|It was the Romans who established the City of
London. They arrived around AD 50 and stayed for about 350 years. The
Romans built a wall around their settlement and a bridge over the river
Thames - setting the city up as an important trade centre. But let's not
forget that Boudicca (or Boadicea), tribal queen of the Iceni Celts and
fearsome chariot-driver, struck a blow for the Britons in AD 60, burning
much of the city to the ground.
The Romans' departure wasn't altogether good news for London - it was deserted, sacked, burnt (again), occupied, captured and generally slapped-about by the Scandinavian Vikings and the Germanic Saxons for the next 550 years.
The first incarnation of St Paul's Cathedral was built in the 7th century. Then, two centuries after the Saxon King Alfred the Great occupied London, the Normans arrived. It was 1066 and William the Conqueror was in charge. Finding London to be the most impressive city of his newly acquired kingdom, he stayed there and was crowned at Westminster Abbey. He also began to build the White Tower - the first part of what is now the Tower of London.
The Middle Ages saw London grow, despite fires sweeping through the place and a massive bout of Black Death in 1348 which wiped out nearly half of the city's 60,000 inhabitants.
The Tudors took over in 1485, the infamous Henry VIII a major player in the radical transformation of the country. He wanted a son, which meant getting a younger wife, which meant a divorce - which the Pope wouldn't allow. So he killed off Thomas More, his Chancellor, established the Church of England and outlawed Catholicism. In London this meant that all the land previously owned by the church was now his. He set about carving it up and giving large chunks to his friends (and more importantly to his potential enemies). Convent Garden became Covent Garden, and the land previously owned by Westminster Abbey, covering much of what is now the West End, was released for private development. In short, a new-look London was born.
The Globe Theatre was built in 1598, entertaining bawdy crowds with the classic plays that Shakespeare was knocking out. Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 and by this time there were about 220,000 people in London - it was expanding rapidly.
The Great Plague in 1665 and the Fire of London in 1666 were something of a blow, but it meant that there was an opportunity to start afresh architecturally. Christopher Wren took full advantage of this - designing and building 51 London churches including St Paul's Cathedral.
The City's population expansion continued to snowball - to 750,000 people in 1720 - but the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century saw it explode to 2.5 million. Charles Dickens (born in 1812) graphically depicts the London of this time - portraying a grimy, smoggy, poor and crime-ridden city.
During World War II much of London was destroyed. Rebuilding began in 1945 and one result was the South Bank Centre. Designed as a centrepiece for the arts, its functional rather than beautiful buildings provided a backdrop for this decade's blockbuster hit 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. The latest architectural addition to London is the Millennium Dome in Greenwich.
Meanwhile, back in the 'Swinging Sixties' London gained a reputation for being at fashion's forefront. It was an era epitomised by Twiggy, the very first supermodel, and Carnaby Street, with its Mary Quant boutique and Quadrophenia vibe. London has gone from strength to strength since then and is now recognised as one of the top international centres for fashion. Also, since the cow-splitting endeavours of Damien Hirst and the 1997 'Sensation' art exhibition, London has become world-renowned for its cutting-edge art.
London's double-decker buses have long remained a symbol of the city - used by Cliff Richard in the Sixties and the Spice Girls in the Nineties. Jump on board and find out why London will be driving, thriving and positively bursting into countless millennia to come.