THE HISTORY OF LONDON
London was an important city in Roman times, and there are substantial Roman remains, mostly below street level. By the Middle Ages, when London became the political and commercial capital of England, it was one of the most important cities in Europe.
The history of London begins about the year AD 43, when the Romans were in possession of the southern part of Britain and founded a military station on the present site of London. An insurrection of the British led by Boadicea caused it to be burned in AD 61. It was the centre of various disturbances until about 306, when Constantine constructed walls and fortifications, and thereby established stability and laid a firm basis for commercial prosperity. From 369 until 412 it was the capital of Britain, when it was known as Augusta. Subsequently it became the chief seat of the Saxons. King Alfred expelled the Danes and fortified the city. It became famous as a commercial centre at the beginning of the reign of Edward III.
London was not built as a city in the same way as Paris or New York. It began life as a Roman fortification at a place where it was possible to cross the River Thames. A wall was built around the town for defence, but during the long period of peace which followed the Norman Conquest, people built outside the walls. This building continued over the years, especially to the west of the City. In 1665 there was a terrible plague in London, so many people left the city and escaped to the villages in the surrounding countryside. About 69,000 persons succumbed to the dread disease. In 1666 the Great Fire of London ended the plague, but it also destroyed much of the city. A destructive fire spread over 340 acres, burning about 15,000 houses.
From these calamities the city recovered with marked rapidity. The Bank of England was established in 1694. Sir Hans Sloane founded the British Museum in 1759, the old walls were torn down in 1760, and about that time the streets were improved by pavements, lighting and sanitary regulations. In 1840 the present parliamentary buildings were commenced9, and in rapid succession followed the construction of great parks and many different municipal improvements. Although people returned tolive in the rebuilt city after the plague and the Great Fire, there were never again so many Londoners living in the city centre.
In the course of history the original commercial nucleus of the City of London (only a mile square – 2.6 sq. km) was adjoined by the City of Westminster, where the political centre established by the monarchy was supplemented by the administrative offices of Parliament and Whitehall (originally a royal palace). Gradually London expanded, absorbing outlying villages, such as Kensington and Hampstead, until by the end of the 19th century (during which the industrial revolution had made London the largest and most important city in the world) much of the central area of London had been developed in a way which is still recognizable today. During the twentieth century growth has continued into the outer suburbs, into the surrounding areas known as the “home counties” (Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex) and into the 12 new towns (out of a total of 32 in Britain as a whole) which were created after 1945 within a radius of 129 km (80 miles) of London to help to relieve the pressure of population and the capital’s housing problem. To restrict the sprawl of built-up areas, London pioneered the concept of a “green belt” around the city, where the land is left open and free from further large-scale building development.
These days not many people live in the city centre, but London has spread” further outwards into the country, including surrounding villages. Today the metropolis of Greater London covers some 700 square miles and the suburbs of London continue even beyond this area. Some people even commute over 100 miles (over 150 km) every day to work in London, while living far away from the city in the country or in other towns.