Focus: An intermediate
level English resource.
LONDON. Capital of England, capital of Great Britain. Once the biggest
city in the world, today just one of the biggest in Europe. Yet if
London is no longer one of the biggest cities in the world, it remains
one of the most important, and one of the most fascinating. In this
article, you can learn something about the history of Britain's capital
The history of London.
A very historic city
When the French poet and traveller
Théophile Gautier first went to London in 1843, by
ship, he was quite astonished. He wrote that London was the "capital of enormities and of
London's docks, as
Théophile Gautier or Charles Dickens would have seen them.
Painting by Atkinson Grimshaw, 1880
this gigantic scale,
becomes poetry, a poetry in which nature plays no
part, but which is a result of the immense development of human will.
In 1843, London really was very
different from any other city. It was much bigger than any other city,
and it was the capital of the most industrialised nation in the world.
It was already a city with a long
history, of course. London had become the British capital in Roman
times, but since then, it had been built and destroyed and rebuilt so
many times that there were few traces left of the capital city of Roman
Britain, except deep below the ground.
Today, the oldest buildings in London
include the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, which are almost a
thousand years old.
Tower of London, built in the 11th century
Though the Tower was always a part of
London, Westminster Abbey was once over a mile from the capital city.
"London" just covered the area corresponding more or
less to the Roman city. Today, this part of London is still called the
City of London, and is the heart of the bigger "London".
Until recently, "the City" was home to
hundreds of thousands of people; but today its population is actually
well less than ten thousand! Today the City is the heart of London's
financial district, full of bankers and businessmen by day, almost
Back in the Middle Ages
already becoming too small. In the 11th century, monks
built a big
at Westminster, and King Cnut began to build a palace beside it.
King Ethelred, his successor
then decided to move his court from the
city of Winchester, to the palace of Westminster. Westminster has been
the seat of the English, then British, parliament since 1265, and
London has been the capital city for even longer.
While the parliament was established in
Westminster, the City's growing population kept spreading
villages all round. Villages like Chelsea and Hackney eventually
by the metropolis which kept growing and growing.
Today, Westminster, which contains Buckingham
Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and London's most famous shopping
district, is part of the "West End' of Central London. Nearby, Chelsea
is an expensive
residential area, and Hackney is a working-class district: they are all
parts of London.
Poverty in London around 1870, seen by the artist Gustave
of its age, Central London does not have many very old buildings. The
City itself was burnt to the ground in the terrible fire of 1666, and
was almost totally rebuilt after it. Large parts of London were also
rebuilt in the nineteenth century and have been rebuilt again since
then, for different reasons.
Charles Dickens, the author of Oliver
and other famous novels
, lived in the
Théophile Gautier visited, and has left us with terrible
descriptions of the conditions in which the poor of London lived and
worked in those days. Millions of people worked in the great city, with
its docks, its offices and shops, and its services. In those days most
people who lived in cities were poor, and lived in squalid
conditions. But a new "middle class" was growing, specially in London,
where there were lots of jobs. In this way, London, the biggest
city in the world, was also the first "modern" city.
It remained the world's biggest city
until after the second world war.
Since then it has continued to change,
but got smaller; but with over seven million inhabitants , today's
"Greater London" is, with Paris, one of the two
biggest cities in Europe; and also one of the most fascinating.
Different parts of London
LONDON RICH, LONDON POOR
New Bond Street
London is one of the richest cities in Europe, and lots of people in
London have plenty of money to spend. But like almost every big city,
but also its poverty.
Most tourists visit the "West End", with its shops, cinemas,
and monuments. This is London's front window, where the streets are
clean and most people, including the tourists, have jobs, and money to
Harrod's store, in Knightsbridge, claims
it is the most famous shop in the world; in theory you can buy anything
there, from an elephant to a pencil (though naturally, they would have
order the elephant specially for you, there are none on the shelves!)
In the small streets behind Regent Street, there are all sorts of
specialist shops, selling high-quality products to people who can afford
"Gentlemen's tailor since 1788," says the sign outside a tiny shop with
in its window. Expensive suits. Most of this shop's customers
are businessmen, celebrities and diplomats; here at least, the foreign
after his first English lesson, can say "my tailor is rich".
Two miles to the north east of Regent Street, the scene is very
different. Here you are in the "inner city" district of London, where
many of the streets are dirty, the shops look cheap, and the people do
not look rich.
Few tourists visit Islington,
Bethnal Green, Brixton and London's other depressed areas. A lot of the
inhabitants here are from minorities — mostly West Indian
or Asian — and many of them do not have any work. Those who
work are often in unskilled
jobs which do not pay well; cleaners,
Nevertheless, though these areas of London are poor, they cannot be
described as ghettoes, and while levels of crime are above average
in many parts of the inner city, these are not dangerous areas. Ten
years ago, there was rioting in Brixton, but since then things have
been generally calm.
Word guide :
big church - (can)
have enough money for - average
: normal - century
: period of
100 years - customer
client - deserted
empty - eventually : later, in time - dustman
: man who
empties dustbins, rubbish - fail
not be a success - fair
some - fashions
popular styles - imply
signify, mean - Middle Ages - the mediaeval period, about 1000 years
ago - monks
religious men - novel
: story - prosperity
richness, affluence - rioting
collective violence - scale
degree - so far:
until now - spread
extend - squalid
dirty and unpleasant - successor
person who follows - suit
matching jacket and trousers - swallow
to eat, to include - unskilled
ordinary, easily learnt - West
: afro-caribbean - will
determination - worth
with a value of.
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Copying permitted for personal study, or by teachers for use with their
false. Say whether these statements are true or false, according to the
London has some fine Roman remains that can be visited. T / F
above, then answer these questions.
2. The Tower of London and Westminster
abbey are about the same age. T / F
3. Lots of bankers and businessmen live
in the city of London. T / F
4. The court of King Cnut was in
Winchester, not in London. T / F
5. Chelsea is part of Westminster. T / F
6. London is the biggest city in the
world T / F
Why was Gautier so surprised when he first saw London?
2. How old is London?
3. Why did Westminster become an
important part of London?
4. Why are there not many people in the
City of London at night?
5. Explain why London does not have a lot
of very old buildings.
6. Why was London the first "modern" city?
7. Why are there more tourists in
Knightsbridge than in Brixton?
8. Why was Brixton in the news ten years
Notes for teachers
a) Brainstorm with your
pupils, to see how much they know, collectively, about London. Some
pupils who have visited London may try to dominate the debate; but try
to let as many pupils as possible have their say.
To help the less vociferous pupils express themselves, allow everyone
five or ten minutes, in groups of two or three, to prepare statements
b) If you have a map of London, put it
on the wall, and situate all the places referred to in this document.
The City, the Millennium Bridge, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge,
Parliament, the West End, Waterloo station, the South Bank, Bethnal
Green, Trafalgar Square, Chelsea, Carnaby
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Revised 2015 . Originally published in Freeway,
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