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London, general information

Interesting facts on London (December 2001)

Note that some of the information (prices!) can be outdated since we made this page after visiting the country for the last time!
Area of London Greater London is almost 1500 square kilometers
Number of inhabitants 7.19 million residents
Population density Almost 4,800 per square kilometer. Lambeth is the highest populated Inner London borough with 267,000 residents, whilst Croydon is the highest populated Outer London borough, with 332,000 residents. The most the most densely populated borough is Kensington & Chelsea with 13,120 residents per square kilometer.
Capital London is the capital of Great Britain
Monetary unit British Pound (GBP); 1 pound is about € 1.01 (Jan. 2009); 1 € = about £ 1
Fuel prices Since we went walking and by public transport we have no idea.
License plate of cars UK
Telephone country prefix 44
Internet country code .uk
Time difference GMT 0; 1 hour earlier than in Holland
Road network We took busses and the subway, so we don't have much experience. But the roads seemed in very good shape.
Prices in general Prices at christmas are quite high in restaurants; since most shops and restaurants were closed we cannot make a good comparision with Dutch prices. But it seems much more expensive. But since the value of the pound has fallen in 2008 prices must be better now for foreigners.
The best in London We liked the Spirit of London tour in Madam Tussaud and the similar tour through the London Dungeon best. But a visit through the Tower Bridge is also very nice and of course the British Museum.

General information about London

London is the largest city of Europe with a surface of about 1.000 square kilometers and some 7 million inhabitants. This is the same amount as in 1900, when London was the biggest city on earth. Although it no longer ranks among the world's most populous cities, London is still one of the world's major financial and cultural capitals.
London is divided into many districts which seem still to be functioning as separate villages, like they used to be in the past and they still have their own typical identities. Therefore London shows many faces with many different attractions for tourists, pituresque sceneries, historical monuments, many green parks, theatres, luxurious shops etcetera.
The centre of the city owes it's layout to the great fire in 1666 and the Blitz in World War II. Both events left the city in ruins and when it was reconstructed, u rbanistic improvements were carried out to a great extent. After 1666 the streets were broadened and buildings had to be made out of stone. After the Blitz there was more focus on the development of the suburbs and the redevelopment of the slum areas.

City districts:
The centre of the city consists of the following districts:
St.-James's, Mayfair and Piccadilly; This area between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square is a well known part of London, filled with pomp and circumstance.
The London City, the commercial heart of the town, is one of the world's major financial centres in the world and there are many architectonic masterpieces. But between all those modern buildings of glass and steel, one can find numerous churches from the 17th century, narrow alleys, old marketplaces and even the remainders of the Roman city walls.
Westminster and Bankside; This area is dominated by the Thames with it's many bridges between the northern and southern banks.
Knightsbridge, Kensington and Chelsea; Nowadays classy residential areas, but they used to be green villages faraway from the polluted city. But still there is an atmosphere of exclusivity and wealth: the houses are big, there are many parks and many stately consulates and embassies.
Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and Soho are more to the northeast and offer very varied environments: vivid shopping streets alternated with quiet neighbourhoods and an attractive Chinatown.

Places of interest

Because of it's long history and the many centuries of being the capital of a large empire, London has many splendid monuments and places of interest. We only name a few here, divided by district:
St.-James's, Mayfair and Piccadilly: Buckingham Palace, The Mall to Trafalgar Square, National Gallery.
The City: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral.
Westminster and Bankside: Tate Galleries, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament & Big Ben.
Knightsbridge, Kensington and Chelsea: Harrods, Victoria & Albert museum, Science museum, Natural History museum.
Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and Soho: British Museum, British Library, Madame Tussaud.

History

Roman period
In what is now called Greater-London, there have been found several prehistoric settlements, but none north of London Bridge, where the modern city was founded. In 43 AD., the Romans invaded Britain and after some years they build a bridge, somewhat east of the present city. This bridge soon was part of a trade road and attracted more and more traders. Soon the flourishing city Londinium came into existence. The depth of the Thames made it possible to build a harbor by which trade grew even more. But the town is totally destroyed in 60 AD by British tribes. Afte the Romans returned they rebuild the city and surrounded it by stone walls. From the end of the first century more large and impressive buildings were constructed.
About 200 AD. Britain was divided up into two administrative areas and London became capital of Britannia Superior. At the same time a new city wall was build, more than 6 meters high.
A century later, Britain was reorganised again by emperor Diocletianus and London became capital of Maxima Caesariensis, one of the four new provinces. London kept it's status as financial centre of Britain.
Christianity emerged early in London and a year after the religion was officially allowed by Rome, London had it's own bisshop, Restitutus.

Dark Middle Ages
After the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, several tribes invade the city. Like most of England the city is controlled by the Angles and Saxons. Archeological findings suggest that most Roman buildings deteriorate and the city gets a Celtic name: Caer-Lundein.
Only at the end of the 6th century Londinium regains some of it's old significance, when pope Gregorius the Great sent monks to the island to convert the inhabitants. In 597 abbot Augustinus founds a church in Canterbury, which would be the seat of the archbisshop, shortly afterwards. Seven years later a bisshop was sent to Londinium, who ordered the first St. Paul's Cathedral to be build. With Alfred the Great (871-899) the city became the capital of England and in 994 the first bridge was build over the Thames.
The town was attacked several times in the 9th and 10th century by Vikings. They were turned down every time, until 1066 when the Normans, under the direction of William the Conqueror, successfully invade Britain.
After his victory at Hastings (Battle of Hastings), his army destroys a great part of the country to subject the English, but he evades London. He waits near Berkhamsted till the officials of the city would recognise him as their king. The people of London soon agreed to his proposals: London became capital of the area which was under control of William the Conqueror and the city was allowed to keep it's rights and privileges.
Economically, the city went through a strong recovery. Merchants and craftsman united in guilds and a civil city council was installed. During the rule of Henry I London became capital of England. It kept it's autonomous position as a city-republic which was only subordinated to the king.

Middle Ages
The organisation of the city of London is older than the English Parliament and is based on the French model, with a mayor in charge. This was already the case during the reign of king Stephen.
The authority of the mayor during his term of office was also confirmed by king Richard Lionheart which could be seen during the times the king was absent. He frequently went on crusades, and his duties were performed by his successor, King John. The authority of the mayor, supported by aldermen and administrative councils, was so solidly embedded, that it resembles the present situation. London was the first urban capital of England, but later 28 other cities followed, in their own counties. The first prove of the presence of a mayor dates from 1193 and the name of this mayor was Henry FitzAilwyn. His term of office lasted until his death in 1212. There were many riots in London, though, until the end of the 13th century.
The city grew fast and was concentrated at the riverbanks with a small settlement at Southwark. Everything was build close together and when fire broke out the damage was severe. And regularly there were big fires that destroyed many houses. To prevent these dangers, FitzAilwyn introduced the first Building Act. Stone had to be used for dividing walls and reed was prohibited as roofing material. But it took a long time before these regulations were seriously held.
In 1348 the Black Death (or Plague) caused great damage to London, which had more than 50.000 inhabitants at that time, many of them rich merchants. The Plague decimated the population, but it grew fast again and in a few decades London became the largest city of England. London became a large trade centre, focussed on import, distribution and export of goods. Trying to improve the industry, craftsmen organised themselves into a complicated system of guilds. This had a great impact in the Middle Ages. Their successors at present are the City Livery Companies, who still honor the traditions, but have lost their power. To found a guild, royal permission was necessary. Founding a guild without this permission resulted in big fines. During the reign of Henry III 18 guilds were punished for this reason (1160). When the 15th century started the clothing industry was the biggest industry in Engeland and much goods were exported. Money poured in from all over the known world and thus the city had the opportunity to finance Edward III and Henry V in their plans to conquer France.

Golden Age
Despite the growth of the population numbers, London remained a typical middle age town.
The farmers who came from the countryside to the city, lived densily together and in bad circumstances, which made it necessary to expand the borders of the town. This was the beginning of the Golden Age for London and England. The age was also very strongly determined by a great king, Henry VIII, and his even more important daughter, Elizabeth I.
The Reformation in 1536, which caused a split with the Roman-Catholic church and brought the Anglican church into existence, also gave rise to many important changes in the city. Many churches were destroyed or the owners changed. Henry moved from the Palace of Westminster to Whitehall.
During the reign of Elizabeth I many new buildings were constructed inside and outside of London. In the first period of the 16th century, London constisted of three totally different parts: the old City, with kept it's status as economical and commercial centre, Westminster, with it's concentration of political power, and Southwark, founded on land confiscated by the church.

The Plague and the Great Fire, 1664-1666
In 1664 and 1665 London was stricken again by the plague, and this time there were about 100.000 victims.
In 1666 a fire started in a bakery, and lasted for four days ruining most of London. After the fire was stopped, it had destroyed 13.220 houses and 84 churches. This tragic event also gave the opportunity to rebuild the city and get rid of the medieval structures and narrow streets. The renovation takes five years. From that moment on, London thrives. The city becomes the most important trade centre of the world, surpassing Amsterdam. The population also grows and during the reign of queen Victoria in the 19th century, London becomes the largest city of the world with 860.000 inhabitants.

Industrial revolution
But not everyone profits from the growing wealth. In the districts which were meant to receive the great masses of workers, there is a lot of poverty. All these workers were lured to the city because of the beginning industrial revolution.
The growing industry also changes life in the city. London grows faster, and more suburbs appear. Around 1800 the biggest harbor complex of the world is build.
In 1836 the first railroad connection between London and Greenwich became a fact, after which more railroads followed, and in 1863 the first subway system, and other railroad connections with other big cities.
The kingdom had grown now into the largest industrialised country of the world and the biggest empire the world had ever known, with an internal free trade. The development reached it's climax with the Great Exhibition of 1815, to which occasion the famous Crystal Palace was build in the middle of Hyde Park. This building, completely made out of iron and glass by Joseph Parton, doesn't stand there anymore, but still there are abundant other buildings which give evidence of the magnificence of that time and the urban architectural changes that took place: Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, The Victoria & Albert museum and Shaftsbury Avenue.

20th century
During World War II, many parts of the city were destroyed by German air raids and more than 30.000 people lost their lives. But the final decline of London starts after WW II, when England lost her colonies. Once again, London is just the capital of England.
But a city as London keeps changing and nowadays it is becoming a more vivid and cleaner city. Still, there are things which could be improved. There is still a lot of poverty, as the tramps who wander through the city show. At night they find shelter at places of the salvation army. There are many women among these homeless people. For tourists it is still a quite safe and beautiful place to be, a city with a unique empirial history, lots of monuments and modern entertainment. London has entered the new millennium with it's unique qualities: a cosmopolitan sight, a feeling of optimism and motivation, an historical background and a flourishing economy.
© Teije and Elisabeth 2000 - 2014
Travel through Europe and Africa

with Elisabeth and Teije