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Celebrating London History Day

  • Friday May 31st 2024

Museums Victoria Dz2t1swxkuo Unsplash

London History Day is an annual celebration of the capital's rich, diverse history and heritage. The day is celebrated every year on May 31st, the day Big Ben first started keeping time. London History Day offers a unique opportunity to explore the city's historical milestones, and cultural heritage.

We've put together a timeline of some of London's history throughout the last century to celebrate this special day.

Timeline of London's history throughout the last century

1066 - William the Conqueror burns Southwark

William the Conqueror was the first Norman King of England and reigned from 25th December 1066 - 9th September 1987.

The burning of Southwark took place before he succeeded to throne in October 1066 during the Norman Conquest of England. This began when William, Duke of Normandy, launched his invasion of England in September 1066 - asserting his right to the throne after the death of Anglo-Saxon King, Edward the Confessor, who was also childless.

He was the he son of his great-aunt, Emma of Normandy. King Edward the Confessor's brother in-law succeeded to the throne after he died, however he had 25 other opponents who believed they were the rightful heir to the throne, including William the Conqueror. 

Many Londoner's resisted the Norman invaders however they did have a few supporters. One of his most notable efforts was his involvement in the burning of Southwark.

He fought with Anglo-Saxon soldiers in Southwark, for the control of London Bridge, despite defeating the Anglo-Saxons, strong resistance from the locals lead them to retreat. During their retreat they set fire to the town to spread terror. As a result, Southwark was destroyed and Anglo-Saxon supply routes were cut off - forcing the city to accept his rule.

1135 - The Great Fire of 1135 destroys the wooden London Bridge

In 1135, the wooden London Bridge was destroyed in what is also known as the Pentecost fire, and eventually rebuilt in stone. Some reports suggest this fire began in the home of the Sheriff of London, Gilbert Becket.

There's some speculation from historians as to whether St Paul's Cathedral was also destroyed in the fire. However, many homes and properties did perish across an 1.5 mile radius along the River Thames.

1265 - Covent Garden market is built

Located in the heart of West London, once home to world-famous fruit and vegetables, Covent Garden market offers an array of quirky stalls, cool antiques, arts, crafts, souvenirs and much more. 

Throughout the week, you can find colourful jewellery, prints and one-off antiques. 

The East Colonnade Market offers a variety of stalls with hand-knitted clothing, home ware and handbags.

Covent Garden market has also become a popular tourist destination due to the natural hustle and bustle, luxury fashion, beauty stores and award-winning restaurants. 

1305 - the execution of William Wallace 

William Wallace was a Scottish Knight, who was known as one of the main leaders during the First War of Scottish Independence. During the struggle to free Scotland from English rule he served as the guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland.

William Wallace was captured by Edward I after his most famous victory - Edward I was not happy that his army had lost to Wallace and Andrew de Moray at Stirling Bridge and planned a personal invasion of Scotland. 

Wallace survived but his army were crushed, he left the country but was a wanted man for the rest of his life. 

In August 1305 - William Wallace was captured and faced a brutal fate. He was hung, drawn and quartered after being dragged naked behind a horse to the place where he was killed.

As a deterrent to steer others against rebellion, Edward I dipped William's head in tar and placed it on a spike in London Bridge. He never received a proper burial as his limbs were also sent to be placed on display.

Despite Edward I's efforts, years later other rebels followed in the same path as William Wallace and Scotland was finally given independence.

1509 - Henry VIII is crowned as the King of England at Westminster Abbey

King Henry the 8th is known for his 6 marriages and his reformation of the English Church. He brought about a drastic change to the constitution of England, using the divine right of kings in his defence.

It was his marriage to Anne Boleyn that led to the establishment of the Church of England.

King Henry the 7th died in April 1509 when King Henry the 8th was only 17 years old. Shortly after this he married Catherine, which came as a shock to many as Catherine was his brother's widow. They had their coronation on the 23rd of June 1509 in Westminster Abbey.

During their marriage he had a number of affairs and eventually had this marriage annulled before marrying Anne Boleyn.

King Henry the 8th was involved in improvements with medicine in 1518. Before his intervention many physicians and clinicians practiced without proper regulations. There were also many unqualified individuals offering medical treatment and advice resulting in many people being scammed.

King Henry was also involved in maritime developments - thanks to his efforts, England became a single land mass to be protected and was now recognised as a defensible island - with forts built along the south coast. He was also involved in the growth of a strong royal navy and was recognised as a great King by many.

1603 - the outbreak of the bubonic plague 


The bubonic plague is a highly infectious disease that is spread by fleas - these fleas usually bite humans and rats, introducing a bacteria into the body.

The 1603 London plague killed between 29,000 to 40,000 people, it was able to spread quickly due to the poor conditions that people lived in and also due to the large rat population. 

By the summer, the plague had become more rampant and was starting to impact day-to-day life. Trinity law sessions were suspended, people were avoiding St Paul's Cathedral and the royal family moved to Hampshire, believing the area was healthier. 

Theatres were closed to help lessen the spread of the plague, effecting the careers of playwrights including William Shakespeare. 

Outbreaks of the plague continued throughout the years with another spike of 2000 deaths in 1606. However, attitudes began to change as society became more aware of the link between the outbreaks and the poor hygiene throughout the city.

1800 - the first soup kitchens are opened in London

Soup kitchens are places where people in the community can come to get food, usually for free or at times, at a reduced price. In previous years, soup kitchens historically only sold soup, usually with bread, but now most modern establishments offer a variety of different food.

When soup kitchens were first established - they were generally well received however did receive some criticism as some believed it encouraged dependency. 

In 1834, soup kitchens were made illegal in Britain by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 but this was eventually relaxed during the Irish famine of the 19th century as millions died. This prohibition was soon further relaxed in mainland Britain too, but it was initially very heavily regulated - there were very long queues and journalists including Bart Kennedy criticised them for the questions they would ask individuals before offering them food.

By the 21st century, soup kitchens had rapidly grown across the world and the financial crisis of 2007-2008 increased the demand for soup kitchens. 

1908 - the Women's Suffrage march and rally takes place at the Royal Albert Hall

The Suffragettes were part of the "Votes for Women" campaign who fought for women to be given the right to vote in the UK.

During this time, the Royal Albert Hall was used for some of the most memorable speeches and events in the fight for the right to vote. The Suffragettes regularly referred to the hall as a "temple of liberty".

In 1908 - Suffragette Helen Ogston interrupted a Liberal party meeting taking place in the hall. She fought off the men with a dog whip and the incident ended up on the front page of the news. 

The encounter took place as the suffragettes were growing tired of being ignored by the politicians however by 1912 more militant action took place in the hall in the name of the Suffragette movement. Emmeline Pankhurst famously announced "I incite this meeting to rebellion! Be militant each in your own way, I accept the responsibility for everything you do!"

This led to an escalation in violent acts and eventually the Women's Social and Political Union were banned from using the hall.

The struggle continued for years to come but women were eventually given the right to vote in 1928.

2000 - the London Eye opens to the public 

The London Eye is a cantilevered observation wheel located on the Southbank of the River Thames in London. Sitting at 135m, it's Europe's tallest observation wheel.

It first opened to the public in 2000 and offers the highest viewing point in London. It was designed by a husband-and-wife duo, Julia Barfield and her husband, David Marks. It was opened by Tony Blair, who was the prime minister at the time and was originally planned to be a temporary structure with a five year lease, however Lambeth's council has confirmed it will remain permanent on London's Southbank.

The London eye also offers an array of VIP experiences, including the champagne experience, the eye lounge experience and the proposal pod to name a few.

London History Day is a vibrant celebration that invites everyone to explore and appreciate the rich heritage of one of the world's most iconic cities. By commemorating the people, events, and landmarks that have shaped London, this special day fosters a deeper connection to the past and inspires a greater appreciation for the present.  So mark your calendars, join the fun, and enjoy the day!

Unlock 1000 years of London's darkest history at the London Dungeon this London History Day

See, hear and *ahem* smell the chillingly amusing characters of the 'bad old days' as they come to life before you. The London Dungeon offers an experience like no other featuring 13 thrilling shows and a spine-tingling vertical drop ride.

Come face-to-face with some of London’s most notorious historic characters including Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper. Familiar tales are played out before your eyes and storytelling is given a contemporary twist.

Will you lose yourself in fear or in mirth? Either way, it's not looking good for your underwear.

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Ticket includes

  • Enjoy the ultimate flexibility with no time constraints: visit The London Dungeon any time on your selected day!