The grand history of London dates back to over two millennia when a small settlement on the banks of River Thames was established. Since then, London has come a long way in becoming one of the most influential cities of the world – an important cultural as well as financial capital. London, or Londinium, as it was initially called by the Romans was created around 47 A.D. The location was decided by the presence of River Thames alone, a source of nourishment and life-giving water. Since then, London, capital of the United Kingdom has seen multiple empires rise and fall, making their history as rich and remarkable as any can be.
Here is a list of the top 10 historical moments of London, an almost impossible task to decide since the land is full of incidents that demand your attention. So, here it goes.
10. Bloody Mary (Nov. 17, 1558)
Although, the death of Queen Mary was not bloody in the least, this is still a common phrase tossed around in relation to her. The Catholic favoring queen had burnt alive close to 300 Protestants, or heretics, as she called them on the stake. She was an extremely ruthless emperor with no tolerance. She died showing symptoms akin to ovarian or pituitary cancer; and died childless and grieving. Her longing for a child was such that her copy of a bible was found tear streaked on pages regarding babies. Even today when ‘Bloody Mary’ horror stories are coined, a woman in bloody clothes crying about her dead child comes up the most. Her end left England in the hands of her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth – one of the most efficient and loved of all rulers Britain ever saw.
9. Globe Theatre opens (June 12, 1599)
One of London’s first grand theatres, fit for nobility and commoners alike, was The Globe. It was a stage, roughly 43 feet wide and 28 feet long and had three balconied sides facing it that seated the English audience. The greatest of dramatists, William Shakespeare earned 12.5 per cent of The Globe’s profits and almost all of his plays were performed here. A fire destroyed this first incarnation on June 29, 1613. But, the people of London have a knack for rebuilding fire ruined infrastructure and the theatre was back up in no time. This rebuilt version was shut by Puritans again in 1644. But, Sam Wanamaker, an American actor made efforts to open it up in the last decade of the 20th century. As a result, since 1997, the theatre of the Bard has been open to the theatre fanatics.
8. The Gunpowder Plot (Nov. 5, 1605)
Since Henry VIII moved away from Rome, the catholic repression era had all but begun. It was even more solidified when Queen Elizabeth, the half-sister of Queen Mary of Tudor, came into power. The Catholics were all but treated as second-class citizens. The treatment provoked the Catholic Robert Catesby to root for violence. He drew a plan to wipe out the king and his entire nobility in one full sweep. 36 barrels of gunpowder were setup in tunnels beneath the Parliament House, enough to blow up the entire State Opening. The authorities, however, were tipped off by some insider of the conspiracy and the plot was defiled. This conspiracy is remembered every year on the 5th November by fireworks and bonfires through the city.
7. Civil War (1642-1651)
The English Civil War was a long list of conflicts between the parliamentarians and King Charles I. Even if the dates of the English Civil War include 22nd August 1642 to 3rd September 1651, it was actually a culmination of events that began on 4th Jan 1642 when King Charles tried to arrest his own parliament members through a show of great force and failed due to prior knowledge of his methods. The country fell in anarchy which was restored only after King Charles I’s beheading on 30th Jan 1649.
6. Founding of the Royal Society (Nov. 28, 1660)
The Royal Society of London for the improvement of Natural Knowledge was founded after the restoration of Charles II to the throne. Charles had presented to the society a royal charter in July 1662 by way of promoting scientific logical thoughts and not mere ancient references. The society’s motto, “Nullius in verba”, translated as “Nothing in words”, or “On the word of none” sets the tone. The UK and the Commonwealth regard FRS – Fellow of the Royal Society to be one of the greatest badges of scientific authority till date.
5. Black Death (Sept. 19, 1665)
The bubonic plague, the outbreak of which killed more than 100,000 Londoners (a fifth of the then population) lasted from the April of 1664 till the winters of 1665. Thousands of cats and dogs were slaughtered as they were suspected to be the carriers of the disease. Although, later the real culprits were found – the rats that multiplied by scores and hundreds in the unsanitary conditions of the seventeenth century London.
4. Great Fire (Sept. 2, 1666)
A greater fire that led to far greater destruction than the ‘Great Fire of London’ would be almost impossible to imagine. The unplanned city of London and its narrow streets filled with wood houses and businesses with upper floors overhanging the lower ones paved an easy and laughably uninhibited way for flames to spread further and further ahead till they consumed more than half the city. The fire had initially started at midnight in the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane and spread unchecked until it consumed the entire street. Fanned by strong winds and feasting upon wood, oil and thatch, the flames licked further. The fire lasted till 5th September, 1666 and destroyed over 13,000 houses and over 90 churches. The city reflected the image of a giant incinerator. The fire is commemorated by a monument structured at roughly the same location where the fire began. The destroyed unplanned city was reconstructed in an impressive, well-planned and spacy establishment- the way we see it today.
3. Big Ben’s first Strike (July 11, 1859)
Big Ben – the elegant tower of London that houses the Great Clock was winched in place on October 20, 1858. But, it wasn’t until next year that it actually started fulfilling the purpose it was built for. The accurate Great Clock is 14 tonnes in weight, 2.2 m. high and 2.7 m. broad, and strikes the deep ‘E’ note when hit by a 200 kg. In-built hammer. The bell toll was to be audible enough to cover a large radius of London vicinity. Designed by Charles Barry and engineered by Benjamin Hall, the Big Ben is the proud and joy of the entirety of Britain.
2. Crystal Palace Fire (Nov. 30, 1936)
The 1,851 ft. long and 128 ft. high Crystal Palace was constructed in the Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851. It was the largest amount of glass to ever be seen in a building of those times and a proud epitome of the Victorian era. After standing grand and proud for 85 years, the Crystal Palace went up in flames on November 30th, 1936 as the fire licked away and fed off of the timber flooring and was provoked further by gusty winds. Its destructive volcanic glow was seen across eight countries and a 100,000 people made their way to watch the Crystal Palace inferno.
1. London Eye erected (Oct. 10, 1999)
The Millennium Wheel, erected at an angle of 65 degrees, has been ruling the Central London skyline since right before the end of millennia. As the world prepared itself to step into the twenty-first century, the giant Ferris wheel, 135 m. tall and 1700 tonnes of steel and cables and air-conditioned pods was erected and named ‘The Eye’ to gently carry sightseers atop the apex and lend an eye to sweep the whole city. U.K.’s biggest visitor attraction, ‘The Eye’ is to London what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the TajMahal is to India.
he multiple monarchs, monuments and events this city has witnessed have shaped it to be what it is today. A hundred or even thousand more remarkable and awe-inducing events hide in every nook and cranny of this city.