London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom, and the largest city in the British Isles. London is located on both sides of the River Thames in south-east England, about 65 kilometers from the mouth of the English Channel. London has 8,787,892 residents in 2016 and covers an area of 1579 square kilometers.
London is an old city and was already a thriving trading center about 60 AD. In 313 London is mentioned as the seat of a diocese.
London consists of 32 boroughs (municipalities) as well as the City of London. These 33 administrative units take care of local affairs, while the overarching Greater London Authority addresses the city’s strategic needs as a whole. London has been governed by the London Assembly since 2000, with 25 elected members. Since 2000, London mayor (mayor) is also elected by direct election.
Besides local autonomy, each borough has its own mayor, who in most places only has ceremonial power. Four boroughs have directly elected mayor with greater authority.
The term London was used until 1965 about the County of London, ‘the county of London’, created in 1888 by merging the old City of London with Middlesex and parts of Surrey, Essex and Hertfordshire, from 1899 organized in the City of London and 28 metropolitan boroughs. The wider concept of Greater London Conurbation covered the London Police District, the area within approximately 25 kilometers of the city center, surrounded by the largely undeveloped Green Belt. In 1965, the administrative division was reorganized and the Greater London Council Area established. It includes the City of London, besides 32 boroughs (city municipality or district).
Although London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom, the city is in many respects treated as a separate region. The size of the city and its international character mean that in many contexts it is experienced as a separate regional unit, which has more in common with similar metropolises in other parts of the world than with the rest of England.
Urban growth has long since reached far beyond the boundaries of Greater London. The functional city region extends far into the adjoining counties of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex, that is, in most of the South East England area covered by the collective term The Home Counties.
London is the UK’s commercial and industrial hub, and one of the world’s leading banking and insurance centers. Among the most important banking and business institutions are the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange (Stock Exchange) and the insurance company Lloyds. Part of the financial business is facing a reorganization in connection with Brexit, the UK’s exit from the EU. Wholesale trade has enormous dimensions, with fish market (West India Docks, formerly Billingsgate), meat market (Smithfield Market) and fruit, vegetables and flower market (Nine Elms on the south side of the Thames, formerly Covent Garden).
London is an important industrial region with a large and diverse industry, although industrial employment has long been in decline. The industry includes, among other things, the manufacture of metal products, electrical articles, chemicals, plastics, textiles, confectionery and foodstuffs, as well as companies such as printing companies, publishers, plate and film production.
The London Port area (Port of London Authority of 1908) extends from the Thames estuary about 80 kilometers up to Teddington. The extensive dock facilities in central London, between Tower Bridge and Woolwich, have all been closed since the late 1960s, and commercial port traffic is today concentrated to Tilbury 40 kilometers below the Tower Bridge and the oil ports at Coryton, Shell Haven and Isle of Grain at the mouth of the Thames. London’s port has been losing traffic to other ports in southern England since the 1960s, including the container port at Immingham and canal ports such as Southampton, but the port still has significant traffic.
Transport and Communications
London is the country’s premier rail hub and has 13 terminals, including King’s Cross (trains from north-east England), St. Pancras (central England and Tilbury), Euston (midlands, Liverpool, north-west England and Scotland), Paddington (Plymouth, Cornwall, Wales), Victoria (continent), Waterloo (on the south bank, trains from Plymouth, Southampton and the continent), Charing Cross (south of England), Liverpool Street (including Harwich).
Public transport within London is operated by London Regional Transport, and is based on local railways and a network of subways and bus routes. The first subway of London and the world was established in 1863 and electrified in 1905. Omnibuses were introduced in 1829, trams in 1860 (closed in 1952). Of recent date are Docklands Light Railway, and Jubilee Extension from Charing Cross to Stanmore.
Passenger cars have traditionally played a minor role in the transport system, but private motoring has increased significantly in recent years. A ring motorway is built at 3 to 6 kilometers distance from the city center. About 20 bridges and 10 tunnels lead over / under the Thames. The Millennium Bridge walkway, across the Thames from the year 2000, connects Saint Paul’s Cathedral with the new Tate Modern.
Air traffic passes London Airport / Heathrow 24 kilometers west of the city center, one of Europe’s busiest airports, Gatwick 40 kilometers south of the city, Stansted in Essex and London City Airport in the former dock area (Docklands).
Public institutions, culture, etc.
London is the seat of the British royal house, parliament and the country’s government and judicial institutions. The many universities, colleges, museums, theaters and art galleries make the city one of the world’s leading entertainment and cultural centers, and London is one of the world’s most visited tourist cities. Among the largest museums are the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The British Museum’s library (The British Library), one of the largest libraries in the world, moved in 1997 to new premises at St. Pancras. In connection with the relocation of the library, the British Museum was granted large areas. The old reading room, an oval building in the inner courtyard was integrated into the museum along with the courtyard itself, which is now covered by a huge glass dome.
The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery contain some of the world’s finest paintings collections. The University of London (founded 1836), with departments across the city, includes the London School of Economics and the University College Hospital. London also houses the Norwegian Embassy to the United Kingdom and a Norwegian sailor’s church.
London has often been described as a “collection of villages”. It can be roughly divided into Inner City (Inner London Boroughs) and Outer City (Outer London Boroughs) and consists of a number of boroughs with very different social status and function. Residential housing in London is mostly fairly monotonous and consists of large areas almost exclusively of long rows of “detached houses”, narrowly built two-storey houses, in the better neighborhoods often equipped with small front and back gardens. Further out, more open villas dominate.
The oldest part of London is the City of London. City is the banking and finance district; its center is the space between the Bank of England, Mansion House (Lord Mayor (mayor’s) residence, built from 1739 to 1752) and the Royal Exchange (the former Stock Exchange, 1844). From the square, the two bank streets lead Lombard Street and Threadneedle Street.
In St. Mary Ax Street lies the so-called Swiss-Re Building, a cucumber-shaped 180-meter-high building designed by Foster + Partners from 2004. From the 62-meter-high Monument, erected by Sir Christopher Wren in memory of the fire in 1666, there is with a view of the City. To the southeast of the Thames lies the fortress Tower, which dates back to William 1 Conqueror’s time in the 1000s, and Tower Bridge. Not far away is Billingsgate, the former fishing town (1982 moved to West India Docks).
Northwest of the Bank of England lies Guildhall (City Hall, originally from 1411-1439); between Cannon Street and Ludgate Hill Saint Paul’s Cathedral. 1940–1941 the cathedral was partially damaged, while the surroundings were completely destroyed. Inaugurated in 1982, the Barbican Center is located north of Saint Paul’s and contains both theater and concert venues (Royal Shakespeare Company, London Symphony Orchestra), convention center and housing, and is an example of attempts to reduce the unilateral accumulation of offices in the City. Nearby is the Museum of London.
West from St. Paul’s, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, Beach, Trafalgar Square and The Mall form a main link with the West End and City of Westminster. Until the mid-1980s, Fleet Street was known as London’s newspaper street. In the middle of the street stands Temple Bar, a monument marking the boundary between the City of London and the City of Westminster. The Temple (Temple of the Lord’s Temple, begun in 1185) is located furthest west of City.
North of Fleet Street are Cheshire Cheese (Samuel Johnson’s Tribal), Courts of Justice and London School of Economics and Political Science. A northern traffic vein through City is formed (from the Mansion House to the west) by the Cheapside – Holborn Viaduct – High Holborn Street (and further New Oxford Street – Oxford Street). At the eastern end of this traffic vein is the main post office and Smithfield Market, the ‘meat square’.
City of Westminster
Westminster is the seat of the court, parliament and most government offices. The Mall leads to Buckingham Palace, which Queen Victoria did to the royal residence. Between the distinguished club street Pall Mall and The Mall lies St. James’s Palace, partly built by Henry 8, partially elderly, and royal residence from the Whitehall fire until 1837. It is now used for solemn occasions, and the British court is still officially called The Court or St. James’s.
Around the royal castles are the parks of Palace Gardens, Green Park and St. James’s Park. The latter separates Buckingham Palace from the government offices along Whitehall, which leads south from Trafalgar Square, and its extension to Parliament Street. Here, among others, are the Admiralty, the Ministry of Defense and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and in the side street Downing Street the famous No. 10, the residence of the prime minister. At the far south is Westminster Abbey, the coronation site and burial ground of almost all monarchs since 1087, and above this Parliament building. In the 97-meter-high bell tower is the famous Big Ben.
Along the Thames, the wide promenade Victoria Embankment leads with the obelisk Cleopatra’s needle east towards City. Between Westminster Abbey and Victoria Station lies the 1903 Catholic Westminster Cathedral.
Farther south in Westminster is the Pimlico district, including the Tate Gallery. The gallery’s collections are from 2000 divided between the old Tate Gallery in Westminster, Tate Britain, and a new gallery, Tate Modern. The new Tate Modern is located in the remodeled Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames, between Southwark Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, with the Millennium Bridge over the Thames.
The West End
North of Trafalgar Square is London’s West End, the city’s most important business and entertainment district. Trafalgar Square itself is dominated by the 60-foot tall Nelson statue. By the square is the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (1722-1736) and the National Gallery with its world-renowned collection of ancient masters.
From Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Road leads north to Oxford Street, the most popular shopping street with major department stores. Regent Street leads from lively Piccadilly Circus north to Oxford Circus, competing with Bond Street and New Bond Street as the most distinguished business district. Also in this area is the famous tailor’s street Saville Row and the pedestrian street Carnaby Street.
From Piccadilly Circus with the Eros statue, the wide Piccadilly Street leads west towards Hyde Park. Between Oxford Street, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue is the Soho entertainment district, in its time artist quarters, today best known for its fine restaurants and many nightclubs, cinemas and theaters. The center of London’s “theater country” is Leicester Square with the statue of Charles Chaplin.
Between Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Hyde Park lies the exclusive Mayfair area, formerly a residential area for British aristocracy. Here lies the prestigious Berkeley Square, where wrought iron gates have sleeves of iron that can be flared. Together with Belgravia west of Buckingham Palace, Mayfair is the foremost embassy district in London.
Along the east side of Hyde Park, between Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner, leads the fashionable Park Lane with its many luxury hotels. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens form a continuous park area of 2.6 km2. Here, among others, is the lake The Serpentine, and Albert Memorial, a quaint memorial of Victorian taste. The northeast corner of Hyde Park, Marble Arch, is known as “Speaker’s Corner,” the sanctuary of soapbox talkers.
The Bloomsbury district forms the academic center of London. Here is the British Museum, London University’s main Senate House and University College. The district is otherwise known from the Bloomsbury Group, an exclusive circle of friends of British writers, artists and critics who lived in the area during the first half of the 20th century. Many buildings are either taken over by the university into student housing or converted into hotels.
Between New Oxford Street and the Beach is London’s famous Opera House, the Covent Garden Theater (Royal Opera House). Covent Garden Square, the former flower and fruit market, has become a continental shopping center with restaurants and bars. Here are London Transport Museum and Theater Museum.
Kensington and Chelsea
Kensington and Chelsea are part of London’s “west edge” and include both prestigious residential areas such as Kensington, Knightsbridge and Brompton south of Hyde Park, and some of London’s most popular business streets such as Knightsbridge with Harrods, Europe’s largest department store. Here are also the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum of Natural History, the Royal Geographic Society, the Imperial Institute, and the 8,000-seat Royal Albert Hall Concert Hall, famous for its promenade concerts (” The Proms “). Kensington Palace (1721), at the west end of Kensington Gardens, became a royal residence under William 3. Here Queen Victoria was born.
To the south is the former Chelsea working district, today a popular residential area for artists, among others, with King’s Road, one of the important shopping streets for fashion clothing. Here is also the Saatchi Gallery, just off Sloane Square.
Along the north side of Hyde Park, Oxford Street is continued by Bayswater Road – Notting Hill Gate – Holland Park Avenue. Bayswater forms a large hotel district around Paddington Station. North of Mayfair in St. Marylebone is Regent’s Park with the London Zoo and Botanical Gardens (Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens), further BBC’s studios, Madame Tussaud’s wax cabinet, the nearly 200m high Telecom Tower (formerly Post Office Tower, built 1964) and the Harley Legend Street.
North of Regent’s Park is Primrose Park overlooking much of London. In the district of St. John’s Wood in the far northwest of St. Marylebone lies the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Further north, among others, is the prestigious Hampstead district with beautiful houses and the cemetery where Karl Marx is buried, and the Hampstead Heath exit area. In the far northwest is the district of Harrow, known for its exclusive private school, Harrow School.
The grand Wembley Empire Stadium sports stadium was inaugurated in 2007 and the Royal Air Force Museum (Hendon) is also located in North London. East of Regent’s Park is the Kings Place Cultural Center, opened in 2008. Here is St. Pancras International, a train station that was renovated in 2007, with a high-speed train terminal to the continent.
London’s “east edge” includes districts such as Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Stepney, Limehouse, Poplar and Isle of Dogs in the municipality of Tower Hamlets, and Shoreditch in Hackney. The area has been hit hard by the industry’s relocation to the outer parts of the London region and the reduced activity in the Port of London, and the population has long declined sharply. The decontamination of the vast slums began before the Second World War and gained momentum during the extensive wars. After the war, large areas were built up with municipal housing.
The former dock area, Docklands, which encompasses large areas on both sides of the Thames, was renovated and expanded into homes and offices during the 1970s and 1980s, and the population in that area has increased again since the mid-1980s. The giant project Canary Wharf started in Docklands in the latter part of the 1980s. In 1991, the 244-meter-high Canada Tower, designed by American Cesar Pelli, opened. The building was at the opening London’s tallest building. In 1996, large parts of the building complex were destroyed by a powerful IRA bomb.
For the 2012 Summer Olympics, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford was opened. Planning began in 2003, London was awarded the 2005 Olympics and the park contains attractions and residential areas in addition to five sports arenas. Among the attractions are the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a sculpture and a view tower with a total height of 114.5 meters. After the games, the area was closed and then gradually opened to the public as it was developed for further and new use. The post-use has been criticized for being better planned than performed.
Opposite Chelsea is the Battersea Work Area with a large theme park and opposite Westminster Lambeth with Lambeth Palace (Canterbury Archbishop’s official residence), St. Thomas’s Hospital (founded 1106), the heavy County Hall (1912-1922, former seat of Greater London Council, now hotels), the Royal Festival Hall (1949-51), the National Theater, the Catholic St. George’s Cathedral and the Imperial War Museum. Here is also the 135-meter-high London Eye Ferris Wheel, built for the “Millennium Celebration” 1999-2000.
The magnificent Southwark Cathedral is mostly from the 13th century. East of this lies London’s new City Hall (City Hall) in a distinctive dome-shaped glass building. Brixton (in Lambeth) has one of London’s largest concentrations of immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, and has been the scene of bitter clashes between particularly black immigrants and the authorities.
Further east by the Thames lies the district of Greenwich. The famous Old Royal Observatory (1675-1946) is today a museum. The world time, GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), is indicated by the meridian passing through Greenwich at the observatory. Here is also the National Maritime Museum, which tells about the history of England’s sea and the Royal Naval College. The famous clipper ship Cutty Sark and the new Millennium Cathedral are also here.
Further east lies Woolwich with the 520 meter long flood protection barrier, which was commissioned in 1983 and which protects Thames and London from spring floods.
West London includes boroughs like Hammersmith and Ealing north of the Thames, and Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow on the south bank. By the Thames lies Kew Gardens with the Botanical Gardens; further west Hampton Court Palace and Eton College and Windsor Castle. The western part of London is financially and quietly dominated by the Heathrow International Airport.
Greater London is surrounded by a “green belt” that seeks to be kept free of urban development. Outside of this, however, significant suburban areas have grown up in the surrounding counties, based on commuting to London. Suburban growth dates back to the early 1900s and the construction of the first “garden city”, Letchworth, founded in 1903 by Ebenezer Howard.
After the Second World War, suburban growth took place more systematically, with the establishment of a total of eight New Towns around London (Stevenage, Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, Harlow, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Basildon and Bracknell), and relocation of jobs and population to a number of older, established cities (for example, Aylesbury, Bletchley, Luton, Chelmsford, Maidstone, Reading, Basingstoke).
Since the mid-1960s, British authorities have sought to channel growth into areas outside the actual London region, including the construction of Milton Keynes in 1967 and the designation of Peterborough in 1967 and Northampton in 1968 as new “New Towns”. The intention was to relieve more central parts of the London region as well as try to curb the strong economic and population expansion in South East England.