London (England), city, capital of the United Kingdom
London is situated in southeastern England along the Thames River. With a population of about 7 million, this vast metropolis is by far the largest city in Europe, a distinction it has maintained since the 17th century. In the 19th century it was the largest and most influential city in the world, the center of a large and prosperous overseas empire. 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's climate is generally mild and damp, although it can be erratic. This region is one of the driest parts of Britain, and the average annual rainfall is only about 584 mm (about 23 in). However, the weather is generally cloudy, and some rain is liable to fall on half the days of the year. With a mean temperature in July of about 18° C (about 64° F), London has warmer summers than most of the island, although heat waves are infrequent and seldom last long. Temperatures rarely go above 26° C (78° F). Winters are relatively frosty, however, and the mean temperature in January is 4° C (40° F). Fog frequently develops in winter. In the past, foggy days were aggravated by smoke, resulting in London's traditional "pea-soupers." However, since the use of coal has significantly declined, these have largely disappeared.
London's metropolitan area extends for more than 30 miles at its widest point, covering some 1610 sq km (620 sq mi). This vast urban territory is divided into 33 political units-32 boroughs and the City of London. At the core of this immense urban area is Central London. Most of Central London is located north of the Thames, on a gentle slope that rises to the north. It contains about 12 of the 33 political units, including the City of London, the City of Westminster, and districts in the West End. The City of London is the traditional heart of the city and stands as its own political unit. The City of Westminster is the seat of the national government. Much of the outer portion of this huge conglomeration of people and activities is made up of low-rise residential development.
The City of London The historical center of London is now a relatively small area still known as the City, which covers only about 2.6 sq km (about 1 sq mi). The City is capitalized, to distinguish it from the larger metropolis. This is where London began as a Roman colonial town around AD 50, at the point where the Romans built the first bridge in London. Today this area is one of the world's leading financial centers. Most of the financial activities are crowded along Threadneedle Street, near the intersection known as the Bank, which includes the huge Bank of England complex, the Royal Exchange, and the Stock Exchange. The permanent residential population of the City is now less than 6000, but about 350,000 commute here daily to work. The only large residential portion of the City is the Barbican Centre, a concrete complex of towers, parking garages, and pedestrian walkways located on the northern edge of the City. The Barbican was built to replace older buildings destroyed in World War II (1939-1945), when the Germans heavily bombed London.
Some of the City's older elegance and significance remains despite the architectural havoc caused by the Blitz and postwar developers. The most prominent landmark is Saint Paul's Cathedral, designed by English architect Christopher Wren to replace the original church, which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. At the City's eastern boundary is the Tower of London, where the Crown imprisoned many important figures. It was begun in the 11th century by the Norman invader, William the Conqueror, to awe a city he had not completely conquered. Successive monarchs added to the original, central White Tower, and built walls to enclose the 7-hectare (18-acre) site. Its function now is primarily ceremonial, although it still guards the Crown Jewels.
Some of the City's traditional functions have disappeared. The newspaper industry was concentrated in the Fleet Street area for centuries, but during the 1980s the Times and other papers moved to highly automated quarters at the Docklands in the East End. The old wholesale fish market, Billingsgate, located for centuries on the river between the Tower and London Bridge, also moved to the Docklands.
The City of Westminster The City of Westminster, about two miles upstream from the City of London, emerged as England's political and religious center of power after the 11th century. At the heart of Westminster is Westminster Abbey, begun by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 13th century. It has always been closely associated with the monarchy and is used for such state occasions as coronations and royal funerals. It is also a giant mausoleum, and more than 3000 notable people are buried there. Statues and monuments line the magnificent nave. Virtually across the street are the Houses of Parliament, officially called the New Palace of Westminster. Farther west is the monarch's permanent residence in London, Buckingham Palace.
To the north, Trafalgar Square links the political and religious section of Westminster to the rest of west London. This square is a modest version of the great ceremonial squares of Europe, and was built in dedication to British naval commander Viscount Horatio Nelson, whose monument is at the square's center. It has long been a popular site for large-scale political demonstrations. Some significant buildings, such as the National Gallery, are on the square. On the northeast corner is Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, the classical-style church designed by James Gibbs in the 1720s.
The West End To the west and north of Trafalgar Square is the West End, which is usually regarded as the center of town because it is London's shopping and entertainment hub. The busiest shopping area is Oxford Street, where such large department stores as Selfridges, John Lewis, and Marks and Spencer are located. Other well-known shopping areas include Knightsbridge, the location of Harrods department store; and Piccadilly, where Fortnum and Mason specializes in fine food. The main entertainment attractions are scattered throughout the Soho and Covent Garden sections, northeast of Piccadilly. Soho and Covent Garden were created as residential areas in the 17th century, but now are home to shops, theaters, and street entertainers. The Royal Opera House and most of London's 40 or so major theaters are here, as are the large movie houses, and hundreds of restaurants, cafés, and bars.
Located just west of Soho and Covent Garden in the West End is a more residential area. Much of the urban design here is based on the residential square, an imitation of European precedents, with uniform houses built around an open space. The houses on these squares were often built for the aristocracy and the upper middle class. The relatively dense development of this area is broken up by a series of Royal Parks, areas once owned by the Crown, including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Regent's Park.
In the northern part of the West End is Bloomsbury, the city's traditional intellectual center, with its concentration of bookshops and homes of writers and academics. In the early 20th century a number of famous writers, critics, and artists who lived here became known as the Bloomsbury Group. Here, too, is the British Museum, one of London's chief tourist attractions. Nearby is the giant complex of the University of London, whose various colleges and departments have taken over much of Bloomsbury.
The East End and Docklands The East End, beyond the City of London and the Tower, has long been the home of London's docks and immigrants. It has frequently been characterized by slums, poverty, and crime. This is the area where the notorious criminal Jack the Ripper prowled. Some portions, such as Bethnal Green, were slums during the Victorian period. Many poorer immigrants and working-class Londoners still reside in the East End, but its weekend street markets are very popular, especially Petticoat Lane, which runs along the length of Middlesex Street. Although Middlesex Street is no longer the center of the clothing trade, its merchandise is still geared toward apparel. Much of the old dockyard area has been abandoned and is being redeveloped as the Docklands, an ambitious project designed to lure London's financial activities away from the congested City. The heart of the Docklands is the Isle of Dogs, a peninsula where the Royal Kennels were once situated.
North London North London was made up of satellite villages until the 19th century when the underground railroad (known locally as the Tube) opened this area up to development. Camden Town, on Regent's Canal, has a popular weekend market that sells inexpensive clothing and jewelry. Farther north are elegant 18th-century villages, such as Hampstead, a center for writers; and Highgate, renowned for London's best-known cemetery, which includes the grave and a large bust of Karl Marx. A central fixture of north London is the 324-hectare (800-acre) Hampstead Heath, a large public park.
South London The area south of the Thames has long been regarded with disdain by the rest of the city. For centuries Southwark, originally the area around the southern end of London Bridge, was the disreputable entertainment center of London, with brothels, bars, and theaters outside of the City's jurisdiction. The sacred and the profane lived in close proximity here. Not far from the infamous Bankside, where brutal sports like cockfighting and bearbaiting took place, was the beautiful Southwark Cathedral, which dates from the 13th century. Bankside was also the location of Elizabethan theaters, which were restricted in the City because they were considered places of vice. One of these, the Globe Theatre, where William Shakespeare put on his greatest plays, was recently reconstructed.
Farther along the river to the west is the South Bank Centre cultural complex, begun as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Festival of Britain was a vehicle for lifting the spirits of Londoners after the trials of World War II. The most important building in the center is the Royal Festival Hall, a concert hall that was built for the festival. The Royal National Theatre and the National Film Theatre are also part of the South Bank Centre.
The population of metropolitan London in mid-1996 was about 7 million, which represents about 12 percent of Britain's total population of 58.8 million. The population has declined since 1951, when more than 8 million people lived in London. Since 1985, however, the city has been growing at the rate of about 10,000 people per year. London's population is heavily concentrated by British and North American standards, with a population density of about 4480 persons per sq km (about 1730 per sq mi).
London has always attracted immigrants from Britain's towns and villages. In the mid-19th century, half of the people of London had been born outside the city. During the Irish Famine of the 1840s, there was an influx of people from Ireland. At the turn of the century, Eastern European Jews settled in the East End. Chinese immigrants settled near the docks in the East End during the late 19th century, creating a Chinatown at Limehouse. More recently, Chinese immigrants, mostly from Hong Kong, have formed the highly visible Chinatown in the Soho area of the West End.
Since World War II, two groups of immigrants have transformed London into one of the most multiethnic capitals in Europe. One of these groups is usually referred to simply as "Asian," and refers to those who originally came from the Indian subcontinent. The 525,000 people in this diverse group speak many languages-Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu-and belong to several religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, or Sikh.
A second influential group is the black population, which represents about 425,000 people, mostly from the Caribbean, but recently also from African countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia. During the late 1940s Jamaicans were the first and largest group to emigrate from the Caribbean. They tended to settle in south London, notably in Brixton, which still has a large black community. Jamaicans are also noted for their distinctive Rastafarian culture, made popular by reggae artists such as Bob Marley. Immigrants from Trinidad, Dominica, and Saint Lucia reside in Notting Hill, once one of the West End's most run-down areas, but now one of London's trendiest multicultural neighborhoods. Other areas with significant black populations are Hackney and Harringay in northeast London.
Roman and Saxon London London was founded as a communications center by the Romans shortly after they invaded Britain in AD 43. Known as Londinium, the town was located at the northern end of the bridge the Romans had built across the Thames, on a route to their provincial capital at Colchester in eastern England. Londinium's rectangular plan was typical of Roman colonial towns, with two main streets intersecting at the large basilica, or public building, about where the Bank of England stands today. Other elements of the urban fabric were a forum, a temple complex, a governor's palace, a wharf along the river for landing, a large fort (portions of which can still be seen at the Barbican Centre), and a great wall, built about AD 200, which roughly enclosed the area that later became the City.
The Romans withdrew from London and Britain in the early 5th century, and little is known about the city until the Saxons, under Alfred the Great, regained the city from Danish invaders in the 9th century. At the end of the Saxon period, which lasted until the 11th century, London's population is estimated to have been between 10,000 and 12,000, about a third of what it had been under the Romans. London's commercial role depended on its strategic location between the wool-growing areas of England, which were located north of London and in East Anglia, and the manufacturing towns of the Netherlands. The foundations for some of London's most enduring features were laid during the Saxon years. One such feature, London's various and unique neighborhoods, resulted from the Saxons modifying the Romans' orderly street pattern into an informal settlement made up of scattered villages. And the twin poles of the future London, with the monarchy and government in the west (Westminster) and business in the east (the City), hail back to the last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor. He moved his palace two miles west of the walled city to be near the church he was building, Westminster Abbey.
Medieval London The Norman conquest in 1066 set the stage for mixing French into London's Saxon character. William the Conqueror, who had himself crowned William I of England, built a great tower "against the fickleness of the vast and fierce population." The original portion, the 27-m (90-ft) stone White Tower, was whitewashed to intensify its dramatic appearance. It was both a royal residence and a jail for political prisoners. The tower's Romanesque style, with its rounded arches, still conveys a sense of solidity and strength. William also guaranteed the city would retain the rights and privileges it had under the Saxons, such as its local court system run by elders.
During this period, London emerged as the English capital and as an active commercial city on the fringe of the northern European trading system. The commercial City, where most people lived and worked, filled in the walled area of the old Roman site. The monarchy and court resided at Westminster, connected to the City by the Strand, which later developed into a major street. In 1300 London's total population was probably about 35,000, less than half that of Paris, the largest city in Europe. In the 1340s about a third of London's residents fell victim to the Black Death (bubonic plague), but the population recovered to about 40,000 by 1500.
London's place in the international wool trade led many foreign traders to take up residence in the City: Danes, Germans, Flemings, and especially northern Italians, who established themselves as bankers. Local trade was concentrated in two large markets, Cheapside (cheap was the Saxon word for "market"), a general produce market, and Eastcheap, a market for fish and meat. Side streets specialized in products still remembered by names such as Milk Street, Bread Street, Poultry Lane, and Ironmonger's Lane. The main fish market was at Billingsgate quay on the river.
During this period, artisans started organizing into guilds, which not only set standards for their particular craft but helped and protected their artisans. Along with the merchants, the guilds effectively governed the City and regulated its trade. The first mention of a mayor dates back to 1189. A Common Council, a group of citizens that met regularly with the city elders on common affairs, dates from the 14th century. The seat of civic government for the City was, and still is, the Guildhall, whose current building dates to the 15th century.
The bustling commercial city was also an actively religious community. At Westminster, the original Romanesque Westminster Abbey was replaced in stages in the 13th century by the present magnificent French Gothic structure (see Gothic Art and Architecture). In the City, the Old Saint Paul's Cathedral was greatly enlarged during the 13th century, with a spire rising to more than 140 m (450 ft). There were small parish churches on almost every street. Dozens of monasteries, set in large grounds, dominated many parts of the city. Convents and hospitals of various orders were located in the suburbs.
The medieval labyrinth of London was characterized by narrow, congested streets lined with tiny shops and houses built of wood and plaster, with second stories jutting out beyond the ground floor. This tendency to cluster into crowded spaces even applied to London Bridge, which was considerably more than just a river crossing. A new stone bridge was begun in 1176 to replace the old wooden bridge that had been repaired and rebuilt multiple times over the preceding 1000 years. The new bridge was crowded with houses and shops and even a chapel.
Tudor and Stuart London Between 1485 and 1600 London's population grew to 200,000, then by the end of the 17th century shot up to 575,000, surpassing Paris as the largest city in Europe. During this period, the city was the center of a tremendous expansion in trade, colonization, and finance. This immense growth was exemplified by the establishment of the Royal Exchange in the 1560s by financier Sir Thomas Gresham; the founding of the English East India Company in 1600; the organizing of joint stock companies by London investors to colonize Ireland and Virginia early in the 17th century (see Ulster Plantation); and the founding of the Bank of England by City merchants in 1694. London was also the center of the English cultural Renaissance, particularly in literature, with major figures such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare.
The urban fabric of London was transformed in this period, partly due to Henry VIII dissolving the Catholic monasteries in the 1530s as part of the English Reformation. Aristocrats acquired these former church properties from the king and opened them to development, which led to building inside and outside the City walls on a large scale. An example was the development of Covent Garden as a residential square by the Earl of Bedford, whose family had obtain this valuable property once associated with Westminster Abbey. One of London's first squares, Covent Garden was designed by architect Inigo Jones in the early 1630s. As the king's surveyor general, Jones brought classical architectural style to London with such buildings as the Banqueting Hall in 1619 and the Queen's Chapel in 1623. Classical architecture, modeled after ancient Greek and Roman architecture, is known for its use of columns, arches, and vaults.
London survived the disruption of the English Revolution during the 1640s and 1650s, and like much of southeastern England, supported the Parliamentary cause against the king. More devastating to London was the Great Plague of 1665, which killed as many as 100,000 Londoners, and the Great Fire of London that followed in the next year. In three terrifying days in September 1666, 80 percent of the City burned to the ground, including Saint Paul's Cathedral, 87 churches, and 13,200 houses.
Rebuilding London after the fire took place quickly using the tangle of preexisting property lines and streets, in spite of hopes for a more formal plan by architect Christopher Wren. New building regulations dictated the use of brick rather than wood as a way to prevent future calamities. Wren's designs for the new Saint Paul's, with its great dome and baroque towers, made it a key symbol of the modernized city. He also designed about 50 parish churches, such as Saint Bride's off Fleet Street.
Georgian London London grew quickly during the Georgian age, between 1714 and the 1830s. By 1801 the population of the city and its outlying areas had passed the 1 million mark, and by 1837 was close to 2 million. London was the hub of an immense empire (in spite of losing its American colonies in the American Revolution), its wealth coming from trade with the East and West Indies. Trade and shipping were facilitated by the building of giant new docks early in the 19th century, such as the West India Dock and the London Dock in the East End, to replace the old, crowded port located between London Bridge and the Tower. Culturally, it was the age of Dr. Samuel Johnson, London's most literary and crusty defender: "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."
Georgian London, however, was becoming two cities, based on wealth and residence. The West End emerged as the residential and shopping center of the wealthy. Aristocrats who owned large rural estates developed them into London suburbs, using the residential square as the focal point of formally planned districts, unlike anything in older parts of London, where development was more unsystematic. Grosvenor, Bedford, Belgrave, and Russell squares were all built during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Thousands of terraces (row houses) were built in the uniform Georgian style, many with extravagant interiors by fashionable architects such as Robert Adam and John Nash. Nash also designed palatial terraces, including Cumberland Terrace at Regent's Park in the 1820s. The Greek Revival style of classicism, with its straight lines and columns, dominated the design of a number of public buildings built in the early 19th century, such as the British Museum, University College, and the National Gallery. Nash's major public planning ventures included Regent Street in 1812, designed as a grand processional leading to the north, and Trafalgar Square in the 1830s, in honor of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
The other Georgian London was the East End, with its dockyards, and the islands of poverty scattered through the rest of the city. Child mortality, disease, and crime were prevalent in these areas. The desperate situation was worsened by high consumption of gin. Social violence, crime, and major demonstrations were common, especially during the early reign of George III. Notable during this period were the riots led by John Wilkes in the late 1760s, in which he called for freedom of the press and political reforms, and the Gordon Riots of 1780, headed by Protestant leader Lord George Gordon against pro-Catholic legislation. An official police force (the world's first) was authorized by Parliament and organized by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, replacing the policing done by parish constables and private watchmen.
Victorian and Edwardian London The phenomenal population growth between 1837 and 1914 made London the world's largest city. Between 1851 and 1901, London's population went from 2.5 million to 6.5 million. London was Britain's economic powerhouse and the center of a burgeoning empire. Suburban expansion of an unprecedented scale swallowed up former countryside and villages in all directions. Residential housing in the City declined as it became a commercial and financial enclave.
The railroads were key engines of change in the city. Among the earliest was the London and Birmingham, which connected the manufacturing center to London's northern suburbs at Euston Station by the late 1830s. Eventually the inner city was ringed by lavish railway stations, such as Saint Pancras, a sort of medieval fairy-tale castle built in the 1860s. The underground railway began in the 1860s and, with electrification in the 1890s, was able to use deep tunnels to bring passengers to the heart of the city. The old London Bridge was replaced by a modern version in the 1830s, and the Tower Bridge, a marvel of modern engineering, opened in 1894, to become London's most recognizable landmark. The large glass-and-iron Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, symbolized London's place as the capital of the industrial age. The most spectacular public building of the age was the New Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1835 and completed in 1860, which ushered in the new Gothic Revival style of the Victorian era, with its use of ornate decoration, spires, and towers.
London's reputation for progress was matched by its image as a city of degradation and poverty. The railways slashed their way through slum districts, displacing thousands. The slums of the East End and Soho received particular attention from observers and writers. Some of the novels of Charles Dickens portrayed the human misery in graphic terms, as did Henry Mayhew's London Labour and London Poor, based on research carried out in the 1840s and 1850s. Charles Booth's massive 17-volume Life and Labour of the People of London, published between 1891 and 1903, helped pressure the new London County Council to take action by providing public housing and by taking over public ownership of gas, water, electricity, and transport. Efforts to solve London's problems by building new "garden cities," such as Letchworth in the early 1900s, were popular with reformers but did little to alleviate the situation in the metropolis as a whole. Garden cities were planned communities in gardenlike settings and included industry as well as homes so that residents would not have to commute to London on a daily basis.
"London (England)," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000. © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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