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The City of London (the capital C is used here to distinguish the historic City from the metropolis as a whole) dates back to Roman Londinium. Although the City was to become a tiny part of a vast conurbation, it has never lost its distinct character: with its concentration on international trade, its combination of workaday business life and ancient ceremonial, its medieval street pattern and tightly-packed buildings, it remains proudly apart from the great capital that took its name.
Since the twelfth century the City has been governed by its own mayor, sheriffs and aldermen, and has had its independent court of justice. Freedom from royal and parliamentary interference was still jealously guarded in the eighteenth century, and the commercial power and wealth of the City merchants ensured their opinion was listened to.
The enormous increase in British influence worldwide during the eighteenth century, based primarily on trade and commerce, was centred on the City, still the country's major port. Institutions such as the Bank of England (founded in 1694) and the East India Company were crucial to the country's international status.
New developments had their victims. In the industrial suburbs beyond City jurisdiction, factory systems and a wage economy took the place of paternalistic regimes where master, journeyman and apprentice knew their place. Philanthropy led to the opening of hospitals and other institutions to help those who fell by the wayside. But social dislocation, rapid change and massive migration to London brought periods of civil unrest - in the mid-century this was at its most violent in the East End where silk-weavers and coal-heavers erupted into periodic riot.
Illustration: Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, View of London from the north, a drawing, 1751 (PD 1862-12-13-51)