The course of the River Thames, and the contours of London, were formed by ice sheets and meltwaters from Britain’s Ice Ages.
Mesolithic people began to exploit this newly formed landscape around 12,000 years ago. Some flint tools and animal bones recovered from the bed of the Thames have been found as evidence of occupation from both periods.
By around 10,000 BC rising sea levels had removed the land bridge with mainland Europe and, with the warming climate of the Holocene period, the inhabitants of Britain began to exploit the rich natural resources, animals and plant life.
Farming from around 4,000 BC encouraged the previously nomadic population to settle. It is not until c. 3,000 BC that we see evidence of this in London. By the time
of the Bronze Age, people had laid our extensive field systems and farms.
The continued growth of Britain’s population during the Iron Age (c. 700 BC to AD 43) saw the isolated settlements and farms grow in size and complexity. This continued until the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43.
Roman London (Londinium), which lies beneath today’s City of London area, saw four centuries of urban development including the city wall, major public buildings, docks and London’s first bridge across the River Thames. The collapse of Roman rule in the late fourth century led to Londinium being gradually abandoned. It did not re-emerge as an urban centre until AD 672-4, when Lundenwic, a Saxon trading port in the Strand area, was first recorded.
The Norman invasion of England in 1066 saw London finally established as one of the country’s pre-eminent cities. Beyond the city’s core (Westminster and the City), places like Paddington remained isolated villages well into the 19th century. The increasing pace of industrialisation in Britain from the 1850s onwards encouraged the rapid development of London’s suburbs.