100 London moments that shook the world


  • 100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40- 21 | 20-1

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    In 1981 750 million people watched Charles and Di get hitched

    20

    Caxton publishes Chaucer, 1476

    William Caxton brought printing to England with the first book in English – ‘The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy’ – followed by Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. London English became the language of the nation, and later the world.

    19-15

    Riots and revolutions

    Peasants’ Revolt, 1381: A mob stormed Marshalsea and Fleet prisons and executed the Archbishop of Canterbury. Battle of St Albans, May 22 1455: The first salvo in the War of the Roses (York won). Gordon Riots, June 1780: London was overrun by an anti-Catholic mob in three days of rioting.Battle of Cable Street, October 4 1936: A defining moment in the fight against fascism. Notting Hill race riot, August 1958: London’s first, it led to the Notting Hill Carnival.

    14

    Charles and Di get hitched, 1981

    600,000 people lined the streets and some 750 million people watched on TV as Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29 at St Paul’s. Not one guessed how it would end.

    13

    Royal docks established in Woolwich, 1513

    England’s prodigious wealth and influence from the Tudor period onwards was largely thnks to its navy. Henry VIII created the Royal Naval Dockyard, or King’s Yard (Deptford) and the Royal Dockyard (Woolwich) to build and maintain his navy in 1513. England’s main naval dockyard had previously been in Portsmouth, but Henry wanted to move it closer to the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London. Woolwich and Deptford were also close to Kent, which offered a vital supply of wood for shipbuilding. Boats sailing out of Deptford formed the Russia Company to import fur, tar, iron and copper; traders from Woolwich formed the East India Company. Francis Drake was knighted in Deptford and Peter the Great of Russia worked there as a carpenter. Walter Raleigh and Captain Cook began their landmark expeditions from Woolwich. Both yards were closed in 1869 when the new docks were built on the Isle of Dogs, by which time England’s naval supremacy was firmly established around the world. Peter Watts

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    London in shock after the 7/7 attacks by Al-Qaeda

    12

    Al-Qaeda attacks London on 7/7, 2005

    At 8.50am on July 7 2005, three bombs went off on the tube, followed by a fourth on a bus in Tavistock Square an hour later. Islamic extremist suicide bombers had killed 52 commuters. ‘Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack,’ said mayor Ken Livingstone. ‘People choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves.’

    11

    Mary Wollstonecraft invents feminism, 1791

    Returning to London in 1787 after a period as a governess in Ireland, Mary Wollstonecraft was determined to become a writer. She sent her work to Joseph Johnson, a radical bookseller at St Paul’s Churchyard. He began publishing her books, and invited her to dinners with thinkers such as Tom Paine. Her friendship with Johnson and Paine led her to write ‘Vindication of the Rights of Man’ in 1791 – to defend Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ against Edmund Burke’s attack in ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ – following it with ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, a seminal demand for sexual equality.

    10-6

    Plots and rendezvous

    Henry VIII meets Anne Boleyn, 1527: Henry fell in love and kicked up such a stink it led to the dissolution of the monasteries and the establishment of the Church of England. Gunpowder Plot The fallout from Henry’s English Reformation was still being felt in 1605, when a gang plotted to blow up Parliament to put a Catholic on the throne – and were rumbled on November 5.Mick Jagger meets Keith Richards A young Jagger – at the time an LSE student – met the future Keef on a train from Dartford in 1960. They struck up a friendship based on the R&B records that Jagger was carrying. The Selsdon Group When a gaggle of free market-obsessed Conservative politicians met at the Selsdon Park Hotel in September 1973, they formed the core of a nascent Thatcherism. The Granita Pact The Blair-Brown alliance might not have taken place at the Islington restaurant it’s named after (Cherie Blair places it at her sister’s house on Richmond Avenue, N1), but it certainly changed the world.

    5

    Bell invents room service, 1876

    Alexander Graham Bell made the UK’s first phone call at Browns, Mayfair, the same hotel in which Kipling is said to have written ‘The Jungle Book’.

    4

    ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’, 1940

    Britain stood alone in 1940 against Hitler’s forces. Invasion seemed inevitable, but prime minister Winston Churchill stiffened resolve with a defiant speech to the House of Commons on June 4, pledging to ‘defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender’. The Blitz began on September 7, but the resolve of Churchill and his fellow Londoners remained firm through 57 consecutive nights of bombing.

    3

    Fleming discovers penicillin, 1928

    On September 28, Alexander Fleming was in his lab at St Mary’s, Paddington, when he identified a substance inhibiting bacterial growth. He named it penicillin – it wasn’t used to treat a patient until 1942.

    2

    Parliament, 1265

    On January 20, rebel Simon de Montfort called the country’s first elected Parliament. Two knights from each county, two citizens from each city, two burgesses from each borough, 120 churchmen and 23 barons were summoned to parley at Westminster Hall.

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    Darwin's theory resulted in much lampoonery (© Mary Evans Picture Library)

    1

    Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution announced at the Linnean Society, 1858

    Of all the London events that have shaped our world, none matches, for sheer profundity, the one being commemorated next Tuesday (July 1) at the Royal Academy. In a side room, now part of the John Madejski Fine Rooms, two scientific papers – one by Charles Darwin, the other by Alfred Russel Wallace – were read out on July 1 1858, to members of the Linnean Society, a small but elite group of scientists and naturalists. From these papers, the world first learned about natural selection, a theory that has revolutionised the way human beings think about themselves and their place in nature. Darwin – following his round-the-world trip on the Beagle and his visits to the Galapagos Islands – had been working on the idea at his house in Downe, Kent, for several years but lacked the courage to publish; by showing how one species could evolve into another, he was displacing God as the determiner of the course of life on Earth. Lest he upset the godly, including his own wife, Emma, Darwin kept quiet and contented himself by corresponding with his peers, scientific greats such as Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker, about his ideas. Then came the bombshell: a letter from Wallace – who was recuperating from a bout of malaria on the Malaysian island of Ternate. In it, the young naturalist outlined the same theory Darwin had been working on: that individual animals whose traits are better suited to their environment will live longer and reproduce more often than less well-adapted individuals. Thus, altering environments will trigger changes in species. The shock for Darwin ‘was almost paralysing’. Lyell and Hooker were summoned to Downe by the panic-stricken scientist. They took advantage of a rearranged Linnean Society meeting, wrote a paper summarising Darwin’s ideas, and had them read out at the end of the session, along with Wallace’s own 4,000-word essay on natural selection. It would be fitting to record that the meeting ended in uproar, but according to Darwin’s biographer, Janet Browne, ‘the general air of unruffled, clubbable stability’ of the society was hardly dented and ‘Linnean fellows dispersed that night not so much aghast at new ideas as wearied by the length and amount of information presented’. This indifference would evaporate. The following year, Darwin published his groundbreaking ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’ and within a year, natural selection would become the focus of a furious confrontation between religion and science, an unhappy state of affairs that endures in many parts of the world to this day. Do you agree with our choice? Tell us your seismic London moment100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40- 21 | 20-1

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Of all the London events that have shaped our world, none matches, for sheer profundity, the one being commemorated next Tuesday (July 1) at the Royal Academy. In a side room, now part of the John Madejski Fine Rooms, two scientific papers – one by Charles Darwin, the other by Alfred Russel Wallace – were read out on July 1 1858, to members of the Linnean Society, a small but elite group of scientists and naturalists. From these papers, the world first learned about natural selection, a theory that has revolutionised the way human beings think about themselves and their place in nature. Darwin – following his round-the-world trip on the Beagle and his visits to the Galapagos Islands – had been working on the idea at his house in Downe, Kent, for several years but lacked the courage to publish; by showing how one species could evolve into another, he was displacing God as the determiner of the course of life on Earth. Lest he upset the godly, including his own wife, Emma, Darwin kept quiet and contented himself by corresponding with his peers, scientific greats such as Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker, about his ideas. Then came the bombshell: a letter from Wallace – who was recuperating from a bout of malaria on the Malaysian island of Ternate. In it, the young naturalist outlined the same theory Darwin had been working on: that individual animals whose traits are better suited to their environment will live longer and reproduce more often than less well-adapted individuals. Thus, altering environments will trigger changes in species. The shock for Darwin ‘was almost paralysing’. Lyell and Hooker were summoned to Downe by the panic-stricken scientist. They took advantage of a rearranged Linnean Society meeting, wrote a paper summarising Darwin’s ideas, and had them read out at the end of the session, along with Wallace’s own 4,000-word essay on natural selection. It would be fitting to record that the meeting ended in uproar, but according to Darwin’s biographer, Janet Browne, ‘the general air of unruffled, clubbable stability’ of the society was hardly dented and ‘Linnean fellows dispersed that night not so much aghast at new ideas as wearied by the length and amount of information presented’. This indifference would evaporate. The following year, Darwin published his groundbreaking ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’ and within a year, natural selection would become the focus of a furious confrontation between religion and science, an unhappy state of affairs that endures in many parts of the world to this day.