- The capital of the Empire and from early times an important centre of trade and commerce. On the northern bank of the River Thames.The first authentic mention of "Londinium," as it was called by the Romans, occurs in Tacitus, Annales, Lib. XIV. c. xxxiii. A.D. 61, "At Suetonius mira constantia medios inter hostes Londinium perrexit, cognomento quidem coloniae non insigne, sed copia negotiatorum et commeatum maxime celebre."Stow says it was originally called Troynouant or Trenouant as set down in Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the "cittie of Trinobantes" by Caesar. But there does not seem to be any testimony to support the truth of these statements as to the original name of the City, for the evidence of such a writer as Geoffrey of Monmouth is valueless and there is nothing in Caesar's writings to indicate that the city of the Trinobantes was London. Indeed, it seems more than likely that London, if it existed at all in Caesar's time, was not a place of much importance. Had it been a city of so much strength and beauty as Geoffrey of Monmouth would have us believe, it is probable that some authentic description of it would have come down to us from earlier writers and that Caesar himself would have referred to it by name.From the study of his Commentaries we are led to the conclusion that nothing was known of the interior of Britain in his day, and that there was no city of note to be found there.It is probable that at this time a Celtic settlement was in existence here, the remains of lake dwellings having been found under the bed of the Fleet River and beneath the site of Finsbury.During the interval that elapsed between Caesar's expeditions and the time when Tacitus wrote his Annals, London had apparently become an important centre of trade. This fact makes it difficult to accept one of the more modern theories relating to the origin of London, namely, that put forward by Dr. Guest before the Archaeological Institute in 1866 and reprinted in his "Origines Celticae," II. 405, in which he suggests that there was no British town on the site and that Aulus Plautius founded it in A.D. 43 as a Roman Camp.It seems more than doubtful that, if this were the case, London could have become within twenty years a flourishing centre of trade such as Tacitus describes.Bearing in mind the fact that Tacitus expressly denies the existence of a Roman"colony" there in his day, we are led to the following conclusions, viz.:(1) That it is doubtful if London existed as a town in Caesar's time.(2) That it was in any case not of sufficient importance in the time of Tacitus (one hundred years later) to be made a Roman colony.(3) That it was between B.C. 54 and A.D. 62 that it became famous as a centre of trade.In classical authors it is never dignified by the name of a "colony." Tacitus (A.D. 62), Eumenius (c.296) and Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century) all refer to it as an "oppidum," and Ptolemy (A.D. 120) describes it as the "city" of the Cantii. Camden is of opinion that it never was a "colony," and he says it was not to the interest of Rome that a mercantile city should be either a "Municipium" or a "Colonia," and he imagined it to have been a "Praefectura," a name given to cities where fairs were held and justice administered, but which were subject in respect of taxes, tributes and tolls, etc., to the Senate of Rome.Under the Roman rule the city seems to have increased rapidly in trade and influence, so that it was styled by later Latin writers "Londinum Augusta," while the numerous Roman remains of walls, pavements, baths, hypocausts, etc., discovered from time to time prove that the city was both flourishing and important.As to the extent of the City, various theories have been put forward with reference to the original site, and they are discussed at length in Roach Smith's "Illustrations of Roman London," in the "Archaeologia," in "Victoria County History of London," I., and elsewhere. It seems most probable that this site was to the east of Walbrook, with London Bridge as the centre, but it is difficult in view of the scanty evidence existing in historical records, to determine the site with certainty, and the rapid growth of the City soon called for the extension of its boundaries east and west. There is no authentic record of the inwalling of the City, and the original site was probably protected by a ditch and palisadoed bank only, while the wall was erected after the extension of the City, when its natural defences afforded less protection and its extended area rendered it more easy of attack. This inwalling is attributed by Henry of Huntingdon to Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in 306, but there is no evidence to support this theory, and the original wall may have been erected in even earlier times. In any case it seems probable that the line of the Roman wall was at least in later times similar in extent to that of the walls of Alfred's day, and that it enclosed an area of about 380 acres, extending from Aldgate on the east to Ludgate on the west and north to Aldersgate (See Wall of London).Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the condition of the City in the unsettled period that followed the departure of the Romans. While some are of opinion that it remained desolate and deserted for a considerable time without continuity of government and institutions, others maintain that the citizens were sufficiently imbued with the Roman spirit and ideals to preserve their traditions unbroken through times of stress and difficulty until they could re-establish them in their integrity in more peaceful days. Although the area of the City within the walls has not increased appreciably since Roman times, the growth of the population in the suburbs immediately without the walls rendered it desirable in course of time that these suburbs should be included within the Liberties of the City and brought under its control and government, although not included within its immediate area. These suburbs answered to the "territorium" of the old Greek and Roman city states, remaining unbuilt on for many years after the Roman occupation.This growth of the suburbs is indicated in the nomenclature of certain of the wards, portions of which lie "Without" the walls.In connection with this growth of the City it may be noted here that so long ago as 1304-5 the term County was applied to London in a Royal Commission appointing assessors of a tallage to be levied in the cities, boroughs and loyal demesnes within the Counties of Kent, Middlesex, London, Surrey and Sussex (Cal. L. Bk. C. 136).The references to London in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are somewhat scanty, but the "Judicia Civitatis Lundoniae" and the "De Institutis Lundonie," set out in Thorpe's "Ancient Laws and Institutes," afford a glimpse of the social conditions prevailing in the City in Saxdon times, and suggest the continuance and expansion of its commercial prosperity.Fitzstephen, a writer of the time of Henry II., has left a very interesting description of the City as it appeared in 1174.The City has been several times either in whole or in part destroyed by fire, as in 982 (A. S. Chron. Thorpe, II. 103), 1077 (ib. p. 186). Again in 1137 it was consumed by a fire which extended as far as London Bridge on the one side and to the church of St. Clement Danes on the other (MSS. Corp. of Axbridge, H. MSS. Com. 5th Rep. 300).In 1213 St. Mary Overies was burnt, together with a great part of London Bridge, London and Southwark.The latest visitation of the kind was the Great Fire of 1666, which laid waste nearly the whole City, and destroyed countless remains of ancient architecture, ecclesiastical and domestic (See Fire of London).There is a very interesting traveller's description of London as it appeared in 1657 amongst the MSS. of Sir George Wombwell, Bart, which it may be of interest to quote :"The chief city of England, and in my opinion the greatest of Europe but one (Paris), is London. Theires nothing heare but hansome. Hansome inhabitants, rich shopps, two rare exchanges ; noble palaces upon the river side ; streets both large and long, neat buildings and walks of the Inns of Court, curious feilds on all sides of it, exquisit markets in it well stored with all provisions : the commodity of the river and boates, the prodigious bridge ; the dew and dayly visit of the ebbing and flowing of the sea in the Thames, which visiting London dewly once a day, either bringeth to it or carryeth from it all merchandize the world can afford it, or it the world. The greatest ships that ride upon the sea come and unload in London in the very harte of the towne" (H. MSS. Com. Var. Coll. II. 202).There is abundant evidence in old records, maps and documents that down to the middle or end of the 18th century the citizens of London loved and appreciated the great City and lived in the very heart of it. Their houses were large and spacious, beautiful and noble buildings, with courtyards and gardens such as Crosby Place, Gresham House, Sir Paul Pindar's, Sir John Frederick's, and these houses enriched and beautified the City, as it was fitting they should do. It was to the removal of these houses, or to their conversion into small tenements, that must be attributed the number of small courts and back alleys that disfigured the City towards the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century.These have in their turn been swept away for the erection of the vast warehouses, offices and business houses that monopolise the City at the present day.During the 16th and 17th centuries the population and buildings were rapidly increasing, with the result that laws were passed both in the time of Queen Elizabeth and of Charles II. restricting the multiplicity of buildings in and around the City.Thus in 1580 an attempt was made to restrict the size of the City by a proclamation prohibiting the erection of buildings within three miles of the City gates (Hist. Charters, pp. 128-9).In recent years the tendency has been towards the constant diminution of the resident population of the City and to the growth and increase of Greater London beyond.It is the streets and buildings of the City proper, including the Liberties without the walls, that are treated of in this work, but not those that lie in the Metropolitan boroughs, nor in the larger area of Greater London beyond.The question of the derivation of the name "London" is a vexed one, and numerous suggestions have been made as to its origin.The real meaning of the word is unknown, as the original form of the name does not appear. The first syllable may be a variant of the Welsh word, "lli" = "water," the second syllable is the Celtic word "dun," of very frequent occurrence in place-names, signifying "hill-fort," and it is to be found in the names of many places both in England and on the Continent. Thus : "Taodunum," now Dundee, was a British fort occupied by the Romans. "Sorbiodunum," now Old Sarum. "Braunodunum," now Brancaster. "Lugdunum," now Lyons. "Laudunum," now Laon. "Melodunum," now Melun. "Verodunum," now Verdun, were all old Celtic hill-forts. This would give the meaning of a "fort or settlement on the water."Auguste Brachet suggests that the Latin form was "Londinum," not "Londinium," because "ni" followed by a vowel would become in French "gn," as "Colonia " = Cologne, "Bononia" = Boulogne. In the form "Londinum," "u" would be substituted for "o" and "e" for "i," giving the O.E. form "Lundene." The form "Londene" occurs 945. This would become "Londoniae" in later Latin documents and "Londres" in French.
A Dictionary of London. Henry A Harben. 1918.