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City Communities in London

1066
Duke William of Normandy defeats King Harold at Hastings and marches towards London . He arrives at Southwark, at the south end of London Bridge , and finds that the Londoners are preparing to resist him. He burns Southwark and marches upriver to cross the Thames at Wallingford . As his army approaches the city, the Londoners send out a deputation to offer their surrender. William enters the city in peace. On Christmas Day he is crowned as King William I.
depiction of William I Granting the Charter to the City of London.
Depiction of William I Granting the Charter to the City of London.
1067
King William gives the citizens of London a charter in which he promises to protect them from injustice.

William also starts building the Tower of London . It is intended as a base for his soldiers, to make sure the city stays under his control.
Charter of William I, 1067.
Charter of William I, 1067.
1077

A large part of the city is burnt down in a fire.

1087

Another terrible fire destroys many of the city's finest buildings, including St Paul 's Cathedral. A new cathedral is begun in the Norman style. When it is built, it has the tallest church spire that is ever known in England . It dominates the London skyline for centuries.

St. Paul's Cathedral With Spire.
St. Paul's Cathedral With Spire.
1115

A document of about this date mentions the 'Jews' street'. This is the earliest reference to a Jewish district within the city.

1130

A document records that 'the guild of weavers of London ' have paid £16 to the King. This is the first sign that the city's craft workers are beginning to organise themselves into guilds.

1133
King Henry the First grants St Bartholomew's Priory the right to hold a fair every year at Smithfield. Bartholomew Fair becomes a major event in the Londoners' yearly calendar.
Detail of Bartholomew Fair, 1721
Jester From a Fair
1174
At about this date William Fitz-Stephen writes the first detailed description of the city.
Description of London, 1174.
Description of London, 1174.
1176

A start is made on building a new bridge over the Thames. The existing London Bridge , made from wood, will be replaced by one of stone. When it is finished, the fine stone bridge is considered a marvel. Houses and shops are built on it.

Old London Bridge.
Old London Bridge.
1192

By this date London has its first mayor, Henry Fitz-Ailwin. He stays in office until his death in 1212.

1197

People have been building weirs across the Thames . Ships can no longer sail freely up and down it. This is damaging to trade and the citizens obtain a charter from the king to prevent it.

Richard I's Charter, 1197.
Richard I's Charter, 1197.
1199

King John grants the citizens of London a charter giving them the right to choose their own sheriffs.

King John's Charter, 1199.
King John's Charter, 1199
1215

King John is faced with a major rebellion. Hoping to win the Londoners to his side, he grants them the right to choose their own mayor every year.

Just a few weeks later his enemies forced him to agree to Magna Carta, the 'Great Charter'. One section of this confirms the rights and customs of London . The mayor, William Hardel, is a member of the committee appointed to make sure that the King keeps his promises.

King John Sealing Magna Carta in 1215.
The artist has recreated the the scene at Runnymede. King John is surrounded by the Barons while the Magna Carta is stamped with the Great Seal.
1245

Work begins on Tyburn conduit. This is a pipe that carries water from Tyburn stream on the west of the city to a large tank at West Cheap, one of the city's main market areas.

Cheapside as Depicted by H.W.Brewer H.W in "Old London Illustrated", 1922.
A street scene in Cheapside looking towards St. Paul's Cathedral. People are taking water from the conduit in the centre of the street. There are also various shops and houses. The original church tower of St. Mary le Bow can also be seen.
1290

A royal edict expels all the members of the Jewish community from England. It will be nearly three and a half centuries before the ban is removed.

1309

The citizens are reminded by proclamation that they should not be dumping their excrement in piles in the streets. It ought to be taken out of town, or thrown into the Thames. In future, those who ignore this will be fined.

1316

There are strict regulations controlling the quality of the food and drink that is sold in the city. This year there are several cases of bakers being punished for breaking these rules. Men who are caught selling loaves that are underweight are dragged round the streets on hurdles. Two men who have sold bread made from poisonous flour are made to stand in the pillory, where the angry citizens can pelt them with stones and filth.

Punishment of a London baker, C.1290.
If bakers were found to have cheated customers they were punished. Here a baker is drawn through the streets on a sledge. He has one of his loaves hung round his neck. Citizens would have abused him and probably thrown things.
1318

Lombard Street has acquired its name by this date. The Lombards are merchants from northern Italy . Now that the Jews have been driven out, they are the chief providers of financial services. Lombard Street will be the place where merchants meet to do business until the Royal Exchange is opened in 1568.

1319

A charter granted by King Edward the Second states that no one shall be admitted into the freedom of the city, with the right to vote for the city's government, unless they are a member of one of the craft guilds. This is the point at which the guilds (later called the City Companies) acquire an important role in the government of London.

1327

The citizens obtain a charter which gives the city authorities the power to police the village of Southwark on the south bank of the Thames.

King Edward II's Charter,1327.
The citizens obtain a charter which gives the city authorities the power to police the village of Southwark on the south bank of the Thames.
1348

A terrifying strain of bubonic plague, the Black Death, arrives in England from the Continent. It reaches London in November. In the city's crowded, filthy streets it spreads unstoppably. In the course of the next year it kills about a third of the city's population.

Rebuke to the City, 1350.
The City was negligent in executing its duties in respect of the Black Death regulations and received a rebuke in October 1350.
1359

The city government is becoming worried by the numbers of beggars in the streets. From now on, any able-bodied person who is found begging will be put in the stocks.

A Medieval Beggar.
A medieval beggar with a stick and a dog with a bowl, from 'Lives of Famous London Beggars' by John Thomas Smith.
1376

For centuries there have been arrangements by which the city's rulers could consult with representatives of the ordinary citizens. From this year on, meetings take place regularly and the representative body is known as the Common Council.

Medieval Men Talking, C.1358.
Medieval Men Talking, C.1358.
1381

There is a huge rebellion of the peasant farmers of England. A rebel army under Wat Tyler marches to London and enters the city.

1384

It is settled that elections for the Court of Common Council shall be held by the freemen in the city's wards (administrative districts). The number of councilmen chosen by each ward varies depending on its size. The elections are held every year.

1394

The arrangements for electing the city's aldermen become fixed in the form they will take for centuries. The aldermen have played a part in the government of London since before the Normans came. From this year on, there are twenty-five aldermen, one for each ward of the city. They meet together in the Court of Aldermen and have many responsibilities. Each alderman is elected for life by the freemen of the ward he represents.

Aldermen's Robes, 1358.
Text concerning the robes worn by Aldermen of the City of London in 1358.
1397

Richard Whittington becomes Mayor of London for the first time. He is appointed by the king when the elected mayor dies.

Later this year, Whittington is chosen as mayor by the citizens and aldermen.

Statue of Dick Whittington at the Royal Exchange, Cornhill, C.1844.
Statue of Dick Whittington at the Royal Exchange, Cornhill, C.1844.
1406

Whittington is elected mayor again.

1411

The city's government begins to rebuild the ancient Guildhall in stone. When it is finished, it will be the third largest hall in England , after the king's hall at Westminster and the hall in the Archbishop's palace at Canterbury . It is the place where the elections of the mayor and sheriffs take place and the Court of Common Council meets.

Old Guildhall.
Old Guildhall.
1419

Whittington is elected mayor for the third time. He has actually filled the office of mayor four times, the first time by royal appointment.

The Town Clerk, John Carpenter, compiles the Liber Albus, or White Book, in which the laws, customs and regulations of the city are all carefully written down.

Page from the Liber Albus, 1419.
The Liber Albus was written by The Town Clerk, John Carpenter. The Liber Albus, or White Book, records the laws, customs and regulations of the City.
1423

Whittington dies. In his will he leaves extensive legacies to London charities.

Dick Whittington's Will, 1423.
Dick Whittington left large sums to charities.
1450

Rebels under Jack Cade enter London and begin looting. After a few days, the Londoners fight back and drive them out of the city. Cade's army, camped in Southwark, attacks London bridge, but many of them are killed. They are offered a royal pardon and disperse. Cade is caught and killed. His head is displayed on a spike on London Bridge .

London Bridge, C 1620.
The heads of criminals can be seen stuck on pikes.
1470

Around this time Sir John Fortescue gives the first detailed account of the Inns of Court and Chancery. These are societies of lawyers that began to develop in the thirteenth century. Until the eighteenth century they will play a major role in the education of English lawyers. Their presence in London is considered to give the city the status of a major centre of learning, alongside the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Lincoln's Inn, C.1470.
Lincoln's Inn, C.1470.
1497

A visitor from Venice describes the magnificent banquet given by the mayor to mark his election. He says that there were at least a thousand people present, and the meal took four hours to serve.

An Imaginary Mediaeval Banquet.
An Imaginary Mediaeval Banquet.
1509

John Colet, Dean of St Paul's, founds St Paul 's School as a free grammar school for the boys of London .

1538

King Henry the Eighth has rejected the authority of the Pope. He has begun closing down the monasteries and other religious foundations. The city authorities are worried. All the London hospitals were founded as charities run by the Church. The Mayor and Aldermen begin negotiations to save them.

Men in Conversation, C.1580.
Men in Conversation, C.1580.
1550

The Borough of Southwark was granted to the City of London by royal charter. Southwark became a ward of the City, Bridge Ward Without, with an alderman to represent it.

Protestant refugees are arriving in England , fleeing persecution in France and the Netherlands . Many of them settle in London . There will be more arriving in the decades to come.

1553

A citizen of London puts a detailed description of the Lord Mayor's Show in his diary.

King Edward the Sixth gives the city the redundant royal palace of Bridewell , to be a workhouse and prison for the poor.

Barge Procession on the River Thames, C.1840
Procession of barges along the River Thames. These are the type of barges used for dignitaries and royalty.This is a 19th Century picture, but the scene would have been unchanged for centuries before.

Bridewell.
Bridewell started out as a palace, but in time became a prison.
1555

A new guild, the Company of Watermen is founded as a result of an Act of Parliament. The watermen have played an important part in London life for centuries. They are the taxi-drivers of their day, rowing passengers across the river to Southwark or up and down it to places like Westminster and Greenwich .

Detail of Agas's Map Showing Watermen on the River.
Detail of Agas's Map Showing Watermen on the River.
1559

The first printed map of London , the 'Copperplate' map, is published during or shortly before this year.

1561

The spire of St Paul 's Cathedral is struck by lightning. The fire burns for four hours and the roof of the cathedral falls in. The roof is rebuilt, but not the towering steeple.

1570

Queen Elizabeth the First visits the recently opened Exchange on Cornhill, built by Sir Thomas Gresham as a place for merchants to do business. She decrees that from now on it shall be called the Royal Exchange.

Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth I.
1576

People from Ireland are beginning to settle in London in some numbers. In the centuries to come, the Irish will make up one of the largest immigrant communities in the city.

Irish Man and Woman, C. 1606.
Irish Man and Woman, C. 1606.
1580

The suburbs (built-up districts outside the city limits) are starting to grow at a rate that alarms the government. A royal proclamation forbids any new building within three miles of the city. It is widely ignored. The urban area continues to spread.

Map of London, 1693.
Map of London, 1693.
1598

John Stow, a freeman of the Merchant Taylors Company, publishes the first edition of his Survey of London. This is a detailed description of the city, full of information about its history and institutions.

1599

Thomas Platter, a traveller from Switzerland , arrives in London determined to do the sights. His diary gives us a lively picture of the city's tourist attractions and places of entertainment.

Tudor Street Scene, C. 1560.
Tudor Street Scene, C. 1560.
1600

The East India Company is founded. It is an association of merchants, formed to carry on trade with the countries of the East, especially India and the Malay Archipelago .

1603

King James the First succeeds to the throne and makes a formal entry into London . A series of triumphal arches are set up to welcome him. The poets Ben Jonson and Thomas Dekker are commissioned to write shows to be performed along the route. Among the speaking parts are the River Thames and the Genius of the City.

1606

The Virginia Company is granted a royal charter to colonise Virginia . The first ships sail from London at the end of the year.

Boats on the Thames, C.1620
Boats on the Thames, C.1620
1609

Sir Hugh Myddelton, a rich goldsmith, begins the construction of the New River . A channel of nearly forty miles is cut to bring water from Hertfordshire to a reservoir at Clerkenwell. From here it is piped into the city. This is the most ambitious approach so far to the problem of keeping the city supplied with water.

View of London From Islington Showing New River Head, C.1780.
View of London From Islington Showing New River Head, C.1780.
1611
The Court of Common Council decides that some of the city's young apprentices are wearing clothes that are far too fashionable and expensive. They are visiting dancing schools and fencing schools and playing games like tennis and bowls. Now all of this is forbidden. The apprentices must conform to a dress code that is approved by the Council. Also they must keep their hair short.
A Young Boy in Fancy Clothes, C. 1600.
A Young Boy in Fancy Clothes, C. 1600.
1615

The ancient market place at Smithfield near Clerkenwell is renovated by the city government. Proper drains are dug and the area is paved over. Railings are put up to protect visitors from being trampled by cattle or run over by carts.

Smithfield Market, C. 1800.
The stalls for cattle can be clearly seen. Animals would have been herded through the streets of London to get to Smithfield. Names give clues about activities in London in the past. For example Cowcross Street, near Farringdon , is a direct route to Smithfield.
1619

A hundred beggar children, boys and girls, are shipped off to the new colony in Virginia.

1634

More and more Londoners are keeping their own coaches. For people who cannot afford this there are hackney coaches, the forerunners of taxi-cabs. The city is beginning to suffer from traffic congestion. To help with the problem, sedan chairs are made available for hire.

1642

The English Civil War begins between forces loyal to King Charles the First and forces loyal to Parliament. The City of London takes the Parliament side.

In November, the King's army advances on London . The London Trained Bands (the citizen militia) block their way at Turnham Green. Outnumbered two to one, the Royalist army retreats.

Scenes from the English Civil War, C.1643.
Scenes from the English Civil War, C.1643.
1656

With the encouragement of the Protector, Oliver Cromwell, Jewish people begin to settle in England again. Cromwell's policy will be reaffirmed in 1664, after the Restoration of the Monarchy.

1661

The writer John Evelyn publishes Fumifugium, in which he draws attention to the problem of smoke pollution. He reports that black clouds are often seen hanging over London , and the inhabitants are never free from coughs. He recommends that certain manufacturing processes, such as brewing, soap-making and dyeing, should be moved to sites downriver, well away from the city.

1665

The city experiences a terrible epidemic of bubonic plague. It will be remembered as the Great Plague of London. It kills more than eighty thousand people, mostly in the poorer districts on the outskirts of the city.

1666

The Great Fire of London rages for three days and devastates the medieval heart of the city. St Paul 's Cathedral and many churches are reduced to rubble. The Guildhall is badly damaged. A third of the buildings on London Bridge are destroyed.

City of London on Fire, 1666.
City of London on Fire, 1666.
1667

An Act for rebuilding London is passed by Parliament. It lays down strict standards for the new houses. They must all be made of brick or stone. Walls must be built to certain thicknesses. There must be adequate distances between building timbers and fireplaces.

1669

Londoners have begun to rebuild their city. By the summer of this year about 1,600 replacement houses have been built or are under construction.

1670

Christopher Wren, the newly appointed Surveyor of the Royal Works, begins building fourteen new city churches to his own designs, to replace those lost in the fire. Between now and the end of the century, Wren will oversee the building of fifty-one parish churches.

A View and Plan of The City of London, C.1680
The map shows two views of the city as seen from south of the river in Southwark. At the top is a view of the city before the fire in 1666. The second view shows the City in ruins after the fire.
1671

The rebuilding of the Guildhall is far enough advanced for the Lord Mayor to hold his banquet there in October.

The Great Fire is commemorated by the building of the Monument, a stone column 202 feet high. It will take seven years to build, and will remain a London landmark to the present day.

View of Monument, C. 1770.
View of Monument, C. 1770.
1672

The Royal African Company is founded. A large part of its business is slave-trading.

1675

Wren, who has now been knighted, begins building a replacement for St Paul 's Cathedral. The building will not be completed until 1710.

Cross Section of St Paul's Cathedral.
Cross Section of St Paul's Cathedral.
1681

In France the Huguenot (Protestant) minority is experiencing persecution. Large numbers of refugees are beginning to arrive in England . Many of them settle in and around London .

1683-84

This winter the Thames freezes. The Londoners hold a Frost Fair. Rows of fairground booths are set up on the ice, selling goods of all kinds, as well as food and beer. There are puppet shows, games of football and horse races. People even take rides on the ice in coaches.

Frost Fair, C.1790.
Frost Fair.
1686

Edward Lloyd's coffee house in Tower Street becomes the meeting place and business headquarters for underwriters engaged in providing insurance for merchant ships. Out of this will develop the world-famous insurance office still known as Lloyd's.

1694

England is at war with France . King William the Third is running out of money to pay for it. The Bank of England is founded by royal charter. Its purpose at this point is to raise money to lend to the government at a guaranteed rate of interest. The Bank will soon take on other functions related to government finance. But it will not be until 1844 that it will become the only institution in England that is allowed to issue paper money.

Grocer's Hall, 1695.
Grocer's Hall, 1695.
1702

The first London daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, is issued from a print shop on Fleet Street. Fleet Street will be the centre of the city's newspaper industry until the late twentieth century.

1716

The poet John Gay writes a long descriptive poem called Trivia; or the Art of Walking the Streets of London.

1720

A boom in the stock of the South Sea Company is followed by a crash when the stocks turn out to be worthless. Large numbers of investors go bankrupt. They cannot pay their debts and this makes other businesses collapse too. This episode, known as the South Sea Bubble, is the first great stock market crash.

1725

The built-up area around the city has grown enormously. Now, when people talk about London , they mean the metropolis: the vast urban area within which the original city has become just one small district. Inside its ancient boundaries the City of London continues to keep its distinct identity and customs, its wealth and prestige. Meanwhile, the London metropolis spreads and spreads, swallowing villages and fields.

Map of The City of London,  1676.
Map of The City of London, 1676.
1731

The Court of Aldermen decrees that in future 'no negroes or other blacks' shall be apprenticed to anyone who is a freeman (member) of one of the City Companies.

A Black Servant Serves Dinner to Aldermen.
A Black Servant Serves Dinner to Aldermen.
1736

An Act of Parliament allows the City of London to raise a special lighting rate from householders to pay to have the streets lighted from dusk till dawn every night. This is much more satisfactory than earlier arrangements, which gave the responsibility for street lighting to individual householders. The lamps are oil lamps, lit every evening by a lamplighter. Lenses and reflectors are used to intensify the light. Soon, London will be considered to be one of the best-lit cities in Europe .

Bloomsbury Square, 1787.
A street light can be seen at the edge of the square near the carriage.
1771

Sir John Langham, an alderman, has left a bequest in his will, 'for the relief of poor distressed soldiers and seamen, and their families'. The awards are to be made by the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen to carefully chosen deserving cases. This year is the first year that the awards are to be made. Several hundred people send in begging letters. Many of the letters contain heart-rending stories of injuries, illness and poverty.

A Beggar Woman And A Child.
A Beggar Woman And A Child.
1780

Huge anti-Catholic riots, the Gordon riots, take place in London. The rioters rage for several days. They release the prisoners in Newgate Prison, London's chief criminal prison. Then they burn down the jail. Other prisons are also attacked and set on fire. Many houses and businesses belonging to Roman Catholics are burnt. However, when the rioters attack the Bank of England, they find it defended by armed guards.

The Gordon Riots, 1780.
The Gordon Riots, 1780.
1784

The first high-speed mail-coach service is started between London , Bath and Bristol . The journey takes seventeen hours. The coaches leave from the General Post Office in Lombard Street .

Stagecoach With Passengers.
Stagecoach With Passengers.
1787

Thomas Clarkson and other campaigners found a Committee for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Its first meeting is held this year in George Yard off Lombard Street . The British slave trade will eventually be banned in 1807.

1792

In France , the royal family is imprisoned and the Republic is proclaimed. French refugees are beginning to arrive in London . There will be many more of them in the years to come.

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