A Brief History of Early London For International Students
October 15, 2018
London is an amazing place for international students to come and study abroad. It’s a city steeped in heritage and culture.
We want to quickly delve into the early history of the UK’s capital, in order to give anyone studying in London the chance to better understand how this great city was originally shaped.
The city of Londinium
Fairly recent archaeological discoveries have indicated some small scattered rural settlements were built in the area close to the Thames, during prehistoric times. There was even evidence of a Bronze Age bridge dating from around 3,000 years ago, which may have even crossed the Thames to a now long lost island.
However, the formation of the first major settlement in the area all started when the Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD. They soon founded the city of Londinium, which was estimated to have been roughly the size of Hyde Park.
In 60 AD, the Iceni tribe led by Queen Boudica, finally rose up against the Roman invaders and burnt the city to the ground. However, the fleeing Romans eventually returned even stronger than before. They regained control and rebuilt a new incarnation of Londinium. This time the new city had a prospering market, a grand Basilica, and even superseded Colchester as the Roman capital of Britannia. Crucially, the Romans slowly began building a wall around the city, to protect Londinium from future attacks.
The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings
By the early 5th century, the Roman Empire had crumbled and their rule over Britannia had completely collapsed along with it. The walled-off city of Londinium was left abandoned and mostly deserted. Then the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes came to Britain, from Holland, Germany and Denmark respectively.
From around 500 AD, the Anglo-Saxon settlement known as Lundenwic had risen up to the west of the old Roman city. By the 7th century, Londinium had re-grown into a major port and had become important enough to justify the building of a cathedral, St Pauls. Little is known of early London after this point, until the 9th century that is, and the coming of the Vikings.
There were repeated assaults from Viking warriors, seeking treasure and glory, and the region suffered with increasingly frequent invasions from the seafaring Scandinavians. There is even evidence that a fierce Viking army camped in the old Roman walls of Londinium, during the winter of 871 AD. Soon no region of the British Isles was safe from the incursions.
The beginnings of the City of London
Danelaw was established in 866 AD by the Vikings across most of northern and eastern England. The law was formally agreed open by the Danish warlord, Guthrum and the West Saxon king, Alfred the Great. However, it was Alfred the Great who managed to re-establish English control of early London, after the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic was abandoned.
The aged Roman walls were repaired, quays were built along the Thames, and the city’s fortifications and defences were renewed. There was a steady revival of trade and the population of the city began to grow once more. It was known as Lundenburh for a time and this extensive revival of the old Roman city is widely considered to be a huge turning point, in the history and beginnings of the City of London.
The Norman invasion
The Vikings eventually resumed their raids, with numerous attacks and occupations. After centuries of Viking activity in northwestern Europe, it was Cnut the Great who was crowned king of all of England. Eventually the Saxon line was restored when Cnut’s stepson, Edward the Confessor became king in 1042 AD. By this time London had grown into the largest town in the country, and Westminster Abbey was rebuilt in the Romanesque style, becoming one of the grandest churches in Europe.
However, more Vikings were on the horizon, and it wasn’t long before the Norsemen of Normandy invaded from France, with William the Conqueror at their head. England was conquered after the decisive Battle of Hastings and William was crowned King at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066 AD.
The middle age London
William the Conqueror built the Tower of London as a tactic to intimidate the native inhabitants of London, and at the time it became resented by the people as a symbol of oppression. Its primary purpose was that of a grand palace, which served as a royal residence. However, over the centuries it has also served other purposes. Including functioning as a zoo, an armoury, a treasury, a prison, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England.
William’s third son, William II, began the building of Westminster Hall in 1097 AD. This hall was to become the basis for the new Palace of Westminster, which is now commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. While the governmental City of Westminster continued to develop, the neighbouring City of London thrived as the country’s largest city and principal commercial centre, with its population rising to almost 100,000 by 1300 AD.
The time of the Tudors
Skipping forward a bit, ( just a few centuries), and we get to London being ruled by the Tudor monarchs. This period of the city’s history, between 1485 and 1603, was when London truly became the centre of trade and government in the country. The population had boomed to around 200,000 people by 1600. However, most of what is now recognised as London was still fields at this time.
A fair amount of palaces and parks were established by the Tudor monarchs in and around the area of London. These included parks dedicated to the hunting of deer, due to the fact that hunting was one of the ruling elite’s favourite occupations. Deer can still be spotted to this day in Richmond park, in south London. The Tudors even expanded Britain’s navy, with many dockyards around the Thames building more ships, ready to explore the rest of the world.
London’s first theatres were constructed during this period, including one of the most famous of all time, The Globe. William Shakespeare himself owned a share of the theatre, and a rebuilt version of it still puts on productions of his plays to this day.
The Great Plague and the Great Fire
By 1665, civil war had already raged in England. King Charles I and his forces had battled against Oliver Cromwell and Parliament. The war resulted in the king being beheaded, but Parliament didn’t reign for long afterwards, as Charles II was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1660.
Then further turmoil came to London, as flea infested rats on trading ships brought bubonic plague into the city’s streets. It spread rapidly thanks to the close quarters and unhygienic living conditions of the time. It’s thought that around 100,000 people died during the year that the plague rampaged throughout the city.
In 1666 disaster struck again, as an accidental fire in Pudding Lane in the City of London quickly spread and grew into an enormous blaze that swept over the city. The massive fire burned for four days, wiping out 80% of the old wooden buildings and structures. Astonishingly, only a few people lost their lives in the fire. From the smoke and ashes, London was once again re-built, with buildings made of brick and stone this time. The city would go on to not only survive, but thrive.
There’s plenty more of London’s history after that left to explore, but we wanted to walk you through the early beginnings. Hopefully you now have a greater understanding of how the UK’s capital became the city it is today.
Are you an international student thinking about studying in London?
Then contact us at IEC Abroad today – our study abroad specialists can help you find your ideal university in the city.