Ok, now I’m moving on to another of the big boys. One of the oldest cities in the world and a centre of civilisation for two millennia, London was founded by the Romans just after the J-Man passed away and stopped magicking up fish, behaving inappropriately around dead bodies and hookers, and pretending his rambling incoherent parables made any sense. The city of Londinium (as it was known) was founded in 43 BC by the Romans during the reign of Emperor Claudius, and they ruled it until the fifth century, following the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire in around 476 AD.
Roman Londinium was roughly contiguous with the modern day City of London area, stretching from Ludgate in the west to the Tower of London in the east. During its existence it was the largest city in Britannia and a major trading port in the Roman Empire. At its peak circa 120 AD it was home to approximately 60,000 people, a population not seen again on the banks of the Thames until the 13th century. The Romans built a defensive wall around their city in approximately 200 AD, the largest remnants of which can be seen outside the Museum of London and on Tower Hill today. Following the recall of the Roman legions, the city of Londinium went into decline during the 400s, eventually becoming a more or less uninhabited ruin.
By the late 500s, the site had fallen into the hands of the Saxons, a Germanic people who had spread rapidly through Gaul (modern France) and Britain. St Paul’s Cathedral was established by King Aethelberht I, with Mellitus installed there as first bishop of the city in 604, thereby reflecting the growing spread of Christianity on the island of Britain. By the late 600s, the settlement was once again a major trading centre, though it was now known as Lundenwic and primarily located further west near the modern day Covent Garden/West End all the way down to the Thames. Around 865 AD the Vikings arrived (of course they did the pillaging bastards), and the focus of trading and daily life shifted again back to the original walled city of Londinium….by around 920 AD Lundenwic was largely abandoned.
The next significant phase of London and England’s history dawned with the Norman invasion in the 11th century. William the Conqueror and his army arrived in London in November 1066, the Anglo-Saxons surrendered the city without a fight, and Big Willy (as he was known to his close friends) was crowned the King of England at Westminster Abbey, which had been established only the previous year. It was during the reign of William the Conqueror that the Tower of London was built, at the eastern limit of Roman Londinium. Trade flourished in this period, and many new wharves and streets were built in proximity to the river, and in 1176 the first stone bridge was built across the Thames. Around this time also the first houses began to appear outside of the ancient city walls.
Medieval London was a maze of narrow twisting lanes and streets, with the majority of buildings made of wood, or wattle and daub, rendering the whole city a constant fire risk. The city was still mostly concentrated in the old Roman Londinium area, with a few buildings spreading outside the ancient city walls, and the area of Southwark springing up on the opposite side of the Thames at the far end of London Bridge. Sanitation was practically non-existent, with animals and humans living side by side in the street, amongst all the ancillary waste and by-products (shite in simple English). As the population continued to grow, when the Bubonic Plague (better known as the Black Death) inevitably arrived in the city in the autumn of 1348, it took a heavy toll.
Therefore, by the 14th century, London’s population was estimated at around 80,000, the growing metropolis was the commercial centre of England and nearby Westminster was the political heart of the country. In my next blog post, I’ll move on to Tudor London, which conjures up images of Shakespearean playhouses, traffic jams on the Thames, and the many life partners of Henry the Eighth, also known as Henry the greedy ginger bastard. See you next time!!
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