‘One of the world’s most famous cities, London stands apart from the country on almost every measure – economic, cultural and criminal.’
Whether visiting the financial engine of the Square Mile, the creative melting-pots of the East, or the globally-recognised spectacles of Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus, London can offer something to disappoint everyone.
Millions of tourists descend in all months of the year to marvel at the sights, sounds and smells of the capital. Lacking the single, spectacular visual draw of an Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty to entrance its visitors, London instead uses basic amenities like red phone boxes or the buses as its own calling cards, thereby condemning itself to being the only city in world to brand itself with the smell of urine.
More than seven times bigger than any other UK city, London has the financial muscle to construct a perch for looking down on all others from, and currently has one under construction. However, working to its usual timetable, completion of this is not expected until at least 2035.
Thought of as unfriendly and patronising by the rest of the country, London’s residents usually reject such accusations. Or at least they do when they can be bothered to acknowledge your fetid, provincial presence. If cornered, they protest that you too would be pretty unpleasant if you were forced to live with Londoners all the time. Then they take your wallet.
It is said you’re never more than six feet from a rat in London. However, across the different regions there are other things you should expect to encounter with similar regularity:
- East – Some ‘tweeting’ bellpiece
- West – An Australian
- North – Goji berries
- South – More of the same
60 AD – Set up as a civilian town by the invading Romans just a decade earlier, the town of Londinium is destroyed by the Iceni tribe led by their Queen Boudica after a heated disagreement about the spelling of her name.
2nd Century – Londinium replaces Colchester as the capital of Roman Britain after asking if they could just borrow the title for a bit, and then never giving it back.
871 – The Danish ‘Great Heathen Army’ winters in London, attracted by plentiful food supplies, well-built shelters, and a wide selection of easily burnable churches.
1381 – London is invaded by rebels in the Peasant’s Revolt. A group storms the Tower of London and executes the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Treasurer and Archbishop Simon Sudbury, who unluckily happens to be manning the ticket booth that day.
1642 – As home to both Parliament and the monarchy, London takes a back seat in the English Civil War, telling both sides to be back by teatime.
1665 – Over 60,000 Londoners are killed by the Great Plague. A further 5,000 gravediggers die from exhaustion.
1666 – A year after the Great Plague and two months after the Great Fire destroys thousands of buildings, all of London’s insurers fold after a plague of frogs chooses the worst possible moment to descend.
1787 – Freed slaves from London leave to help found the city of Freetown in modern-day Sierra Leone, figuring that things surely couldn’t get any worse.
1829 – Home Secretary and future Prime Minister Robert Peel establishes the Metropolitan Police Force. In his honour the early force gained the nickname of “bobbies” or “peelers”, before his reshuffle into the Ministry of Agriculture sees them settle into the tag of “pigs”.
1858 – Unable to deal with London’s rapidly growing population the city’s medieval sewer systems fail, causing what eventually becomes known as The Great Stink, but which at the time is known only as a series of dry retching noises.
1863 – The first lines of the London Underground are completed, followed two weeks later by the Tube’s first spell of ‘essential improvements’.
1936 – Clashes between right and left culminate in the Battle of Cable Street, with anti-fascists clashing with a fascist march led by Oswald Mosley. Mosley’s plan to send thousands of Blackshirt marchers dressed in uniforms through the East End is turned back, and he is instead forced to return to his US talk radio career.
1941 – The Luftwaffe carry out what remains the most coordinated town planning initiative in London’s history.
1960s – Swinging London becomes a centre for worldwide youth culture, led by the global success of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Austin Powers.
2000 – Millions are disappointed when the ‘river of fire’ promised as part of London’s lavish Millennium celebrations fails to light despite the large quantities of flammable sewage pumped specially into the Thames.
Did You Know?
According to the Mayor’s office, on average, in London someone gets stabbed every 38 minutes. To the disappointment of many Londoners, that someone is generally not the Mayor.