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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

(6,803,000 in 1991)
Capital of the *United Kingdom. The historic heart of the city has been *London Bridge, for London was the furthest point downstream at which a bridge could be built over the *Thames. The *Romans made a strategic settlement here in the 1st century AD, calling the place Londinium.

London suffered a double disaster in the 1660s, the *Great Plague followed in the next year by the *Great Fire. As a result of the fire, little of medieval London survives. The rebuilt churches and the present St Paul's bear instead the mark of the great architect who supervised the reconstruction, Sir Christopher *Wren.

By the 18C the fashionable district was to the west, in the area now known as the *West End. The city had now spread so far as to include *Westminster and the old area of royal authority at *Whitehall. London's growth was further accelerated in the next century by the world's first *underground railway. The creation of the *London County Council in 1888 officially incorporated many ancient outlying villages which had been engulfed by the metropolis, and from 1965, under the *Greater London Council, the city was extended to an area about 48km/30m across. The Greater London Council was abolished in 1986, paradoxically leaving one of the largest cities in the world without any overall civic authority – until the introduction of an elected mayor and London Assembly in 2000.

London has held the dominant position in British life, both politically and commercially, to a greater extent and over a longer period than is true of almost any other capital city. As a result it contains a high proportion of Britain's best-known landmarks, whether they be buildings (*Westminster Abbey, *Buckingham Palace, *Houses of Parliament, *Big Ben), shops (*Harrods, *Liberty's, *Fortnum and Mason), hotels (*Ritz, *Savoy), streets and intersections (*Oxford Street, *Piccadilly Circus, *Shaftesbury Avenue, *Trafalgar Square), open spaces (*Hyde Park, *Regent's Park), districts (*Mayfair, *Soho, *Covent Garden) or institutions (*British Museum, *National Gallery, *Tate, *Madame Tussaud's).

The medieval city grew up around the first *St Paul's Cathedral, founded as early as the 7C. In the 11C London's importance was recognized when *William the Conqueror built his powerful White Tower, the nucleus of the *Tower of London, just outside the city wall (London became at this time the joint capital with *Winchester). Over the following centuries the wealth of the city guilds, known today as the *City Livery Companies, gave them increasing power. Their elected leader became the *Lord Mayor of London. The area of the original walled city is still known as the *City of London, as distinct from the rest of modern London.

As so often it is Dr Johnson, a devoted inhabitant of the city, who provides the appropriate comment: 'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.'

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