 parish churches, such as Saint Bride’s off Fleet Street.
London grew quickly during the Georgian age, between 1714 and the 1830s. By 1801 the population of the city and its outlying areas had passed the 1 million mark, and by 1837 was close to 2 million. London was the hub of an immense empire (in spite of losing its American colonies in the American Revolution), its wealth coming from trade with the East and West Indies. Trade and shipping were facilitated by the building of giant new docks early in the 19th century, such as the West India Dock and the London Dock in the East End, to replace the old, crowded port located between London Bridge and the Tower. Culturally, it was the age of Dr. Samuel Johnson, London’s most literary and crusty defender: “You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Georgian London, however, was becoming two cities, based on wealth and residence. The West End emerged as the residential and shopping center of the wealthy. Aristocrats who owned large rural estates developed them into London suburbs, using the residential square as the focal point of formally planned districts, unlike anything in older parts of London, where development was more unsystematic. Grosvenor, Bedford, Belgrave, and Russell squares were all built during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Thousands of terraces (row houses) were built in the uniform Georgian style, many with extravagant interiors by fashionable architects such as Robert Adam and John Nash. Nash also designed palatial terraces, including Cumberland Terrace at Regent’s Park in the 1820s. The Greek Revival style of classicism, with its straight lines and columns, dominated the design of a number of public buildings built in the early 19th century, such as the British Museum, University College, and the National Gallery. Nash’s major public planning ventures included Regent Street in 1812, designed as a grand processional leading to the north, and Trafalgar Square in the 1830s, in honor of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
The other Georgian London was the East End, with its dockyards, and the islands of poverty scattered through the rest of the city. Child mortality, disease, and crime were prevalent in these areas. The desperate situation was worsened by high consumption of gin. Social violence, crime, and major demonstrations were common, especially during the early reign of George III. Notable during this period were the riots led by John Wilkes in the late 1760s, in which he called for freedom of the press and political reforms, and the Gordon Riots of 1780, headed by Protestant leader Lord George Gordon against pro-Catholic legislation. An official police force (the world’s first) was authorized by Parliament and organized by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, replacing the policing done by parish constables and private watchmen.
|E||Victorian and Edwardian London|
The phenomenal population growth between 1837 and 1914 made London the world’s largest city. Between 1851 and 1901, London’s population went from 2.5 million to 6.5 million. London was Britain’s economic powerhouse and the center of a burgeoning empire. Suburban expansion of an unprecedented scale swallowed up former countryside and villages in all directions. Residential housing in the City declined as it became a commercial and financial enclave.
The railroads were key engines of change in the city. Among the earliest was the London and Birmingham, which connected the manufacturing center to London’s northern suburbs at Euston Station by the late 1830s. Eventually the inner city was ringed by lavish railway stations, such as Saint Pancras, a sort of medieval fairy-tale castle built in the 1860s. The underground railway began in the 1860s and, with electrification in the 1890s, was able to use deep tunnels to bring passengers to the heart of the city. The old London Bridge was replaced by a modern version in the 1830s, and the Tower Bridge, a marvel of modern engineering, opened in 1894, to become London’s most recognizable landmark. The large glass-and-iron Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, symbolized London’s place as the capital of the industrial age. The most spectacular public building of the age was the New Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1835 and completed in 1860, which ushered in the new Gothic Revival style of the Victorian era, with its use of ornate decoration, spires, and towers.
London’s reputation for progress was matched by its image as a city of degradation and poverty. The railways slashed their way through slum districts, displacing thousands. The slums of the East End and Soho received particular attention from observers and writers. Some of the novels of Charles Dickens portrayed the human misery in graphic terms, as did Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor, based on research carried out in the 1840s and 1850s. Charles Booth’s massive 17-volume Life and Labour of the People of London, published between 1891 and 1903, helped pressure the new London County Council to take action by providing public housing and by taking over public ownership of gas, water, electricity, and transport. Efforts to solve London’s problems by building new “garden cities,” such as Letchworth in the early 1900s, were popular with reformers but did little to alleviate the situation in the metropolis as a whole. Garden cities were planned communities in gardenlike settings and included industry as well as homes so that residents would not have to commute to London on a daily basis.
London was still the largest city in the world at the beginning of the century, but was surpassed by New York by 1920. London continued to grow, however, between the world wars, and peaked at more than 8 million people in 1951. During the interwar years there was an increased expansion to the suburbs, made possible by the extension of the underground and the automobile. The London County Council built council housing in both the inner city and in the suburbs, which relieved the housing shortage, and developers emphasized semidetached suburban homes. (A semidetached house is one that shares a common wall with another residence.)
German bombings during World War II, especially the Blitz between September 1940 and May 1941, devastated vast areas of London, particularly in the City and the East End. As many as 30,000 Londoners died, and another 50,000 were injured. More than 130,000 houses were destroyed. After the war, contractors tore down older buildings and put up acres of concrete-and-glass towers in places like the Barbican and around Saint Paul’s. The concrete, bunkerlike South Bank Centre was an attempt to rejuvenate the desolate area south of the river with a new cultural complex. London also experienced an influx of immigrants from the West Indies during the 1950s, and racial and class tensions flared in the late 1950s in the Notting Hill area, where many immigrants from the Caribbean had settled.
In the “swinging sixties” London had a brief fling as a center of youth culture, pop music, fashion, and film. But industry left the city, and the population declined to 7.3 million in 1971. A massive initiative took place in the 1980s to redevelop the East End’s abandoned Dockland area into a business center. This resulted in the construction of the 250-m (800-ft), stainless steel Canary Wharf Tower, the tallest building in the United Kingdom, and the Docklands Light Railway to transport people to the new Docklands. This development has only been partially successful and remains relatively isolated from other parts of London.
Socially, racial unrest occurred in the 1980s in Brixton, an area noted for its high crime, as tensions flared between white police and black residents. Central London was the site of a massive riot in 1990 after the Conservative government replaced the property tax with a community charge tax. Londoners were irate because the new tax, soon dubbed a poll tax, set a fixed amount to be paid per person rather than taxing people according to their income level. Londoners have also had to endure periodic bomb attacks by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Although London has suffered some growing pains through its history, there are reasons to be optimistic about its future. Its population is increasing again. Major buildings, such as the British Museum and the Royal Opera House, are being extensively renovated. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has been reconstructed in Southwark, near its original location, complete with thatched roof and natural lighting, in an effort to regenerate the spirit of the city’s most creative, dramatic era. And a new general spirit of enthusiasm suggests that London will continue to be one of the world’s great cities.