Home » HISTORY: BRITAIN » Building Blocks of London

Building Blocks of London

Londons Roman City Wall

London: Roman Gateway

The last of the Roman soldiers left Britain around 410AD, the occupation by Rome was at an end.  Britain had been abandoned for the likes of the Saxons and Vikings to leave their mark on this land.

Our capital of England; London started out as open countryside, and in 43AD Roman Emperor Claudius led an invasion upon these lands, and by 50AD, a settlement had been built.  The Roman’s named our London; Londinium.

According to archaeological research and excavations of London, it is the considered opinion, that the Romans, were the first to build major structures in this area.

Londinium was destroyed around 60AD by Queen Boudicca and her forces, and rebuilt within ten years.  By the 2nd century Londinium had built temples, bath houses, basilica, amphitheatre and fort all in a Roman design.

They enhanced their city, their capital by constructing a wall around part of the city, located on the landward side.  It was a little under two miles in length, twenty feet high and eight feet thick warding off political attacks.  This wall survived some 1600 years.

Saxon pirates attacked Londinium on a number of occasions, which saw the Roman’s construct an additional wall along the river side of the city in 255AD.

The Roman’s built six gates to protect the city; Newgate, Aldersgate, Bishopgate, Aldgate, Cripplegate and Ludgate.  A seventh gate was built during Medieval times at Moorgate.

With the Roman’s gone, Londinium became a almost derelict city by the end of the 5th century.  Towards the end of the 5th century and the early part of the 6th century, Anglo-Saxon settlements, sprung up outside of Roman Londinium.

This new trading settlement was known as Lundenwic and located in the Strand, Aldwych and Trafalgar Square areas, along with a Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the Covent Garden area.

Early Anglo-Saxon’s known as Middle Saxon’s believed London was theirs, and the county of Middlesex is derived from: Middle Saxons.  By the early 7th century, the London areas were integrated into the kingdom of the East Saxon’s.

Houses of Parliament

Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament)

The Palace of Westminster:

The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) sits proudly dominating the banks of the River Thames, a symbol of Great Britain’s power.

It is believed that the site, now occupied by the Palace of Westminster, was a former home of a Roman Temple to their God; Apollo.

In the 8th century a Saxon Church dedicated to St.Peter replaced the Roman Temple that had been destroyed by an earthquake, years earlier.  In the 10th century the Saxon Church became a Benedictine Abbey.  An Anglo-Saxon royal palace, was built upon the site, in the 11th century by the Danish King; Cnut.

Edward the Confessor, built his royal palace of residence in the early part of his reign, then in 1066, after the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror made it the major seat of his government.

During the reign of King Henry VIII, the palace was used as the centre of government, and for royal authority.

On the 16th October 1834, the Palace of Westminster was partly destroyed by fire.  It was rebuilt in a perpendicular Gothic Style incorporating surviving parts as designed by the architect Charles Barry.  The first stone was laid on the 27th August 1840; semi-coloured limestone from the Anston Quarry in Yorkshire.

The main facades of the building are adorned with some three-hundred statues of saints and sovereigns from Normans to Queen Victoria, commemorating the construction, during the reign of Victoria.

St.Pauls Cathedral

St.Paul’s Cathedral

St.Paul’s Cathedral:

The first Saxon cathedral built upon this site, was in 604AD by Mellitus a member of the Gregorian mission sent to England by Pope Gregory I in 601AD.  He became the first post-Roman Bishop of London.

The early cathedral was built out of wood, in the style of a chapel, and sat upon an old Roman Temple.  Its lifespan was short, as pagan successors are believed to have destroyed it, when Bishop Mellitus left London, to take up his new post as the third Archbishop of Canterbury.

The cathedral was rebuilt in 886AD, and destroyed by fire in 962AD, and rebuilt again the same year, where it housed the body of the Saxon King; Ethelred I, until its destruction in 1087.  St.Paul’s was rebuilt by the Normans, only to be partly destroyed by fire in 1136.

In 1240 the church was consecrated, and by 1256 improvements had started, then in 1300 it was consecrated and completed in 1314.

It became the third longest church in all Europe measuring 585 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 290 feet across the transepts, with a 489 feet spire bursting towards the heavens.

In 1538, Henry VIII was responsible for the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” leading to much destruction of cloisters, crypts, chapels and shrines.  Much of St.Paul’s building materials were used in the construction of Somerset House.

In 1561, lightning destroyed the spire, and in the 1630’s Inigo Jones added the West Front, and in the “Great Fire of London in 1666” St.Paul’s was gutted by fire.

On the 30th July 1669, Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build a new St.Paul’s Cathedral.  In June 1675 the first stone was laid, a design that resembled St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with saucer domes inspired by Francois Monsart’s Val-de-Grace.

The cathedral is built of Portland stone in a Renaissance style, representing an English Baroque building, rising 365 feet, dominating the skyline.  The inner dome rises 350 feet with three circular galleries.

The clock mechanism was built in 1893 by Smith’s of Derby.  The north-west and south-west hold a total of seventeen bells.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey stands upon the site of a former Benedictine Monastery built during the reign of Ling Edgar (959-975).

In 1042 King Edward (Edward the Confessor) enlarged the existing monastery, creating his own burial chamber.  He died on the 5th January 1066, just days after its consecration, and was entombed before the high altar.

On the 25th December 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England.  Around 1161, Edward was re-located behind the high altar following his canonisation.

King Henry III modified the Abbey, in the style of a monastery, and Henry II added the Lady Chapel.  Henry VIII declared the Abbey would be a Cathedral Church in January 1540, and on the 29th March 1550 it became part of the London diocese.

In 1556 Queen Mary I restores it to a Benedictine Monastery, then Queen Elizabeth I comes to the throne in 1558, and it is all change back to a Cathedral Church.

The West Towers were built in a Gothic style between 1722-1745, then in the 19th century restoration of entrance hall at the West Front was undertaken.

In 1255, the Abbey had five bells, and by the 1970’s had been increased to ten bells, which rung can be heard around the city.

Tower of London.jpg

The Tower of London

The Tower of London:

The Tower of London, is located on the north bank of the River Thames, consisting of a number of buildings, built in three main phases, with the first foundation stone being laid in 1078.

Kentish rag-stone became the main building material along with Caen stone, imported from France for the tower’s facing.  However, most of the early stone works have been replaced in the 17th and 18th centuries with Portland stone.

The original structure had been one of timber and stone, with a ditch and palisade (fence made of stakes, driven into the ground) running along the north and west sides… Later this would become a stone castle.

  • The White Tower (The Castle’s Keep) was built during the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087). It measured some 118 feet by 105 feet and 15 feet thick, and rose some 90 feet at its battlements, and was three storey’s high.
  • This was encircled to the north, east and west by an inner section built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199).
  • The final section which encompasses the castle was built during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).

There are some twenty plus towers within the castle, like the “Bloody Tower” remembered where the two young princes “Edward and Richard” were murdered in 1483.  In 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned here amongst other’s.

The “Cradle Tower” built during the reign of Edward III (1348-1355) as a Watergate, his personal access to the castle by water, defended by a drawbridge and two portcullises (a suspended iron grating).

The “Constable Tower” built during the reign of Henry III (1239-1241) and used to house prisoners.

The “Bell Tower” built during the 13th century.  The bell would ring, when the drawbridge, portcullises were raised or lowered and gates were opened or shut, a call to arms.

The first Royal Observatory was located in the turret of the White Tower.

A Tudor Chapel: The Chapel Royal of St.Peter ad Vincula, home to three English Queens; Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey former wives of Henry VIII executed on Tower Green, along with Thomas More a Catholic Saint.

At least six ravens are kept at the “Tower of London” at all times, in accordance with the belief that if they were absent the kingdom would fall.

Over the centuries it has served as a Prison – Armoury – Royal Mint – Public Records Office – and home of the Crown Jewels.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge:

Tower Bridge was built between 1886-1894 to straddle the River Thames.  Its design was revolutionary at the time, allowing pedestrians and vehicles across the river, and shipping pass through, using a Bascule (see-saw action) Bridge.  With its steam powered pump engines controlling the hydraulics, giving instant power to raise the bridge.

The bridge consists of two pillars, weighing some 70,000 tons sunk into the river bed, with which to hold the 11,000 tons of steel framework.  The bridge is clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone with a Victorian Gothic style facade to fit in with the Tower of London.

The bridge is 800 feet in length, with two towers, 213 feet high and built upon piers.  The central span measures 200 feet, split in two equal bascules, each weighing in excess of 1,000 tons, which can be raised to allow river traffic to pass.

The two side sections are of suspension bridge design, measuring 270 feet each with suspension rods.  The pedestrian walkways are 143 feet above the river, when viewed at high tide.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace:

The history of Buckingham Palace dates back to the reign of James I (1603-1625), when used as a former mulberry garden, for rearing of silkworms.  By 1698, John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham having acquired the land, built a modest house by today’s building; undertaken by William Talman, William Winde and John Fitch in 1703, and named Buckingham House.

The house was acquired by George III in 1761 as the family residence for his wife; Queen Charlotte and their children … and known as “The Queen’s House.”

In 1762 William Chambers modernised the house, with ceilings by Robert Adam and painted by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, which took four years to complete.

King George IV an extravagant monarch upgraded the house to that of a palace, a building fit for a King, and appointed John Nash as his architect.  The newly finished building was renamed as “Buckingham Palace.”

The Palace remained empty until February 1837, when Queen Victoria had a new wing and central balcony added to her official residence.  The work was carried out by Edward Blore and paid for by selling Brighton Pavilion in 1846.  Electricity was installed between 1883-1887.

In 1913, Blore’s facade was replaced with a Portland Stone frontage as designed by Aston Webb.

The current Buckingham Palace is 108 metres long, 120 metres deep and 24 metres high.  There are a total of 775 rooms including 19 state rooms, 1,514 doors and 760 windows.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace:

When one looks at Hampton Court Palace, we see just the one, but history tells us differently:  The first palace was of Tudor design, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to Henry VIII, built upon a 14th century house belonging to the Knights Hospitaller of St.John.

Wolsey fell from grace, was arrested and charged with treason, for failing to obtain a divorce between Henry and Katherine of Aragon.  He died prior to the trial and Hampton Court passed to Henry, who created an ornate palace for himself and his Queens.

The second palace was of Baroque design, a commission from William and Mary to Sir Christopher Wren, enclosed by formal gardens.

The building is built around Base Court, Clock Court and Fountain Court courtyards.  Entrance to the palace is by way of a vaulted gatehouse, built in 1521.

Chapel Royal, built during its early construction, with a vaulted ceiling and later Henry VIII lavished it with paintings and gilded pendants.  The altar is framed by an oak reredos in the Baroque style, a carving by Grinling Gibbons, carried out during the reign of Queen Anne.

The Tudor Gatehouse; Anne Boleyn’s Gate led to an inner court, was adorned with an astronomical clock built by Nicholas Oursian around 1540.  Along with two Renaissance bas reliefs located in the brickwork by Giovanni di Maiano.

A well known addition to the palace grounds has to be the “Hampton Court Maze” planted in the 1690’s by George London and Henry Wise for William III of Orange.

The ghosts of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard are said to roam the corridors of this once majestic building to this day.

Hampton Court Palace oozed the wealth of most monarchs through its long history, each wanting to improve on its design, each wanting to leave its mark for future generations.

Big Ben

Big Ben

Big Ben:

Big Ben Clock Tower was designed by Augustus Pugin to compliment the Palace of Westminster in 1844.

The name Big Ben refers to the bell inside the tower, weighing thirteen tons, named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Commissioner of Works in 1858, at the time of casting.

The clock tower rises 316 feet into the skyline, becoming one of London’s most ionic landmarks, standing at the north end of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament).

The faces of the four clocks, measure twenty-three feet in diameter, consisting of 312 pieces of glass in each clock face dial.

Latin words under the clock face: Domine Salvam Fac Reginam Nostram Victoriam Primam (O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First).

I hope you enjoyed reading this, as much as I enjoyed writing it … For history has no end, and these fine old buildings have their own history to tell…

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