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Encyclopedia > London, England
For other uses, see London (disambiguation).

London — containing the City of London — is the capital of the United Kingdom and of England and a major "world city". With over seven million inhabitants (Londoners) in Greater London area, it is amongst the most densely populated areas in Western Europe. Founded as Londinium, the capital of the Roman province of Britannia, it later rose to become the centre of the British Empire. Today it generates over 17% of the GDP of the UK's economy, the world's fourth largest, and is a major financial centre along with New York and Tokyo. For several centuries now, London has been one of the most influential powers in politics, finance, arts and fashion and it remains so today.

The Palace of Westminster seen across the River Thames is one of the iconic images of London


The term "London" was used for hundreds of years to refer to the conurbation centred on the small City of London in the historic county of Middlesex. Today, it usually refers to the administrative area known as Greater London, but is sometimes used to mean the area within the London postal district, the area covered by the 020 area code (formerly 0171 and 0181; before that 071 and 081; even earlier 01), the area covered by an all-zone Transport for London Travelcard, the area within the M25 motorway, or the larger London commuter belt.

The coordinates of the centre of London (traditionally considered to be Charing Cross, near Trafalgar Square) are approximately 51°30' N, 0°8' W although the Romans marked the centre with the London Stone in the City.


Main article: History of London

The city of Londinium was founded by the Romans on the north bank of the River Thames in around AD 50. Although there is no evidence of a large pre-Roman settlement, the name is thought to be pre-Roman. It is believed to have become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia in the early second century. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman city was virtually abandoned and a Saxon town named Lundenwic was established a mile or two west in the Aldwych area in the 7th century AD. The fortified Roman City of London was reoccupied around the late 9th or early 10th century, whereafter it resumed its role as England's biggest city (although not its capital - Winchester served as capital until the 12th century). In 1666, a devastating fire swept through the city, destroying a large part of it. Re-building the city took over 10 years but by the 18th century London was the largest city in the world.

Over the years, London has increased dramatically in size, absorbing meadows, woodlands, villages and towns and spreading outwards in every direction. Outward growth has been physically interrupted (though by no means halted) through the definition of a Green Belt. In recent years development has been concentrated in the London Docklands and Thames Gateway areas of East London.

Modern London

Today the Greater London administrative area comprises the City of London and 32 London boroughs including the City of Westminster. The City of London, also known as the "square mile", is predominantly the financial centre, and geographically a very small area. Although bustling during the working week, the City of London is usually much calmer on the weekends.

The London that most tourists see is Central London, which comprises the historic City of London, the West End with all its theatres, shops and restaurants, the City of Westminster and its Royal palaces, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with its museum quarter and Hyde Park and the newly emerging Bankside area of Southwark with the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern and other attractions.

In contrast, the East End has played host to successive waves of immigrants for centuries and contains some of the UK's most deprived areas. The Isle of Dogs is, however, witnessing unprecedented commercial change and many restaurants, music and comedy clubs are injecting a more varied atmosphere. See also gentrification. The East End is centred on the Borough of Tower Hamlets and Hackney.


London was the most populous city in the world from 1825 until 1925, when it was overtaken by New York City.

Residents of London are known as 'Londoners'. On census day, 2001, the City and the 32 boroughs (some 1579 kmē or 610 sq. miles) had 7,172,036 inhabitants, making London one of the most populous cities in Europe alongside Moscow, Istanbul and Paris.

In the 2001 census 71% of these seven million people classed their ethnic group as white, 10% as Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani, 5% as black African, 5% as black Caribbean, 3% as mixed race and 1% as Chinese. The largest religious groupings are Christian (58.2%) and No Religion (15.8%). 21.8% of inhabitants were born outside the European Union.

Unlike many other countries, the UK does not provide national metropolitan area population figures based on commuter percentages and economic influence. This is left up to each individual city to define.

Unfortunately, this has created much confusion when comparing London's true metropolitan area region with others around the world. It is helped even less by the name "Greater London" for the political entity of the "City Proper", which is often confused as a metropolitan area.

Without a specific National reference to London's metropolitan area, many different sources provide alternate definitions. One such common definition decribes the London metropolitan area (6,267 sq. miles, 16,043 sq. kilometres) with a population of 13,945,000 - larger than the combined populations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is the largest metropolitan area in Europe, and one of the World's largest 20. (external references: [1] (http://www.demographia.com/dm-lonarea.htm), [2] (http://www.lbwf.gov.uk/demography/census/london/london_boroughs_census2001.pdf))

However, in 2004, the Government of Greater London has officially defined their metropolitan area with a population of approximately 18million people, including a large portion (though not all of) the South East England and East England regions (As described in the "London Plan" from the Mayor of London external link below. This area is similar in size to many large North American metropolitan area's.) (external references:[3] (http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/strategies/sds/london_plan/lon_plan_all.pdf),[4] (http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/strategies/sds/london_plan/lon_plan_1.pdf),[5] (http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/strategies/sds/draft_london_plan/dlp_ch1.pdf))

Panorama of London taken from the London Eye


Greater London is divided into 32 London boroughs and the City of London, which are responsible for running most services in their respective areas.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) is the London-wide body responsible for co-ordinating the boroughs, and is responsible for running London-wide services such as emergency services, transport, and strategic planning.

The GLA consists of the elected Mayor of London and the elected London Assembly, which scrutinises the mayor. The mayor is elected by the Supplementary Vote system while the assembly is elected by the Additional Member System.

The current mayor of London Ken Livingstone was elected as an independent candidate in 2000. Despite opposition from all the main political parties and the press, his enormous popularity with Londoners made the election a foregone conclusion. Expelled from the Labour Party after standing against the official Labour candidate in the 2000 election, he was re-admitted in 2004, and was re-elected as Mayor under the Labour banner in the election later that year.

The GLA was established in 2000 as a replacement for the former Greater London Council (GLC) which was established in 1965 and abolished in 1986 after several high-profile clashes between the GLC (also then lead by Livingstone) and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.

Between 1986-2000 there was no central administrative body for London, and it was governed in piecemeal fashion by the individual boroughs and unelected agencies.

The Mayor and the Assembly will likely be in conflict with one or more Boroughs from time to time: they had each enjoyed "unitary status" and a fair degree of autonomy since the GLC was abolished.

Historically London was governed by the Metropolitan Board of Works (1855-1889) and then the London County Council (1889-1965).

From the Boundary Commission of England and Wales: Population of London, 1881 (http://www.londonancestor.com/misc/bc-pop.htm)



London Heathrow - The World's Busiest International Airport

London City Airport, Heathrow, Biggin Hill, and Northolt lie within the London boundary. Of these, Heathrow is the city's principal airport and is also a major international hub. It is currently the busiest international terminal in the world, and a fifth terminal (with a sixth being proposed) is being built on the site.

Other airports, such as London Gatwick Airport, London Luton Airport, and London Stansted Airport, as well as those at Manston and Southend, incorporate "London" into their name, but the towns where they are situated (Crawley, Luton and Stansted respectively) lie some distance from London.

Special train stations built at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted help to offset their distance from the capital and thus spread scheduled airline services across the region.


The London Underground at Green Park station

The London public transport system is one of the few systems in the world to be a tourist attraction; its infrastructure, however has always been financially stretched and under-resourced, leading to difficulties and delays in making journeys. However, in recent years the London Rail/Tram network has seen substantial spending.

London has a vast rail network generally regarded as the second largest in the world after Tokyo. This rail network is split into four sections:

  • Mainline
  • Underground (known as the 'Tube')
  • Tramlink
  • Docklands Light Rail

Transport for London runs the London Underground (the world's first metro or underground rail network), also known as the Tube. Government proposals to place the Underground network under a "public-private partnership" arrangement have encountered widespread opposition.

All four parts of the rail network are undergoing upgrades and expansions to counter London's congestion problems. Important examples include the Crossrail and Channel Tunnel Rail Link projects.

See also:

London by night as seen from outer space
Click picture above for larger version


The red double decker buses are now run by private companies, although it is a requirement that the buses still be painted (mostly) red. However the famous "Routemasters" have now mostly been taken out of service. London is also well-known for its black cabs.

Transport for London introduced a road pricing scheme (the Congestion Charge) in February 2003, which is levied on traffic entering Central London during peak hours. The intention was to alleviate chronic traffic congestion and initial indications are that traffic levels have dropped by over 10%.


The Festival Pier on the River Thames

The River Thames flows through London on its way to the North Sea. The river is easily navigable and so London has historically been a major port.

London has several smaller rivers which feed into the River Thames. However, many of these rivers have been built over, and so now only exist in underground pipes (see Subterranean rivers of London).

London also has an extensive canal network, with important routes such as the Regent's Canal linking the Thames with other major rivers.


London is home to 11 professional football clubs, which are named after the district in which they play (except for Arsenal, who play in Highbury, Chelsea who play in Fulham, and Crystal Palace who play in Norwood). Those currently in the top division (the Premier League) are Arsenal, Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, and Tottenham Hotspur. The clubs outside the Premier League are Brentford, Millwall, Queens Park Rangers, Leyton Orient and West Ham United - all of whom have at one time played in the top division. Wimbledon F.C., in a controversial move, left London in 2003 to play in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, changing their name to Milton Keynes Dons F.C., and the newly formed AFC Wimbledon inherited most of their support, despite playing at a much lower level in the football pyramid. London was one of the venues for the World Cup in 1966, and the European Football Championship in 1996, and hosted the final of both tournaments. London also hosted the European Cup final in 1968, 1978 and 1992.

London is home to many major sporting venues including Lord's, home of Middlesex and the Marylebone Cricket Club, and The Oval, home of Surrey. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which hosts the Wimbledon Championships, is based in Wimbledon. Twickenham is the home of English Rugby Union and Wembley Stadium, being rebuilt, is the home for international football and Rugby League. London hosts one of the world's largest mass-participation road races, the London Marathon.

London has twice hosted the Summer Olympics, in 1908 and 1948. It is one of the cities bidding to host the 2012 Games.



London has five professional symphony orchestras; the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There are also several chamber orchestras, some of which specialise in period instrument performances, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The principal orchestral music venues are the Royal Festival Hall, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which are both in the South Bank Centre; the Barbican Centre; and the Royal Albert Hall, which hosts the Proms each Summer. Chamber music venues include the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre; the Wigmore Hall and St. John's, Smith Square.

The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is home to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. The other main opera company is the English National Opera. In the summer opera is performed in a temporary pavilion by Holland Park Opera, and there are occasional performances by visting opera companies and small freelance professional opera companies.

In addition, London contains some of the world's premier music conservatoires including the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The major venues for contemporary dance productions include the Sadler's Wells Theatre and the Barbican Centre.


London hosts several festivals, fairs and carnivals throughout the year. The most famous is the Notting Hill Carnival, the world's largest carnival. The carnival takes place over the August bank holiday weekend, and attracts almost 2 million people. It has a distinctly Afro-Caribbean flavour, and highlights include a competition between London's steelpan bands and a 3 mile street parade with dancing a music.

There are also large parades held on St. George's Day (23rd April) and St. Patrick's Day (17th March).

The Dance Umbrella is held every October, and features a vareity of dance companies putting on displays across London.

In additon there are many smaller fairs and parades, including the Christmas Without Cruelty Fayre, a fair held annually to promote animal rights.


There are over three dozen major theatres, most concentrated in the West End (see the articles West End Theatre and List of London venues). West End theatres are commercial ventures and show musicals, comedy and serious drama. The subsidised or non-commerical theatre includes the National Theatre, which is based at the South Bank; the Royal Shakespeare Company which is based in Stratford, but presents seasons in London; The Globe, a modern reconstruction of the home of Shakespeare's troupe; The Royal Court Theatre which specialises in new drama; the Old Vic; and the Young Vic. London also boasts a vibrant fringe theatre culture including places such as the Battersea Arts Centre, The UCL Bloomsbury, The Place, and Tricycle Theatre.


The British National collection of Western Art to 1900 is held at The National Gallery. Other major collections of pre-1900 art are The Wallace Collection; the Courtauld Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art; and Dulwich Picture Gallery. The national collection of post-1900 art is at Tate Modern and the national collection of British Art is at Tate Britain. The National Portrait Gallery has a collection of portraits of all periods.

In addition to Tate Modern major contemporary art venues include White Cube, the Saatchi Gallery, and The ICA.

The west face of Westminster Abbey


The main museums include the British Museum (antiquities from all over the world), the Victoria and Albert Museum (applied arts), the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and the Museum of London. There are over 260 museums in London.


Apart from the pubs and clubs, there are a number of music venues including Shepherds Bush Empire, Brixton Academy, Hammersmith Apollo, Wembley Arena, The Marquee, The UCL Bloomsbury, Mean Fiddler, Albert Hall and the London Astoria.


The City of London or "Square Mile" is the financial centre of London, home to banks, brokers, insurers and legal and accounting firms. A second financial district is developing at Canary Wharf to the east of central London. This is much smaller than City of London, but has equally prestigious occupants, including the global headquarters of HSBC.

Non-financial business headquarters are located throughout central London. Some are in City of London, but more are located further West, in and around Mayfair, St James's, The Strand and elsewhere. More than half of the UK's top 100 listed companies (the FTSE) are headquartered in central London, and more than 70% in London's metro region. London is a leading global centre for professional services, and media and creative industries.

Tourism is one of the UK's largest industries, and in 2003 employed the equivalent of 350,000 full time workers in London [6] (http://www.visitbritain.com/).

While the Port of London is now only the third largest in the United Kingdom, rather than largest in the world, it still handles 50 million tonnes of cargo each year. The main docks are now at Tilbury which is outside the boundary of Greater London.

London's economy generates 116,444 million pounds annually, and accounts for 17% of the UK's Gross Domestic Product - see Economy of the United Kingdom. (external link London Development Authority (http://www.lda.gov.uk/)).

London tourist attractions

Other places of interest:

  • The Old Bailey The Central Criminal Court with famous trials but inconvenient for the unprepared tourist since personal items prohibited include bags and mobile phones.
  • Tyburn was the location for many infamous executions by hanging.
  • Thames House and SIS Building, home to the intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 respectively.
  • Battersea Power Station and the Millennium Dome are two architecturally interesting buildings which currently stand empty. However mixed use developments centred on both buildings are due to commence in 2005. The Millennium Dome will become an indoor sports hall, and Battersea Power Station will become a shopping and leisure facility.

Prominent exhibitions

  Results from FactBites:
London - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (6794 words)
There are other definitions of "London" for special purposes, such as the London postal district; the area covered by the telephone area code 020; the area accessible by public transport using a Transport for London Travelcard; the area delimited by the M25 orbital motorway; the Metropolitan Police district; and the London commuter belt.
London's two Anglican bishops are the Bishop of London, whose see is London north of the Thames, and whose throne is in London's grandest church, the baroque St Paul's Cathedral (designed by Sir Christopher Wren), and the Bishop of Southwark, who tends to Anglicans south of the river.
London was one of the venues for the World Cup in 1966, and the European Football Championship in 1996, and hosted the final of both tournaments.
London, city, England. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05 (1530 words)
Greater London includes the area of the former county of London, most of the former county of Middlesex, and areas that were formerly in Surrey, Kent, Essex, and Hertfordshire.
Medieval London saw the foundation of the Inns of Court and the construction of Westminster Abbey.
During the Victorian era, London acquired tremendous prestige as the capital of the British Empire and as a cultural and intellectual center.
  More results at FactBites »



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