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  • The Peasants' Revolt, 1381
    Peasants revolting

    In 1381 peasants from Kent and Essex marched on London, ransacking City buildings and beheading the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tower Hill.

Established soon after the Romans invaded Britain in AD43, the City - or 'Square Mile' as it has become known - is situated at the very heart of London and is the place from which modern-day London grew.

From the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, to the trial of Lady Jane Grey at Guildhall in 1553 and from the Jack the Ripper murder in 1888 to the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, the City of London has a long and eventful history.

Click on the headings below to discover its most significant moments, from Roman times to the present day.

50-300 AD

50 Founding of London (Londinium)
The Roman Governor of Britain (Ostorius Scapula) gives orders to build a permanent base on the north bank of the Thames. Londinium comes from the Celtic Londinion and may relate to a personal name.

60 Sack of Londinium by Boudicca
Boudicca, Queen of East Anglian tribe the Iceni, instigates a revolt. Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and Londinium are sacked. Eventually Roman military prowess restores government. Many lives are lost.

125 Londinium destroyed by fire
A fifth of the City is destroyed by flames. The cause of the fire is thought to be accidental.
200 City wall and gates built. Built of Kentish ragstone, the City’s Roman Wall is nearly two miles long and surrounds an area of 330 acres. It is interspersed with a number of gates: Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Newgate and Ludgate. Cripplegate leads into the already established Fort in the north west corner of the City. Aldersgate in the west side is constructed in the fourth century.

290 London Mint established
It is 289 AD. Carausius has become Emperor of Britain. To emphasise his independence from Rome, the first mint is opened. Gold and silver coins and copper ones washed with silver are issued. The mint was probably closed in 326 AD.

7th-9th century

604 St Paul’s Cathedral built
The first of four cathedrals to be built on this site is founded in the reign of St Ethelbert, King of Kent. He was the first Christian King in England. It is built by Mellitus, a monk who accompanied St Augustine to Britain. The cathedral is dedicated to St Paul. It was destroyed by fire in 675 and in 961 by Danish invaders.

878 King Alfred recaptures London from the Danes
Alfred is King of Wessex from 871 to 899. He faces a formidable opponent in the Danish army which has destroyed other kingdoms in England. In 878, after a series of earlier sackings, London is again threatened by Danish forces but they are repelled by skillful manoeuvring on the part of the English forces.

 

10th-12th century

1067 London receives a charter from William the Conqueror
Following his victory at Hastings, William is crowned King in Westminster Abbey. In a charter written in Anglo Saxon, he grants the City of London the right to the freedoms and independence the citizens of London had enjoyed under Edward the Confessor. This unique independence is still the basis of many City privileges.

1078 The White Tower is built
Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester supervises the building of the White Tower in Caen stone. At the time it is the largest non-religious building in the country. It is 90 feet high with walls up to 15 feet thick. It was to serve as a palace, a treasury and a stronghold guarding the river entrance into the City.

1118 Thomas A Becket born in Cheapside
Born in Cheapside, Becket is to become both Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. After his martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral he becomes England’s most important saint and his shrine becomes a place of pilgrimage from all over Europe.

1123 Foundation of St Bartholomew’s Hospital
St Bartholomew’s, the oldest hospital in London, is founded by Rahere, an Augustinian monk. He had suffered an attack of malarial fever whilst on a pilgrimage to Rome and vowed to build a hospital on his return.

1155 The Weavers’ Company receives its charter
The Weavers’ Company becomes the first of the chartered craft guilds in the City. Today there are still over one hundred guilds in the City of London.

1176 New London Bridge begun
Work starts on a stone bridge across the Thames, replacing an earlier wooden bridge. It takes 33 years to complete but lasts into the 19th century.

13th-15th century

1255 An elephant arrives at the Tower Menagerie
The first elephant ever seen in England arrives as a gift from Louis IX of France to King Henry III. The elephant joins other exotic animals, like a polar bear and leopards, in the menagerie at the Tower of London.

1365 Football banned in the City
The King orders the sheriffs to ban football and other idle sports. Instead the City inhabitants are encouraged to practise their archery skills.

1381 Peasants’ Revolt
Incensed by unjust taxation, peasants from Kent and Essex march on London, ransacking buildings in the City and beheading the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tower Hill. The revolt comes to an abrupt end when one of the rebel leaders, Wat Tyler, is slashed by the Lord Mayor William Walworth's sword and stabbed by an esquire of King Richard II at Smithfield.

1397 Dick Whittington becomes Mayor
Richard Whittington, a wealthy London mercer, is appointed Mayor by the King. Whittington is elected on three further occasions. Having no heirs he uses his money to establish a number of charitable organisations as well as bequeathing funds to repair Newgate and found a library at Guildhall.

1411 Rebuilding Guildhall
Work begins on rebuilding Guildhall, the centre of City government. It takes 20 years to build the magnificent hall which is 152 feet long and 48 feet wide and, in size, is second only to Westminster Hall.

1444 St Paul’s struck by lightning
On 1 February 1444 the spire of St Paul’s Cathedral is struck by lightning and catches fire. But with the assistance of many citizens the fire is quenched by vinegar.

1483 Princes in the Tower
12 year-old King Edward V should have been crowned king after the death of his father Edward IV. Instead, he and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York are confined to the Tower of London while their uncle takes the throne as Richard III. After this year they are never seen alive again... Nobody knows what happened to them although they are popularly supposed to have been murdered by their wicked uncle.

16th-17th century

1538 Dissolution of many London monasteries
Although Henry VIII had ordered the suppression of smaller monasteries in 1536, it is not until 1538 that the larger London monasteries such as Charterhouse and Blackfriars are dissolved and their assets confiscated. Monks and nuns are turned out onto the streets and monastery buildings are demolished or sold off.

1547 The coronation of Edward VI
The coronation of King Edward VI was preceded by a procession through the streets of the City. Stands for spectators were set up along Cheapside, the conduits flowed with wine, and a Spanish acrobat slid down a rope strung from the spire of St Paul’s Cathedral to the Deanery.

1550 Earliest map of London
George Hoefnagel surveys London for what is to become the earliest printed map of London. It shows that London has now spread well beyond the City walls.

1569 Drawing of the first lottery at St Paul’s Churchyard
The first recorded lottery has been drawn. The draw took place in a temporary building adjacent to the West door of the Cathedral. 40,000 lots were drawn and the prize money consists of plate, tapestry and money.

1571 The Opening of the Royal Exchange
Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in January. It is a ‘place for sale of all kinde of wares, richely stored with varietie of all sorts.’

1577 First Blackfriars Theatre opened
Richard Farrant has opened a playhouse at Blackfriars. Although the City Corporation has forbidden the existence of theatres, Farrant has circumvented this rule by claiming the use of the venue for choir practice in order that choirs may sing for the Queen. The first of Shakespeare’s plays ever to be performed at this theatre was probably Love Labour’s Lost in 1591.

1581 Waterworks at London Bridge
A waterwheel is installed in one of the arches of London Bridge which works a pump that can supply water into residences in many of the surrounding streets. Peter Morice, the man who invented the system, had demonstrated its efficiency by pumping water right over the steeple of the church of St Magnus.

1598 Stow’s Survey of London published
John Stow, a tailor living in Aldgate, publishes a history and topographical survey of London. It will become the most important history of London and an enormously valuable record of a City that will very soon be almost totally destroyed in the Great Fire.

1600 East India Company founded
In 1599, when the Dutch monopoly on pepper sent the price soaring from three shillings to eight shillings a pound, the London merchants formed an association in order to develop their own trade with the East Indies. The following year the Company and Merchants of London Trading with the East Indies is granted a charter.

1643 Civil War and Cheapside Cross
Parliament orders removal of symbols of the old faith including the demolition of several of the famous crosses found in the streets of London. On 2 May the cross in Cheapside, which had stood since medieval times, is pulled down.

1652 First coffee house
The first coffee house in London is opened in St Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill. Coffee is advertised as ‘a very good help to digestion, quickens the spirits, and is good against sore eyes’.

1659 First cheque issued at a London bank
Nicholas Vanacker becomes the first person to draw a cheque on a London bank. The cheque for £10 is drawn on Messrs Clayton and Morris of Cornhill.

1665 The Great Plague
Bubonic plague strikes London with full force. At its peak more than 8,000 die in a single week and by the end of the year it has claimed the lives of around 100,000 Londoners.

1666 The Great Fire of London
The fire, which broke out early in the morning of 2 September, rages for five days and is estimated to have consumed 13,200 houses, St Paul’s Cathedral, 87 churches, six chapels, the Guildhall, the Royal Exchange, Custom House, 52 livery company halls, three gates, and four stone bridges.

1673 New Temple Bar completed
A new western ‘gate’, designed by Sir Christopher Wren is completed in this year. Marking the boundary of the City of London on the road to Westminster it will become the ceremonial entrance to the City.

1675 Work starts on the new St Paul’s Cathedral
Since 1670, Sir Christopher Wren has been working on a new design for the Cathedral. The Government agrees to allow the remains of the old building to be demolished.

1677 The Monument completed
The Great Fire is commemorated by a Doric column, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. Constructed of Portland stone it is 202 feet high and costs £13,450 11s 9d.

1679 The first Turkish bath in London
Opened in a side road off Newgate Street, the Turkish bath consists of spacious rooms with tiled walls, where, for a charge of four shillings, a man can enjoy sweating, cupping, shaving, rubbing and bathing. Women are allowed to visit twice a week.

1680 First fire insurance company
The ravages brought about by the Great Fire have finally necessitated the need for building insurance. Nicholas Barbon has started his ‘insurance office for houses’. He plans to insure up to 5,000 homes in the City.

1684 Frost Fair on the Thames
From early December 1683 to the beginning of February 1684 the Thames is frozen. The ice is thick enough to support the erection of market stalls and booths. Even an ox is roasted successfully. The King, his family and members of the Court come to enjoy the festivities.

1688 Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House
Ship owners and maritime traders favour coffee houses rather than taverns as venues in which to conduct business. The most popular coffee house has proved to be Edward Lloyd’s which opens in the 1680s. The first evidence of his premises is a note in the London Gazette in February 1688/9. The international insurance business can be said to trace its origins to the coffee houses of late 17th-century England.

1694 Bank of England founded
First proposed by William Paterson in 1691, the Bank of England is founded and is granted the duties on the tonnage of ships and upon beer, ale and other liquors. First housed in Mercers’ Hall and then in the Grocers’ Hall, it will move to its present site in 1734. The first governor of the bank is a Huguenot, Sir John Houblon.

17th-19th century

1701 New synagogue in Bevis Marks
Spanish and Portuguese Jews in London needing somewhere to worship open a new synagogue in the City. The architectural style reflects a Christian nonconformist chapel. The construction of the synagogue is undertaken by a Quaker, Joseph Avis. Furniture from the Cromwellian and Queen Anne period adorn the interior.

1707 A fly epidemic
A fly epidemic in August becomes so serious that many of the streets are covered to the extent that ‘the people’s feet made as full an impression on them as upon thick snow’.

1710 St Paul’s Cathedral completed
The 78 year-old Sir Christopher Wren sees his son place the final stone on the summit of St Paul’s Cathedral in this year. The new Cathedral had taken 36 years to build at a cost of £850,000. Most of the money had been raised by a tax on coal imports into the City.

1722 Regulation to keep to the left on London Bridge may have led to the UK driving on the left
To combat increasing congestion on the Bridge, the City Corporation introduces a rule requiring traffic to keep to the left. This rule will also, it is hoped, stave off threats to press for more bridges over the river thus removing London Bridge’s monopoly. The regulation is adopted by the Government in the Highway Act of 1835.

1724 Jack Sheppard escapes from Newgate Prison
The 22 year-old burglar, having already escaped from Newgate and several other prisons, escapes. Having broken through to the cell above by way of the chimney, he proceeds to break through six further doors and then lowers himself 60 feet down to the ground using his bed clothes. Sheppard is captured yet again and finally hanged in November 1724.

1753 Elizabeth Canning disappears
Nineteen year-old Londoner Elizabeth Canning disappears on 1 January 1753 and reappears on 29 January, claiming that she had been kidnapped. She eventually accuses one Mary Squires of the crime. Squires is tried and sentenced to death, but is then pardoned. Subsequently, Canning is tried for perjury and transported to America. To this day no-one has discovered the truth of the case.

1755 Publication of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary
Dr Samuel Johnson is living at 17 Gough Square, off Fleet Street when his Dictionary of the English Language is published in 1755. His labour of love has taken him nearly nine years to complete but sets the standard by which all future dictionaries will be judged.

1760 First of the City gates demolished
Bishopsgate, Ludgate and Cripplegate are the first of the City gates to be demolished, as part of the City’s street improvements drive.

1762 Hanging signs banned
The proliferation of trade and shop signs hanging outside London buildings are obscuring each other and deemed a health hazard. The Cities of London and Westminster require signs to be placed on the walls of premises.

1764 First Lloyd’s Register published
The first Lloyd’s Register of Shipping is published, intended to give ship owners, maritime traders and insurers a factual summary about the vessels they owned, chartered and insured.

1769 Blackfriars Bridge opened
Designed by Robert Mylne the first bridge over the Thames between Blackfriars and Southwark is opened. It becomes the third bridge over the river and costs £230,000. Until 1785 it remains a toll bridge. The bridge is replaced between 1860-9 by the present structure.

1773 Stock Exchange established
A group of brokers has bought a building in Threadneedle Street. It is intended to use it as a Stock Exchange. Two committees have been created to govern it: a Committee of Proprietors and a Committee for General Purposes. Brokers can use the Exchange for a fee of 6d per day.

1780 Gordon Riots
In this year Lord George Gordon instigates a series of riots against plans by the Government to repeal anti-Roman Catholic legislation. He leads a mob of protesters to Parliament with a petition. Many sites in the City and Westminster are attacked and many people are killed. Gordon is tried for treason but acquitted.

1795 John Keats born in the City
The poet John Keats is baptised at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate on 18 December 1795. He is the son of Thomas Keats, innkeeper, and his wife Frances. His date of birth, according to the baptismal register, was 31 October. He becomes a medical student at Guy’s Hospital but abandons his studies for poetry. Although dying at the early age of 25, his reputation as one of the great Romantic poets is established.

1813 The Great Fog
The burning of coal for domestic and industrial use has resulted in a series of fogs because of soot based particles in the atmosphere. On 27 December a very bad fog develops which lasts for eight days. One newspaper reports that it extended as far as the Downs, south of London.
1814 Frost Fair
The Frost Fair on the frozen River Thames begins on 1 February and lasts for four days. This is the last Thames Frost Fair as the removal of London Bridge and the building of the embankments speeds up the flow of the river, stopping it from freezing.

1828 Guildhall Library opens
The original Guildhall Library existed between 1425 and 1549. Now a new Library opens. Its collections relate mainly to the City, Southwark and Middlesex. It is for the benefit of Members of the City Corporation and accredited students. The library develops into a major reference library for London history and English local studies.

1829 Mr Shillibeer’s omnibus
George Shillibeer sets up the first regular passenger bus route running from Bank in the City to Paddington. The fare for the whole journey on this horse-drawn omnibus is 1s 6d for inside passengers and 1s for those sitting outside on top.

1831 New London Bridge opens
King William IV and Queen Adelaide open the new London Bridge built by Sir John Rennie. It has taken seven years to build and is considerably wider than the medieval London Bridge it is replacing.

1834 Removal of menagerie from Tower of London
Alfred Cops, Keeper of the Menagerie at the Tower since 1822, has made sterling efforts to improve the collection. The Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, however wants the animals to be moved to Regent’s Park where the Zoological Gardens have been established. The Duke’s wishes prevail.

1836 Isabella Mayson (Mrs Beeton) born
Isabella Mayson is born in Milk Street, off Cheapside. In 1856 she marries publisher Samuel Beeton and her organisational abilities and dynamism contribute greatly to the success of their publishing house. She is best known, however, for Beeton’s book of household management.

1841 Fenchurch Street Station opened
The London and Blackwall Railway open the first railway terminus in the City of London at Fenchurch Street. No steam locomotives are used on this line until 1849 so trains have to be dragged from Blackwall to Minories by cable and then have to reach Fenchurch Street by their own momentum. Gravity and a helping hand from station staff enable trains to leave the platform.

1852 First public lavatory erected in London
The first modern public lavatory is erected at 95 Fleet Street. It is for men only and is discreetly called a ‘public waiting room.’

1855 London’s first pillar box
The idea of a pillar box is popularly credited to the novelist Anthony Trollope who worked for the Post Office. Before this date, people had taken their letters to receiving offices, the sub post offices of their day, or relied on itinerant collectors. London’s first pillar box was on the corner of Farringdon Street and Fleet Street, and there were 10 collections a day, between the hours of 9am and 10pm.

1858 London divided into postal districts
To facilitate the postal service, London is divided into ten districts. Each district is given a letter code, for example, N, S, EC or NW and residents are encouraged to add the district letter(s) to their address.

1863 First underground railway opens
The Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway, opens, running between Paddington and Farringdon. In the first six months of its operation, an average of nearly 28,000 passengers daily make the 18 minute journey.

1868 Abolition of public hangings at Newgate
The last person to be executed in public outside the gates of Newgate Prison is Michael Barrett. He had been one of the men responsible for a bomb attack on the Clerkenwell House of Detention in 1867.

1888 Jack the Ripper
A mysterious killer, allegedly calling himself ‘Jack the Ripper’, murders and mutilates prostitutes in the East End of London during the summer and autumn of 1888. The body of one of his victims, Catherine Eddowes, is found in Mitre Square, just inside the eastern boundary of the City. No-one is ever convicted of these murders and the Ripper’s true identity remains unknown.

1894 Tower Bridge completed
After eight years of construction, Tower Bridge, designed by City architect Horace Jones, is opened by the Prince of Wales. The river had remained navigable during the whole construction. The bascule bridge allows an opening of 200 feet and headroom of 135 feet, enough to allow access for almost all vessels to the Pool of London.

1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
Queen Victoria arrives at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral for a service held on 22 June to commemorate her reign of 60 years.

20th-21st century

1907 Central Criminal Court opens
Built on the site of Newgate Prison, the Central Criminal Court is opened by King Edward VII. Its popular name, ‘the Old Bailey’ is derived from the name of the street on which it stands.

1915 Zeppelins over London
While the First World War is being fought in the trenches of France and Flanders, a new and terrifying threat to Londoners comes from the skies. The German airships (or Zeppelins) are hard to manoeuvre and control but still succeed in raiding London. The first bomb in the City falls on Fenchurch Street.

1931 Daily Express building
The black glass and chrome exterior of this building is a startling addition to Fleet Street. Its sheer modernity immediately trumps the showy headquarters of rival The Daily Telegraph situated nearby. Hailed as the first curtain-walled building in London, its silver and gilt, Art Deco lobby provides a frontage for editorial offices and a complete printing works.

1940 The Blitz begins
The City suffers badly as bombing raids begin during the Second World War. Churches, livery halls and other historic buildings are destroyed. Despite initial resistance, London Underground agree that 79 of its stations can be used as shelters during air raids and spending the night in a tube station becomes routine for many Londoners.

1948 London Olympics
London hosts the 14th Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium. Although London is still suffering the after effects of war, the prestige of staging the Olympics provides a welcome boost to morale. The United States dominates the gold medal list.

1951 Festival of Britain
‘I want to see the people happy. I want to hear the people sing’. So said the Minister responsible for the Festival of Britain. Strong on the celebration of achievements in technology and full of bright hopes for future renewal, this popular festival struck the right chord, and is still held up as a shining example of design excellence.

1956 Clean Air Act
‘Pea-souper’ fog epitomises olde-worlde London in Hollywood movies, but is a feature of London life well into the 20th century. In the Great London Smog of 1952 a lethal combination of fog and smoke generated by domestic coal fires kills 12,000 Londoners. The Clean Air Act attempts to control domestic smoke pollution by introducing smokeless zones in which only smokeless fuels can be burnt.

1965 Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral
Politician and wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill dies on 24 January 1965 and is given a state funeral. His body lies in state at Westminster Hall and is then taken to St Paul’s Cathedral for his funeral service, before it arrives at Bladon churchyard in Oxfordshire for burial.

1982 Barbican Centre opens
Designed by the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II, Europe’s largest arts complex houses a theatre, art galleries, cinemas, concert hall and library.

1986 Lloyd’s Building opens
In 1979, the Richard Rogers Partnership is commissioned to design a new building for Lloyd’s of London in Leadenhall Street. Although a simple rectangle in plan, it subverts conventional office building in locating services such as lifts, toilets and fire stairs to the exterior walls, thus enhancing the drama of the 12-storey atrium at its core.

1999 Guildhall Art Gallery reopens
The original Gallery was established in 1885 to house and display works of art acquired by the City of London Corporation. Burnt down during an air raid in 1941, the gallery occupies temporary accommodation until a new gallery, designed by Richard Gilbert Scott, is opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. Roman London’s long-lost amphitheatre is discovered during construction and opens to the public in 2002.

2004 Temple Bar returns to the City
Built by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s, Temple Bar was removed in 1878 in an attempt to ease traffic congestion. In 1880, having lain in pieces in a yard for 10 years, it was acquired by the brewer Sir Henry Meux who re-erected it at his mansion in Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. However, interest in this monument never waned and in 1976 the Temple Bar Trust is set up with the intention of returning Temple Bar to the City. Work to dismantle it at Theobalds Park is begun in 2003 and it is re-erected in its new home at Paternoster Square in 2004.

2007 City of London Information Centre
This innovative building is designed by Ken Shuttleworth of Make Architects, and replaced its predecessor that gave 50 years’ unbroken visitor service to the City of London, ensuring continuing service for the 21st century.

2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games
The Games come back to London and the City is an official ‘host authority’, with the marathons passing directly in front of Guildhall.


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