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Genealogy and the London Area, England

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Map showing where London is

Contents

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Introduction

This page is devoted to the London area England, including a part of what was Middlesex and Surrey when my ancestors lived there.

The page is intended to cover the origin of its name, an outline of its history and geography, links to other web sites concerned with the county, genealogical resources relating to the county and the same types of information in more detail for those places in the county in which I have a family history interest. In doing this, it is not my intention to duplicate unnecessarily, nor to compete with, web pages which already do some of those things, but to complement such pages and provide links to them, with appropriate description of what they have to offer.

It is necessary to define here what I mean by London for the purposes of this page, because at least three definitions are possible, and any of them could easily be justified. The possibilities are:

  1. The City of London, sometimes referred to as the Square Mile (although that is not a true reflection of either its area or its shape). This would be the only definition which would have been considered until roughly the middle of the 19th century, but it is now little more than a financial centre, with a tiny permanent population;
  2. The area covered by London County Council, which existed from 1889 until 1963. This included the City, together with parts of Kent, Middlesex and Surrey. At the time of its creation this covered the whole of the contiguous urban area, with what appeared to be ample scope for further expansion within the boundaries;
  3. The area covered by the Greater London Council and its constituent metropolitan boroughs from 1963. This consisted of the LCC area plus the remainder of Middlesex and large parts of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey. Although the GLC has since been abolished, the area remains distinct as an administrative area outside other counties, and is about to regain an elected administration for the whole area.

I am choosing the second of these definitions for the purpose of this page, purely for reasons of convenience. It is simply that my ancestors in the area lived in those parts of Middlesex and Surrey which became part of the London County Council area in 1889. Although the LCC had not been created when my paternal grandmother was born, nevertheless, for most people the area already functioned as a single urban unit, so there is also some social logic to my decision.

I apologise for the sketchy nature of this page at present. It contains little more than the relevant information previously forming a part of my old "Genealogy in My Areas of Interest" page. It will have the obvious blanks filled in as I find time to do it and the information to include.

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Origins of the Name

In 115AD this was the Roman town of Londinium, but the origins of this name are obscure. The common explanation that it came from "Place belonging to" a man called Londinos (Celtic name) is now regarded as unreliable.

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Geography

London is situated in south-east England, at the head of the Thames estuary. It is bounded in the north-east by Essex, the north and west by Middlesex, the south-west by Surrey and the south-east by Kent. It is so small in area (only about 117 square miles) that I have had to use a larger map (see top of page) than for other counties to show where it is.

London became important because it was the first place at which it was possible to build a bridge across the River Thames, whose estuary effectively blocked movement between Kent and Essex. The nature of the estuary lent itself ideally to the functioning of a major port, with easy access to the North Sea and hence to the rest of Europe (other than France, which was always more easily reached from the south coast). The main river is tidal (and therefore salty), but several tributaries provided ample supplies of fresh water, and these were later supplemented by artesian wells to tap a huge natural underground reservoir. London was thus established, like so many major early towns, at the crossing of two major routes, one being land-based traffic travelling between north and south of the river, the other river based between east and west, the Thames being navigable up to Lechlade in Gloucestershire, about 80 miles west of the city.

Most of the area is fairly flat and low-lying, although there is a low hill to the north in the Hampstead area. Until it was built over, the land varied considerably in its suitability for agriculture. Hampstead had infertile sandy heaths, but most was heavy clay. Away from the river this was reasonably fertile, but the lower lying areas were marshy, reflected in some of their modern names.

Little if any agricultural land remains within the area we are concerned with. Instead we have one of the world's greatest financial centres in the old City of London, most of the important government offices in the Whitehall area, a great shopping and entertainment area in the adjacent "West End" and a great mix of varied industries, warehousing and housing extending for many miles around this central area. The docks, however, have in recent years more or less ceased to function, the land being redeveloped for other purposes.

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History

The remains of huts built over 4,000 years ago have been found to the west of London, but it was first established as a town by the Romans at some time between their invasion in 43AD and the description of it by Tacitus seventeen years later, the same year it was destroyed by the avenging Boadicea and her Iceni warriors.

It was soon rebuilt, and by the end of the century had a fort at Cripplegate to protect it. The prosperous town went into recession around 150AD, but remained sufficiently important that a defensive wall was built round it fifty years later, parts of which remain at the Barbican and Tower Hill.

During the third century quays and a riverside wall were built along the Thames to complete the encirclement of about 330 acres of land, but the population remained less than it had been in the first half of the second century. The legions left early in the fifth century, and little is known of London in the ensuing period.

There is no record of when the Saxons arrived, but by the end of the sixth century it was again an important town. In 604AD St. Paul's Cathedral was founded by the king of Kent. It appears there was a large, densely populated settlement just upstream of the abandoned Roman town in the eighth century, but little is known for certain.

Records of London reappear from the time of Alfred the Great (849-899), and its importance was certainly enhanced by the building not far away of Westminster Abbey by Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century. After his victory in 1066AD, William I built the first tower (The White Tower) of what has become the Tower of London. By 1085AD London (still separate from Westminster) had become the largest town in Europe north of the Alps, with a population of over 10,000. Two years later it was destroyed by fire, which spread easily through the entirely wooden buildings (even St. Paul's Cathedral).

In rebuilding, a few stone structures were raised, but wood was still the norm. The total lack of sanitation was improved by introducing open sewers and conduits in some streets. By 1200AD the population had reached 30,000, and a hundred years later it was 80,000. Coal imported from Newcastle provided fuel, and air pollution became a serious problem that was not solved for 650 years.

The prosperity ended suddenly with the deaths of 10,000 Londoners in the Black Death (bubonic plague) epidemic of 1348-9AD, and recovered only very slowly. Recover it did, however, with the population passing 100,000 by 1550AD and double that fifty years later. The late sixteenth century saw the founding of several hospitals in London, some of which remain as leading institutions today. The sixteenth century also saw the building of palaces and great houses by both the monarchy and other aristocracy in Westminster and on the open land between it and the city of London, so that by the early seventeenth century the two were physically joined and the whole growing conurbation tended to be referred to as London, although they remained administratively distinct.

In the late sixtenth century armed and trained militias (called trainbands) were formed in London to form the core of the national army for defence against the threat from Spain. Their loyalty, and the financial strength of the city, were at the heart of Elizabeth I's political power. The tables were turned in the seventeenth century, however, when Charles I offended both, making London the centre of Parliamentary strength in the struggle which culminated in the Civil War and the king's execution.

Bubonic plague returned in 1603, killing 25,000 in London alone, and even more seriously in 1664-64 (called the Great Plague) when 70,000 died. It's end coincided approximately with the Great Fire of London, which burned from 2nd to 5th September 1666. St. Paul's Cathedral was destroyed, along with 87 churches at at least 13,000 houses, although there were very few fatalities. Only 50 of the churches were rebuilt as tiny parishes were combined, they and the new St. Paul's being designed and their construction supervised by Sir Christopher Wren, despite the fact that he was not an architect but a scientist and mathematician.

The population continued to grow rapidly, most of it necessarily outside the jurisdiction of the City (whose boundaries remained, and still remain, unchanged since mediæval times). By 1700AD it reached 500,000, and more than doubled to 1,110,000 by 1800AD. During the second half of the eighteenth century the only bridge over the Thames at London was supplement by six more, permitting effective expansion to the south in addition to that in the east, north and west.

From the late eighteenth century until 1914 London was effectively the centre of the world's economy, controlling (and profiting from) trade in most of it. As a result of its consequent wealth it tended also to dominate such fields as theatre, literature and art.

Development during this period was subject to no effective controls or planning. Individual developers promoted special Acts of Parliament authorising them to collect rates to finance such services as paving, cleansing, lighting (normally oil lamps) and law enforcement, leading to good services in wealthier areas, while in poorer parts houses were effectively slums from the day they were built.

Population continued to soar. In 1851 London had 2,685,000 people. By 1901 it was 6,586,000. The huge growth required much reorganisation of services to cope with the many problems it created, and these were introduced in piecemeal fashion during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A unified police force was started in 1829. Cholera epidemics (6,000 Londoners died from it in that of 1831-32 alone) led to drastic changes in water supplies and sanitation. Transport was revolutionised by the introduction of buses (horse-drawn until 1897) in 1829 and the start of the underground railway system with the opening of the Metropolitan Railway, then steam powered, in 1863, electric power for trams, and the world's first electric powered underground railway in 1890. In 1889 London County Council was created to unify almost all local government for what was then the whole of the urban area.

World War 1 brought only a temporary pause (2,300 London casualties from air raids), with the docks, for example, continuing new building right up to 1921. By the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 the population of Greater London had reached 8,600,000, making it the world's biggest city at the time by a substantial margin.

World War 2 killed 30,000 civilians in London, and injured another 50,000, as well as destroying most of the docks and much of the industrial, commercial and residential buildings. This meant that when the war ended there was a huge housing shortage, exacerbated by the return of thousands who had been temporarily evacuated to rural areas for safety during the bombing. Planning controls were imposed and much "excess" population was exported to New Towns in a ring between 25 and 50 miles outside London. The population of 8,193,000 in 1951 had shrunk in consequence to about 6,000,000 by 1991, although that of south-east England as a whole continued (and still continues) to grow.

Air pollution was at last brought under control by legislation outlawing the use of smoke producing fuels such as wood and coal in the main urban areas of the country. This followed the great London smog of 1952 which killed about 4,000 people. Pollution has recently raised its head again in a different form as a by-product of the expansion of petrol and diesel engined vehicles, with only partially effective control by piecemeal legislation.

Today little housing remains in the ancient city, which is dominated by the offices of financial institutions. The docks, rebuilt after 1945, shrank rapidly in the 1970s because they were too small to compete with newer, deeper water ports across the North Sea, and finally closed in 1981. The land they occupied has now been largely redeveloped for more offices plus housing.

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Web Pages about London Area

The London local newspaper Evening Standard site includes news items and has local pages for each modern London borough, and sub-pages for districts within these boroughs.

The London Guide.

London City Guide.

The VIP Guide to London.

London for Free.

London Events.

London Theatre Guide

Shakespearean Landmarks.

Mediæval London Houses.

London Low-Life, Beggars and Cheats.

Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable South Bank in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A general site.

Britannia: London.

Another general site.

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Genealogical Resources for London Area

The UK Genealogy Interests Directory, a new and growing facility, has a page of surname interests in London.

London Lookup Exchange is a list of volunteers willing to do free lookups, as and when they have time, in resources they happen to have available to them. Similarly for Middlesex Lookup Exchange and Surrey Lookup Exchange.

There is a mailing list dealing with London genealogy, run by Hugh Winters (who also owns of the Nottinghamshire list, q.v.). I have not joined it yet simply because of the difficulties I already have in dealing with the volume of email I receive from other lists.

The London GENUKI page deals only with the City of London, with the other parts included in their pre-1889 counties, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey.

There is a combined London and Middlesex Surnames List, which I have not yet consulted.

The Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London. EC2P 2EJ, is a repository for an enormous variety of London archives.

The former Greater London Record Office has now become the London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB.

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A London Bibliography

B. Weinreb and C. Hibbert: London Encyclopaedia (revised and updated edition 1993), is a massive reference work.

W. Kent: An Encyclopedia of London (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1970).

G. Weightman and S. Humphries: The Making of Modern London, 1815-1914 (1983), and The Making of Modern London, 1914-1939 (1984), are good popular histories.

HUGH CLOUT (ed.): The Times London History Atlas (1991), contains considerable text, illustrations and a bibliography as well as over 300 maps.

ROY PORTER: London: A Social History (1994) covers the period from mediæval times onwards.

W.R. Dalzell: The Shell Guide to the History of London (Michael Joseph, 1981).

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Some Places in the London Area

To appear in this section a district has to meet a number of criteria. First, it has to be of family history interest to me; in other words, one or more of my or my wife's ancestors lived there. Second, I must have, or have access to, the appropriate information to be able to set up the page. Third, I must have managed to find the time to do it. Finally, if I am aware that it has already been done by someone else, all that will be found here is a link to that other site.

However, for completeness sake, if the place meets the first criterion but fails on one or more of the others, then it will at least appear here as a heading, so the reader will have some idea which places may "get the treatment" at some time in the future.

Clerkenwell

My paternal grandmother's parents married in St. Mark's Parish Church, Clerkenwell.

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Islington

A census record states that my paternal grandmother's father was born in Islington. I have not yet established whether his address at the time of his marriage (Warner Street) was in Islington or Clerkenwell.

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Newington

My paternal grandmother was born in south east London (then part of Surrey), just off the Old Kent Road. Her father was also born in the area, and I think I have (after much fruitless searching) found his birth certificate stating that he was born in the same area (Frederic Place, Newington), although a census record says he was born in Islington. I have found this a particularly difficult area to research for a very few people.

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Walworth

My paternal grandmother was born in Walworth, then a part of Surrey. The 1881 census describes Walworth as a hamlet within the civil parish of Newington.

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My Surname Interests in the London Area

BARNES, 19th century, Clerkenwell, Islington, Newington, Walworth
BUGLE(S), 19th century, Clerkenwell?

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Acknowledgements

The following have provided information which I have paraphrased on this page:

C.R.J Currie and C.P.Lewis A Guide to English County Histories (Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994), ISBN 0-7509-1505-6.

A. Room: Dictionary of British Place Names (1988), ISBN 1 85605 1775.

A.D. Mills: A Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford University Press, 1991, revised 1995), ISBN 0-19-869156-4.

Encyclopædia Britannica.

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