You might think you know London – Western Europe’s largest city and a powerhouse of commerce, fashion and culture. But the UK’s capital has always had a complex personality. Ask six people what London is and you’ll get a dozen different answers. So how do you define London?
How London began
The Celts might have got the ball rolling: according to 12th-century writer of myth and history Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Celtic King Lud founded the town, modestly naming it Caer Lud or Kaerlundein. It’s certainly true that the area we now know as London was inhabited millennia ago – ancient relics have been unearthed at sites including Southwark, south of the River Thames.
It wasn’t until the Romans founded the port of Londinium on the north bank of the Thames in AD 43 that a permanent population arrived. Five centuries later the Saxons took over the reins of Lundenwic, basing themselves west of the old Roman city walls. But those first three settlements weren’t even in the same place – they were different proto-Londons.
And it’s still confusing: many visitors never even set foot in the true City of London – the legal and commercial centre based around the site of the old Roman settlement. The majority of the attractions of the West End – museums, galleries, theatres and shops – lie in the City of Westminster, west of the Temple Bar Memorial on Fleet St that divides the two central boroughs.
So: London is the combined City of Westminster and City of London? Well, that’s not the whole story. Even seven centuries ago, overflow was spreading south of the Thames, outside both cities.