Modern London



After the Great Fire Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt London. He had no training as an architect but he designed myriad buildings. He designed St Paul’s Cathedral. Alas an alack he did not live to see it erected. He designed a multitude of churches. When Wren died his pupil James Gibbs built many more such as St Clement Danes and St Mary Le Strand.

Late 17th century London was built with straight streets. Its architecture borrowed heavily from Italy. Much of it was neo-classical. They coped the Corinthian notion of the Golden Mean  3:8 being the perfect ratio.

The time of Charles II was known as Caroline England. It was a time of glamour for the wealthy. Men wore wigs if rich even if they had a full head of hair. People wore silk clothes.

Scientific innovation began. A diving bell allowed the diarist Samuel Pepys to go to the bottom of Thames and have dinner there.

In the late 17th century there was much religious controversy. There tiny Catholic minority faced much hostility. There was Irish Night – when the Protestant majority feared that they would be attacked by Irish Catholic soldiers. Many English Catholics were beaten up and their houses were torched.

The Popish Plot was a hoax created by Titus Oates. Oates said there was a Catholic conspiracy. Some leading Catholics were convicted of treason and put to death.

People from India  and Africa arrived in London. There were very few of them. Nonetheless they were depicted in oil paintings of the epoch. Art started to be more realistic.

Hugenots came over from France. They were Protestant refugees. They settled in the East End and Petty France.

In 1688 the Glorious Revolution took place. Most of its key event occurred in London. William and Mary became joint sovereigns. This did not change daily life. People began to copy Dutch architecture since William II hailed from the Netherlands.

In 1707 England Wales joined with Scotland. The United Kingdom of Great Britain was founded. Many Scots shifted to London.

In the 18th century there was hardship at the beginning. This was due to the War of Spanish Succession. The United Kingdom won but the cost was heavy.

In 1714 George I came over from Hanover to be king. He spoke broken English. Many German scholars accompanied him. Handel was one of him. He did much to improve the music scene. British music was among the most unsophisticated in Europe. Opera and ballet started to be appreciated.

Many theatres were founded in the 18th century. So too were many private clubs for affluent gentlemen. There were coffee houses galore. Tea became affordable even for the lower orders.

In the 18th century upper class women also started wearing wigs. Men and women wore white wigs even if they had dark hair. They did so on formal occasions.

There was still abject poverty. The Church of England did not cater to the needy. John Wesley was an Anglican clergyman who concerned himself with the working class. He later broke away from the C of E and founded the Methodist Church. The Methodists built many churches. One of these was on City Road.

Dissenters were Protestants outside the Church of England. That meant Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and the like. They were often buried in Bunhill Cemetery. This is derived form Bone Hill.

The affluent had many servants. The masters often seduced their maids. Many children were born to unwed mothers. They were often put into orphanages. Mr Coram was very worried about the fate of these abandoned children. HE set up a Foundling Hospital for them. It still existed until the 1930s. Sometimes the mothers were encouraged to give their baby a keepsake. If the mother ever came back in later years she could recognise the child by the keepsake like a comb or spoon. These women were sometimes unwilling to give their names to the Foundling Hospital since they were ashamed at having given birth outside of wedlock.

The population grew rapidly. Science and technology advanced. The Royal Society of London did much to improve knowledge of the natural world.

London hospitals were among the best in the world. There was St Bartholemew’s which dated to the Middle Ages. Guy’s Hospital was founded by Mr Guy at this time.

The city was mostly built of brick. The City of London was still officially the St Paul’s Cathedral area. Many boroughs in Kent, Surrey and Middlesex were effectively in London.

In the late 18th century turnpike trusts improved roads. Canals were dug to transport goods from factories. The ports in the East End expanded. The docks were built. Chinese people came to live in London.

In the 1780s the Daily Universal Register was founded. It was a newspaper. It has been renamed the Times. It covered the whole UK. Stage coach companies carried mail and passengers around the realm. The Daily Courant had been the first diurnal newspaper back in the early 17th century but it was for London only.

The 1790s was a time of upheaval. There was war against France. There was radicalism in the air. Many preached revolution. The government restricted civil liberty. Revolution was avoided. There were protests and mass meetings. The London Corresponding Society sent out radical pamphlets.

After 1800 the war against France continued. People feared invasion. The threat of revolution had abated.

In 1815 France was beaten. The threat of revolution reared its head again. A man could be a revolutionary without aiding the enemy. There were many demonstrations and rallies. People formed trades unions and these were banned. Some trades unionists were transported to Australia for forming a union against the Combination Act. Huge protests had these men set free. They were the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

There were plots to overthrow the government. Government informers infiltrated the revolutionary cells.  The plot was defeated.

Public executions took place at Tyburn Tree. This is near Speakers’ Corner. The main prison was Newgate Prison. People would throng to watch hangings. These hangings were known as a ”turning off”’. The condemned would have their hands tied behind they. The condemned would be standing on carts with nooses around their necks. The carts would be pushed away. The unfortunate people would be left to dangle. It could take 30 minutes to die. Some would tip the hangman to give them a long drop and therefore an instant death. One of the perquisites of the hangman is that he was permitted to keep the clothes of those he executed. These could be sold. Poor folk bought second hand clothes. If the garments belong to a notorious criminal then many would pay dearly for such keepsakes.

In the 1820s there was much unrest. The city was in a pre revolutionary stage again. There were riots and revolution was contained only with great difficulty. In 1832 the Great Reform calmed the situation. Railways came to the city at that time. The city expanded south of the Thames. The marshy land around Waterloo Station was built upon. Chelsea was once a market garden but it started to be a fashionable area.

In 1829 University College London was founded. Jeremy Bentham MP had been a prime mover behind it. London was one of the last capitals in Europe to be without a university. King’s College London came soon afterwards.

The 1840s the Chartists stirred the pot again. Feeling was running high. The coming of railways reduced seasonal unemployment. The situation calmed down. Many European radicals fled to London in the 1840s. Trafalgar Square was laid out. Nelson’s Column was erected. The National Gallery was founded.

In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne. She moved from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace. That started to be the focal point of London.

London started to have a significant Italian and Hungarian community. Prince Albert from Germany decided to raise standards in education, science and culture. He organized the Great Exhibition of 1851. It took place in Hyde Park. Millions came to the Great Exhibition Hall. It was made of glass and was over 500 m long. A journalist dubbed it Crystal Palace.

The money raised from the Great Exhibition was used to purchase land in Kensington which was then a countryside area. This area became known as Albertopolis. It contains Royal Albert Hall – for some time the largest concert hall in Europe. There is Imperial College, the Royal College of Music and so on.

The city expanded rapidly. The sewage system could not cope. The Thames was clogged up with human waste. It was called the Great Stink. The stench was so noxious that Parliament moved to another city. This led to Sir Joseph Bazalgette sorting out the London sewage system. He also built the Embankment started in 1863. The Thames by Westminster was about twice as wide as it is now and was prone to flooding.

In 1863 London built the first underground railway in the world. It was around Paddington and Baker Street to begin with. This was the start of the tube.

There were many factories in London and the sky was smoggy. People were burning coal for domestic heating. Trains also ran on coat. People moved by horse drawn carriage too.

Henry Mayhew wrote a book entitled London Labour and the London Poor. William Booth also investigated poverty in London. The scale and severity of poverty in late 19th century London horrified many.

Socialist societies in late 19th century London attempted to alleviate such suffering. Legislation was passed aimed at the betterment of the lower orders. Many people were casual labourers. Work was often dangerous and filthy. Hours were long and wages were derisory. Wages were compressed by the arrival of immigrants from Italy, Greece, the Russian Empire and so forth. Those form Russia were often Jewish and faced some animus.

In 1880 London was a city and Westminster was a city. Most of what we call London was made up of boroughs – Ealing, Camden, Richmond and so on. These boroughs were not officially part of London. They did not co-ordinate with each other. This was a ridiculous situation since these boroughs and the City of London were one conurbation. The government created Greater London. This comprised the City of London, the City of Westminster and thirty boroughs. A London County Council was elected. This met at Parliament Square. Issues were dealt with on a London wide basis. This meant that issues such as gas, water, housing, transport and policing were dealt with by London County Council.

In 1888 Jack the Ripper murdered five ladies of the night in London. The press was full of it. The killer was never caught.

In 1890 Tower Bridge was built. This is by far the most famous bridge in London. It has that name because it has two towers on it and is by the Tower of London. It is not London Bridge which is a very bland bridge.

By 1900 the city has over 2 000 000 people and was the largest city on earth. Over 1% of the population as non white. In the East End there were quite a few Indians and black men. They usually wed white women. The next generation was half white and the one after that was three-quarters white. After that these people disappeared into the white community.

Around 1910 there were lots of strikes. The Labour Party became a major force in London. Labour won some borough councils.

In 1914 the First World War broke out. Many Londoners clamoured for the colours. Belgian refugees arrived. The city was bombed but only 100 or so died.

In 1922 London County Hall was completed. London County Council moved there. Labour captured most London boroughs and has remained the dominant force in London ever since. The Liberal Party was almost wiped out.

There was significant immigration to London in the 1920s. This included white Russians.

Cars started to be a common sight on London streets at that time. Horses gradually disappeared. Many factories moved out of London.

In the 1930s there was mass unemployment. Life for the well to do was getting better. Labour saving devices became affordable for the middle class. Electricity and running water were in most houses.

In 1939 the Second World War broke out. Children were evacuated as were the disabled and elderly. The city was bombed and thousands died. Bomb shelters were built. Many slept in the tube.  The population had been 6 000 000

In 1945 the war was over. Only 5 000 000 lived in London. The East End had been ravaged. New towns were built outside London. Many East Enders moved out and never returned. London was not fully rebuilt until 1960.

There was large scale immigration after 1945. The government asked people from the Commonwealth to come. In 1948 the SS Empire Windrush docked. It brought men from the West Indies. They came to live in Brixton. They were the nucleus of the Afro-Caribbean community. A large number of people came from India and Poland. The population of London stagnated. People were also moving overseas – to Australia, Canada, the USA and South Africa. There were plenty of derelict houses.

Terrible smog in 1953 killed people. The government passed the Clean Air Act. Coal fires were banned in London. Air quality improved remarkably. More people bought cars so some railway lines were closed.

Rationing was only phased out in 1958. People had better houses than before. Slums were demolished. Decent houses were built. Councils provided affordable housing.

In the 1960s people spoke of Swinging London. It became fashionable. The upper classes started to affect working class style. The Beatles made the country trendy. People from Sweden and Germany flocked to London as a cool city.

In the 1970s IRA terrorism afflicted London. It became easy to squat in abandoned houses. Accommodation was very affordable. Drug abuse became widespread. The punk movement started. Almost all factories and docks closed. There was mass unemployment in some areas. The Gay Liberation Front and other radical groups became prominent at this time.

In the 1980s there was fairly high crime. Drug abuse became more widespread. There were riots in Brixton. White supremacists attacked ethnic minorities. Despite this the city became richer. The city was polarized between rich and poor. There was a lot of homelessness. By contrast London became one of the centres of world fashion. It is up there with New York, Paris and Milan. London outstrips other fashion cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong or Los Angeles.

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. She allowed council tenants to buy their houses. They really liked this and many voted Conservative due to this. Despite that Labour controlled London in the 1980s. Ken Livingstone became leader of the Greater London Council. It embarrassed Thatcher’s government by hanging a banner with the unemployment figure on London County Hall. Parliament was across the river. In 1986 the Greater London Council was abolished. Thatcher did this because the GLC was embarrassing her.

In the 1990s the population of London started to grow. House prices grew rapidly. The Conservative Party became deeply unpopular. In the late 1990s Labour was in office. London became the centre of Cool Britannia. A genre of music called Brit Pop emerged. London became important in the film industry.

In the Noughties house prices shot  up. Immigration kept building. London’s population went over 7 000 000. Crime fell but there were large scale terrorist attacks. The transport system was upgraded and trams returned after 50 years.

After the year 2000 London started to receive immigrants that had not sent large numbers to London before. These countries included Romania, Slovakia and Vietnam.

In the 2010s immigrants has still continued. The economy grew fast and house prices outpaced the economy. London became the most influential city on the plant. A controversial issue is the possibility of expanding the major airport – Heathrow. The population is now 8 000 000.


  1. Which architect was mainly responsible for rebuilding London after the Great Fire?
  2. What is the name of the main cathedral in London?
  3. Who was Wren’s assistant?
  4. 17th century copied its architecture from which other European land?
  5. What unusual headgear did upper class men wear in the late 18th century?
  6. Who found the Methodist Church?
  7. Who set up the Foundling Hospital?
  8. What is a foundling?
  9. Why does Guy’s Hospital have that name?
  10. What is the original name of the Times newspaper?
  11. Where did executions take place in the 18th century?
  12. What was the Great Exhibition? Five marks.
  13. When did the London Underground open?
  14. Who built the Embankment?
  15. What was the Great Stink?
  16. What is Albertopolis?
  17. In which year did Jack the Ripper strike?
  18. Name five nationalities that moved to London during this era. Five marks.
  19. What was the population of London in 2 000 000?
  20. What groups of people were evacuated in 1939?
  21. Why did some East Enders move out in 1945?
  22. What was the problem with London air in the 1950s?
  23. What does GLC stand for?
  24. Who led the GLC in the 1980s?
  25.  When was the GLC abolished?
  26. What is the main airport?
  27. Why is this city so important? Five marks.
  28. Which other cities are important centres of fashion?






About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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