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Brief History of London, England from the Roman Empire to World War II


A condensed version of the history of London, the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. This post on London’s history and historical timeline dates from the early days during the Roman Empire’s rule through to the end of World War II.

London’s history goes back to the days of the Roman Empire when in 43 CE the Romans invaded the United Kingdom and swiftly built the origins of the city – then called ‘Londinium.’ It wasn’t long until the Romans had opposition, as in 60 CE, Boudica (Boadicea) of the British/Celtic Iceni tribe fought against the Romans and won, burning the city to ashes.

Alas, the Romans eventually gained control once more and rebuilt London from the ground up. Learning from previous mistakes, they then built a wall around the city to act as protection; the wall still exists, surrounding an area which is now known as the ‘Square Mile.’

The Roman Empire ceased during the 5th century and little is known about London from the end of this period until the 7th century when St Paul’s cathedral was built putting London back on the map. Again, little is known about London until the 9th and 10th centuries when the Vikings invaded and proceeded to attack the city.

London was again invaded by the Normans and William the Conqueror in the medieval times. Whilst taking control of London, William built the Tower of London to act as his stronghold. The Tower of London has a rich history including holding royals prison and being used as a castle. (It is still a prominent part of London today, and is known for being home to ravens and beefeaters alike; it is open to visitors year round and is one of the top places to visit in the UK’s capital city.)

London aerial view sunrise
Taken by L. Micheli via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].
When the time came for the Tudors to take the throne, London was a centre of trade and government, and the population had boomed to around 200,000 people in the early 1600’s. It was during this period that Shakespeare’s theatre ‘The Globe’ was built, where his plays would be performed. Although the original theatre was burnt down, a replica Globe theatre was rebuilt in 1990 where there are still regular showings of Shakespeare plays.

It was in 1605 that Guy Fawkes’s infamous gunpowder plot was foiled; he failed to blow up the houses of parliament, and this is still commemorated with bonfires and fireworks every November the fifth. Not long after and the Black Plague hit London in 1665; thousands of people caught the bubonic plague, and if you caught it, chances were that you didn’t survive! London’s luck didn’t get any better when, in 1666, the Great Fire of London raged through the city. Originating in Pudding lane, the fire ended up in burning down 80% of the city to the ground. Remarkably there were very few deaths considering the scale of the damage.

By the reign of Queen Victoria in the 1800’s, the British Empire was at its peak and London was its beating heart. Trading was at an all time high and much of London’s famous architecture was designed and created during this period of the city’s history. It is during the Victorian Era that many consider London to have been at its prime.

This stability and fortune continued into the twentieth century, only for the Second world war to make its mark on the city. The Blitz, a series of bomb attacks by the Germans, caused severe damage to the city’s infrastructure, and whilst the bombs were dropping overhead, many civilians would hide in the underground train stations. It is still possible to see which parts of London were hit the worst by the tell-tale modern buildings snuggled amongst older architecture.

Bethan Newman is an English girl trundling through life and jaunting to places the world over.

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