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London: Supreme 19th Century World City

Britain, according to Winston Churchill, has always been at her best when ruled by queens. Certainly the reign of Victoria would confirm such an opinion. Reigning from 1837 until 1901, the longest of any monarch until Elizabeth II, Victoria dominated almost the entire 19th century. During her reign Britain reached the pinnacle of its existence, with an empire upon which the sun truly never set. Ruling a quarter of the earth’s surface, the British Empire was the largest empire in human history – there has never been anything quite like it, before or since.

The bustling center of all this was, of course, London, the first city in the world to reach one million inhabitants and the most important city on the planet in the 19th century. Like Imperial Rome, upon which the British modeled themselves, all loads led to London. An astonishing city of contrasts – extreme wealth and appalling poverty, surprising liberality and narrow-mindedness, monarchy and democracy – London encompassed it all.

Nineteenth century London gave birth to the extraordinary and outrageous Oscar Wilde and the sober Salvation Army; the modern museum and model prisons; the world’s first subway and the first flush toilet, the first city police force, Dickens, railroads, the Houses of Parliament, the first street lights, Buckingham Palace, and Sherlock Holmes. In so many ways, London gave birth to the modern world!