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.
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