In a city nearly 2,000 years old, to say that there is plenty of history is an understatement. However, while many historical things happened in the city, and there are many monuments dedicated to these moments, some created history. These places were responsible for shaping the course of events. Things didn’t just happen in them, the buildings or monuments themselves represent moments that changed London, and Britain, forever.
1. HMS Belfast
Now anchored in the Thames, the HMS Belfast was christened in 1939, just prior to WWII. Upon its launch, it formed part of the blockade against Nazi Germany until it struck a mine in November and spent over two years being repaired. It came back in November 1942 better than ever with more firepower, better armour, and radar. It escorted arctic convoys to the Soviet Union and helped defeat the German warship Scarnhorst in the Battle of North Cape. After that, it joined the Pacific fleet just prior to the war’s end. The Belfast was decommissioned in 1963 and became a museum ship in 1971. It’s now part of the Imperial War Museum and has nine decks open to the public to experience life on a Royal Navy ship during WWII. Not only a part of history, it helped make history by safeguarding Britain and her allies.
2. London Bridge
Just about everyone has heard the old nursery rhyme, but like many such songs, few know the history behind it. Originally built in Roman times to connect London with the part of the city now known as Southwark, a stone bridge was commissioned by King Henry II as part of his penitence for the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett. As the city grew and became overcrowded, buildings began to pop up on the bridge, increasing expanding upwards and outwards over the Thames.
By the Tudor era, there were nearly 200 buildings on London Bridge and by 1758, all the buildings were demolished through an Act of Parliament. A new bridge was constructed in the 19th Century and was later sold and shipped off, stone by stone, to an entrepreneur in Arizona in 1968. Yet another bridge was built and today, visitors can either see the current London Bridge in London or the previous bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
3. Monument – London Fire Memorial
In 1666, a fire caused by the maid’s failure to put the coals out began in the baker of Thomas Farriner on Pudding Lane. The fire would range on for four days and destroy 60% of the City of London (not to be confused with Greater London). Of course, one of the buildings destroyed was Farriner’s bakery, and as the city was rebuilt and the neighbourhood changed over the years, office buildings now stand where the fire began. As a memorial to the damage caused by the fire, Sir Christopher Wren constructed a Roman column located near the fire’s origin place. A plaque down the street further identifies the area as the fire’s starting point. Though the original building may be long gone, the spot where the Great Fire began is one of the most important locations to London’s history.
4. Globe Theatre
In a time when theatre was frowned upon for being frivolous, base, and sinful, the laws of the City of London did not permit the buildings within the city limits. Thus, many of the acting companies set up shop across the River Thames, including William Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Built in 1599, it became the main place for all of Shakespeare’s plays, and without it, it’s hard to say how much of an impact the Bard would have made on English literature and culture. In fact, he added over 1700 words to the English language. The original Globe was destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then closed in 1642. Though not on the original site, a new Globe was built in 1997 to act as both a living history Shakespeare museum and a genuine performance theatre. In it, people can learn about how one playwright changed the course of British culture and then witness his works in action.
5. The White Tower (The Tower of London)
The original keep in the Tower of London, the White Tower was built by William the Conqueror. Construction began in 1078 and was finished in 1097. Strangely enough, despite defeating Harold of Wessex at the Battle of Hastings, not everyone was too keen on this Norman coming in and overthrowing the Anglo-Saxon regime. Even in London, the people weren’t gushing over the new king and put up quite the resistance. However, William beat them back and to solidify his power, he built the White Tower several stories high to dwarf over the one and two-story buildings of London and remind them all who was boss. Of course, it expanded several times over the centuries under different kings until Henry VIII abandoned it as the Royal Residence for Hampton Court Palace. From that point on, it was mainly known as a prison and storing place for the Crown Jewels. Nowadays, the prison (along with the rest of the Tower) is a museum, but the jewels are still on display for visitors. Not just a castle, the White Tower was a mark of power and a tribute to one man’s victory that changed a nation forever.