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English Holiday Guide - Guide to find the English Holiday you require
English Holiday Guide - Guide to find the English Holiday you require
English Holiday Guide - Guide to find the English Holiday you require

The history of London is long and complex, and largely runs concurrently with the history of much of the rest of England. The thing about London that impresses visitors from the new countries is that so much of the fabric of society has evolved through many significant chapters.

In 43AD the Romans under Claudius invaded the area and defeated the Celts. They were the first to use London (or Londinium as they called it) as a major centre. The Romans built the first London Bridge, close to the site of the present day one. There was an amphitheatre, a forum and a governor's palace. Even then London was multicultural, but with all the various races that constituted the population of around 30,000 having the common bond of Roman citizenship. With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312AD, Christianity arrived permanently in Britain. The Roman presence remained for almost 400 years until 410AD when they reluctantly abandoned Britain in the face of attacks from the Picts (a northern British tribe), Scots and Saxons, and without support from the Emperor. This was because Rome itself was besieged by various hordes from the north. The Dark Ages were about to fall on the formerly great empire.

From then until 604 there are no records of what occurred in London, other than it became an insignificant backwater. When the ruling Saxon king Ethelbert became Christian, London gained significance again as a Bishop of London was appointed by Rome. In 604 a church was built on the site of the present day St. Paul's Cathedral. The Saxons under King Alfred the Great turned London back into a well-organized and prosperous community. The Danes invaded again and took over the crown, which then reverted back to the Saxons. King Edward the Confessor established Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, site of the present Houses of Parliament. Following the Norman invasion, the power and influence of the crown grew and spread throughout England and much of France. William the Conqueror built the White Tower of the Tower of London. In medieval times the House of Plantagenet held the crown. The merchants of London also grew increasingly wealthy and powerful as trade with other places grew. One of the most significant events of this time was the 'signing' of the Magna Carta by King John. This was the basis of much of today's common law and guaranteed, in theory anyway, some basic human rights.

Interspersed with fire, plagues and famine, the history and culture of London is strongly coloured by various events related to England's kings and queens. Throughout time, the various crowned heads and their courts have been involved in much intrigue and mystery. A notorious example of this was Richard III, who it is speculated murdered the boy King Edward V and his younger brother in 1483. The Tudors included Henry VIII with his six wives and his daughters Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen - Elizabeth I. Their presence and influence on London continues to this day in the form of various palaces and other buildings.

When Elizabeth I died without an heir the House of Stuart was imported from Scotland, James VI of Scotland - son of Elizabeth's enemy Mary Queen of Scots - became James I of England. The reign of the Stuarts was interrupted by the revolution and the regime of Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, a dark era for those not of a puritanical persuasion. The restoration of the monarchy was ushered in by the coronation of Charles II.

In the 1600s two major events took place. Firstly the Great Plague of 1665 wiped out around 100,000 people. This was bubonic plague which was carried by rats and fleas. Sanitary conditions at that time were deplorable, and the second event helped to purge the disease from the city. This was the Great Fire of 1666, when 80% of London burned to the ground. The fire was cathartic in that it enabled the whole city to be rebuilt, with much of this rebuilding still evident today. The great architect Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for designing much of the new London, which included squares and more space between buildings, pavements and most importantly construction of brick and stone rather than wood and tar. His most famous work is of course the present day St. Paul's Cathedral.

By 1700 the population of London was over 600,000 - it was the largest city in Europe. As colonization of other continents took place, London became increasingly important and prosperous. Trade in many new commodities such as coffee, tobacco and various spices took place and transformed the city. The House of Hanover reigned. Hogarth painted and Handel composed as the arts flourished. At the same time London was crime ridden - even George II got mugged on the grounds of Kensington Palace. The less fortunate lived in appalling conditions.

The ascension to the throne of the very young Queen Victoria in 1836 also marked the beginning of a golden era for Britain. London was the centre of the British Empire, the likes of which the world had never seen before. Britain gained many colonies - partly to obtain resources for the Industrial Revolution that was in full swing - and commerce was booming. London grew rapidly, suburbs spread outwards. For the less privileged conditions continued to be grave. This era in London's history was so well described in the works of Charles Dickens. The poem William Blake made his famous quote 'dark satanic mills ' in reference to the ugly chimneys and factories of the time. In the later Victorian era Sherlock Homes by Conan-Doyle evocatively captured the feel of the city. It was also at this time that London's most notorious murderer hit the scene - just the mention of Jack the Ripper instantly brings images of foggy gas lit streets to mind. Victoria reigned for over 60 years and ushered in the 20th Century.

The 20th Century brought as much change and turmoil to London as had been seen in all the previous centuries combined. World War I had a drastic effect on the city, Many Londoner's left for war leaving huge gaps in the labour force, which were often filled by women. German Zeppelin air ships bombed London and many were killed. Thousands of young men lost their lives, and this had a devastating effect on most families and transcended class barriers. Women who had done so much for the war effort began to become discontent with their traditional roles. This brought about many social changes and the ruling class began to lose their grip, as the nation did as a whole on what had been a huge empire.

Between the wars London was perhaps the social and cultural centre of the world, and at the forefront of all the changes in society. In 1939 World War II linked the people of London as they had never been before, as together they faced the blitz. This made the attack of the Zeppelins tame in comparison. Thousands of Londoners lost their lives in the nightly bombing that went on for eight months. Londoners proved that adversity brings out the best in people and this helped to weaken some of the old class and cultural barriers.

The post war years brought initial austerity and depression. London was very war torn and the city seemed to have a monochrome aura to it instead of its usual colourful one. The rapid reconstruction of housing and office buildings - with good taste often being sacrificed for function - did little to help matters. But London has never taken long to recover and the 1950s commenced with the Festival of Britain in 1951. This boosted moral and London slowly began to rebuild itself as a world capital. Mass immigration from former colonies - in particular the West Indies, India, Pakistan, and Hong Kong changed the character and social fabric of many parts of the city. The city became even more cosmopolitan and as usual generally adapted well to these changes. The coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 brought world focus on London again. This was a new Elizabethan age and hope and optimism brought about a much more positive climate.

In recent history, it is perhaps the 1960s that represent the zenith of London on the world stage. At this time London was the epicentre of pop culture for music, art and fashion the whole world, including the United States, looked to London for inspiration. It was an exciting time to be in London and many people moved there to be a part of this Cultural Revolution and to live in 'Swinging London.' Mary Quant's fashions, the image of super model Twiggy, the art of David Hockney and above all the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones left an indelible mark on the history of popular culture. This era will never be repeated, despite efforts by the media in more recent time to create a new 'Swinging London' through pure hype. No matter what you think of them to compare the Spice Girls to the Beatles is cultural blasphemy by any standards.

Economically there were great changes too. London had been a port for its whole history, but with labour unrest and the containerization of shipping, the port of London had faded to nothing by the early 1980s. All shipping of any significance was transferred far down the Thames to Tilbury. The 70s and early 80s brought more labour unrest and economic woes to the U.K, but London by virtue of its size and importance rode the wave of this better than other parts of the country. As usual London readapted, becoming a centre of world finance - the advent of the information age enhanced this.

The years that Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister brought radical changes, both positive and negative. London was definitely more efficient in many ways, but also more materialistic. Values and ethics changed, as did the physical face of London. Economic realities ushered in a harsher and less compassionate era, the effects of which are still being felt. However London on the whole flourished and emerged strong and more confident than ever, although the verdict is still out on the long-term effect of zealous privatization on the city's infrastructure. This was controversial because the local government had always run certain things such as public transportation, and the actual cost effectiveness of privatization is questionable to many, as is the inconvenience to the consumer - which in London is often a tourist.

In the 80s and 90s the former docks were redeveloped into prestigious office and residential complexes. These include the well-known Canary Wharf. Despite the odd setback, the economy flourishes as does London society as a whole. In 1997 the victory of Tony Blair with his very different form of Labour Government turned the political tide again - but not as much as people had originally anticipated. The same year London showed a vulnerable, and previously never witnessed emotional side as it reacted en masse to the tragic death of Princess Diana. The monarchy has also adapted, and though it presents a very different face - and a far from perfect one, than it used to, it continues to be of mass appeal to the world. The Royal Family and their well publicized antics draw in countless visitors to London. Some come to witness the pageantry at which the British are unbeatable, and others in the vague hope of catching a glimpse of a member of 'the firm' as the royal family is called. At the dawn of a new millenium, the information age, mass media and globalization have made London even more universally popular. Visitors from around the world flood to London as never before.

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