The City of London is the heart of the capital’s busy financial district, dominated by sleek skyscrapers, a vibrant atmosphere and the quintessential fast pace of London life. However, beneath the glossy modern surface, you might also discover some surprising secrets and treasures about the City – read on to find out more about this area’s incredible history, and how you can still experience a taste of the past.
The Romans’ London
The place we all now know and love as London has long-spanning roots, dating back to the Roman era and beyond. The settlement that later became London was in fact initially an important trading stronghold for Roman invaders, who took advantage of the access provided by the vast River Thames, transforming the muddy river banks into a busy commercial centre. Of course, 2,000 years ago, the area known as Londonium was far smaller in comparison to the immense city today, but you can still get a sense of the Roman roots of the capital in the City of London.
The City, otherwise known as the Square Mile, stands on the original walled city that was founded by the Romans, while other boroughs and areas that later became part of Greater London would have existed as neighbouring villages or towns. And if you’re staying at one of the hotels London city, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit some of the fascinating remains of Roman London that still exist today. One of the most famous is the ruins of the original city walls – while only small sections of the solid stone wall stand today, you can still glimpse them near the Tower of London and the Museum of London, giving you a sense of what it might once have been like to live within the boundaries of the original capital.
There are also many more mysterious and intriguing remains dating back thousands of years that have been discovered in London, which are well worth a visit if you’re a keen history buff. Near some of the City of London 5 star hotels, you can see the London Mithraeum, a Roman temple dedicated to the god, Mithras, discovered in the 1950s. And for anyone who loves a good spa day pamper, a trip down to the original Roman bathhouses of the city, on Lower Thames Street, is one that will certainly delight.
Britain’s First Brewery
London’s rich history encompasses far more than just the Romans, with every era making its mark in the capital. The City of London has always been an important area for business and commerce, as it still is today, and over the many centuries, London has seen all kinds of different trades make their home in the capital. One of the most interesting is the brewery industry, and the establishment of Whitbread’s breweries, in the mid 18th century, was one that transformed the landscape of the City, as well as its appetites. In 1750, the founder of the Whitbread brewery business, Samuel Whitbread, opened up Britain’s first large scale brewery, attracting the attention of royalty, where the enormous vaults would hold thousands of casks of beer. While the brewery remained in operation until the 1970s, the historic site is now an important part of the City landscape in a different form, as the Montcalm at the Brewery London City, and the immense space is now a luxurious hotel where you can discover the best of the capital.
As well as brewing beer, the City has been home to many other important industries, and a great way to get some insight into the past is by taking a closer look at the street names around you. The bustling street of Petticoat Lane is nowadays filled with lively street food stalls where you can pick up a mouth-watering snack on a weekday afternoon, but as the street’s original name suggests, it was once home to clothing manufacturers and retailers. Bread Street, just off Cheapside, meanwhile, was once the site of the City’s important bread market, where you could have once picked up a fresh daily loaf, while Cheapside itself was the location for several busy produce markets.
Markets and Marvels
There are plenty of other hidden marvels tucked away in unexpected corners of the City, and not all of them are in the most obvious of places. With the skyline dominated by the glittering tall buildings of the financial district, it can often feel like the City is awash in glass and concrete, but on closer inspection, you’ll also be able to find some beautiful architectural gems to explore here. Two of the most illustrious buildings in the area include the Leadenhall Market and the Royal Exchange – both of which are now wonderful places for a spot of retail therapy, people watching and a relaxing coffee. Leadenhall Market is one of the capital’s most renowned covered markets, with stunning architectural details that date back to the 14th century, breath-taking Victorian arches and a vast array of shops to browse in.
The Royal Exchange is another bustling shopping hub in the City, housed in a regal 16th century building that once housed London’s first trading centre. Nowadays, amongst the magnificent pillars and skylights, you’ll find some of the most prestigious premium brands in fashion and beauty, while elegant eateries from Laduree, Fortnum & Mason and other leading names occupy the brightly lit spaces in the centre, providing the perfect place to stop for a refreshing meal while admiring the backdrop.
Finally, as well as wonderful shopping and dining, there’s also a wealth of contemporary art to uncover in the City during your stay. Just head down to Sculpture in the City – an annual collection of outdoor sculpture from leading contemporary artists, set amongst the diverse urban landscape. Often thought provoking and contemplative, these sculptures are changed yearly, and always add something surprising to the polished landscape of this pocket of London, and can be found in all kinds of unexpected locations.