Capital of the United Kingdom. It is situated in south-eastern England at the head of the River Thames estuary. Settled by the Romans as an important shipping point for crops and minerals, it gradually developed into the wealthy capital of a thriving industrial and agricultural nation. The expansion in the 19th century of the British Empire increased London’s influence still further. Since World War II the city’s prominence on the international stage has diminished, but it remains a flourishing financial centre and home to one of the world’s most important stock exchanges. In addition, it is the foremost tourist destination in Britain, a centre of academic excellence, and one of the cultural capitals of the world—well deserving of the observation by Samuel Johnson that: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.
The term “City of London”, or “the City”, is applied only to a small area known as the Square Mile (2.59 sq km/1 sq mi) that was the original settlement (ancient Londinium) and is now part of the financial and business district of the metropolis. The City of London and 32 surrounding boroughs constitute the Greater London metropolitan area, which covers some 1,580 sq km (620 sq mi). The 13 inner London boroughs are Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, and the City of Westminster. The 19 outer boroughs are Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Greenwich, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton, and Waltham Forest.
Government and Administration
London is the seat of central government in Britain. The Houses of Parliament—the House of Commons (the lower house) and the House of Lords (the upper house)—are located at Westminster. Downing Street (home to the Prime Minister at No 10, and traditionally the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at No 11), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Treasury, and the Ministry of Defence are concentrated around Whitehall. Various other government departments and public bodies are also sited in central London. Within the Government, the Secretary of State for the Environment has responsibility for the capital as Minister for London. The administrative structure of the legal system, and the central offices of the main political parties, are also based in London.
Over 70 (out of 659) Members of Parliament are returned to Westminster from constituencies in the Greater London metropolitan area, and the capital returns 10 of England’s 71 representatives to the European Parliament. Unlike other major cities, there is no single body governing Greater London. Prior to the late 1880s, when the London County Council (LCC) was established, the four counties of Essex, Kent, Middlesex, and Surrey administered the area, together with the ancient City of London and many smaller local authorities. In 1965 Greater London was created under the jurisdiction of the Greater London Council. This council was abolished in 1986, and today each inner and outer borough and the City of London itself has its own governing council. The borough councils consist of councillors elected every four years, who in turn annually elect their presiding official. Councils are responsible for the provision of most local services including education, housing, social services, local planning, roads, refuse collection, recreation, and culture. They do not control the police (except in the case of the City of London), fire service, or public transport. London’s Metropolitan Police Service is the responsibility of the Home Secretary (a senior government minister). London Transport is a statutory corporation whose remit is to provide transport for the capital.
The City of London, the ancient heart of the city, has only about 5,000 residents (although well over 300,000 people work there each day). It is governed by the Corporation of the City of London. Among local authorities, the Corporation is unique; it is the oldest in the country and operates on a non-party-political basis. The ruling body is the Court of Common Council, and this consists of the Lord Mayor, 24 aldermen, and 130 common councilmen. The Lord Mayor and two sheriffs are nominated annually by the City guilds (livery companies representing trades and professions and dating back to medieval times) and elected by the Court of Aldermen. Aldermen and councilmen are elected by businesses in the City’s 25 wards. The Corporation fulfils the same functions as the borough councils but has, for historical reasons, retained some other powers: it is responsible for the City of London Police; is the health authority for the Port of London; is responsible for health control of animal imports throughout Greater London (including Heathrow Airport); and is responsible for the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey). lk729f9174ckkq
Population Patterns and Trends
In mid-1994 the population of Greater London was estimated at 6,967,500 (representing about 12 per cent of Britain’s overall population), with two thirds resident in outer London. Although the population is no longer as large as in mid-century (peaking at about 8,346,000 in the 1951 census), it has recently been increasing, rising at an average of 20,000 per year since 1984. London’s population is heavily concentrated (at about 4,409 people per sq km/11,238 per sq mi) relative to other metropolitan areas in the country.
The arrival of immigrants has contributed considerably to the variations in population figures, and the capital is the most ethnically diverse region in the United Kingdom. Ethnic minority communities account for over a third of the population in the boroughs of Brent, Hackney, Newham, and Tower Hamlets.
The Urban Landscape
London straddles the River Thames, 80 km (50 mi) upriver from its mouth at the Nore, where the English Channel joins the North Sea. Most of London, including its central districts and the majority of its famous landmarks, lies to the north of the river. The original settlement that gave London its name was the Roman fort of Londinium, founded in the first century AD. The City of London is on the site where this stood, and the description of the Roman town as “a busy emporium for trade and traders” by the Roman historian Tacitus seems equally apt today. St Paul’s Cathedral stands on the western edge of the City, and the Tower of London, the Norman fortress built by William the Conqueror to defend his new lands late in the 11th century (and now listed as a conservation site in the World Heritage List), lies to the south-east. Spanning the river to Southwark (west of Tower Bridge) is London Bridge, a modern replacement of the only bridge over the Thames in London until the 18th century.
To the east and north-east of the City are the predominantly working-class districts of the East End, home to successive waves of immigrants from Ireland, continental Europe, and the former British Empire. Lively and industrious, the East End continues to have many thriving small businesses. The area known as Docklands comprises (on the north bank of the Thames) the districts of Wapping and Poplar, the Isle of Dogs, the Royal Docks, and (to the south of the Thames) Surrey Docks. Docklands is the site of a massive inner city regeneration project. West of the City lie the ancient Inns of Court (Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, Inner Temple, and Gray’s Inn), the legal district occupied by barristers and firms of solicitors; and Fleet Street, once the home of Britain’s national press (which has now relocated to other parts of the capital). Further to the north-west is Bloomsbury, the haunt in the 1920s of a renowned group of literary intellectuals (the Bloomsbury Group), thanks to its proximity to London University and the British Museum.
The West End is a large area of central London to the west of the City, containing most of the best-known theatres and shopping districts. To the south, following the river as it takes a southward bend, is the administrative core of London and the centre of government: Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament (officially called the Palace of Westminster), St James’s Palace (London home of the Prince of Wales), and Buckingham Palace (the London residence of Queen Elizabeth II). The West End also contains Hyde Park, London’s largest open space, which leads west to the districts of Knightsbridge and Kensington, both fashionable residential areas with such attractions as Harrods department store, the Royal Albert Hall, and the South Kensington museums. South of the river, upstream from the Houses of Parliament, lies Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury; nearby is the South Bank Centre, the arts and theatre complex. Beyond lie other residential districts with historical associations, such as Dulwich, Clapham, Wimbledon (one of London’s earliest settlements), and Greenwich (home of the Royal Naval College, the restored Cutty Sark tea clipper, and the Prime Meridian at the Old Royal Observatory).
Economic activity in London contributes almost one sixth of Britain’s non-oil gross domestic product (GDP). In mid-1995 the total number of people employed in the capital was 3.1 million (compared with over 3.5 million in 1981). About 85 per cent of London’s employment is now in service industries, notably in financial and business services which, at almost 750,000, may be the largest such concentration in any city in the world. Other service sectors supporting significant levels of employment include public administration (central and local government and other official agencies), retail and wholesale distribution, hotels and catering, education and health services, and transport and communications. Manufacturing makes up an important, though relatively small, part of the London economy.
The financial and business services sector makes up over a third of the capital’s GDP. London is one of the three main global financial centres (with New York and Tokyo) and is noted for having a larger number of international banks than any other financial centre; a banking sector that accounts for about 20 per cent of total international bank lending; one of the largest international insurance markets; the largest centre in the world for trading overseas equities; the world’s largest foreign exchange market; one of the world’s biggest financial derivatives markets; the greatest concentration of international bond dealers; major markets for transactions in commodities; and a vast range of ancillary and support services (legal, accountancy, management, property, computer, and advertising consultancy). The Big Bang deregulation of financial markets in 1986 allowed changes in the structure of the industry that created conglomerates operating across all markets (although many specialists still exist). The insurance sector includes general insurance companies as well as life assurance companies and societies. It is less focused on London than is banking, but still generates a considerable share of financial and business services employment in the capital. Lloyd’s of London, an incorporated society of private insurers (which has had some highly publicized financial problems in recent years), accounts for about half of the international insurance market that is based in London.
Tourism is another vital service sector within the London economy. London is one of the world’s major tourist destinations and a leading conference venue, attracting over 23 million visitors annually. Of these, 13 million are from outside the United Kingdom. Tourist expenditure in London in 1994 reached £6.1 billion (US$9 billion), and overseas visitors accounted for 85 per cent of this spending. Over 200,000 people work in tourism-related industries within the capital. There are about 480 hotels in London, approximately a third of which are located in Westminster. Tourist attractions include the many museums, art galleries, monuments, historic buildings, gardens, churches, and shopping facilities. The most popular attractions are the British Museum (with over 6 million visitors in 1994-1995), the National Gallery, Westminster Abbey (where the sovereign is crowned), Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, and the Tower of London.
Manufacturing remains a significant part of London’s economy, accounting for some 13 per cent of output, but has been declining for many years. In general, heavy industry in London has been disappearing since the war, and between 1982 and 1994 the numbers employed in manufacturing almost halved to approximately 328,000 (about 10 per cent of total employment). Printing and publishing remains one of the most healthy industries and accounts for over a quarter of London’s manufacturing employment. This reflects London’s role as an administrative, financial, and media centre, placing heavy demands on printing. Other important manufacturing sectors include electrical and electronic engineering; food, drink, and tobacco; and chemicals and synthetic fibres. Generally, manufacturing industries are more concentrated in outer, rather than inner, London, and five outer London boroughs (Barking and Dagenham, Enfield, Ealing, Hounslow, and Waltham Forest) have about 20 per cent of their output in manufacturing.
Transport is essential to the operation of a city such as London. Its very development was significantly affected by the advent of the railways, and more recently the construction of roads (particularly the orbital M25 motorway) has influenced patterns of settlement and economic activity. London has one of the most extensive urban railway systems in the world; in addition to the Underground railway, there is a network of suburban railways covering London and the surrounding region. Most of the passenger-carrying Underground lines in central London were built before 1914. Suburban extensions were added before and after World War II. The most recent line, the Jubilee, opened in 1979 and in the 1990s was extended eastward to Stratford. The Docklands Light Railway connects the City of London with Docklands and other east London destinations. Most travel is done by rail and Underground, although there is also considerable commuting by car, particularly in the outer boroughs. London has about 18,000 licensed taxis.
Railway services from London to Paris or Brussels through the Channel Tunnel run from the terminal at Waterloo station.
London has three main airports. Heathrow, about 25 km (15 mi) west of London, is the world’s busiest airport for international passengers and is Britain’s most important airport for passengers and air freight (handling about 55 million passengers and over 1 million tonnes of freight in 1996). Gatwick (south of London) is Britain’s second-busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, and Stansted (to the north-east, in Essex) is the sixth-busiest. London City Airport, based in the rejuvenated Docklands area, links Docklands and the City to continental Europe.
The Port of London, covering about 150 km (93 mi) of waterway along the Thames to the east coast, is the largest port in Britain in terms of total tonnage of cargo handled and in terms of non-fuel traffic. The total tonnage handled in 1995 was about 52 million tonnes.
Museums and Art Galleries
London’s museums and art galleries contain some of the most comprehensive collections of objects of artistic, archaeological, scientific, historical, and general interest. The British Museum in Bloomsbury is one of the biggest and most famous museums in the world. Its collections range from Egyptian and Classical antiquities through Saxon treasures to more recent artefacts.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington is an assembly of fine and decorative art collections from all over the world. There are magnificent examples of porcelain, glass, sculpture, fabrics and costume, furniture, and musical instruments, all set in a building of Victorian grandeur. Nearby are the Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum. On the other side of London, in the City itself, is the Museum of London, which has exhibits dealing with the development of the capital from its origins to the present day.
The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square contains one of the finest mixed collections of paintings in the world. Next door is the National Portrait Gallery, whose collection includes more than 9,000 portraits. The Tate Gallery, situated on the Embankment between Chelsea and Westminster, houses the largest collection of British painting from the 16th century to the present day. In 1987 an extension opened to house the paintings bequeathed to the nation by J. M. W. Turner. There are plans to establish a new Tate Gallery of Modern Art in Southwark, near the reconstructed Shakespearean theatre, the Globe.
Other important collections in the capital include the Imperial War Museum, the National Army Museum, the Royal Air Force Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the Wallace Collection (of paintings, furniture, arms and armour, and objets d’art), Sir John Soane’s Museum (founded by the architect of the Bank of England in the City), and the London Transport Museum. The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace has exhibitions of pictures from the extensive royal collection. The Theatre Museum displays the history of the performing arts, while the Museum of the Moving Image traces the history of film and television.
The British Library, the national library of Britain, has a collection of more than 150 million separate items. Publishers must deposit in the Library a copy of everything they publish.
London is one of the world’s leading centres for theatre, and there are about 100 theatres in the capital. These include the three auditoriums of the Royal National Theatre in the South Bank Centre; the two auditoriums in the London base of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the City’s Barbican Centre; and the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, home of the English Stage Company, which stages work by new playwrights. The largest concentration of commercial theatres is in the West End, around Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, and the Strand.
In 1989 the partial remains of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare acted, and the Rose Theatre, where his plays were performed during his lifetime, were excavated on the south bank of the Thames in central London: a modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, near its original site, was unveiled in 1996.
The principal concert halls in central London are the Royal Festival Hall in the South Bank Centre (next to which are the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room, which accommodate smaller-scale performances), the Barbican Hall, the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, the Wigmore Hall, (behind Oxford Street); and St John’s Church in Smith Square, Westminster.
The leading symphony orchestras in London include the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, and the BBC Symphony. There are also several London chamber orchestras and choirs. The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, which rank among the world’s finest companies, perform at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Seasons of opera in English are given by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum. English Festival Ballet (founded as London Festival Ballet) performs at the Royal Festival Hall, and the Rambert Dance Company provides regular seasons of modern dance in the capital.
There is a wide range of cinemas throughout London. The National Film Theatre on the South Bank, administered by the British Film Institute, annually mounts the London Film Festival.
Highly respected music, dance, and drama colleges in London include the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Royal College of Music, the Royal Ballet School, and the London Contemporary Dance School.
Two thirds of London is intensively built up, yet the capital is well endowed with parks and open spaces. Hyde Park, adjoining Kensington Gardens, was formerly known as the “lung of London”. Regent’s Park, to the north of the West End, is surrounded by elegant buildings designed by John Nash for the Prince Regent (hence its name) and contains the Zoological Gardens (the London Zoo). Other important open spaces in London, some of them royal parks, include Green Park, St James’s Park, Hampstead Heath, Holland Park, Battersea Park, Parliament Hill Fields, and Primrose Hill. In outer London there are some extended green areas such as Richmond Park, Bushey Park, Kew Gardens (incorporating the famous Royal Botanic Gardens), and Greenwich Park.
London University was founded in 1837 and is the largest university in Britain, comprising many prominent colleges, institutes, and schools. These include the medical schools attached to London’s teaching hospitals (such as the ancient foundations of Guy’s, St Thomas’s, and St Bartholomew’s), and other renowned centres of educational excellence, including University College London; King’s College; the Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine; and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Other universities located in the capital include the City University, the University of East London, the University of Greenwich, Kingston University, London Guildhall University, Middlesex University, the University of North London, South Bank University, Thames Valley University, and the University of Westminster. The Royal College of Art, next to the Royal Albert Hall, awards postgraduate degrees.
London is also the home of the British Academy, which promotes historical, philosophical, and philological studies; the Royal Academy (of fine arts); the Royal Academy of Engineering; and the Royal Society, devoted to the encouragement of the sciences.