Wandering around The City of London, its plain to see that it’s still the heart of the capital, but it’s hard to imagine that this was once it. After its founding in 43AD by the Romans and right up to the 17th century, London consisted mainly of a single square mile, but today covers no less than 600 square miles. So how did this thriving metropolis grow out of its humble beginnings? Read on to discover the evolution of one of the world’s greatest cities.
Founded as Londinium, the settlement did not slowly grow outwards during Roman times, as you may expect. This was due to it being contained within a set of protective walls. Despite such defences, Boudica managed to burn it to the ground, just 15 years after it was established. Undeterred, Londinium was rebuilt, but was abandoned in 410AD.
Instead of life taking place in the original heart of London, many farmsteads cropped up in the surrounding countryside during the Saxon period. They were in areas such as Chelsea and Enfield, which slowly grew to become villages. In later history, they would be embraced by the growing metropolis and become suburbs of London.
When London was re-established within The Square Mile during the 9th century, many of the original buildings had been lost. Those that had been constructed out of timber had decayed and the few built from stone had been plundered as material for other sites. Despite this, archaeological matter below street level retains Roman Londinium’s secrets, some of which are being revealed during the excavations for the ambitious Crossrail project.
A new political centre was established at Westminster during the Norman period and The Strand was built to connect it to The City.
Medieval plagues and famines
The Medieval era probably wasn’t the best time to be living in the densely packed city, as plagues and famines were commonplace. This meant that population growth was relatively low.
Tudor population explosion
By the Tudor period, however, the population had the right conditions to increase, with the number of residences reaching 200,000. It was during this era that many of the royal retreats outside of London’s centre were constructed. They include Hampton Court Palace, which is very much an integral part of cultural life in modern London.
The destruction brought by The Great Fire of London
If it weren’t for an event that occurred on September 5th 1666 and began on Pudding Lane, London would look very different today. More than 13,000 buildings went up in smoke, with many of them dating back to medieval and Tudor times. The few pre-1700 structures that survived and remain in the capital today are protected as a result.
Biggest and most powerful city in the world during Georgian times
London flourished between 1714 and 1840, with the population rising to nearly two million. This made it the biggest and most powerful city in the world. Such a place required more infrastructure and there was a building boom. While you can still see a large number of the Georgian edifices that were constructed during this time, many were destroyed to make way for commercial properties in the first half of the 20th century.
Victorian connectivity and the introduction of the London Underground
It’s hard to imagine a London today without the Tube to transport people around. Just imagine how life-changing it must have been for the Victorians when it was introduced in 1863. The city suddenly became connected and navigable, with those previously confined to the crowded centre being able to spread out into the suburbs.
Population peak in 1940
There have never been more people living in London than there were in 1940, when the population stood at 8.5 million.
Turbulent 20th century
Due to World War II and the Blitz, the 20th century has seen some of the biggest changes to London in its entire history. It also caused a population decline, but these days more than 8 million people live in the capital. The modern additions of buildings such as The Shard and The Gherkin, mean London’s skyline continues to evolve and would be completely unrecognisable to many of the citizens who called it home throughout its history.