London's Story

Victorian London

Queen Victoria was 18 years old when she became queen in 1837. She reigned for 63 years and during this time London became the centre of the largest and richest empire the World had ever known. Over one quarter of the world was coloured “pink” on the maps of the world indicating that the British ruled it, with consequences both good and bad for the indigenous people involved.

London continued to grow: new roads and railways were constructed stretching out from the centre to all the major cities in Britain. New docks were built in the East End. An underground railway was constructed in 1863 from Farringdon Street to Paddington – the first such railway in the world. It was such a success that other underground railways were opened shortly afterwards. One of them, now the District Line, was constructed under the Embankment along the north bank of the Thames – this also incorporated the great sewers by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who designed and supervised the construction of 2000 miles of sewage tunnels and pumping stations to cope with the ever increasing amounts of sewage produced by all the millions of people who now wanted to live in London. 

Crossness Pumping Station - part of Sir Joseph Bazalgette's grand designs for a cleaner London.

Many of the great iconic buildings of London were built at this time, like the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, The Royal Albert Hall and Tower Bridge to name but a few.

The expansion of London was further helped by the introduction of an electric railway deep underground in tunnels – the “Tube”, which opened in 1890, and was a huge success.  

Victoria Tower - Houses of Parliament  - photo by SW

By the end of the Victorian era in 1901 London’s population had risen to 6 and a half million people. Those people rich enough to afford it continued to move out of the central area of the city into leafy suburbs, while poor people remained in the inner-city slums. It was not until the end of the First World War that this became any different, and the quality of life for London’s poorer citizens improved.

JB Houses of Parliament from St Thomas's Hospital June 06.jpg


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