City 46: City of Westminster


Safe between the paws of the lion. Trafalgar Square circa 1996.

Safe between the paws of the lion. Trafalgar Square circa 1996.

Like Henry VIII I have a fondness for archery and occasionally I’m called upon to take groups and run archery sessions. From the outset I get my guys and dolls to go for gold. And that’s how I think of Westminster, as the bullseye in the centre of the target that is London. A city within a city.

London needs to be assembled like a meccano set in the mind, I would suggest. On any map of England head for the Ring of Power that is the M25 and then move beyond it to the periphery. Circling the M25 are the six home counties; Hertfordshire on the North side, Surrey with its picturesque hills to the South, Kent with its marshes to the East and South East, Essex to the North East, Buckingham to the North West  and Berkshire to the West. Each county offers its own unique approach to the Big Smoke. Coming from Staffordshire, if you take the M1 you’ll go via Herts, down the M40 and its Bucks. Whichever way you go, if you go by car, and not train and you go by day the likelihood is that you’ll hit congestion at some point and end up bored or raging as you inch closer to your target destination. 

Once inside the seething circuit of the M25 you’re within Greater London, home to some eight million people and once you cross over into the City of Westminster that reduces down to some 261,000 souls. Upon first studying a map of the City I was intrigued by the creation of its boundary lines, particularly what was in and what was out. For instance Kensington Palace looks to be out whilst Kensington Gardens are most definitely in. Unlike London, which has Roman bones, Westminster only became a city in 1540 in the reign of… you guessed it, that archery-loving, lamprey-munching, wife-beheading tyrant, Henry, 8th of his name. 

My favourite map of the city is a 1;22,000 scale map revealing Westminster’s open spaces. Created by a company called Groundwork, it is beautifully realised, chock full of details and easy to read, as many maps are not. Furthermore it reveals which are public and which private spaces. As 98% of this country is in private hands and barred to the merry men and women of this sceptred isle this is good to know.  The southern boundary of the City is revealed to be the middle of the Thames, to the North the London Borough of Camden, to the East is the City of London and to the West, where setteth the sun in its diurnal round, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. 

For City 25, the City of London, I am taking Greater London, within the boundary of the M25 as my stomping ground. Due to my numerous trips to the great city over the years I will not be choosing nine points of interest but nine years of interest with their attendant adventures and reflections. For City 46, the City of Westminster I will be focusing on specific buildings, features, places and spaces within the purview of aforementioned boundaries. Even a cursory glance at the City will reveal that it is full of iconic names, many of which populate the Monopoly Board. Incidentally this game was an American invention only anglicised and popularised by the Parker Brothers in 1935. 

Any city, as well as being a spatial entity, exists in other dimensions too. Obviously it has a social dimension and beyond that a temporal dimension. Rome is referred to as the Eternal City but this is equally true of London. The names of its Kings and Queens, its great commanders, inventors, writers, scientists and explorers are to be found in the name of its buildings, roads, statuary and parks. As such it is living history and walking its streets an invitation to remember and reconstruct times past in the present moment. 


Latest comments

14.10 | 16:13

I know. I see that it's all over but concealed. Not part of a cities authorised biography or daily propaganda.

14.10 | 16:09

Ah thia latter letter reminds me of a man Iknew in Lichfield - now departed totally - he too was being hounded and oppressed and taken to court for nothing. See it isn't just Leeds!!

14.09 | 02:52

A joy to read Stu. Not only an expert tour guide (I have walked the Scottish Highlands with you twice) but a masterful storyteller who merges time and place into a kaleidoscope of imagery & metaphor.

13.09 | 17:29

Its so lovely to hear from you Mike and Jan. Your offer is very kind as are your memories of the trip we shared.

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