Featured London Blogger: Who is London?
10:24 19 December 2012
“London is a world by itself; we daily discover in it more new countries and surprising singularities than in all the universe besides. There are among the Londoners so many nations differing in manners, customs, and religions, that the inhabitants themselves don’t know a quarter of ‘em.” quoted by Tom Brown 1700.
I would have to agree with Tom Brown’s quote, and since 1700 nothing has changed in that respect. London today is a swirling, melting-pot of cultures; citizens from over 200 countries have made their home in London; People arrive from all corners of the planet they come from far and wide – lured by the promise of democracy, of opportunity, of a lifestyle previously unknown, the promise of freedom!
Together they create and have created a kaleidoscope of tastes, smells, costumes, religions and culture that make London a city of dreams; both realised and dashed. London is a city filled with hidden treasures and gems both figuratively and actually. For a thrillingly different perspective – a walk along the Thames at low tide, along usually hidden beaches – you could find treasures long since buried and forgotten; now revealed as they are exposed by the shifting sands of time; shards of Roman coins and pottery, mediaeval roof tiles, Elizabethan clay pipes! A walk at dusk is a splendid surprise of exuberant colours splashed across sky, river and buildings by a setting sun.
A walk, or should I say a meander, through the streets of London can surprise you with the treasures revealed; hidden gems chanced upon are one of life’s privileges – with no definite destination in mind you can delight in cobbled streets off the beaten track, narrow alleyways that hide forgotten doorways and carry the secrets of nefarious dealings of the past; ghosts of people long since passed on but not yet gone. London is a city of contrasts – ancient lop-sided wooden houses still standing after hundreds of years and modern skyscrapers of sparkling glass and solid steel. You are pleasantly surprised by churches in hidden squares that go unseen day to day, little parks – green, shady oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the day, where time stands still for just a while.
As you walk along the main streets of London, keep your eyes peeled for narrow gaps between the buildings, they may surprise you with what lies beyond – cobbled courtyards; tiny shops filled with ancient and new bric-a-brac, quaint antique stores where the proprietor is almost as old as the goods he guards so carefully and dusty bookshops piled high with a chaotic array of tomes. There are cosy restaurants; the aroma of lunch or dinner wafting in the breeze, cosy coffee-shops who’s whereabouts are jealously guarded by the locals that entice you with the aromatic scent of freshly percolated coffee or tea-rooms where you can enjoy a ‘full-English’ breakfast (that is not strictly English) and a pot of scented, refreshing tea; from all the corners of the earth and possibly even from beyond!
Take a stroll along the leafy banks of the River Thames, broad-shouldered, easy and big, a salt tang in the air and as you do – admire the monuments erected along the sidewalks, awesome historical reminders of battles of the past and memorable people – long since dead, but not forgotten. Bodicea - Warrior Queen of the Iceni in her carriage rides purposefully to victory; Cleopatra’s needle – spoils of an empire, Pilots off to war during the Battle of Britain, statues of the men and women who have formed and shaped the history of this magnificent city.
London is too, a city of people; and as you walk her streets, think of the people who have gone before; Saxon raiders, Roman armies, Kings & Queens, poets, playwrights, Statesmen, Princesses and Princes; Knights of the realm, explorers, adventurers, soldiers, sailors, chancers and dreamers, and people like you and me; all have walked her streets; delighted and awed and drawn like moths to a flame by all this wonderful city has to offer. All making their mark and creating what is the living, thriving, throbbing entity that is the City of London; no matter the time of day! London grows constantly – like a creeper gone wild she spreads asunder; absorbing villages and towns in her path to create a Greater London; in both size and opportunity – a network of suburbs, railways, roads, canals and paths all linked together for better or worse.
London for all her beauty and splendour hides with reluctance an ugly under-belly; a side of life best left alone; thieves, pickpockets, murderers and dredges of all that society has to display. Dark streets hide darker secrets, shady dealings and illegal exchanges hidden behind a veil that covers things that perhaps we shouldn’t see. Death and destruction plague and fire, bombings and plunder – London has seen it all; it has shaped who she has become. London as a city constantly changes and grows, yet stays the same – wonderful and filled with delight; it is what you make it to be.
Over the centuries London has grown from a few scattered farmsteads into a thriving, bustling, ever changing metropolis! London is a maritime city; a city with a river that runs through it bringing visitors from near and far to walk across her many and famous bridges and to sail along her rushing, swirling timeless tidal waters. She has seen river craft; both large and small – hollowed out wooden boats; tall-ships – sails swollen in the wind; rowing boats; yachts; sailing boats; battleships and luxury liners – either laden with people or precious goods and spices, jewels and silks from exotic lands and faraway places; plundered or bartered. London, the first city in the world to reach 1million inhabitants: in 1811 London had the largest population in the world.
1AD a few farmsteaders
1,000AD : 5 – 10,000
1,500AD : 50 – 75,000
1801AD : 959,300
1811AD : 1,000,000+
1901AD : 6,506,954
1939AD : 8,615,245
1951AD : 8,346,000
2001AD : 7,172,000 April 2001 census
2006 : 7,512,400 (mid year)
2009 : 7,172,091 as of 29.04.10
32 percent of ‘Londoner’s’ were born outside of the U.K. with an average of 4,700 people per square kilometre.
P.S. I have researched a number of sites for the population numbers and they all quote a different statistic, so take your pick. Personally I doubt any census truly reflects the correct number of people since many are transient.