Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both England and of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Most residents of Greater London are very proud of their capital, the multiculturalism of […]
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Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both England and of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Most residents of Greater London are very proud of their capital, the multiculturalism of the city, and their membership of the European Union, despite 52% of the UK population as a whole who voted in a recent referendum choosing to leave the EU. It is unclear what the outcome of the referendum will be on London.
Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million. However, London’s urban area stretched to 9,787,426 in 2011, while the figure of 14 million for the city’s wider metropolitan area more accurately reflects its size and importance. Considered one of the world’s leading “global cities”, London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade.
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.