City of London (Year 1)

There are 25 City Wards. The wards are of ancient origin and their number has only changed three times in all the centuries of their existence. In 1206 their number was recorded as 24. In 1394 Farringdon – which had been one very large ward – was divided into Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without. In 1550 the ward of Bridge Without was created south of London Bridge – in Southwark. The ward called ‘Bridge’ was then renamed ‘Bridge Within’. In 1978 these two wards were merged, taking the name ‘Bridge’ once more.

This term we shall take a look at six relatively small wards – all clustered around the northern end of London Bridge. They are so small that, if your life depended on it, you could probably walk the longer distance across all these wards (from east to west) in about 10 or 15 minutes. In many cases, City wards go back to Saxon times and their boundaries have changed little over all those centuries. Until a few years ago, when the City administrators – in their infinite wisdom – decided to make minor changes to the ward boundaries, each ward has remained the same size and shape for around 1,000 years. It, therefore, makes the study of the City neatly compartmentalised to use the ward boundaries for giving lectures and it is a practice that I have always followed.

Wards beside the River Thames – of which we have three examples to consider during this academic term – are not only interesting because of the historic places within their boundaries but also because the riverside is also bound up with the earliest form of docks at which ships were moored to load and unload goods in London. At these very small quays – still in use until the 17th century – goods were exported to many destinations in Europe and goods bound for the City were imported from other ports around England as well from much further afield. In the 18th century, larger facilities for ships to dock further downriver came into existence which continued in use until the 1970s. The area where those later docks were located is now called Docklands.

The six wards being studied this term have plenty of history. A few of the places of interest will be included from each on over the following weeks. As can be seen on the map, the total area is grouped into three pairs of wards – (1) Bridge Within and Billingsgate, (2) Walbrook and Dowgate and (3) Vintry and Cordwainer. As the weeks continue, we shall work through the wards in that order.


Comment 11 – The City of London

It is time to return to looking at a part of the City of London once again. In fact, most of the autumn term will be taken up with places of interest within the City’s boundary – in the form of six small wards near London Bridge. The Know Your London course extends over six years, with part of the City being studied each year. Since there are 25 wards in the City, simple arithmetic would predict that three or four wards should be covered each year. Because the large ones take more time to explain than smaller ones, the number of wards covered in each year varies. This academic year is called ‘Year 1’, not that there is any significance in the number, it simply provides a count so that everything is covered.


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London – London Boroughs

Above: The 28 Metropolitan Boroughs, coloured in PALE GREEN or DARK GREEN to show how they were combined in 1965 to form the larger London Boroughs. The City is shown in PINK. Westminster is shown in YELLOW because it is slightly different from the other London Boroughs because it is known as the ‘City of Westminster’.

On 1 April 1965 a new way of administering London came into effect. Until then the administration was for Metropolitan London – a collection of 28 Metropolitan Boroughs, formed in 1900 and administered by the  London County Council (LCC). In addition, the City of London remained, with its own government.

The map showing the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs was redrawn so that those boroughs were combined – either two at a time or three at a time – into larger units which were called London Boroughs. The only exception was Lambeth which remained by itself because it was a relatively large area. The reorganisation created 12 London Boroughs which, because they included all the land of Metropolitan London were also referred to as ‘Inner London Boroughs’.

The amalgamation of the Metropolitan Boroughs into London Boroughs will be described below starting with the London Borough of Greenwich and working clockwise. Notice that two of the 12 London Boroughs assumed a totally new name and the old Metropolitan Borough names were lost, which was a regret for many of the residents.

London Borough of Greenwich – formed by combining the Metropolitan Boroughs of Greenwich and Woolwich. The two small pieces of land, once part of the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich, were incorporated into the London Borough of Newham.

London Borough of Lewisham – formed by combining the Metropolitan Boroughs of Deptford and Lewisham.

London Borough of Southwark – formed by combining the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell and Southwark.

London Borough of Lambeth – formed from the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth but two small pieces of land that had been in the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth were added. They were (1) Clapham and (2) Streatham. They are shown in BROWN on the top map.

London Borough of Wandsworth – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Battersea and almost all of Wandsworth.

London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Fulham and Hammersmith.

London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Chelsea and Kensington.

London Borough of Westminster, which has been written in this list for convenience. It actually has the title of ‘City of Westminster’ – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Paddington, St Marylebone and Westminster (which also carried the title of ‘City of Westminster’).

London Borough of Camden – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras.

London Borough of Islington – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Finsbury and Islington.

London Borough of Hackney – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Hackney, Shoreditch and Stoke Newington.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets – formed from the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney.


Above: The colours on this map are the SAME as for the map at the top but the first three letters have been added to each Inner London Borough. Around the edge of the map are shown only the names of Outer London Boroughs which touch the Inner London Boroughs.

Around the original Metropolitan boundary were created a further 20 new London Boroughs which, because they were around the edge of the original boundary were known as ‘Outer London Boroughs’.

For the sake of completeness, the 20 Outer London Boroughs are listed in alphabetical order. They cover even more of the County of Middlesex than before, they cover part of the County of Essex, they cover even more of the County of Surrey than before and also more of the County of Kent than before.

Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Haringey, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton, Waltham Forest.

It should be pointed out that the ‘Know Your London’ blogs are, in the main written for places of interest within the old Metropolitan London boundary. Another way of putting that is to say that the blogs cover mainly the Inner London Boroughs and include the City of London. Just a handful of blogs cover places situated in the Outer London Boroughs and then only because the topic described relates closely to Inner London Boroughs.


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London – Metropolitan Boroughs

Above: Map of 1856 showing the four counties that were near the City of London – Middlesex, Essex, Surrey and Kent.

From the time of the Saxons and Normans, the only place that was called ‘London’ was the City of London. As the above map shows, all the land around the City was part of a county. In Norman times those counties were full of small villages – like Deptford and Islington – but as the centuries rolled by the villages increased in size.

By the 1800s many villages were so large that they almost touched the adjacent village. By the middle of the century, people in government were already calling the large collection of villages around the City of London a ‘metropolis’. The land was still divided into parishes which contained one or more villages and a handful of hamlets. It was the parish councils that were struggling to restrain over-development of the commons and fields by well-organised developers who were determined to make vast profits from building streets of houses. Commons were supposed to be ‘for everybody’ and not for building on at all. The people on local councils were no match for the developers and the Government realised that it had to act and act swiftly.

The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was the principal instrument of London-wide government from December 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council (LCC) in March 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London’s rapid growth, which it accomplished. Many of the departments were run by Barristers which meant that developers had formidable legal opposition, instead of the humble parish councils. So draconian were some of the rules that, even today, London has magnificent open land in the form of the many commons across London. That took determination and a far-sighted vision to protect so much land from the developers.

The idea was to run the metropolis as if it was a large city. Eventually, in 1900, the ‘County of London’ was formed, presided over by the London County Council (LCC). To create a new county, it was necessary to take parts of the County of Middlesex, the County of Middlesex and the County of Kent and draw a boundary around the edge. From 1900 those living within that boundary would regard London as their ‘county’. The County of Essex was not included. Within that boundary were created 28 Metropolitan Boroughs – all existing with Metropolitan London, with the LCC taking overall control. The headquarters building for the LCC was a newly built set of offices at the eastern end of Westminster Bridge, called County Hall.

Above: A map showing the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs situated around the City of London which remained independent of the LCC.

The 28 Metropolitan Boroughs are shown on the above map. North of the Thames, 18 boroughs occupied land that had previously been in the County of Middlesex. On the south side of the Thames are the remaining 10 boroughs. Six occupied land which had been part of the County of Surrey (PINK) and four which had been part of the County of Kent (PALE BLUE). It will be seen that the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford (DEPT) straddled the county border but it was considered to have been in Kent.

Using the four-letter codes shown on the above map, the Metropolitan Boroughs will be listed in alphabetical order. In addition to those 28 boroughs was the City of London which had (and still has) its own administration.

(BATT) Battersea, (BERM) Bermondsey, (BETH) Bethnal Green, (CAMB) Camberwell, (CHEL) Chelsea, (DEPT) Deptford, (FINS) Finsbury, (FULH) Fulham, (GREE) Greenwich, (HACK) Hackney, (HAMM) Hammersmith, (HAMP) Hampstead, (HOLB) Holborn, (ISLI) Islington, (KENS) Kensington, (LAMB) Lambeth, (LEWI) Lewisham, (PADD) Paddington, (POPL) Poplar, (STMM) St Marylebone, (STPP) St Pancras, (SHOR), Shoreditch, (SOUT) Southwark, (STEP Stepney), (STOK) Stoke Newington, (WAND) Wandsworth, (WEST) Westminster, (WOOL) Woolwich.

One small detail to note is that the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich extended north of the Thames with two small pieces of additional land. This had historical origins so that both ends of the ancient Woolwich Ferry were within the same administration.

All the Metropolitan Boroughs eventually used a Post Code system that reflected the fact that they were no longer within the original counties but were in the new County of London which was usually referred to as Metropolitan London. Having come into existence in 1900, its life was just 65 years and on 1 April 1965, a new regime was brought into action. Called ‘Greater London’ it was to supersede Metropolitan London. (See ‘London – London Boroughs‘).


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London – Changes Across the Centuries

Above: Greenwood’s map of London, published in 1824, was the last map of Inner London to be published before the coming of the railways.

From the times of the Romans, through to the Saxons, the Normans and on through the Tudors, the Stuarts and Victorians to the present day, a few major changes have taken place in and around London. They have had a profound effect on the way in which London has developed. It might be useful to consider the overall effect of the long ‘gap’ of nearly a thousand years between the Saxons and Victorian times. During that period of time, there were events which took place that had a major impact on how London came to be the place it is today. Most of those listed below take the story up to the time of the creation of Metropolitan London, some extend up to the present day.

The Romans

As far as archaeologists can tell, the large ‘saucer’ which makes up Inner London today – extending from the high ridge of hills around Hampstead and Highgate, down to the valley of the Thames and then rising in the south around Forest Hill, Sydenham and Crystal Palace – was completely uninhabited before the Romans came to England in AD 43. The Romans established a town which they called Londinium. Around the second century, they built the Roman Wall around their settlement which affected what became the City of London. Even today some of its streets are at odd angles due to the effect of the Roman Wall which was not removed until 1760.

The Saxons

The early Saxon settlement – Lundenwic – was in and around the road was now called the Strand. The result was to establish an extended area to the west of the City of London which, over centuries, developed into what we now call the City of Westminster. After AD 886 a Saxon London – Lundenburgh – was established within the old Roman Wall.

Tower of London

It was not until 1078 that the White Tower (within the Tower of London) was completed by the Normans. The concept of the Tower of London was to provide a place of safety for Norman kings to live. East of the City of London today is the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and to the north is the London Borough of Hackney. Most of this land was once all one vast Manor of Stepney. The same land was also part of the enormous Parish of Stepney. Dotted around the land were small hamlets. These were organised by the Governor of the Tower of London into an ‘early warning’ system to the Tower. Those living near the Thames were asked to report to the Tower if any foreign ships were seen approaching London on the Thames. The hamlets became known as ’Tower Hamlets’ because they came under the direction of the Governor of the Tower. In 1965, when the new London Borough was created, the borough was named Tower Hamlets because of these hamlets – like Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliffe and Limehouse.

London Bridge

We know that the Romans built a bridge across the Thames near the site of today’s London Bridge because timbers have been found to act as evidence. It may be that many wooden bridges were constructed with each one lasting maybe 50 years of more before a new one needed to be erected. A stone bridge was not completed across the Thames until 1176. The construction took until 1209 before the bridge was completed. Although some parts fell down over the centuries, that bridge was to last until the 1820s before a new bridge was erected. Today’s London Bridge is the third at this point on the river, being officially opened in 1973.

Maps of London

Although London goes back to Roman times, it was not until the 16th century that maps of London started to be produced. Because large sheets of paper were hard to produce, most of the large-scale maps were printed in sections, with the map continuing across several sheets. The earliest map of London was produced around 1530. It was obviously produced in maybe 20 or more sections of which only three have been found. The earliest almost complete map of the City of London and Westminster is the so-called Agas Map, in eight sections, that is undated but was probably published about 1561. Maps continued to be produced by private individuals over several centuries. In 1850 the first Ordnance Survey map of London was produced and updates have continued for those maps ever since.

Royal Exchange

This building in the City of London, which was officially opened in 1571, was not only important in its own right but it gave rise to many other institutions. When opened, the purpose of the Royal Exchange was to provide a meeting place for rich City merchants and ship’s captains. The idea was for the merchants to exchange ideas in conversation with the captains who had ships moored alongside the City that were full of cargoes like nutmegs that were very valuable in the 16th century. Such cargoes were greatly prized but only the rich merchants could afford to buy the contents of a ship’s hold. By providing a place where these two parties could meet, buyers for cargoes brought back from distant lands could be bought and sold on a wholesale basis. As a consequence of the connection with shipping, insurance of the ships began to develop which led to the founding of the world famous Lloyd’s Insurance. This, in turn, led to the development of general insurance. When merchants began to invest in ships and their cargoes this also led to the creation of the Stock Exchange.

Westminster Bridge

Remarkably, Londoners struggled on for around 500 years with just one bridge in what we now called Central London. Building a second bridge was often talked about but it was always opposed by the Watermen who gained their livelihoods from rowing passengers on the Thames. Eventually, a new crossing at Westminster was passed by Parliament and the second bridge completed in 1750.

Docks in London

The building of docks in London started with so-called ‘dry docks’ in which ships could be built or repaired in a dry space and then floated out of that dock when the work was completed. When closed, the gates were constructed so that the water from the Thames was prevented from entering the dock. By hanging the dock gates the other way round, ‘wet docks’ could be constructed to trap the water from the Thames and therefore leave the ships constantly floating in water in contrast to being tied to a river bank when the tidal water went down.

The first such construction was the Howland Great Wet Dock, built 1696-99 by a man called Howland beside the Thames at Rotherhithe. The dock was only used for discharging cargo and not for shipbuilding. It was later used by the whaling trade – for laying up whaling ships when they were not at sea – and renamed Greenland Dock in 1763. It was later extended to nearly twice its original length and remains today although it is now in use for mooring house-boats and water sports.

The West India Docks – constructed on the Isle of Dogs in 1800 – and the London Docks – constructed at Wapping in 1802 – were some of the larger docks. These two dock systems were still in use until the 1970s when they closed down, along with all the other dock systems on the Upper Thames. All the handling of goods is now carried out at Tilbury Docks, 25 miles down-river of London Bridge.


The very first railway constructed in England was the Stockton to Darlington Railway, in 1825. Those who were responsible for transport very quickly realised how important the new trains were. London’s first railway – only three miles long and running from Deptford to London Bridge Station – was started in 1834. Called the London and Greenwich Railway, with the intention of running to Greenwich and possibly to the south coast of England, this short line opened in December 1836. Because most of the line crossed open fields, it was decided to build it on a long brick viaduct. This meant that any roads could run through the arches, without the need for a level-crossing, and it also meant that any cows in the fields would not cause a problem by straying onto the railway lines. The route also crossed a canal and the problem of raising the tracks to cross the canal may have influenced the choice of a viaduct.

The modest three miles of railway soon grew and today London is crisscrossed by many railway viaducts and has more than a dozen railway termini (including London Bridge, Cannon Street, Waterloo, Charing Cross, Victoria, Paddington, Marylebone, Euston, King’s Cross, St Pancras, St Pancras International, Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street) serving the main lines into the capital.

London certainly lost its ‘innocent’ fields and country lanes layout when the railways came to London. With all the viaducts for additional railway lines that were built subsequently, access by road was never the same again. Many communities saw a railway line pass right through the centre, cutting one side off from the other, as they still are today.

Houses of Parliament

In the days of the Normans, England was ruled directly by the King. As time went by a Parliament was set up and the King’s power was gradually reduced. The early Parliaments were held in the Palace of Westminster. When that burned down in 1512, King Henry VII decided to move to the nearby Whitehall Palace and left the ruins to be rebuilt to house the Parliament. History was to repeat itself when, in 1834, there was another terrible fire on the site. The buildings that stand beside the Thames today – including Big Ben – were not begun until 1837 and fully completed until 1852.

Metropolitan Control

The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was the principal instrument of London-wide government from December 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council (LCC) in March 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London’s rapid growth, which it accomplished.

Eventually, it was realised that the metropolis needed to be run as if it was a large city. Eventually, in 1900, the ‘County of London’ was formed, presided over by the London County Council (LCC). To create a new County of London, it was necessary to take parts of the County of Middlesex, the County of Middlesex and the County of Kent and draw a boundary around the edge. Within that piece of land was the City of London – which remained independent. Twenty-eight Metropolitan Boroughs were created to administer matters like parks, street lighting, schools and local planning.

London’s Sewers

It is hardly believable but London had no sewers until the 1850s. Houses just had a cesspit at the bottom of the garden. In a small village that idea had worked well for centuries but with such a large population the idea was completely impractical. Cholera outbreaks were common and, of course, we now know that such terrible diseases were the result of bacteria that developed as a direct result of the insanitary conditions. A proper sewer system, that covered most of today’s Inner London, was built 1865-70. The government called in top engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, to create an underground complex of sewers. He and his team built 82 miles of intercepting sewers parallel to the River Thames, and 1,100 miles of street sewers at a cost of £4.2 million.

Many of the changes just described happened quite suddenly but had profound effects on London for centuries to come. Some of the changes were not regarded as anything very special at the time. It was only by looking back that we can see how profound they were. From the handful of ‘landmark changes’ described above, it will be seen that the development of London took centuries to accomplish and even then, there was no central organisation for the large metropolis until 1900 with the advent of the Metropolitan Boroughs.


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London – The Counties

Above: Map of Inner London showing the old county boundaries.

This article describes the relationship between the City of London and of the four counties that existed for many centuries, until the formation of Metropolitan London.

City of London

It is important to grasp the fact that, although the City of London was surrounded by the County of Middlesex, it was never part of Middlesex. It had its own Lord Mayor and its own government. That is why, even today, it has its own Police force and still has its own Lord Mayor who is completely separate from the Mayor of London.

To emphasise the point of the City of London being a separate administration, we will look at an example of Canterbury. Canterbury is the county city of Kent and it is also in the County Kent. Canterbury is not separate from Kent, it is part of the County of Kent – and that has always been the case. Similarly with Norwich being the county city of Norfolk. The City of London has a unique status because it has never been ‘within’ a county.

The Counties

During the four centuries that the Romans occupied Britain, the tribes that had been living on the land long before the Romans arrived, were often displaced by new Roman settlements being built – like Colchester, St Albans, Rochester and Winchester. However, the tribes continued to live in Britain and, when the Romans withdrew. Then the Saxons came over to England. Over the centuries England was gradually divided into counties. Around London, there are four Counties to be considered – Middlesex, Essex, Surrey and Kent.

As has already been mentioned, after the Romans left England, what had been Londonium was eventually to become a Saxon city. Archaeologists now use the name Lundenwic for its name. In AD 604 a cathedral was established on the site of what is now St Paul’s Cathedral. The Saxons laid out many of the roads in the City that we know today and re-established a port along the riverside, including two docks at Queenhithe and Billingsgate. Only the City continued to be called ‘London’. Anyone living in what we now call Inner London regarded the place where they lived as being within one of the four Counties.

County of Middlesex

On the north side of the Thames was the large County of Middlesex. Even Westminster was in Middlesex. If you walk to the west side of Parliament Square you will see an ornate building which, since 2009, has been the home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The building was originally erected as the Middlesex Guildhall. This is just one example to show that Middlesex covered land in Westminster, right up to the River Thames. Until the 1900s places like Clerkenwell, Hampstead, Paddington, Stepney, Hackney and many others were in the County of Middlesex. They were later absorbed into Metropolitan London.

County of Essex

To the east of Middlesex is the County of Essex. While parts of today’s Greater London extend into Essex, the old Metropolitan London only absorbed parts of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent. The boundary between Middlesex and Essex was the River Lea (or Lee). The river still accounts for some of the borough boundaries today – like parts of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. None of Metropolitan London was within of the County of Essex.

County of Surrey

On the south side of the Thames was the County of Surrey. The County extended east to an irregular boundary with Kent. The boundary ran south from the Thames, through New Cross (along Jerningham Road near Telegraph Hill), crossing land now laid out as Horniman Gardens (there is a short road called Surrey Mount near Horniman Gardens) and then running near the line of the road called Sydenham Hill. The Old Kent Road was in Surrey and was so-called because it led to the County of Kent. Rotherhithe, Peckham and Nunhead were all near the Surrey border until they were absorbed into Metropolitan London.

County of Kent

To the east of Surrey was the County of Kent. This included Greenwich, Lewisham, Lee, Blackheath, Eltham and Woolwich – among other place names – which were all absorbed into Metropolitan London.


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London – The Vikings

Above: Map showing today’s Inner London boroughs with four known sites where the Vikings settled in London.

The Vikings did not have much effect on how London developed from an administrative point of view but it is important to realise where they settled in London.

The archetypal caricature of a Viking, in the minds of many people in England, is probably a rugged ‘hunk’ of a man with a fighting implement in one hand and some trophy slung over the other. Stories of Vikings setting fire to English villages, stealing gold from parish churches and raping the women in a community are commonplace. Sadly, that did take place but they were more sophisticated than that. Vikings is a generic name for the peoples from Norway and Denmark who were great adventurers. They sailed across the North Sea, attacking principally the east coast of Britain. A visit to York will make you aware of the Vikings – mainly from Norway – for which there is a museum called the Jorvik Viking Centre. The Vikings also attacked East Anglia and Kent. They were mainly from Denmark.

In Norfolk are two small sea-side resorts called Sidestrand and Overstrand. The last syllable ‘strand’ is, in fact, a Danish word and simply means ‘land beside water or the sea’. These are simple examples of how Vikings have affected the English language.

Above: The intimidating figurehead on a replica Viking long-boat now on display at Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate in Kent.

Vikings attacked Britain even while the Romans were in occupation. In AD 449 they attacked Kent. To mark the 1500th anniversary of this event, a Danish museum built a replica long-boat and it was rowed to England, landing at the Main Bay, Broadstairs. The long-boat was put on show at Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate, where it can still be seen.

Returning to the history of London, there is plenty of evidence for Vikings in the area. The clue to Vikings is long-boats and for them to be usable there has to be water. The places associated with Vikings were all beside the Thames or beside rivers that flowed into the Thames.

Hackney is one example. Its name derives from Old English ‘Hacan ieg’ meaning ‘Haca’s Isle’. It is believed that the name was an early form of Haakon a name still in use by the Norwegian royal family. The isle or island was a piece of land, surrounded by water somewhere along the River Lea. Viking long-boats could easily have navigated up the Lea from the Thames.

Greenwich was a place where the Vikings, in this case, the Danes had a camp by 1012. They had taken Alphege, the Archbishop of Canterbury hostage and were hoping a ransom would be paid. Alphege had left instructions that, if he were taken prisoner, a ransom should not be paid and in 1012 he was murdered at Greenwich by the Danes. There is a tradition that the parish church of St Aphege was built on the site of his martyrdom.

Tooley Street, near London Bridge, was another site which the Danes occupied. They established a church – called St Olave – which also stood near London Bridge. In fact, Tooley Street derives its name from a corruption of ‘St Olave’s Street’. Further evidence for the Danes was found when New Guy’s House, a large red-brick block in at Guy’s Hospital, was being built in the 1960s. While preparing the foundations, the remains of a long-boat were found in the ground on the site. It was concluded that, in the 9th and 10th centuries, the ground had been so marshy that the long-boat could be rowed to the place where it was found.

The Strand was another place where the Danes were encamped. We have already talked about the word ‘Strand’ and this street also ran close to the river. It ran even closer before the construction of the Victoria Embankment increased the land beside the Thames. A further reminder today is the parish church called St Clement Danes.

The City was another place where the Danes settled. They founded no less than four churches, all bearing the name St Olave. Only St Olave, Hart Street, on the east side of the City remains today. The Danes were driven out of the City in AD 886 by Alfred the Great and a Saxon population moved into it.

Just a few artefacts from Viking times are on show in the Museum of London but across Britain, there are numerous examples of their work.


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London – Saxon London

Above: Map representing the City about AD 700 – showing the extent of the early Saxon settlement called Lundenwic. The Strand runs near the Thames and further north is Holborn and High Holborn. The curved road entering the orange area is Drury Lane. Notice that the whole Roman Wall remains, including the wall along the riverside.

We know that the Romans left Londinium around AD 410 but exactly what happened to the old settlement is not clear. We also know that Saxons, who were essentially a farming community and not given to erecting imposing stone buildings, decided to leave their native homeland – in what would now be parts of southern Germany – and settle in England. They came over from the 6th century onwards and settled all over England.

Archaeologists often puzzled over the fact that when they excavated parts of the City of London they often found Roman artefacts and the remains of Roman buildings but they never found any evidence for Saxons. After the Second World War, large parts of the City of London lay in ruins and London archaeologists made many amazing discoveries in the bombed out buildings that were to be seen everywhere. Yet again, there was no evidence for Saxons. In fact, the mystery of the ‘missing Saxons’ was not solved until about 1985. In that year there was an archaeological dig taking place on a relatively small site in the Covent Garden area. The buildings were standing empty – after Covent Garden Market had relocated to Nine Elms – and several digs were conducted in demolished buildings. One sharp-eyed archaeologist noticed that the colour of clay under the foundations of a building was of one colour but, at regular intervals, there were small patches of discolouration. He concluded that the change in colour could be due to posts, driven into the ground to form a wooden house.

His hunch was correct, the timber posts had rotted away over time leaving just a discolouration in the ground. The history books on London now had to be re-written because the evidence was starting to be found showing that the Saxon settlers had chosen to live along the banks of the Thames to the west of old Londinium. From the late 1980s onwards more and more evidence for the Saxon settlement was found – extending approximately from today’s Trafalgar Square, around the Strand and east to where Drury Lane is today, possibly even further. The settlement is now called Lundenwic, a name that it is believed to have been used by those early Saxon settlers. Lundenwic probably flourished between about AD 600 and AD 800.

One other factor should be mentioned. From Roman times the Vikings had been attacking the eastern shores of Britain. They gradually settled in England and by about AD 800 they had settled inside the old Roman walls. There is a separate blog about the Vikings called ‘London – The Vikings‘.

Above: Map representing about 1000 – showing the Saxons having left Lundenwic and having established Lundenburgh. Streets, whose alignment still exist today, are seen on the map. Notice that the Roman Wall beside the Thames is shown having been removed in part.

Cutting a long story short, King Alfred the Great formed an army and, in AD 886, drove the Vikings out of the walled City and re-established it as what is now called Lundenburgh. While there was the early settlement of Lundenwic in and around the Strand, some people obviously settled within the old Roman walls. St Paul’s Cathedral was founded in AD 604 with the walls and it is believed that near the Thames there were ships bringing goods from overseas and trading with those who lived near the quays.

From AD 886 Lundenburgh was established as a centre of government. It is believed that Alfred the Great was responsible for the layout of many of the City’s streets and lanes. The only piece of stonework, from Saxon times, within the City of London is a stone arch inside the ancient church of All Hallows Barking.

As any school pupil knows, after the period of the Saxons came the Normans – in 1066 and all that! The streets of the City of London were starting to be formed as we know them today. From these early years until 1760 the City – bounded by the Roman Wall – was the only place that was called ‘London’. The use of the name ‘London’ only applied to the ‘Square Mile’ and that name continued in use until 1900. By that date, administrative changes meant that the name ‘London’ was also being applied to the large area of land around the City.

If you are wondering whether the Saxons left their mark on London, two important examples can be given. (1) It was the Saxons who created many of the counties of England. (2) Many of the place names that we take for granted today in the London area, all go back to the owner of a farm in Saxon times – like Lewisham, Eltham, Islington and many other place names in Inner London.


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