London i/ˈlʌndən/ is the capital city of England and the United Kingdom, and the largest city, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the European Union by most measures.[note 1] Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London’s ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its square-mile mediaeval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the name London has also referred to the metropolis developed around this core. The bulk of this conurbation forms the London region and the Greater London administrative area,[note 2] governed by the elected Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. It is the world’s leading financial centre alongside New York City and has the fifth- or sixth-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world depending on measurement.[note 3] London has been described as a world cultural capital. It is the world’s most-visited city as measured by international arrivals and has the world’s largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic. London’s 43 universities form the largest concentration of higher education in Europe. In 2012, London became the first city to host the modern Summer Olympic Games three times.
A multicultural city, London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. The 2011 census revealed that 60% of Londoners were white, with 45% of residents being white Britons, making them a minority in the city for the first time. In March 2011, London had an official population of 8,174,100, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. The Greater London Urban Area is the second-largest in the EU with a population of 8,278,251, while the London metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of between 12 million and 14 million. London had the largest population of any city in the world from around 1831 to 1925.
London contains four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the site comprising the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret’s Church; and the historic settlement of Greenwich (in which the Royal Observatory marks the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, and GMT). Other famous landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, and The Shard. London is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Library and 40 West End theatres. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world.
The name London may derive from the River Thames
The etymology of London is uncertain. It is an ancient name and can be found in sources from the 2nd century. It is recorded c. 121 as Londinium, which points to Romano-British origin. The earliest attempted explanation, now disregarded, is attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth in Historia Regum Britanniae. This had it that the name originated from a supposed King Lud, who had allegedly taken over the city and named it Kaerlud.
From 1898 it was commonly accepted that the name was of Celtic origin and meant place belonging to a man called *Londinos; this explanation has since been rejected.Richard Coates put forward an explanation in 1998 that it is derived from the pre-Celtic Old European *(p)lowonida, meaning ‘river too wide to ford’, and suggested that this was a name given to the part of the River Thames which flows through London; from this, the settlement gained the Celtic form of its name, *Lowonidonjon; this requires quite a serious amendment however. The ultimate difficulty lies in reconciling the Latin form Londinium with the modern Welsh Llundain, which should demand a form *(h)lōndinion (as opposed to *londīnion), from earlier *loundiniom. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the Welsh name was borrowed back in from English at a later date, and thus cannot be used as a basis from which to reconstruct the original name.
Until 1889 the name «London» officially only applied to the City of London but since then it has also referred to the County of London and now Greater London.
Prehistory and antiquity
In 1300 the City was still confined within the Roman walls.
Although there is evidence of scattered Brythonic settlements in the area, the first major settlement was founded by the Romans in 43 AD. This lasted for just seventeen years and around 61, the Iceni tribe led by Queen Boudica stormed it, burning it to the ground. The next, heavily planned, incarnation of the city prospered and superseded Colchester as the capital of the Roman province of Britannia in 100. At its height during the 2nd century, Roman London had a population of around 60,000. By the 7th century, the Anglo-Saxons had created a new settlement called Lundenwic over a mile (2 km) upstream from the old Roman city, around what is now Covent Garden.
It is likely that there was a harbour at the mouth of the River Fleet for fishing and trading, and this trading grew, until the city was overcome by the Vikings and forced to move east, back to the location of the Roman Londinium, in order to use its walls for protection. Viking attacks continued to increase, until 886 when Alfred the Great recaptured London and made peace with the Danish leader, Guthrum. The original Saxon city of Lundenwic became Ealdwic («old city»), a name surviving to the present day as Aldwych, which is in the modern City of Westminster.
Two recent discoveries indicate that London could be much older than previously thought. In 1999 the remains of a Bronze Age bridge were found on the foreshore north of Vauxhall Bridge. This bridge either crossed the Thames, or went to a (lost) island in the river. Dendrology dated the timbers to 1500BC. In 2010 the foundations of a large timber structure, dated to 4500BC, were found on the Thames foreshore, south of Vauxhall Bridge. The function of the mesolithic structure is not known. Both structures are on South Bank, at a natural crossing point where the River Effra flows into the River Thames.
The Lancastrian siege of London in 1471 is attacked by a Yorkist sally.
With the collapse of Roman rule in the early 5th century, London ceased to be a capital and was effectively abandoned. However, from the 6th century, an Anglo-Saxon settlement known as Lundenwic developed slightly to the west of the old Roman city, around what is now Covent Garden and the Strand, likely rising to a population of 10–12,000. In the 9th century, London was repeatedly attacked by Vikings, leading to a return to the location of Roman Londinium, in order to use its walls for protection. Following the unification of England in the 10th century, London, already the country’s largest city and most important trading centre, became increasingly important as a political centre, although it still faced competition from Winchester, the Anglo-Saxon capital of England and traditional centre of the kingdom of Wessex.
In the 11th century, King Edward the Confessor refounded and rebuilt Westminster Abbey, and Westminster, a short distance upstream from London, became a favoured royal residence. From this point onward, Westminster steadily supplanted the City of London itself as a venue for the business of national government.
Westminster Abbey is a World Heritage Site and one of London’s oldest and most important buildings as seen in this painting (Canaletto, 1749)
Following his victory in the Battle of Hastings, William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England in the newly finished Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. William constructed the Tower of London, the first of the many Norman castles in England to be rebuilt in stone, in the southeastern corner of the city, to intimidate the native inhabitants. In 1097, William II began the building of Westminster Hall, close by the abbey of the same name. The hall became the basis of a new Palace of Westminster.
During the 12th century, the institutions of central government, which had hitherto accompanied the royal English court as it moved around the country, grew in size and sophistication and became increasingly fixed in one place. In most cases this was Westminster, although the royal treasury, having been moved from Winchester, came to rest in the Tower. While the City of Westminster developed into a true capital in governmental terms, its distinct neighbour, the City of London, remained England’s largest city and principal commercial centre, and it flourished under its own unique administration, the Corporation of London. In 1100, its population was around 18,000; by 1300 it had grown to nearly 100,000.
Disaster struck during the Black Death in the mid-14th century, when London lost nearly a third of its population. London was the focus of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.
During the Tudor period the Reformation produced a gradual shift to Protestantism, with much of London passing from church to private ownership. The traffic in woollen cloths shipped undyed and undressed from London to the nearby shores of the Low Countries, for use by well-to-do wearers chiefly in the interior of the continent.[clarification needed] But the tentacles of English maritime enterprise hardly extended beyond the seas of north-west Europe. The commercial route to Italy and the Mediterranean Sea normally lay through Antwerp and over the Alps; any ships passing through the Strait of Gibraltar to or from England were likely to be Italian or Ragusan. Upon the re-opening of the Netherlands to English shipping in January 1565 there at once ensued a strong outburst of commercial activity. The Royal Exchange was founded.Mercantilism grew and monopoly trading companies such as the East India Company were established, with trade expanding to the New World. London became the principal North Sea port, with migrants arriving from England and abroad. The population rose from an estimated 50,000 in 1530 to about 225,000 in 1605.
In the 16th century William Shakespeare and his contemporaries lived in London at a time of hostility to the development of the theatre. By the end of the Tudor period in 1603, London was still very compact. There was an assassination attempt on James I in Westminster, through the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November 1605. London was plagued by disease in the early 17th century, culminating in the Great Plague of 1665–1666, which killed up to 100,000 people, or a fifth of the population.
The Great Fire of London broke out in 1666 in Pudding Lane in the city and quickly swept through the wooden buildings. Rebuilding took over ten years and was supervised by Robert Hooke as Surveyor of London. In 1708 Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral was completed. During the Georgian era new districts such as Mayfair were formed in the west; and new bridges over the Thames encouraged development in South London. In the east, the Port of London expanded downstream.
In 1762 George III acquired Buckingham House and it was enlarged over the next 75 years. During the 18th century, London was dogged by crime and the Bow Street Runners were established in 1750 as a professional police force. In total, more than 200 offences were punishable by death, and women and children were hanged for petty theft. Over 74 per cent of children born in London died before they were five. The coffeehouse became a popular place to debate ideas, with growing literacy and the development of the printing press making news widely available; and Fleet Street became the centre of the British press.
According to Samuel Johnson:
You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
London was the world’s largest city from about 1831 to 1925. London’s overcrowded conditions led to cholera epidemics, claiming 14,000 lives in 1848, and 6,000 in 1866. Rising traffic congestion led to the creation of the world’s first local urban rail network. The Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw infrastructure expansion in the capital and some of the surrounding counties; it was abolished in 1889 when the London County Council was created out of those areas of the counties surrounding the capital . The Blitz and other bombing by the German Luftwaffe during World War II killed over 30,000 Londoners and destroyed large tracts of housing and other buildings across London. Immediately after the war, the 1948 Summer Olympics were held at the original Wembley Stadium, at a time when the city had barely recovered from the war.
In 1951 the Festival of Britain was held on the South Bank. The Great Smog of 1952 led to the Clean Air Act 1956, which ended the «pea soup fogs» for which London had been notorious. From the 1940s onwards, London became home to a large number of immigrants, largely from Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, making London one of the most diverse cities in Europe.
Primarily starting in the mid-1960s, London became a centre for the worldwide youth culture, exemplified by the Swinging London subculture associated with the King’s Road, Chelsea and Carnaby Street. The role of trendsetter was revived during the punk era. In 1965 London’s political boundaries were expanded to take into account the growth of the urban area and a new Greater London Council was created. During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, London was subjected to bombing attacks by the Provisional IRA. Racial inequality was highlighted by the 1981 Brixton riot. Greater London’s population declined steadily in the decades after World War II, from an estimated peak of 8.6 million in 1939 to around 6.8 million in the 1980s. The principal ports for London moved downstream to Felixstowe and Tilbury, with the London Docklands area becoming a focus for regeneration as the Canary Wharf development. This was borne out of London’s ever-increasing role as a major international financial centre during the 1980s.
The Thames Barrier was completed in the 1980s to protect London against tidal surges from the North Sea. The Greater London Council was abolished in 1986, which left London as the only large metropolis in the world without a central administration. In 2000, London-wide government was restored, with the creation of the Greater London Authority. To celebrate the start of the 21st century, the Millennium Dome, London Eye and Millennium Bridge were constructed. On 6 July 2005 London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics, making London the first city to stage the Olympic Games three times