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London is the capital city of the United Kingdom and of England and is
the most populous city in the European Union.
London is a leader in international finance, politics, education,
culture, entertainment, fashion and the arts and has considerable
influence worldwide. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s major
global cities, and has been an important settlement for nearly two
London has an estimated population of 7.5 million (as of 2005) and a
metropolitan area population of between 12 and 14 million. London has an
extremely cosmopolitan population, drawing from a diverse range of
peoples, cultures and religions, speaking over 300 different languages.
Residents of London are referred to as Londoners.
The city is a major tourist destination and an international transport
hub. It counts many important buildings and iconic landmarks such as the
Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace amongst its
attractions, along with famous institutions such as the British Museum
and the National Gallery.
Today, “London” usually refers to the region of England called London,
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 coordinates 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?N 0°8?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 technically 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
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
Geography and Climate
Greater London covers an area of 609 square miles (1,579 km?). 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
London has a temperate climate with regular but generally light
precipitation throughout the year. Snow is uncommon, particularly
because heat from the urban area can make London 5°C hotter than the
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 principle 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 and Piccadilly Circus acting as
tourist magnets. The actual West London region, further out from the
centre, is traditionally known for fashionable and expensive residential
areas such as Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea — amongst the most
expensive places to live in the country.
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
North London and South London are divisions of the capital made by the
River Thames although informally can cover varying areas.
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 is an important centre in the international economy. As Europe’s
largest city economy, it generated $365 billion in 2004 (17% of the UK’s
Gross Domestic Product) although this only refers to the city proper.
The economic impact of the entire London metropolitan area is far
higher, year-on-year accounting for approximately 30% of the UK’s GDP
or $642 billion (estimate) in 2004.
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. 35% of global currency transactions occurred in
London as of 2005 (an average daily turnover of $613 billion), with more
US dollars traded in London than New York, and more Euros traded there
than every 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. Over 70% of the
FTSE 100 are located within London’s metropolitan area. Media and
professional services are important sectors.
BBC London, the BBC’s local television news service on national channel
Much of the British media is concentrated in London (see Media in
London). The BBC is a key employer, and many 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. The
post-production industry in Soho is also strong, as is publishing.
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 F15bn. London is the world’s most
popular city 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. The main docks are now at Tilbury, which is outside
the boundary of Greater London.
With increasing industrialisation, London’s population grew rapidly
throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming the most
populated city in the world for a period in the late 19th century. 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 29% classifying themselves 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. A large Hindu community exists in Southall, West
London, and has constructed the largest Hindu temple in Europe, Neasden
Temple. The majority of British Jews live in London, with significant
Jewish communities in Stamford Hill and Golders Green in North London.
Parks and gardens
London is well endowed with open spaces. The eight Royal Parks of
London, covering over 5,000 acres of land, are former royal hunting
grounds which are now open to the public. Four of these — Green Park, St
James’s Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens — form a green strand
through the western side of the city centre, whilst a fifth, Regent’s
Park is just to the north. Many of the smaller green spaces in central
London are garden squares which were built for the private use of the
residents of the fashionable districts, but in some cases are now open
to the public.
The remaining (and largest) three Royal Parks are in the suburbs —
Greenwich Park to the south east, and Bushy Park and Richmond Park to
the south west. In addition to these spaces, a large number of
council-owned parks were developed between the mid 19th century and the
Second World War, including Victoria Park, Alexandra Park and Battersea
Park. Other major open spaces in the suburbs, such as Hampstead Heath,
Wimbledon Common and Epping Forest, have a more informal and
semi-natural character, having originally been countryside areas
protected against surrounding urbanisation. Some cemeteries provide
extensive green land within the city — notably Highgate Cemetery, burial
place of Karl Marx and Michael Faraday amongst others.
Completing London’s array of green spaces are two paid entrance gardens
— the leader is the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, whilst the royal
residence of Hampton Court Palace also has a celebrated garden.
Education & institutions
London has the largest student population of any British city (about
378,000), although not the highest per capita. It is home to a diverse
number of universities, colleges and schools, and is a leading centre of
research and development. Most primary & 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
over 50 colleges and institutes 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 most prestigious colleges are King’s, LSE, Imperial, SOAS and UCL;
while smaller member institutes include Queen Mary, the Institute of
Education, and Birkbeck College, which specialises in part time and
There are other universities, such as UeL, the University of Westminster
and London South Bank University, not part of the University of London,
some of which were polytechnics until UK polytechnics 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
important artefacts from around the world. The British Library at St
Pancras is the most important library in the country, housing 150
million items. The city also houses extensive art collections, primarily
in the National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern.
London has been the setting for many works of literature. The two
writers who are perhaps most 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 Life of Johnson is the most notable biography in
English. Most of it 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. Among modern
writers, perhaps the most pervasively influenced by the city is Peter
Ackroyd in works such as London: The Biography, The Lambs of London and
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