Why Is London Here?

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 33 months ago
Why Is London Here?

Wandering the thriving London streets, have you ever stopped and wondered: why here? Why did one of the world's biggest and most important cities end up in the south-eastern corner of Britain? What historical and geographical factors helped London become so prosperous?

Photo: Paul Shears

Let's start off by looking at London's topography. The arrangement of the land made it a city ripe for expansion. You see, London isn't really that hilly. Residents of Highgate and Forest Hill might disagree, but in the grand scheme of things, even the hilly fringes of the city are relatively flat. The city is built in a gentle river valley, from Crystal Palace in the south to Alexandra Palace in the north. This meant that over time it was easy for the urban sprawl to slowly stretch outwards, something that continued until the introduction of the green belt in the mid 20th century.

Then there's the temperate climate. It isn't a coincidence that the city has a similar climate to one of the world's other major cities, New York. Never too hot nor too cold, this was important in the days before central heating and air conditioning.

These are small helping hands that made London flourish. But to understand why it was founded is in this exact part of Britain, we have to look at its Roman roots.

London's outstanding geographical feature is the Thames. Most of the world's major cities are situated on a river; they were, of course, vital for trade links. In fact, 19 of Europe's 20 largest cities are on rivers (Milan being the odd one out). Except that when the Romans first came across the Thames, it was an obstacle rather than a boon.

London, you see, wasn't always been Britain's largest city. That honour goes to Colchester, which was the country's main hub when the Romans landed (how times have changed). As the Romans were heading towards Colchester from the south, they needed to cross the Thames, so they built the first ever London Bridge. Why was it placed where it was? This was the closest point to the sea that the bridge could be built using 46AD's technology. As the bridge was constructed, a settlement formed on the northern side: Londinium.

London Bridge. Photo: Max Gor

Londinium played second fiddle to Colchester, which remained the capital for roughly 15 more years until Boudica's revolt. She and her soldiers razed many settlements to the ground; including both Londinium and Colchester. Boudica's revolt ultimately failed to free Britain from Roman rule. And ironically, the damage she did left the continental rulers with the chance to change the status quo when rebuilding. They decided to move the capital to Londinium.

For the Romans, Londinium's benefits were twofold. The first is that the Romans were proud of the city they had built from scratch, instead of taking over a major tribal capital that predated them. The other factor, is that over time it became clear that seagoing ships could reach Londinium and unload their freight there, with greater ease than in Colchester. Today, Colchester's population is around 122,000, compared to London's estimated 8.6 million. Ouch.

Boudica statue on Embankment. Photo: Richard Watkins LRPS

Seeing as Boudica and the Thames are the keys to London's position and stature, we think it's fitting that there's a statue of her on the Embankment.

Last Updated 13 June 2017