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London today

The River Thames

The banks of the Thames ring with gaiety as the river is once again an integral part of London life. Crowds drawn to the major riverside attractions marking the beginning of the third millennium admire the splendid views of the London skyline and enjoy the pleasure of ambling along the embankment as the tide ebbs and flows. New piers and pedestrian bridges and landscaped areas add to the vitality of the riverside.

Take a river boat to beat the traffic or to make a leisurely excursion, or visit countless venues ranging from trendy pubs and restaurants and fashionable designer shops to celebrated museums and world-class theatres and concert halls. At night enjoy an entertaining evening aboard cruisers offering supper, music and dancing and gaze at the illuminated landmarks along the waterway. Some of the ships moored along the river banks are entertainment venues while others are museums of great historical interest.

From the King’s Reach bend (at Waterloo Bridge) the view embraces two traditional monuments: to the east is the imposing dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and to the west the multi-turreted Houses of Parliament. Across the water, adding a note of fantasy to the south bank rises the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, which affords a unique panorama of London extending to the far horizon.

Events and Celebrations

Events on the Thames feature prominently in the social calendar. Tradition is kept alive with Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race , a long-established rowing contest from London Bridge to Chelsea, the Swan Upping ceremony at Teddington Lock (running since the 12C), when the beaks of the swans are marked by the guilds which own them (those owned by the Crown are left unmarked); both events are held in July.

Sporting challenges such as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (Easter) attract the crowds. Regattas are held up and down the river during the summer; the highlight of the season is the Henley Regatta (40mi/64km upstream).

The Greenwich and Docklands Festival features events on or by the Thames; the exotic Dragon Boat Races are a Chinese tradition introduced in London in recent years. For special celebrations, spectacular fireworks displays on the river light up the night sky.

A Changing Scene

The Thames, a major river in England (215mi/346km long), meanders gently through typically English countryside of low hills, woods, meadows, country houses, pretty villages and small towns. Marinas provide moorings for private craft and locks add to the fun of a leisurely outing on the river with majestic swans and other waterfowl gliding by.

By the time the river reaches London it is a broad tidal waterway bustling with activity; barges used to ply their trade along here, and today various craft offer daytime excursions downstream to the Tower, Greenwich and the Thames Barrier or upstream to Kew and Hampton Court or evening cruises with entertainment. At low tide the muddy banks are also frequented by archaeologists and treasure-seekers in search of precious artefacts, lost or discarded objects, old ship timbers and other salvage items. The Thames Barrier , an impressive engineering feat, was built to contain the high tides surging upstream at the equinox, which can cause severe flooding in low-lying areas of London, especially as the land mass is tilting slowly to the south east. The marshlands of the estuary are a haven for wintering birds, waterfowl and endangered species.

Old and new now coexist as modern developments rise side by side with the old docks and warehouses. The cowls of the Thames Barrier dominate the scene at Woolwich and imaginative conversions of wharves (Butler’s, Chelsea) and power stations (Bankside, Battersea, Lots Road) have turned these relics of the industrial era into the latest landmarks. Picturesque houseboats, formerly the homes of watermen and river pilots, provide desirable accommodation for the bohemian set.

Main Thoroughfare of London

Throughout the centuries the kings and nobles of England built palaces along the river from Greenwich to Hampton. Many of these grand buildings have been destroyed, but Ham House, Hampton Court and Syon Park still survive.

Until the late 17C the Thames was the capital’s main highway; the royal household, the City Corporation and the city livery companies had their own barges; ordinary citizens hired the services of the watermen who plied for hire at the many landing stages, called Stairs; cargo ships and men o’war added to the congestion. Old engravings show craft of every size, which once thronged the Thames.

The first regular steamer services began in 1816 and by mid-century were carrying several million people. On weekdays the boats were crowded with workers going into the docks and boatyards, the arsenal and south bank factories; fares were a penny from one pier to the next. At other times they carried families and friends for an evening trip or for an excursion, often to the estuary and seaside towns of Herne Bay, Margate and Ramsgate.

Pool of London

London’s history of importance is intertwined with its long use as a port. From the 16C to the mid-20C, the commercial prosperity of the city derived from the wharves and docks in the Pool of London stretching from London Bridge to Tower Bridge and the shipbuilding yards downstream. The yards at Deptford, founded by Henry VIII in 1513, grew rapidly and are associated with many historical events.

Merchantmen unable to sail under London Bridge or to approach the wharves across the mudflats, moored in midstream and depended on a vast fleet of lighters (3 500) for loading and unloading. This system provided many opportunities for pilfering by river pirates, night plunderers, scuffle hunters and mudlarks.

This river activity is a thing of the past: wharves and warehouses have gradually been rebuilt and transformed into business and shopping centres and World War II light cruiser HMS Belfast , moored along the South bank of the river, is an annexe of the Imperial War Museum.

Commercial Docks

The first enclosed commercial dock, designed to cut down the opportunities for theft, was built early in the 19C. By the end of the century, there were four systems of enclosed docks extending beyond Tower Bridge over 3 000 acres/1 214ha with 36mi/58km of quays and 665 acres/270ha of dock basins: London Docks (1864), Surrey Commercial Docks (1864), East and West India Docks (1838), Royal Docks (1855–80). During World War II the docks suffered severe damage from bombing.

By the 1960s closure threatened as a result of the transfer of cargo handling being transferred to specialised riverside wharves and the dock at Tilbury.

During the 1990s, some of the surviving docks have provided good facilities for various water sporting activities, including rowing at the London Regatta Centre. The City Airport, Excel Exhibition Centre and the Millennium Dome (now the 02 Arena) are all built on former docks.

Water Supply

In the Middle Ages water supplies came from the Thames, its tributaries and from wells (Clerkenwell, Sadler’s Wells, Muswell Hill). After 1285, conduits of leather or hollow tree trunks were provided by the City fathers to bring water from the Tyburn, Westbourne and Lee to lead cisterns in the City where it was collected by householders and by water carriers, who later formed a guild. During the next 300 years these provisions were augmented by private enterprise. The first pump driven by horses was set up in Upper Thames Street in 1594.

The Industrial Revolution brought steam pumping, gradually introduced from 1750 with cast-iron pipes: wooden mains could not sustain the higher pumping pressures. The widespread introduction of the water closet after 1820 resulted in sewage being discharged into the streams and rivers, polluting the water supply and bringing epidemics of typhoid and cholera (1832 and 1848). Filtration (1829), the requirement to draw water from the non-tidal river above Teddington (1856) and chlorination (1916) made London’s water safe to drink.

Today, supply is maintained by reservoirs situated on the periphery of London at Datchet (8 300 million gal/37 700million l), Staines, Chingford and Walthamstow. In 1974 the Thames Water Authority was constituted to take over from the Metropolitan Water Board (1903). It levied its own rate and was responsible for the management of the Thames throughout its length and for London’s water supply, sewage disposal and pollution control. The National Rivers Authority (Thames Region) was responsible for flood defence and pollution control from 1989/90 to 1996, when it was replaced by the Environment Agency. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s initiatives to clean up the pollution of the tideway were successful and meant that fish began to descend the stream and re-enter the estuary. Since 2006, some 125 species, including sole, cod, bass and even the odd seahorse have been documented in the Thames in a two-year study by the Environment Agency and London’s Zoological Society. Licences for eel fishing are in demand and salmon, in particular, have returned in quantity after an absence of more than 150 years; they were once so cheap and plentiful that apprentices complained of having to eat them every day.

River Crossings

London grew around a fishing village at Southwark, and the only crossing was by a wooden bridge built by the Romans. After the Norman Conquest (1066) Richmond Bridge was the first to span the river (1139) upstream; this was followed by Putney Bridge (1729) and Westminster Bridge (1750). Tower Bridge (19C) with its high-level walkway and hydraulic lifts is a major landmark. Albert Bridge, festooned by lights at night, was at the cutting edge of 19C progress with its cantilever suspension structure. The tallest liners can pass under Dartford’s Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (1991), the largest suspension bridge in Europe.

The building of the Rotherhithe Tunnel (Rotherhithe–Wapping), the first underwater tunnel by Marc Brunel (1824–43), and the foot tunnel (1902, Greenwich–Isle of Dogs) by his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, with its two distinctive cupolas, introduced innovative engineering techniques that were later refined for the construction of the Channel Tunnel. The original Hungerford Bridge was built by Brunel; two modernistic structures for pedestrians are elegant new features. The advanced design of the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, a steel suspension bridge, evolved from the collaboration of the architect Sir Norman Foster, the engineers Ove Arup and the sculptor Anthony Caro. Initially nicknamed “the wobbly bridge” after swaying with high volumes of pedestrians crossing was reported, the futuristic structure underwent modification and is now an architectural landmark, linking Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral on the north bank of the Thames.

A Recurring Theme

The Thames has inspired many artists: the celebrated views by Canaletto are of great historical interest; Monet and Turner were enthralled by the play of light on the water; the great bend of the Thames framed by idyllic scenery at Richmond was captured with great artistry by Reynolds and Turner; Whistler’s paintings of Battersea Bridge (entitled Nocturne ) are evocative works.

The following literary works and their writers found inspiration in the Thames; the plays of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, the musings of John Evelyn, Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, the poetry of Edmund Spenser, William Blake and TS Eliot, and the novels of Charles Dickens, Jerome K Jerome, Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf.


The Realm

Great Britain comprises England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

The United Kingdom , which is ruled from London’s Palace of Westminster, comprises England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but does not include the Channel Islands or Isle of Man, which have their own parliaments and are attached directly to the Crown. Major recent constitutional reforms include devolution of some powers to a Scottish Parliament and to a Welsh Assembly.


The United Kingdom is a constitutional Monarchy, a form of government in which supreme power is vested in the Sovereign (king or queen): in law the Sovereign is the head of the executive (government elected by a majority, headed by a prime minister and implemented by civil servants), an integral part of the legislature (the Houses of Commons and Lords responsible for deciding upon matters of law), head of the judiciary (Criminal and Crown Courts of law), commander-in-chief of the armed forces, temporal head of the Church of England and symbolic Head of the Commonwealth. In practice the role is strictly a formal one. During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), the monarch’s right in relation to ministers was defined as “the right to be consulted, to encourage and to warn.” The monarchy also acts as a last line of defence against coup as the monarch has the right to force the removal of a Prime Minister and call a new election in extreme circumstances.


The United Kingdom has no written constitution as such, but several important statutes underpin the institution and conventions of government: Magna Carta (1215) sealed the king’s promise to refrain from imposing feudal tax save by the consent of the Common Council of the Realm and instituted a fundamental human right: “To no man will we deny or delay right or justice”; the Petition of Right Act (1628) confirmed that no tax should be levied by the king without the consent of Parliament and that no person be detained without lawful cause; the Bill of Rights (1689) ensured ultimate supremacy of Parliament; the Act of Settlement (1701) established the independence of the law courts and regulated the succession to the Crown of England; the Race Relations Act (1968) aimed to prohibit prejudice on account of race, colour or ethnic origin; the Representation of the People Act (1969) gave the vote to all persons over the age of 18 listed on the electoral register save acting members of the House of Lords and those incapacitated through insanity or imprisonment.

The supreme legislature is Parliament, consisting of two bodies: the House of Commons and the House of Lords within the Palace of Westminster. Regular Parliament meetings were assured after the Bloodless or Glorious Revolution (1688), when Parliament repealed James II’s rule by “divine right” and appointed William III and Mary II; both houses were dominated by “landed gentry” until the 19C (MPs were paid a salary from 1911).

House of Commons

Since the 17C two major parties have been predominant in Parliament (Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition) with Tories and Whigs, Conservatives and Liberals, Conservatives and Labour vying for power; representatives of other parties contribute to debates and may be lobbied for support by party whips to carry motions when opinion is equally divided.

Since 1992 the United Kingdom has been divided into 651 constituencies calculated to hold approximately 65 000 voters. A Member of Parliament (MP) is elected by a majority vote secured at a General Election to appoint a new government or at a by-election if the seat falls vacant in the interim. Government term is for a maximum of five years.

The House is presided over by the Speaker, appointed at the beginning of each session. MPs sit on parallel benches: members of the government cabinet sit in the first row opposite the members of the shadow cabinet (frontbenchers) while members of their respective parties sit behind (backbenchers). Their combined function is to decide upon legislation: each act is subjected to two Readings, a Committee and a Report Stage and a Third Reading before going to “the Other House” and obtaining Royal Assent.

House of Lords

A major reform of the House of Lords is under way. The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the rights of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House. An amendment enabled 92 hereditary peers, Lords Temporal , to remain in the House until a Royal Commission reports on the role, functions and composition of the second chamber.

Life Peers include the Lords of Appeal (Law Lords) and distinguished persons honoured for service to the Land (since 1958); the Lords Spiritual are the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England.

This body of the legislature debates issues officially without the bias of party politics. It also acts as the highest court of appeal in the land, although only the Law Lords are involved in such proceedings. The main body of the legal establishment, the Royal Courts of Justice and Chambers reside between Westminster and the City, where the Strand gives way to Fleet Street.

Local Government

Since the early Middle Ages the City has been administered by the Corporation of the City of London. After the Dissolution of the monasteries (1539) Westminster and Southwark, the other urban districts, were given into the care of newly appointed parish vestries , which differed in character and probity.

Their powers overlapped and were insufficient to control, even where they thought it necessary, the speculators who erected tall houses with inadequate sanitation, which thus polluted the water supplies, and let off each room to one or often several families. Conditions were not, of course, uniformly bad – the “good life” was led with considerable elegance in St James’s and Whitehall, in Mayfair, Marylebone, Knightsbridge, Kensington and westwards beyond.

By the 19C reform began, spurred on by traffic congestion and the dangers of poor sanitation. In 1855 the Government established a central body, the Metropolitan Board of Works , with special responsibility for main sewerage.

Slum clearance began as new roads were built to ease traffic congestion. Through its chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette , the board reconstructed the drainage system for central London and built the embankments.

In 1888 the County of London was created with the London County Council (LCC) as the county authority with responsibility for an area equivalent to the present 12 inner London boroughs (Outer London has 19 boroughs).

In 1965, in the newly defined area of Greater London, the LCC was superseded by a regional authority, the Greater London Council (GLC). Greater London comprised the former County of London and former local authority areas surrounding London, in all a total of 610sq mi/1 579km, with a population of about 6.7 million.

Following the 1983 general election the structure of local government was reformed by Margaret Thatcher, and the GLC and other metropolitan councils were abolished (1986). The GLC’s functions were devolved largely to the borough councils.

For more than a decade London was without a voice. A referendum in 1998 proved in favour of an elected mayor for London and elections were held in 2000. Since then, London has had an elected Mayor (currently Boris Johnson) whose chief functions are transport, policing, fire and emergency planning, economic development, planning, culture, environment and health. His work is assisted and carefully monitored by a 25-strong elected Greater London Assembly.

Greater London is made up of 32 boroughs, which currently have responsibility for education (excluding the universities), personal welfare services, housing, public health, environmental planning and traffic management.

Discussions are ongoing about whether the Mayor will also take increasing responsibility for policing, housing and education in the city, moving much of the power in the city away from the boroughs into a more centralised control.

Local Taxation

In 1601 a statute was passed requiring householders to pay rates to provide a dole for vagrants and the destitute, since the traditional almoners, the monastic foundations, had been suppressed by Henry VIII in 1539. For centuries the major part of the levy was employed for the relief of the poor; in 1813 out of £8.5 million raised nationally, £7 million went in relief and only £1.5 million on all other local necessities. Today, the Council Tax that supports local government is levied per property, whether owned or rented and is based on price bands. The Greater London Authority is financed by government grant and council tax.

Urban Improvements

The so-called Improvement Acts of 1762 began the transformation of every street in the capital. Paving became the responsibility of the parish vestries, who replaced the deep central drains (kennels) with shallow underground sewers and lateral gutters. They provided scavengers and sweepers to clear the streets of night soil and garbage, which were still thrown out of doors.

By the 17C streets were wider and, in all but the worst areas, cleaner; the squares were cleared of accumulated refuse and were enclosed and planted.

The same 1762 Acts also instituted house numbering and street lighting. Change had begun in 1738 with the installation by the vestries of 15 000 oil-fed lamps with cotton wicks that burned from sunset to sunrise in such main thoroughfares as Oxford Street. In 1807, 13 gas lamp-posts were set up in Pall Mall. Seventy years later (1878) electricity was available and the first major street lighting project was inaugurated with the illumination of the Embankment.

One of the greatest and least visible improvements to the city came after three bouts of cholera killed over 30,000 people and the “Great Stink” of 1858, when Joseph Bazalgette proposed, designed and built the London sewer system, a design copied across the world.

The corollary to the 1762 Improvement Acts came with the passage of the Clean Air Acts (1956, 1962) controlling the burning of coal in furnaces and open grates, so banishing the notorious London pea-soup fogs. Air quality in the capital has had a further boost with the introduction of the London Low Emission Zone in 2008, to deter lorries, coaches, large vans and other high-emission vehicles from driving in key areas. A daily charge (or penalty charge for non-payers) is levied for those vehicles wishing to drive in the zone that do not meet the LEZ emissions standard.


A century ago in the capital there were only the schools of ancient foundation such as Westminster (1371) and St Paul’s (1510), charity schools, Sunday schools and a few groups run by the Ragged Schools’ Union, founded in 1844, attended by an estimated 12.5% of the child population.

The Education Acts of 1870 and 1876 provided schools and laid upon parents the duty of seeing that their children “received elementary education in reading, writing and arithmetic” (the The Three Rs). Responsibility later devolved on the LCC (1903) and subsequently (1965) on the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) for Inner London. When ILEA was disbanded in 1986 education in inner London became the responsibility of the individual boroughs as it is in outer London. Under later legislation some schools opted out of local authority control. In 2005, discussions began on the possibility of transferring control of education in Greater London to the Mayor’s office and Greater London Assembly. Today, London faces challenges in its state school system: the problems of struggling schools in less affluent inner city areas are exacerbated by high property prices that mean teachers can’t afford to live near to their work. Recruitment drives to attract and train more teachers and the Mayoral Key Worker Living Scheme, aiming to provide affordable housing, are under way in 2009 to offset these problems.

Living in London

Green London

London is a very green city endowed with millions of trees, mostly cypresses, sycamores, ash, plane and cherry. The Royal Parks include St James’s, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens at the very heart of Inner London, while Regent’s Park, Holland Park, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park and Bushy Park extend beyond.

Many residential areas in the inner city are built around garden squares, most either lined by houses, completely hidden from the road, or locked behind high railings and only accessible to local householders with a key. Some, in areas taken over by business, are now open to all and are popular summer picnic sites among local workers, desperate for an hour of sunshine with their sandwiches. In addition many residential streets are tree-lined, while the English – gardeners to the core – insist in many cases on having lowrise houses with small back gardens and some residential areas in the outer suburbs still have allotments, areas set aside to rent out for growing vegetables.

There are some 3 500 acres/1 416ha of “common land”. These are preserved today in local “commons” such as Streatham Common and Tooting Bec in south London.

Most parks are tended by the borough councils and some have sports facilities: football and cricket pitches, bowling greens, golf courses, tennis courts, bandstands, children’s summer zoos and playgrounds.

In 1977 the first ecological park was created out of inner city wasteland, turning it into a renewed natural refuge where urban wildlife could thrive, bringing nature to the city-dweller for serious study or simple enjoyment; similar in purpose are the city farms.

In the 1930s a Green Belt (840sq mi/2 179sq km) was designated to run through the home counties encircling London at a radius of 20–30mi/32–48km. Although in some sections the belt has disappeared completely, it has had some success in defining the limits of London and halting the metropolitan sprawl. However, with an estimated 70 000 new homes now needed in southeast England, the Green Belt is under greater threat from the developers than at any time since it was first created.Environmental focus in London has increased over the past decade. The Recycle for London initiative was launched in 2003 by the Mayor to encourage recycling, and many London Boroughs now run their own programmes, with recycling banks, green box collections and other schemes. The Low Emissions Zone aims at improving air quality by taxing high-emission vehicles. Conversely, plans for a controversial third runway at Heathrow Airport have led some to argue that these benefits may be outweighed by a potential increase in carbon emissions. The debate continues...

The City

There is little room within the square mile for parks but since 1878 superb tracts of land “for the recreation and enjoyment of the public” have been acquired: Epping Forest (6 000 acres/2 400ha), Highgate Wood (70 acres/28ha), Queen’s Park in Kilburn (30 acres/12ha), West Ham Park (77 acres) among others. The Corporation has also converted Bunhill Fields into a garden; it maintains a bowling green at Finsbury Circus, and has created gardens and courts in churchyards (Postman’s Park by St Botolph’s) and in the shells of blitzed or deconsecrated churches: 142 patches of green with over 2 000 trees.

Social Life

The green open spaces scattered across the city greatly contribute to London’s social life: each of the many villages that were joined together and progressively formed the city has its own park, green or common and sometimes garden square which becomes the centre of social life as soon as the sun comes out. Sport, music, summer fairs, picnics, jumble sales... bring local residents from all walks of life together in a collective celebration of nature.

Another aspect of London that enriches its social life is its cosmopolitan character: it has always attracted people from countries around the globe who have integrated into its social fabric, and today it has the largest number of immigrants of any city in the world. This accounts for the great diversity of the capital’s social and cultural events. Some of these events, such as the Brick Lane Festival (Bengali) or the Notting Hill Carnival (Jamaican), reach far beyond the communities that initiated them and have become part of the very traditional and very British London Season.

The Season goes back to the 16C and 17C, when London began to influence taste and fashion in the rest of the country. It originally coincided with the sitting of Parliament, starting soon after Christmas and finishing around mid-summer. It concerned the upper social classes and included social and charity events, opera and theatre performances as well as ballroom dances during which aristocratic families hoped to find suitable and advantageous matches for their sons and daughters of marrying age.

Today, the Season has considerably changed: it extends from April to August, is accessible to a wide public and main events are now mostly sponsored by major companies. An early event is the Chelsea Flower Show in May; the cultural scene boasts Glyndebourne (a quintessential south-east England event), the Proms (a series of concerts given at the Albert Hall) and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition . In June, Trooping the Colour celebrates the Queen’s Birthday; sporting events include the Boat Race between Putney and Mortlake (rowing), the Lord’s Test Match (cricket), the Wimbledon Tennis Championship and the Henley Royal Regatta .

There were times during the long history of the city when being a Londoner took on a deeper meaning, when people of various origins and walks of life found a common ground in the face of adversity and responded with courage and determination: such was the case during the Blitz of 1940–41, when 30 000 civilians were killed, or during the wave of IRA bombings in the 1970s–80s and again during the terrorist bombings in July 2005.

Throughout the year, the social life of London rolls continuously; the Theatreland of the West End dazzles with the latest shows and musicals, the ENO and Royal Opera House host world-class ballet and opera performances, and music and performance of all varieties fill The South Bank, Royal Albert Hall, 02 Arena and Wembley Stadium. Smaller venues, such as the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 02 Brixton Academy and The Forum in Kentish Town provide alternative live music and gigs, stamd-up comedy shows and sporting events, such as Snooker.

Dining out is also a major part of the London social scene, from Michelin-starred restaurants to the buzz of small eateries and lively bars in places such as Soho. With the introduction of the indoor smoking ban in 2006, the streets are even more lively on warm evenings and weekends now, with many establishments putting tables outside to sit at – both for smokers and those who embrace café culture, despite the sometimes chilly temperatures.

London tomorrow

Even in uncertain global economic times, London continues to move forward with determination. As a world capital, the pace of life quickens relentlessly, entrepreneurial spirit prevails and people are working harder than ever: Britain has the longest working hours in Europe. Yet this is offset by the capital’s natural dynamism, which stimulates regeneration programmes and projects, from new shopping centres, such as the vast Westfield Centre, to Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 5, and revamped entertainment venues such as the 02 Arena , Wembley Stadium and the Royal Festival Hall . And, of course, all eyes are on preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games, a vast and creative challenge for the capital: the site chosen for the Olympic village and the stadia, located 3mi/5km east of the City, covers an area larger than Hyde Park .

The Crossrail project to build two major new rail connections in the city was initially aimed to help provide access to the Olympic sites and alleviate some of the pressure on London’s transport system. When finished, the two east-west tunnels will connect Paddington to Liverpool Street Station and Hackney to Chelsea. However, whether the building work will be finished in time to serve the games is currently under some speculation.

Cosmopolitan London

London has attracted people from the four corners of the earth who have integrated into the London social fabric. The city has more than 35 ethnic groups with a population of over 100 000, leading to one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan communities in the world.

African and Caribbean

The Afro-Caribbean communities that originally settled in Brixton and Notting Hill have since spread out all over the city, especially in northwest and south London. The Notting Hill Carnival is an international event. The lively markets in Brixton, Shepherd’s Bush, north end of Portobello Road and Tooting are packed with exotic produce. The Africa Centre in King Street, Covent Garden, provides a concert venue for music and entertainment, and a craft shop. The arts of Africa are on display at the British Museum and at Forest Hill‘s Horniman Museum .


London’s Jewish community was well established at the time of the Norman conquest (1066) and, after many difficulties throughout the ages, has become an economic force through hard work and perseverance. The principal Jewish communities now reside in northwest London: Golders Green, Hendon, Stanmore, Barnet, Redbridge, and around.

The Jewish Museumgives an introduction to the history and culture of London’s Jewish community. The museum has recently undergone extensive renovation, but walking tours, temporary exhibitions, events and activities are still being held in partnership with different organisations.

Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi

Principal communities are located in the East End of London (Shoreditch and Whitechapel), Tooting, Shepherd’s Bush, Southall and Ealing. Foodstuffs, fashion and crafts are available in London. The area around Brick Lane in the East End, and Southall are notable for their restaurants. The Neasden Temple (Sri Swaminarayan Mandir, off the North Circular), the first traditional Mandir temple in Europe, opened in 1995.

There are displays of the most exquisite jewellery and artefacts at the Victoria and Albert Museum and an exhibition on Hinduism – daily life, sacred places and devotional practices in Southern India at the Horniman Museum .

Far Eastern

Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Filipino communities thrive in London. At the heart of the capital is Chinatown a, an asian enclave that offers all kinds of services (legal advice, traditional medicine, supermarkets) and hosts the annual celebration of Chinese New Year. Limehouse in the East End is the area where the Chinese first settled.

Japanese expatriates, who live mostly in the affluent suburbs to the west and northwest, run their own schools and shops (Oriental City, 399 Edgware Road, NW9). Japanese designer stores (Muji) are famous for simple forms, practical raw materials and plain colours.

The Percival David Foundationis dedicated to the appreciation and study of Chinese culture.

Important collections of Far Eastern art are on view at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum . The Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park and Wimbledon‘s Thai temple are distinctive landmarks.


Soho and parts of north London have been the preserve of Italian, Greek and Cypriot immigrants for decades. Spaniards and Portuguese have congregated around the top end of Portobello Road, while Greek shopkeepers have been attracted to the vicinity of Aghia Sophia on Moscow Road, W2.

Middle Eastern

The Edgware Road and the Bayswater area, Shepherd’s Market, Kensington High Street and Westbourne Grove are frequented by the Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian, and Iranian communities. The golden dome of the Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque (146 Park Road, NW8) dominates the skyline in Regent’s Park and there are mosques in Whitechapel and other areas of the city. The Ismaili Centre in South Kensington promotes Islamic culture. Rich collections of Islamic art are exhibited at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum .

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