Today, “London” usually refers to the London region of England, which is coterminous with Greater London. At the heart of the conurbation is the small, ancient City of London which was historically the entirety of the city. Londoners generally refer to the City of London simply as “the City” or the “Square Mile”. London’s metropolitan area grew considerably during the Victorian era and again during the Interwar period with expansion halted in the 1940s by World War II and Green Belt legislation and has been largely static since.
The extent of the London postal district, Metropolitan Police District, local government area, London transport area, urban sprawl, coverage of the London telephone area code and metropolitan area have rarely been coterminous and are not currently. The area delimited by the orbital M25 motorway is sometimes used to define the “London area” and the Greater London boundary has been aligned to it in places. London is split for some purposes into Inner London and Outer London.
The co-ordinates of the centre of London (traditionally considered to be the original Charing Cross, near the junction of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall) are approximately 51°30′29″N, 00°07′29″W. The Romans may have marked the centre of Londinium with the London Stone in the City.
The entire London urban area may be classed as a “city” using a geographical definition, but politically it is not so. Officially, London is a region containing two smaller cities within its built-up area: the City of London and the City of Westminster (see City status in the UK).
Unlike most capital cities, London’s status as the capital of the UK has never been granted or confirmed officially — by statute or in written form. Its position as the capital has formed through constitutional convention, making its position as de facto capital a part of the UK’s unwritten constitution.
Geography and climate
Main articles: Geography of London and Climate of London
The River Thames, London’s primary geographical feature.Greater London covers an area of 609 square miles (1,579 km²). Its primary geographical feature is the Thames, a navigable river which crosses the city from the southwest to the east. The Thames Valley is a floodplain surrounded by gently rolling hills such as Parliament Hill and Primrose Hill. These hills presented no significant obstacle to the growth of London from its origins as a port on the north side of the river, and therefore London is roughly circular.
The Thames was once a much broader, shallower river with extensive marshlands. It has been extensively embanked, and many of its London tributaries now flow underground. The Thames is a tidal river, and London is vulnerable to flooding. The threat has increased over time due to a slow but continuous rise in high water level by the slow ’tilting’ of Britain (up in the north and down in the south) caused by post-glacial rebound. The Thames Barrier was constructed across the Thames at Woolwich in the 1970s to deal with this threat, but a more substantial barrier further downstream may be necessary in the near future.
London has a temperate climate with regular but generally light precipitation throughout the year. The warmest month is July, with an average temperature range at Greenwich of 13.6 °C-22.8 °C (56.5–73.0 °F). The coolest month is January, averaging 2.4 °C-7.9 °C (35.6–46.2 °F). Average annual precipitation is 583.6 mm(22.98 inches), with February on average the driest month. Snow is uncommon, particularly because heat from the urban area can make London 5 °C hotter than the surroundings.
See also: Inner London and Outer London
Main articles: Central London, City of London, West End, East London, East End, Docklands, West London, North London, South London
A view of Paternoster Square from the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.London’s vast urban area is often divided into a large set of districts (e.g. Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Whitechapel, among dozens of others). These are for the most part informal designations which have become commonplace through tradition, with no official boundaries. One area of London which does have a strict definition is the City of London (usually just called The City), the principal financial district of the UK. The City has its own governance and boundaries, giving it a distinctive status as a “city within a city”. London’s other financial hub is the Docklands area in the east of the city, dominated by the Canary Wharf complex, whilst many other businesses locate in the City of Westminster which is the home of the UK’s national government.
The West End (actually in Central London, in the City of Westminster) is London’s main entertainment and shopping district, with locations such as Oxford Street, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus acting as tourist magnets. The West London area, further out from the centre, is now known for fashionable and expensive residential areas such as Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea — where properties sell on average for over £800,000.
Meanwhile, the eastern side of London contains the East End — the area closest to the original Port of London, known for its high immigrant population, as well as for being one of the poorest areas in London. The surrounding East London area, of which the East End is seen to form a part, saw much of London’s early industrial development, and is currently part of the Thames Gateway regeneration that includes the 2012 Olympics. North London and South London are informal divisions of the capital made by the River Thames, although they can define varying areas.
See also: Architecture in London and List of tallest structures in London
The density of London varies across the city, with high employment density in the city centre, high residential densities in inner London and lower densities in the suburbs. In the dense areas, most of this density is achieved with medium-rise buildings; high-rise buildings are not the norm, even in employment centres, and thus skyscrapers such as the City’s “Gherkin” and Tower 42 and Canary Wharf’s 50-story One Canada Square generally stand out in the skyline.
However, developments of tall buildings are encouraged in the London Plan, which will lead to the erection of many new skyscrapers over the next few years as London goes through a high-rise boom, particularly in the two financial centres, the City of London and Canary Wharf. The the 72-storey, 310m “Shard London Bridge” by London Bridge station, the 288m Bishopsgate Tower and around 30 other skyscrapers over 150m are either proposed or approved and could transform the city’s skyline.
The buildings of London are a collection of different styles accumulated mostly over the time since the Great Fire in 1666. Although the City is characterised by 18th and 19th century architecture, there are a number of examples of more modern construction, such as the Lloyd’s building. London’s focal point is the mid-19th century Trafalgar Square, marked with Nelson’s Column and the site of major demonstrations and street events in the capital.
Parks and gardens
Main articles: Parks and open spaces in London and Royal Parks of London
London has a number of open spaces scattered throughout the city. The largest of these in the central area are the Royal Parks of Hyde Park and its neighbour Kensington Gardens at the western edge of central London, and Regent’s Park on the northern edge. More central are the smaller Royal Parks of Green Park and St. James’s Park. Hyde Park in particular is popular for sports and sometimes hosts open-air concerts. A number of large parks outside the city centre are also notable, including the remaining Royal Parks of Greenwich Park to the south east, and Bushy Park and Richmond Park to the south west. Some more informal, semi-natural open spaces also exist, including the 791-acre Hampstead Heath of north London.
Main article: History of London
Although there is some evidence of scattered pre-Roman settlement in the area, the first major settlement was founded by the Romans in AD 43, following the Roman invasion of Britain. This settlement was called Londinium, commonly believed to be the origin of the present-day name, although a Celtic origin is also possible.
Aethelred the Unready, whose army pulled down London BridgeThe first London lasted for just seventeen years. Around AD 61, the Iceni tribe of Celts led by Queen Boudica stormed London, burning it to the ground. The next, heavily-planned incarnation of the city prospered and superseded Colchester as the capital of the Roman province of Britannia in AD 100. However, by the 3rd century AD, the city started a slow decline due to trouble in the Roman Empire, and by the 5th century AD, it was abandoned.
By 600 AD, the Anglo-Saxons had created a new settlement (Lundenwic) about 1km upstream from the old Roman city, around what is now Covent Garden. There was probably a harbour at the mouth of the River Fleet for fishing and trading, and this trading grew until disaster struck in 851 AD, when the new city’s ramshackle defences were overcome by a massive Viking raid and it was razed to the ground. A Viking occupation twenty years later was short-lived, and Alfred the Great, the new King of England, established peace and moved the settlement within the defensive walls of the old Roman city (then called Lundenburgh). The original city became Ealdwīc (“old city”), a name surviving to the present day as Aldwych.
Subsequently, under the control of various English kings, London once again prospered as an international trading centre and political arena. However, Viking raids began again in the late 10th century, and reached a head in 1013 when they besieged the city under Danish King Canute and forced English King Aethelred the Unready to flee. In a retaliatory attack, Aethelred’s army achieved victory by pulling down London Bridge with the Danish garrison on top, and English control was re-established.
Canute took control of the English throne in 1017, controlling the city and country until 1042, when his death resulted in a reversion to Anglo-Saxon control under his pious step-son Edward the Confessor, who re-founded Westminster Abbey and the adjacent Palace of Westminster. By this time, London had become the largest and most prosperous city in England, although the official seat of government was still at Winchester.
Norman and medieval London
The Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.Following a victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror, the then Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England in the newly-finished Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. William granted the citizens of London special privileges, whilst building a castle in the southeast corner of the city to keep them under control. This castle was expanded by later kings and is now known as the Tower of London, serving first as a royal residence and later as a prison.
In 1097, William II began the building of Westminster Hall, close by the abbey of the same name. The hall proved the basis of a new Palace of Westminster, the prime royal residence throughout the Middle Ages. Westminster became the seat of the royal court and government (persisting until the present day), whilst its distinct neighbour, the City of London, was a centre of trade and commerce and flourished under its own unique administration, the Corporation of London. Eventually, the adjacent cities grew together and formed the basis of modern central London, superseding Winchester as capital of England in the 12th century.
After the successful defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, political stability in England allowed London to grow further. In 1603, James I came to the thrones of both England and Scotland, essentially uniting the two countries. His enactment of harsh anti-Catholic laws made him unpopular, and an assassination attempt was made on 5 November 1605 — the famous Gunpowder Plot.
Plague caused extensive problems for London in the early 17th century, culminating in the Great Plague in 1665-1666. This was the last major outbreak in Europe, possibly thanks to the disaster that immediately followed in 1666. A fire (the Great Fire of London) broke out in the original City and quickly swept through London’s wooden buildings, destroying large swathes of the city (and killing off much of the disease-carrying rat population). Rebuilding took over ten years.
Rise of modern London
A London street hit during the Blitz of World War IILondon’s growth accelerated in the 18th century, and was the world’s largest city from about 1831 to 1925. This growth was aided from 1836 by London’s first railways which put small countryside towns within easy reach of the city. The rail network expanded very rapidly, and caused these places to grow whilst London itself expanded into surrounding fields, merging with neighbouring settlements such as Kensington. Rising traffic congestion on city centre roads led to the creation of the world’s first metro system — the London Underground — in 1863, driving yet further expansion and urbanisation.
London’s local government system struggled to cope with the rapid growth, especially in providing the city with adequate infrastructure. Between 1855 and 1889, the Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw infrastructure expansion. It was then replaced by the County of London, overseen by the London County Council, London’s first elected city-wide administration.
The Blitz and other bombing by the German Luftwaffe during World War II killed over 30,000 Londoners and flattened large tracts of housing and other buildings across London. The rebuilding during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was characterised by a wide range of architectural styles and has resulted in a lack of architectural unity that has become part of London’s character. In the same period, extensive immigration, primarily from the Commonwealth, changed the demographic mix of the city. In 1965 London’s political boundaries were expanded to take into account the growth of the urban area outside the County of London’s borders. The expanded region was called Greater London and was administered by the Greater London Council.
An economic revival from the 1980s onwards re-established London’s position as an eminent trading centre. However, as the seat of government and the most important city in the UK, it has been subjected to bouts of terrorism. IRA bombers sought to pressure the government into negotiations over Northern Ireland, frequently disrupting city activities with bomb threats — some of which were carried out — until their 1997 ceasefire. More recently, a series of coordinated bomb attacks were carried out by Islamic extremist suicide bombers on the public transport network — just 24 hours after London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics.
See also: Category:London Government
City Hall at night, headquarters of the Greater London Authority.
Political parties controlling the London borough councils as of 2006.The administration of London takes place in two tiers — a city-wide, strategic tier and a local tier. City-wide administration is coordinated by the Greater London Authority (GLA), whilst local administration is carried out by 33 smaller districts.
The GLA is responsible for strategic planning, policing, the fire service and transport. It consists of two elected parts — the Mayor of London, who has executive powers, and the London Assembly, who scrutinise the Mayor’s decisions and can accept or reject his budget proposals each year. The GLA is a recent organisation, having been set up in 2000 to replace the similar Greater London Council (GLC) which was abolished in 1986.
The current Mayor of London is Ken Livingstone, who is in his second term of office. He was elected in 2000 as an independent candidate and again in 2004 as a Labour candidate. Ken Livingstone was also the leader of the GLC when it was abolished.
The 33 local administrations are the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. They are responsible for local services not overseen by the GLA (except for health, which is nationally-controlled and administered in London by five Strategic Health Authorities). The boroughs are controlled by resident-elected local councils, whilst the City is run by the historic Corporation of London, which is elected by both residents and businesses. The City has its own police force distinct from the GLA-controlled Metropolitan Police (or “Met”).
At a national level, London is represented in Parliament by 74 MPs who correspond to local parliamentary constituencies (for a list of London constituencies, see List of Parliamentary constituencies in Greater London). London is the centre of national government, which is located around the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Many government offices are located close to Parliament, particularly along Whitehall and including the Prime Minister’s famous residence on Downing Street.
London has “sister city” agreements with the following cities:
New York City since 2001
Berlin (since 2000)
Beijing (since 2006)
Tokyo (since 2006)
Further information: Economy of the United Kingdom, Media in London and Tourism in London
Bishopsgate, in the City of London.London is Europe’s largest city economy. The city itself generated £181 billion in 2004 which was 19% of the UK’s GDP, whilst the entire London metropolitan area generated approximately £280 billion — 30% of UK GDP — in 1999. Londoners have the highest average income in Great Britain – an average of £38,586 per household.
London’s biggest industry is finance, and its financial exports make it a large contributor to the UK’s balance of payments. The City is the largest financial centre in London, home to banks, brokers, insurers and legal and accounting firms. A second, smaller financial district is developing at Canary Wharf to the east which includes the global headquarters of HSBC, Reuters, Barclays and the largest law firm in the world, Clifford Chance. London handled 31% of global currency transactions in 2005 — an average daily turnover of US$753 billion — with more US dollars traded in London than New York, and more Euros traded there than every other city in Europe combined. 
London is host to many company headquarters. More than half of the UK’s top 100 listed companies (the FTSE 100) and over 100 of Europe’s 500 largest companies are headquartered in central London, and over 70% of the FTSE 100 are located within London’s metropolitan area.
Along with professional services, media companies are concentrated in London (see Media in London) and the media distribution industry is London’s second most competitive sector. The BBC is a key employer, and other broadcasters also have headquarters around the city. Many national newspapers are edited in London, having traditionally been associated with Fleet Street in the City, but they are now primarily based around Canary Wharf. Soho is the centre of London’s post-production industry.
Tourism is one of London’s largest industries and employed the equivalent of 350,000 full-time workers in London in 2003, whilst annual expenditure by tourists is around £15bn. London is a popular destination for tourists, attracting 27m overnight-stay visitors every year.
From once being the largest port in the world, the Port of London is now only the third-largest in the United Kingdom, handling 50 million tonnes of cargo each year. Most of this actually passes through Tilbury, outside the boundary of Greater London.
Main articles: Demographics of London and Religion in London
Hindu temple at Neasden, the largest temple of Hinduism outside India.With increasing industrialisation, London’s population grew rapidly throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, and was the most populated city in the world during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some 7,420,600 people were estimated to live in London as of 2004 at an overall density of 4,697 people per square kilometre.
It has historically been known as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, and this continues in the modern day, with more than 300 languages spoken and 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000 living in London. In the 2001 census, it was shown that 40% of London’s population classified themselves as non-British, with 37% classified as non-white.
In terms of religion, London is historically dominated by Christianity, and consequently has a large number of churches, particularly in the City. The famous St Paul’s Cathedral in the City and Southwark Cathedral south of the river are Anglican administrative centres, whilst important national and royal ceremonies are shared between St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is not to be confused with nearby Westminster Cathedral, a relatively recent edifice which is the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in England and Wales.
Despite this dominance, London is also home to sizeable Muslim, Hindu and Jewish communities. Many Muslims live in Tower Hamlets and Newham; the most important Muslim edifice is London Central Mosque on the edge of Regent’s Park. London’s large Hindu community is found in the north-western boroughs of Harrow and Brent, the latter of which contains Europe’s largest Hindu temple, Neasden Temple. The majority of British Jews live in London, with significant Jewish communities in Stamford Hill and Golders Green in North London.
Main article: Transport in London
Paddington Station, one of London’s major railway terminals.Transport is one of the four areas of policy administered by the Mayor of London, but the mayor’s financial control is limited. The public transport network, administered by Transport for London (TfL), is one of the most extensive in the world, but faces congestion and reliability issues, which a large investment programme is attempting to address, including £7 billion (€10 billion) of improvements planned for the Olympics.
The centrepiece of the public transport network is the London Underground, the oldest metro system in the world, upon which nearly 1 billion journeys are made each year. The Underground serves the central area and most suburbs to the north of the Thames, whilst those to the south are served by an extensive suburban rail network. Commuter and intercity railways generally do not cross the city, instead running into fourteen terminal stations scattered around its historic centre. The London bus network caters for most local journeys and carries even more passengers than the Underground.
Although the vast majority of journeys involving central London are made by public transport, travel in outer London is car-dominated. An inner ring road (the North and South Circular) and an orbital motorway (the M25) are intersected by a number of busy radial routes — but very few motorways penetrate inner London. In 2003, the congestion charge was introduced to reduce traffic in the city centre. With a few exceptions, motorists are required to pay £8 per day to drive within a defined zone encompassing much of central London.
London is an international transport hub, with five sizeable airports and a cross-channel rail service. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world for international traffic; such traffic is also handled at Gatwick, whilst Stansted and Luton cater mostly for low-cost short-haul flights. London City, the smallest and most central airport, is focused on business travellers. Eurostar trains link London Waterloo station with Lille and Paris in France, and Brussels in Belgium.
Main article: Education in London
The Royal School of Mines entrance at Imperial College London, part of the University of LondonLondon has the largest student population of any British city (about 378,000). It is home to a diverse range of universities, colleges and schools, and is a centre of research and development. Most primary and secondary schools in London follow the same system as the rest of England.
With 125,000 students, the University of London is the largest contact teaching university in the United Kingdom and in Europe. It comprises 20 colleges as well as several smaller institutes, each with a high degree of autonomy. Constituent colleges have their own admissions procedures, and are effectively universities in their own right, although all degrees are awarded by the University of London rather than the individual colleges. Its constituents include multi-disciplinary colleges such as UCL, King’s and Queen Mary and more specialised institutions such as Imperial, the LSE, the SOAS, the Royal Academy of Music and the Institute of Education.
London’s other universities, such as UEL, the University of Westminster and London South Bank University, are not part of the University of London. Some were polytechnics until these were granted university status in 1992, and others which were founded much earlier.
London is home to a number of important museums and other institutions which are major tourist attractions as well as playing a research role. The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (dealing with fashion and design) are clustered in South Kensington’s “museum quarter”, whilst the British Museum houses historic artefacts from around the world. The British Library at St Pancras is the UK’s national library, housing 150 million items. The city also houses extensive art collections, primarily in the National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern.
Society and culture
Main Article: Culture of London
Leisure and entertainment
Bond Street, one of Mayfair’s main shopping streets.Within the City of Westminster, the entertainment district of the West End has its focus around Leicester Square, where London film premieres are held, and Piccadilly Circus, with its giant electronic advertisements. London’s theatre district is here, as are many cinemas, bars, clubs and restaurants, including the city’s Chinatown district, whilst just to the east is Covent Garden, an area housing speciality shops and London’s “Avenue of Stars” which honours achievers in the entertainment industry.
London’s busiest shopping area is Oxford Street, a mainstream shopping street nearly 2km long. The adjoining Bond Street in Mayfair is a more upmarket location along with the Knightsbridge area – home to the Harrods department store – to the southwest. London has a number of markets, including Camden Market for fashions, Portobello Road for antiques and Borough Market for foods.
London offers a huge variety of cuisines as a result of its ethnically diverse population. Well-known gastronomic centres include the Bangladeshi restaurants of Brick Lane and the Chinese food of Chinatown. Soho offers a variety of relatively cheap international restaurants, whilst more upmarket restaurants are scattered around central London, with concentrations in Mayfair. Across the city, areas home to particular ethnic groups are often recognisable by restaurants, food shops and market stalls offering their local fare, and even the large supermarkets stock such items in areas with sizeable ethnic groups.
The Caribbean-descended community in Notting Hill in West London organises the colourful Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street carnival, every summer. The beginning of the year is celebrated with the relatively new New Year’s Day Parade, whilst traditional parades include November’s Lord Mayor’s Show, an centuries-old event celebrating the annual appointment of a new Lord Mayor of the City of London with a procession along the streets of the City, and June’s Trooping the Colour, a very formal military pageant to celebrate the (official) Queen’s Birthday.
Literature and film
Charles Dickens (1812-1870), whose works formed a pervasive image of Victorian LondonLondon has been the setting for many works of literature. Two writers closely associated with the city are the diarist Samuel Pepys, famous among other things for his eyewitness account of the Great Fire, and Charles Dickens, whose representation of a foggy, snowy, grimy London of street sweepers and pickpockets is a major influence on people’s vision of early Victorian London. James Boswell’s biographical Life of Johnson mostly takes place in London, and is the source of Johnson’s famous aphorism: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” The earlier (1722) A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is a fictionalisation of the events of the 1665 Great Plague. Later important depictions of London from the 19th and early 20th centuries are the afore-mentioned Dickens novels, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes stories. The 1933 novel Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell describes life in poverty in both cities. A modern writer pervasively influenced by the city is Peter Ackroyd, in works such as London: The Biography, The Lambs of London and Hawksmoor.
London has a thriving film industry, one of the largest in the English speaking world. The Central School of Speech and Drama, whose past students include several famous alumni Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (educators of Jim Broadbent and Donald Sutherland amongst others) and the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (past students including Joan Collins and Roger Moore).
Main article: Sport in London
No. 1 Court at the All England Club in WimbledonLondon has hosted the Summer Olympics twice, in 1908 and 1948. In July 2005 London was chosen to host the Games in 2012, which will make it the first city in the world to host the Summer Olympics three times. London was also the host of the British Empire Games in 1934.
London’s most popular sport (for both participants and spectators) is football. Six FA Premier League teams are from London — Arsenal, Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. London also has three rugby union teams in the Guinness Premiership (London Irish, Saracens and Wasps), although all now play outside Greater London, as well as a rugby league Super League club in Harlequins.
Wembley Stadium (which is currently being rebuilt) has traditionally been the home of the English national football team, and serves as the venue for the FA Cup final as well as rugby league’s Challenge Cup final. Twickenham Stadium in west London is the national rugby union stadium.
Cricket in London centres on its two Test cricket grounds at Lord’s (home of Middlesex CC) in St John’s Wood, and The Oval (home of Surrey CC) in Kennington.
One of London’s most well-known annual sports competitions is the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, held at the All England Club in the south-western suburb of Wimbledon. Other key events are the annual mass-participation London Marathon which sees some 35,000 runners attempt a 42-km course around the city, and the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race.
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