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Central London history

The area around Central London and many of its popular tourist attractions has a history dating back to Roman times. It’s hard to believe when walking down some of the liveliest high streets that they’ve been buzzing for thousands of years.

The story of Central London starts in the unlikely lands of Hamstead Heath. This is where the earliest known settlement of the Mesolithic Age in around 7,000 BC. This area was forested for many centuries and it wasn’t until the Roman era when legions built cities that Hamstead was extended and Londinium was formed.

The highway that the marching Romans used for daily drills is now High Holborn and Oxford Street. There was a major Roman road leading to St Albans, and is now known as Edgeware Road and Kilburn High Road.

The Saxons followed the Romans and chose to build their city Ludenwic to the west of Londinium. This area stretched right from the Thames through Covent Garden and up to Holborn. High Holborn became known as “the army street” and it was here that the Saxons marched their own soldiers.

In 959 King Edgar granted land to Westminster Abbey and most of this was land close to High Holborn including the old church St Andrew on Holebourne.

Today Bloomsbury is popular for its publishing connections and visitors flock from around the world to sample its many bookshops, and it's surprising to discover that Bloomsbury has always been a fashionable place.

In 1201 the area now known as Bloomsbury, was passed to Willam de Blemund and was named Blemundsbury. This district began to establish itself but it wasn’t until it passed into the hands of the Duke of Bedford that it transformed into a series of luxurious streets and squares where the fashionable and wealthy lived and socialised. Bedford Square remains as an attractive monument to this elite society.

Authors and artists including Virginia Woolf later settled here in the 20th century and become known as The Bloomsbury Group.

In the 19th century the village of Tottenham Court was a thriving hub but developments that took place in the early 20th century have only left the name of this once prosperous area.

King’s Cross was originally known as Battle Bridge until 1830, when a monument to George IV was erected at the junction of Euston, Gray’s Inn and Pentonville Roads.

Euston Road was originally known as the New Road that joined Paddington to Islington and this is where London’s first by-pass road was opened in 1756.

The area around Euston Road became popular for refugees from the French Revolution and people fleeing Spanish ruled lands such as South America. It is now home to the British Library.

By the Middle Ages, Charing had established itself as a trading hub in the heart of London, and by the reign of Edward I, the site of Charing Cross had become an important meeting place, due to its location between the old city of London, the Royal Palace and the Abbey of Westminster.

The name Charing Cross came from a memorial to Queen Eleanor of Castile (the wife of Edward I).

By comparison to these ancient and Roman streets places like Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London are relatively new.

So, next time you’re wandering the streets of Central London look out for the early signs of a history long remembered.

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