William the Conqueror granted London a charter in 1067 confirming the status that the city had held under the previous Saxon administration. Over time several castles were built along the Thames to ensure the protection of the city against Viking raids. The Tower of London was one of these as was Baynard’s and Monfichet’s Castle, both of which have long since disappeared but would have been in the region of what is now Ludgate Hill.
In the latter part of the 11th century the royal family took up residence in Westminster for the first time, building Westminster Hall and setting in motion the first of the Norman abbeys that would rise around the City of London, such as St Bartholomew-The-Great, the chancel of which can still be seen in West Smithfield.
Also in this period, London Bridge was completely rebuilt, until it became the medieval structure so famous from the Great Fire of 1666. It would remain the only crossing on the River Thames until 1739.
London has not always been the capital city. This was dictated by the location of the royal family at any given time and for many years this was Winchester in the South of England. After 1200, though, London became the capital after government located more permanently to Westminster. This meant that there became two distinct districts in Westminster and the City. One was used to the implementation of rules and laws, whilst the other was concerned primarily with trade and commerce. This is still the case today.
Over the course of the next few centuries, the City’s influence grew along with its population and the traders created guilds that became a ruling cadre. They are still around today along with the Corporation of London, which provides the lord Mayor of London, a ceremonial role.
The Great Fire
The Great Fire changed everything when it destroyed huge chunks of the City along with the northern section of London Bridge. Charles II had plans, along with Sir Christopher Wren, to use these new open spaces to create long boulevards and new districts. Unfortunately the local residents who had lost everything didn’t see things this way and wanted everything back to the way it was. Apparently the small matter of a catastrophic fire destroying their closely packed wooden buildings wasn’t enough to put them off.
One concession that was forced through, however, was that any new building had to be flat fronted. This was because the houses before the fire had floors that jutted out, allowing flames to jump more easily between buildings. It also meant that you were less likely to be covered in something nasty when people threw their waste out of top windows.
For a period of eight months in 1940 and 1941, London came under a sustained bombing campaign by the Nazi Luftwaffe. The result was around 43,00 dead Londoners, 100,00 plus wounded, a brutalised city and a highly hacked off Fuhrer who had been promised the capitulation of London by Hermann Göring, the head of the Luftwaffe.
It’s safe to say Herman was probably not flavour of the month after this.
It took London decades to recover with many bomb sites lasting into the 1970’s or later (we’re still finding unexploded bombs on a fairly regular basis during building and excavation work.)
The city today is a district covered in sky towers of glass and metal. After the big bang of 1986, American banks took up residence in the city, creating one of the world’s leading financial hubs. Today it has to compete with Canary wharf in the east of the city for business but it’s still going strong and showing no signs of slowing down after a millennia of growth.