The destination for history

London history


Rioting, plague, devastating fire, civil war, aerial bombardment, terrorist attacks, overcrowding … London has survived everything history could throw at it. Yet, with a history dating back over two turbulent millennia, it is inevitable that the path to the vibrant twenty-first century metropolis we know today would be anything but ordinary.

London did not exist as a civilian town until after the Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 and grew rapidly over the following decades. The city continued to grow through the Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Medieval periods, during which time the most important building was the Tower of London, an imposing fortress built to dominate the native population. Remarkably, the Tower still stands today, serving as a stark reminder of what life must have been like in the Middle Ages. Through the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts, London’s expansion beyond the boundaries of the City was decisively established. In the Elizabethan era, London blossomed both culturally and economically but the Stuart dynasty’s reign throughout most of the seventeenth century was beset by political turbulence. The return of the Black Death in the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 both took a terrible toll on the city, but from the ash rose a London that continued to grow throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras, the beacon of which was Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

During the eighteenth century the arts flourished and in the nineteenth century, as capital of the mighty British Empire, London saw significant development and expansion under the Victorians, including the first ever underground railway. Yet Victorian London was a city of startling contrasts; the prosperity of the affluent and the poverty of the slums. By the start of the twentieth century, the Empire was slowly starting to disintegrate. This was accelerated by the Second World War; the German air raids (the Blitz), which took place from 1940-1941, killed 32,000 Londoners and annihilated large swathes of the capital including areas of the City and the East End. The post-war years were difficult as London struggled to get back on its feet but hosting the 1948 Olympics and the Festival of Britain in 1951 helped boost morale. Subsequent decades have each had their troubles but they have failed to halt London’s inexorable march towards a brighter, wealthier future. Through two World Wars, recession and terrorism, London is now the most visited city in the world.

Read more about London’s history