THE four great cities of Europe - Athens and Rome, Paris and London - all lie on the sea, the world's greatest highway, or on rivers which were the first roads. London lies on both. The tides of the sea reach her from the east, and on the west the great high road of the Thames leads the explorer, the merchant, or the invader into the heart of England.
It is the high road of her most fertile and easily cultivated part, that part which, when English history begins, seems already to have been settled, cultivated, and closely populated.
But this was not in itself enough to give London that commanding place in English history which she has had from the beginning; for, though the greatest, the Thames is only one of three great estuaries, and there were many smaller, as the Danish pirates found, which were easy entrances to England. The Thames was also the great barrier across England; its waters come within a few miles of dividing her into two islands; and London held the chief crossing.
But even these two reasons were not enough. The Thames was not only a barrier across England and a waterway into the middle of England. It was also the waterway which was nearest to Europe; and from Europe came the culture of the Mediterranean, the Christian faith, all those influences and that mixture of races which are the foundation of England.
They came by the estuary of the Thames, or if, like Caesar, they came over the narrow seas from Gaul, London guarded the crossing of the Thames nearest the sea. By land or sea those coming to England made inevitably for London. The estuary of the Thames is the great gateway into English history- with London holding the keys.Next page: The Thames