A Beginner’s Guide to the History of London


Getting a grip on the city’s layers might not be vital for enjoying the tourist attractions or attending business meetings that have brought you to the Montcalm Hotel Marble Arch, but a brief history lesson will certainly enrich your stay.

Understanding the reason behind the city’s varying styles of architecture, monuments and boroughs might help you gain an understanding of why they are how they are, and how long they’ve been that way.

As rapid redevelopment and growth spread throughout the city, it’s important to keep in mind its heart and soul. If you’re planning on purchasing a Montcalm Club Membership, for instance, you will probably want to make multiple visits to our hotels. That means a deeper understanding of the city might come in handy during your second, third or even fourth stay!

Furthermore, an enlightened view of London’s past might give you an even longer list of activities and sights to see whilst staying here. For instance, understanding the rich, multicultural history of Shoreditch might introduce you to the many Indian and Jewish eating options in the area, perfect for checking out during your stay at Montcalm Hotel Shoreditch.

Put simply, getting to know the vast history of London, the capital city of the once sprawling Empire of Great Britain, will deepen your enjoyment and broaden your horizons. Let’s get started!

The Romans and London

Before the Roman’s took London in AD 47, the city was made up of a range of smaller settlements which date back to the Bronze Age.

According to legend, these were solidified under the mythical king Brutus of Troy, who allegedly defeated a giant named Gogmagog to claim the area. One legend has it that the name of London deriving from King Lud, a Welsh king who named the town Caer Lundein. Visitors to the city can still visit the Roman Mithraeum temple near Bank Station, just a short trip from Montcalm Hotel Shoreditch.

The first seeds of what we now call London were formed in AD 47 by the Romans, four years after their invasion of the country. What was then called Londinium was around the size of Hyde Park and was subject to frequent attacks by legendary warriors such as Boudica.

London’s First Millennium

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century, the city was all but derelict, paving the way for usurpers and foreign invasions.

The Anglo Saxons were settling in London by this time and laid camp in the area between Aldwych and Trafalgar Square. The Saxons in London were known as the Middle Saxons, from whom the county of Middlesex was derived from.

During the 9th Century, the Saxons were continuously attacked by Vikings, leading to many Danish-born migrants in the city. With the establishing of trade and businesses in London, the 9th Century saw the first signs of London becoming a multicultural hub.

This sudden abundances of resources and riches led to the Danish Great Heathen Army attacking the city, but they were eventually defeated by King Alfred the Great in 886. Up until the dawn of the second millennium, the city was presided over by a number of kings and after 918, the city began to form its own unique government, separate from the rest of the country.

These were the first signs of the city becoming a capital city, although London wouldn’t be known as the capital of England for several more centuries.

The Second Millennium

The second millennium saw much of the development of London as we know it today as many of the most famous kings and queens of the city made their mark on the city during the Middle, Tudor and Victorian eras.

William the Conqueror

After the battle of Hastings in 1066, King Harold was defeated by the French-born William the Conqueror. William the Conqueror proceeded to create many castles around the country, including the still-standing Tower of London.

The Norman period between the 11th and 15th centuries saw the construction of the Palace of Westminster, now the site of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, alongside the most famous version of London Bridge, which lasted for over 600 years.

It was during the latter part of the Norman reign that guilds began to form, organising the trade and business in the city, as well as helping to elect a mayor.

Tudor London and the Dissolution of the Monasteries

As the Tudor’s took over the city, London became the key spark and focal point for the reformation from Catholicism to Protestantism. The Tudor period saw much of the city’s wealth change hands and, because of this, London became an even more important player on the world economic stage.

16th and 17th Century London

In the late 16th Century and up until 1603, England was ruled by Queen Elizabeth I who saw the city through a period of calm and cultural development.

With the likes of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe putting on plays throughout London, the city saw the birth of the now famous (although rebuilt) Globe Theatre near London Bridge.

London’s artistic culture thrived, and even more wealth came to the city.

The Great Fire of London

In 1666, about 60% of the city was destroyed by an accidental fire which spread from Pudding Lane. With the destruction of the Royal Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral, rebuilding started, overseen by famous architects Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke.

With his baroque architecture which can still be seen today, Wren rebuilt many of the churches and cathedrals in the city.

18th century London – 100 years of iconic architecture

The 18th Century saw the Stuart era establish such iconic buildings as Buckingham Palace and structures like Westminster Bridge. This era saw further expansion of the city, including the development of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park for Queen Caroline of Brunswick.

Victorian London

When we think of Victorian London, we often think of the East End and Oliver Twist. This was a thriving period for the Shoreditch and Whitechapel areas and saw the influx of many nationalities. Whilst communities continued to grow, London legends such as the infamous Jack the Ripper unleashed terror across the East End.

Victorian London also saw the establishment of the Royal Albert Hall and Crystal Palace, which was the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851, attracting trade from countries all across the world.

20th century London

As London continued to become a trading hub, the war left many buildings destroyed by the Blitz.

The London Blitz took place during World War II, with the Luftwaffe bomb affecting many parts of the city and killing over 33,000 people. The bombing damaged many parts of London and resulted in the rebuilding of many historical buildings as well as the heavily-hit Docklands area.

Modern London

Today, London enjoys a great wealth of tourism, historic architecture and rapid redevelopment. With such a rich history, it’s easy to see why!

Areas like Paddington continue to see structures being re-built, but you can still find many classic looking luxury hotels in London. Likewise, visitors can enjoy awe-inspiring modern areas like Canary Wharf, Old Street and London Bridge.

Having expanded to include many parts of Essex and Surrey within its borders, London is one of the most thriving and popular tourist destinations in the world. With five airports to choose from, the city brings in 30 million visitors a year to experience its culture.