The Growth of London, from the Romans to the 21st Century, Visualized in a Time-Lapse Animated Map

From a port set­tle­ment on the banks of the Thames that the Romans called Lon­dini­um came a thriv­ing city of “rough­ly 100,000 peo­ple” in Shakespeare’s time, “a cross-sec­tion of ear­ly mod­ern Eng­lish cul­ture,” the British Library notes, includ­ing “roy­al­ty, nobil­i­ty, mer­chants, arti­sans, labor­ers, actors, beg­gars, thieves, and spies, as well as refugees from polit­i­cal and reli­gious per­se­cu­tion on the con­ti­nent.” The city thrived eco­nom­i­cal­ly and mer­chants from the known world passed through its ports. “As a result, Lon­don­ers would hear a vari­ety of accents and lan­guages as they strolled about the city — a cho­rus of voic­es from across Europe and from all walks of life.”

The cho­rus of voic­es became a cacoph­o­ny for many Lon­don­ers in the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry who res­ur­rect­ed a pas­toral ide­al and/or retired to the coun­try­side in the 1600s. The city swelled to a pop­u­la­tion of around half a mil­lion. “It is also a peri­od dur­ing which a high pro­por­tion of London’s inhab­i­tants were migrants,” writes the Pro­ceed­ings of the Old Bai­ley. “It was only by main­tain­ing this con­stant influx that the cap­i­tal could pos­si­bly main­tain its pop­u­la­tion growth,” slow as it was. “London’s pop­u­la­tion in this peri­od was also char­ac­ter­ized by its diver­si­ty,” and by stag­na­tion as plague and fire dev­as­tat­ed the city through­out the cen­tu­ry.

The city’s cos­mopoli­tan com­mu­ni­ties grew as Eng­land became a colo­nial world pow­er. Neo­clas­si­cal art and archi­tec­ture beau­ti­fied the city’s new wealth, and along with wealth came pover­ty, over­crowd­ing, immis­er­a­tion, and crime. “Here mal­ice, rap­ine, acci­dent, con­spire;  and now a rab­ble, now a fire,” wrote Samuel John­son in “Lon­don,” (1738), a poem writ­ten in imi­ta­tion of Juvenal’s satire on Impe­r­i­al Rome. In his “Lon­don” over half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, William Blake saw “marks of weak­ness, marks of woe” on every face he met in the city — begin­ning a protest tra­di­tion that reached its zenith dur­ing the mas­sive pop­u­la­tion growth in Dick­ens’ time, and found new voice in glam, punk, grime, etc.

Peo­ple have come from all over the world to make their home in Lon­don for cen­turies. Each wave of migrants has had to nav­i­gate the city’s class hier­ar­chies — through plagues, fires, the Blitz, strikes, riots, protests, more fires, Brex­it.… Lon­don has burned, “Lon­don is drown­ing,” sang Joe Strum­mer. But Lon­don remains, a megac­i­ty of near­ly 9 mil­lion. In the video above, you can see the city’s growth mapped over a peri­od of 2,000 years, from the Romans to the Sax­ons; from Tudor to Stu­art, ear­ly and late Geor­gian, ear­ly and late Vic­to­ri­an, and into the wartorn 20th cen­tu­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Lon­don Time Machine: Inter­ac­tive Map Lets You Com­pare Mod­ern Lon­don, to the Lon­don Short­ly After the Great Fire of 1666

Fly Through 17th-Cen­tu­ry London’s Grit­ty Streets with Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tions

The Old­est Known Footage of Lon­don (1890–1920) Fea­tures the City’s Great Land­marks

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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