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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the capital of England and the United Kingdom. For other ).


Wide river flanked by tall buildings on either side. There are a number of small boats and one large battleship in the centre of the river. The rooftop dome of St Paul's Cathedral is visible in the skyline to the right
The name London may derive from the River Thames

The etymology of London is uncertain.[24] It is an ancient name and can be found in sources from the 2nd century. It is recorded c. 121 as Londinium, which points to Romano-British origin.[24] The earliest attempted explanation, now disregarded, is attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth in Historia Regum Britanniae.[24] The name is described as originating from King Lud, who had allegedly taken over the city and named it Kaerlud.[25]

From 1899 it was commonly accepted that the name was of Celtic origin and meant place belonging to a man called *Londinos; this explanation has since been rejected.[24] Richard Coates put forward an explanation in 1998 that it is derived from the pre-Celtic Old European *(p)lowonida, meaning 'river too wide to ford', and suggested that this was a name given to the part of the River Thames which flows through London; from this, the settlement gained the Celtic form of its name, *Lowonidonjon.[26] Until 1889 the name officially only applied to the City of London, however since then it has also referred to the County of London and now Greater London.[7]

Prehistory and antiquity

By 1300 the City is still confined within the walls

Although there is evidence of scattered Brythonic settlements in the area, the first major settlement was founded by the Romans in 43 AD.[27] This lasted for just seventeen years and around 61, the Iceni tribe led by Queen Boudica stormed it, burning it to the ground.[28] The next, heavily planned incarnation of the city prospered and superseded Colchester as the capital of the Roman province of Britannia in 100. At its height during the 2nd century, Roman London had a population of around 60,000. By the seventh century, the Anglo-Saxons had created a new settlement called Lundenwic approximately 1,000 yards (910 m) upstream from the old Roman city, around what is now Covent Garden.[29]

It is likely that there was a harbour at the mouth of the River Fleet for fishing and trading, and this trading grew until the city was overcome by the Vikings and forced to relocate the east, back to the location of the Roman Londinium, in order to use its walls for protection.[30] Viking attacks continued to increase, until 886 when Alfred the Great recaptured London and made peace with the Danish leader, Guthrum.[31] The original Saxon city of Lundenwic became Ealdwic ("old city"), a name surviving to the present day as Aldwych, which is in the modern City of Westminster.

Middle Ages

Westminster Abbey is one of London's oldest and most important buildings as seen in this painting (Canaletto, 1749 A.D.) and a World Heritage Site

Canute took control of the English throne in 1016, controlling the city and country until 1035, when his death resulted in a reversion to Saxon control under his pious stepson Edward the Confessor, who re-founded Westminster Abbey and the adjacent Palace of Westminster.[32] By this time, London had become the largest and most prosperous city in England, although the official seat of government was still at Winchester. Following a victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror, the then Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England in the newly finished Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.[33] William granted the citizens of London special privileges, while building what is now known as the Tower of London, in the south-east corner of the city, to keep them under control.[34]

In 1097, William II began the building of Westminster Hall, close by the abbey of the same name. The hall became the basis of a new Palace of Westminster, the prime royal residence throughout the Middle Ages.[35][36] Westminster became the seat of the royal court and government, while its distinct neighbour, the City of London, was a centre of trade and commerce and flourished under its own unique administration, the Corporation of London. In 1100 its population was around 18,000; by 1300 it had grown to nearly 100,000.[37]

There was an increasing population of Jews,[38] until the edict of King Edward I in 1290, expelled them from England.[38] Disaster struck during the Black Death in the mid-14th century, when London lost nearly a third of its population.[39] Apart from the invasion during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381,[40] London remained relatively untouched by the various civil wars during the Middle Ages.[41]

Early modern

The Great Fire of London destroyed many parts of the city in 1666

During the Tudor period the Reformation produced a gradual shift to Protestantism, with much of London passing from church to private ownership.[42] Mercantilism grew and monopoly trading companies such as the British East India Company were established, with trade expanding to the New World. London became the principal North Sea port, with migrants arriving from England and abroad. The population rose from an estimated 50,000 in 1530 to about 225,000 in 1605.[42]

In the 16th century William Shakespeare and his contemporaries lived in London at a time of hostility to the development of the theatre. By the end of the Tudor period in 1603, London was still very compact. There was an assassination attempt on James I in Westminster, through the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November 1605.[43] London was plagued by disease in the early 17th century,[44] culminating in the Great Plague of 1665–1666, which killed up to 100,000 people or a fifth of the population.[45][46]

The Great Fire of London broke out in City and quickly swept through the wooden buildings.[46] Rebuilding took over ten years and was supervised by Robert Hooke[47][48][49] as Surveyor of London.[50] In 1708 Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral was completed. During the Georgian era new districts such as Mayfair were formed in the west; and new bridges over the Thames encouraged the development in South London. In the east, the Port of London expanded downstream.

In 1762 George III acquired Buckingham House and it was enlarged over the next 75 years. During the 18th century, London was dogged by crime and the Bow Street Runners were established in 1750 as a professional police force.[51] In total, more than 200 offenses were punishable by death,[52] and women and children were hanged for petty theft.[53] Over 74% of children born in London died before they were five.[54] The coffee house became a popular place to debate ideas, with growing literacy and the development of the printing press making news widely available; and Fleet Street became the centre of the British press.

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.

Samuel Johnson[55]

Late modern and contemporary

A London street hit during the Blitz of World War II

London was the world's largest city from about 1831 to 1925.[56] London's overcrowded conditions lead to cholera epidemics,[57] claiming 14,000 lives in 1848, and 6,000 in 1866.[58] Rising traffic congestion led to the creation of the world's first local urban rail network. The Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw infrastructure expansion. It was replaced in 1889 by the London County Council, London's first elected city-wide administration. The Blitz and other bombing by the German Luftwaffe during World War II killed over 30,000 Londoners and destroyed large tracts of housing and other buildings across London. Immediately after the war, the 1948 Summer Olympics were held at the original Wembley Stadium, at a time when the city had barely recovered from the war.

In 1951 the Festival of Britain was held on the South Bank. The Great Smog of 1952 led to the Clean Air Act 1956, which ended the "pea-souper" fogs for which London had been notorious. From the 1950s onwards, London became home to a large number of immigrants, largely from Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, making London one of the most diverse cities in Europe.

Starting in the mid-1960s, London became a centre for the worldwide youth culture, exemplified by the Swinging London subculture associated with Carnaby Street. The role of trendsetter was revived during the Punk era. In 1965 London's political boundaries were expanded to take into account the growth of the urban area and a new Greater London Council was created. During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, London was subjected to terrorist attacks by the Provisional IRA. Racial inequality was highlighted by the 1981 Brixton riot. Greater London's population declined steadily in the decades after World War II, from an estimated peak of 8.6 million in 1939 to around 6.8 million in the 1980s. The principal ports for London moved downstream to Felixstowe and Tilbury, with the London Docklands area becoming a focus for regeneration.

The Thames Barrier was completed in the 1980s to protect London against tidal surges from the North Sea. The Greater London Council was abolished in 1986, which left London as the only large metropolis in the world without a central administration. In 2000, London-wide government was restored, with the creation of the Greater London Authority. To celebrate the start of the 21st century, the Millennium Dome and London Eye were constructed. On 7 July 2005, several London Underground trains and a bus were bombed in a series of terrorist attacks

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