Anglo-Saxon & Viking
By the 11th century London was by far the largest city in the country that in the 13th century had a population of around 80,000 people in two settlements: the exclusive and aristocratic royal precinct at the West End, dominated by the iconic Westminster Abbey (rebuilt by Henry III, beginning in 1245) and the eastern merchant City of London dominated by Guild Hall.
By the 12th century the strict hierarchy was beginning to dissolve. Rural life was becoming more peaceful, spreading out from the castles or the more recently built manor houses. Intra-dynastic territorial wars followed ending in 1216 with the death of King John marking a transition from the Angevin period (Anjou) to a Plantagenet dynasty. By this time the Church had become an independent organization answering to Catholic Rome which had inspired several Crusades against Muslim assertion in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Towns, especially along the eastern and southern coast were engaging in both local and continental trade.
In the 7th century Saxon raiders occupied the city, establishing wooden buildings in today’s Covent garden, the population rising to about 7000 to become a major Anglo-Saxon settlement, Lundenwic (London port) although Winchester had now become the capital of Saxon England. In 851 CE a Viking raiding party of 350 ships arrived to take over the city but this was met by Alfred the Great’s army in 886, Alfred re-building London in the late 9th century so that by the 9th century, a population of about 10,000 people lived in the city once again. Londinium became known as Lundenburh (London fort) or simply Lunden, and Lundenwic became ealdwic or aldwich. (‘old’ derived from ‘ald’ the OE ‘eald’ and German cognate ‘alt’). In 1014 Saxon King Ethelred evicted the Vikings until the arrival of Norman King William who secured the country with a system of castles and a dynasty of Norman nobles that lasted for over 100 years. The most famous of these castles was the Tower and Hampton Court, taking 20 years to build beside the Thames from stone carried across the English Channel from France. The name Aldewich (old port) was first recorded in 1211. By 1250 the population of London was 80,000, its place as capital now regained from Winchester.
Tudor & Stuart
The positivism that had developed up to 1250 was curtailed by the arrival of the Black Death in 1348 and the Little Ice Age, during a time of internal popular revolt and constant warfare between countries (The Hundred Years War) and the splitting of the Catholic Church into western and eastern chapters- known as the western schism.
In 1348 the Great Plague, Yersinia pestis, struck as in 18 months half the population died. Those that survived entered a new period of growth and prosperity.
The two settlements were divided by a river known as the Fleet which was filled in Tudor times the two combined settlement divided by Fleet Street as a major artery of communication between the two. In the 1530s about 60% of the property in London was owned by the Catholic Church and much of this property passed to Henry VIII in a land grab that including the 650 acre Hyde Park. Henry confiscated Whitehall and Wolsey’s Palace for himself, passing on other properties to his nobles.
Declining numbers of monasteries in the early 16th century showed increasing ornamentation and it was classical themes that took precedence in the new Renaissance mansions of the wealthy.
In 1650 the population had reached about 350,000 but in September 1666 a massive fire destroyed over 80% of Old London in 5 days leaving about 100,000 homeless. With the destruction of St Paul’s cathedral Charles II sought a plan of renovation. Though Christopher Wren had mad a proposal, and though rejected, his plan for a new domed St Pauls was eventually accepted and completed in 35 years.
Over the years while the affluent in the western end of the city developed a fashionable shopping district the poor in the east turned into a ghetto.
By Victorian times the city, especially the Thames embankment, displayed the factories and warehouses that were part of the Industrial Revolution’s trade as, in 1836 Railway Bridge was erected and the first line constructed between Euston and Birmingham as 19 private railway companies competed for the development of new lines, the magnificent Paddington station designed by Brunel as the first of Britain.s London commuters arrived in the city.
In 1850 the population was 3 million as conditions became increasingly polluted. Citizens obtained their water from well and sewage was dumped in cesspools and the Thames which was full of all kinds of effluvia. Eventually, prompted by outbreaks of cholera, the government commissioned Joseph Bazalgette to construct 1300 miles of sewers to take London’s sewage east, by gravity, towards the mouth of the Thames where it could be washed out to sea. Vast pipes were installed along the Victoria, Albert and Chelsea embankments and around 1884 new bridges were built and the old ones rejuvenated in a vast Victorian engineering scheme that improved conditions for London citizens, much of the work still in place and functioning today.
By the mid-20th century London was a world centre with a population that had grown from 1 million in 1801 to 3 million in 1860 following the benefits of railways, roads and sanitation. One difficulty was that the provinvial rails terminated at the city’s periphery, a situation that was corrected by the introduction of the first underground rail in 1863, a Metropolitan line running from Faringdon to Paddingtion using cut-and-cover (trains in drains) technique and gas-lit carriages. The first truly bored underground was the Northern Line and by 1890 there were 5 major underground lines relieving the above-ground congestion.
By the 1880s growth had also produced slums with about half (2 million) the population living in poverty and squalor of the kind described in Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870) novels, and made famous by the 11 Whitechapel Jack-the-Ripper murders of 1888. Victorian-era engineering and ingenuity turned all this around such that by the time of Victoria’s funeral in 1901 Britain controlled 25% of the world’s population and land mass. The Edwardian era that followed from, 1901 to 1914, brought improved and brightened science and architecture to London along with motorized buses, the telephone, a now fully-integrated underground system and suffragettes.
Word War I (called ‘the war to end all wars’) was a total war of 4.25 years that transformed London which, as a manufacturing and trade centre, was a primary target for bombing, at first by zeppelins and airships, then by aeroplanes in 1917. At the end of the war the populationof 7 million was once again reduced to poverty, the soldiers from the from bringing back Spanish Flu that, world-wide, would kill 50 million people – about three times the deaths resulting from the war itself. Rebuildin of London began again in earnest, the population doubling in the next 20 years and moving outwards to vast surburban housing estates or ‘metro-land’. In 1939 the population was 8.6 million covering an area 34 miles wide as a halt to sprawl attempted with a Green Belt.
World War II produced widespread devastation across the city resulting from 57 consecutive nights of bombing that included 10s of thousands of incendiary bombs – all meticulously recorded in the London Metropolitan Archives. It took 20 years to recover as, in 1948, the first immigrants arrived to help rebuild the city which received a major set-back with the introduction of container-ships in the 1960s – too large to pass up the Thames as, from 1967 to 1981 the docklands became derelict. In 1979 it was decided to convert the old imperial trading hub – relic of the time when ‘Britain ruled the waves’ – the Isle of Dogs – into a modern global financial centre as Canary Wharf linked to 26 miles of ‘Crossrail’.