Soon after you delve into British history it becomes very clear that London is a city that’s had a long, varied and exceptionally colourful past with a gripping cast of heroes and villains. Not only does it have a rich and regal history with key events surrounding the Royal Family and a succession of Kings and Queens but it’s also faced a devastating fire, the Black Death, Parliamentary disputes, criminal horrors and a number of other events that are still enthralling historians to this day.
Whether you’re a history lover in general or simply enjoy London as a city, there are some key dates in London history that you should know before your next trip. Not only are these dates important from a purely historical perspective, but they may have also changed the face of London for good.
The Great Fire of London
2nd September 1666
On Sunday 2nd September 1666, a fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane. The fire spread from the shop, down Pudding Lane and towards the Thames. Before long, the flames had reached warehouses stocked with flammable items such as oil. It grew, sweeping through the city and completely destroying The Royal Exchange, Guildhall, St. Paul’s Cathedral, over 13,000 houses and over 80 parish churches. It was so devastating in fact that in its aftermath, much of London had to be completely rebuilt. As there was no organised fire brigade at the time of the fire, it caused a lot more damage than a fire of a similar scale would today. The official death toll of the Great Fire of London rests at six, though it is thought that many more died from disease and the cold winter that followed.
The exorbitant cost required to rebuild London was far higher than the city could afford and this led to financial hardships for a lot of the city’s residents. As a direct result of the Great Fire of London, insurance companies created the very first fire brigades, motivated by a desire to way to recover and reduce the cost of fighting fires.
The Gunpowder Plot
5th November 1605
On 5th November 1605 a group of English Catholic men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament as a way to assassinate King James I; one of these men was the now infamous Guy Fawkes. The plan was simple - explode barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords in order to kill the King. However, authorities found out about the plan and on a search of the House of Lords found Fawkes guarding over 30 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes was arrested and eventually executed. The Gunpowder Plot is why Guys Fawkes Night, also known as Fireworks Night or Bonfire Night, is celebrated on 5th November every year in England.
Suffragettes at Westminster
February 13th 1907
Though women did not receive the right to vote in England until 1918, 1907 marked the year in which 15 suffragettes made it into Westminster to protest their rights. This was a significant date in London’s history as it highlighted London as a place where women were taking action to ensure their voices were heard in the same way that men’s were. This, along with Emily Davison jumping in front of the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, remain to this day as some of most notable moments in British women’s history.
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
2nd June 1953
Following the death of her father, Queen Elizabeth II was coronated as Queen on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, though she was technically monarch the year prior to this. She is currently the longest reigning monarch in British history and was the first British monarch to celebrate 65 years on the throne.
London 2012 Summer Olympics
July - August 2012
You won’t have to delve into British history too far to remember that London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. Spanning three weeks, the Summer Olympics saw the world’s best sportsmen and women compete in a number of different events. The opening ceremony, directed by film director Danny Boyle, on 27th July 2012 was one of the world’s most watched and featured a number of British icons.