London has a history dating back over 2,000 years. During this time, it has grown to become one of the most significant financial and cultural capitals of the world. It has experienced plague, devastating fire, civil war, aerial bombardment, terrorist attacks, and widespread rioting. The City of London is its historic core and today is its primary financial district, though it now represents a tiny part of the wider metropolis of Greater London.
The name of London is derived from Londinium, established in the 1st century as a commercial centre in Roman Britain. The etymology of the name is uncertain. The stems Londin- and Lundin- are the most prevalent in names used from Roman times onward.
This video below was shot in 1904 as a ‘travelogue’ for Australians curious about life in what was “one of the most exciting cities anywhere.”
London entered the 20th century at the height of its influence as the capital of one of the largest empires in history, but the new century was to bring many challenges.
Prior to World War One, Britain was the world’s economic superpower.Despite its flourishing economy, Britain was simply not prepared for the economic impact that the war would have.While London remained fairly prosperous relative to the rest of Britain during the interwar years, their economy still experienced an inevitable decline. After the beginning of World War One in 1914, Britain experienced a massive financial crisis due to market panic. There were several reasons why London was able to remain relatively prosperous throughout the interwar years. One major reason was the significant amount of population growth London experienced during these years. In fact, London’s population increased from 7.25 million in 1911 to 8.73 million in 1939.Another major aspect that helped fuel the economy was the Pax Britannica, which brought business through an increase in shipping, imports, and even investments
London’s population continued to grow rapidly in the early decades of the century, and public transport was greatly expanded. A large tram network was constructed by the London County Council, through the LCC Tramways; the first motorbus service began in the 1900s. Improvements to London’s overground and underground rail network, including large-scale electrification were progressively carried out.
During World War I, London experienced its first bombing raids carried out by German zeppelin airships; these killed around 700 people and caused great terror, but were merely a foretaste of what was to come. The city of London would experience many more terrors as a result of both World Wars. The largest explosion in London occurred during World War I: the Silvertown explosion, when a munitions factory containing 50 tons of TNT exploded, killing 73 and injuring 400.
The period between the two World Wars saw London’s geographical extent growing more quickly than ever before or since. A preference for lower density suburban housing, typically semi-detached, by Londoners seeking a more “rural” lifestyle, superseded Londoners’ old predilection for terraced houses. This was facilitated not only by a continuing expansion of the rail network, including trams and the Underground, but also by slowly widening car ownership. London’s suburbs expanded outside the boundaries of the County of London, into the neighbouring counties of Essex, Hertfordshire,Kent, Middlesex and Surrey.
Like the rest of the country, London suffered severe unemployment during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the East End during the 1930s, politically extreme parties of both right and left flourished. The Communist Party of Great Britain and the British Union of Fascists both gained serious support. Clashes between right and left culminated in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. The population of London reached an all-time peak of 8.6 million in 1939.
Large numbers of Jewish immigrants fleeing from Nazi Germany, settled in London during the 1930s, mostly in the East End.