March 16, 2015 No Comments
The name London originally referred only to the once-walled “Square Mile” of the original Roman city. Today, London has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central parts of the modern metropolis, with the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries, including large portions of the surrounding “home counties”, one of which – Middlesex – being completely consumed by the growing metropolis. The term “Central London” is widely used on both signs and by the media to decribe the downtown area of the city, which encompasses The City, most of the City of Westminster, and some of the surrounding boroughs. The term “Greater London” embraces Central London together with all the outlying suburbs that lie in one continuous urban sprawl within the lower Thames valley. Though densely populated by New World standards, London retains large swathes of green parkland and open space, even within the city centre.
Greater London consists of 32 London boroughs and the City of London that, together with the office of the Mayor of London, form the basis for London’s local government. The Mayor of London is elected by London residents and should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The names of several boroughs, such as Westminster or Camden, are well-known, others less so, such as Wandsworth or Lewisham. This traveller’s guide to London recognises cultural, functional and social districts of varying type and size.
If you ask a Londoner where the centre of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.
However, the point from which distances to “London” are measured is in Trafalgar Square, where the original Charing Cross stood.
The commercial capital was the City of London. This had a dense population and all the other pre-requisites of a medieval city: walls, a castle (The Tower of London), a cathedral (Saint Pauls), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).
About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called “The Strand”, old English for riverbank.
London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End (as well as further down river and beyond) was where the city’s heavy industries were based, and thus became the epicentre of the working classes.
Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End. However, even this doesn’t define the actual central area of London, which extends slightly beyond the City and Westminster, as inner portions of the surrounding boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Lambeth) also lie within Central London.