Westminster

Westminster is a district in central London; part of the wider City of Westminster, north of the River Thames.[1] It is home to one of the highest concentrations of visitor attractions and historic landmarks in London, including: the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.

Westminster
Hdr parliament.jpg
The Palace of Westminster
Westminster Abbey St Peter.jpg
Western façade of Westminster Abbey
Westminster is located in Greater London
Westminster
Westminster
Location within Greater London
OS grid referenceTQ295795
• Charing Cross0.58 mi (0.9 km) NEbE
London borough
Ceremonial countyGreater London
Region
CountryEngland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLONDON
Postcode districtSW1
Dialling code020
PoliceMetropolitan
FireLondon
AmbulanceLondon
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
UK
England
London
51°29′41″N 00°08′07″W / 51.49472°N 0.13528°W / 51.49472; -0.13528Coordinates: 51°29′41″N 00°08′07″W / 51.49472°N 0.13528°W / 51.49472; -0.13528

The name Westminster (Old English: Westmynstre)[2] originated from the informal description of the abbey church and royal peculiar of St Peter's (Westminster Abbey), located west of the City of London (until the Reformation there was also an Eastminster, near the Tower of London, in the East End of London). The abbey was part of the royal palace that had been created here by Edward the Confessor. It has been the home of the permanent institutions of England's government continuously since about 1200 (High Middle Ages' Plantagenet times), and from 1707 the British Government.

In a government context, Westminster often refers to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, located in the UNESCO World Heritage Palace of Westminster — also known as the Houses of Parliament. The area is the centre of Her Majesty's Government, with Parliament in the Palace of Westminster and most of the major Government ministries known as Whitehall, itself the site of the royal palace that replaced that at Westminster.

HistoryEdit

For a list of street name etymologies for Westminster see Street names of Westminster

The development of the area began with the establishment of the Abbey on a site then called Thorney Island, the choice of site may in part relate to the natural ford which is thought to have carried Watling Street over the Thames in the vicinity.[3] The Island and surrounding area became known as Westminster in reference to the church.

Legendary originEdit

The legendary origin[4] is that in the early 7th century, a local fisherman named Edric (or Aldrich), ferried a stranger in tattered foreign clothing over the Thames to Thorney Island. It was a miraculous appearance of St Peter, a fisherman himself, coming to the island to consecrate the newly built church, which would subsequently develop into Westminster Abbey. He rewarded Edric with a bountiful catch when he next dropped his nets. Edric was instructed to present the King and St. Mellitus, Bishop of London with a salmon and various proofs that the consecration had already occurred . Every year on 29 June, St Peters day, the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers presents the Abbey with a salmon in memory of this event.[5]

Recorded originEdit

The recorded origins of the Abbey date to the 960s or early 970s, when Saint Dunstan and King Edgar installed a community of Benedictine monks on the site.[6]

Between 1042 and 1052, King Edward the Confessor began rebuilding St Peter's Abbey to provide himself with a royal burial church. It was the first church in England built in the Romanesque style. The building was completed around 1060 and was consecrated on 28 December 1065, only a week before Edward's death on 5 January 1066.[7] A week later, he was buried in the church; and, nine years later, his wife Edith was buried alongside him.[8] His successor, Harold II, was probably crowned in the abbey, although the first documented coronation is that of William the Conqueror later the same year.[9]

 
St Peter's Abbey at the time of Edward's funeral, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry

The only extant depiction of Edward's abbey, together with the adjacent Palace of Westminster, is in the Bayeux Tapestry. Some of the lower parts of the monastic dormitory, an extension of the South Transept, survive in the Norman Undercroft of the Great School, including a door said to come from the previous Saxon abbey. Increased endowments supported a community that increased from a dozen monks in Dunstan's original foundation, up to a maximum of about eighty monks.[10]

Royal seatEdit

 
Bird's-eye view of Westminster in 1909

The former Thorney Island, the site of Westminster Abbey, formed the historic core of Westminster. The abbey became the traditional venue of the coronations of the kings and queens of England from that of Harold Godwinson (1066) onwards.

From about 1200 the Palace of Westminster, near the abbey, became the principal royal residence, a transition marked by the transfer of royal treasury and financial records to Westminster from Winchester. Later the palace housed the developing Parliament and England's law courts. Thus London developed two focal points: the City of London (financial/economic) and Westminster (political and cultural).

The monarchs moved their principal residence to the Palace of Whitehall (1530–1698), then to St James's Palace in 1698, and eventually to Buckingham Palace and other palaces after 1762. The main law courts moved to the Royal Courts of Justice in the late-19th century.

Medieval and TudorEdit

The settlement grew up around the palace and abbey, as a service area for them. The parish church, St Margaret's Westminster served the wider community of the parish; the servants of the palace and abbey as well as the rural population and those associated with the high status homes developing on the road from the City. The area became larger and in the Georgian period became connected through urban ribbon development with the City along the Strand.

Henry VIII's Reformation in the early 16th century abolished the abbey and established a cathedral – thus the parish ranked as a "City", although it was only a fraction of the size of the City of London and the Borough of Southwark at that time.

Indeed, the cathedral and diocesan status of the church lasted only from 1539 to 1556, but the "city" status remained for a mere parish within Middlesex. As such it is first known to have had two Members of Parliament in 1545 as a new Parliamentary Borough, centuries after the City of London and Southwark were enfranchised.[11]

Victorian divideEdit

 
Part of Charles Booth's poverty map showing Westminster in 1889. The colours of the streets represent the economic class of the residents: Yellow ("Upper-middle and Upper classes, Wealthy"), red ("Lower middle class – Well-to-do middle class"), pink ("Fairly comfortable good ordinary earnings"), blue ("Intermittent or casual earnings"), and black ("lowest class occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals"). Booth coloured Victoria Street, with its new shops and flats, yellow. The model dwellings built by the Peabody Trust on the side streets off Victoria Street appear as pink and grey, signalling modest respectability, while the black and blue streets represent the remaining slum areas housing the poorest.[12]

Charles Booth's poverty map showing Westminster in 1889 recorded the full range of income- and capital-brackets living in adjacent streets within the area; its central western area had become (by 1850) (the) Devil's Acre in the southern flood-channel ravine of the Tyburn (stream), yet Victoria Street and other small streets and squares had the highest colouring of social class in London: yellow/gold. Westminster has shed the abject poverty with the clearance of this slum and with drainage improvement, but there is a typical Central London property distinction within the area which is very acute, epitomised by grandiose 21st-century developments, architectural high-point listed buildings[13] and nearby social housing (mostly non-council housing) buildings of the Peabody Trust founded by philanthropist George Peabody.

Local governmentEdit

 
Parishes and Places of the City and Liberty of Westminster, 1870
 
The Metropolitan Borough of Westminster was almost co-terminous with the older City and Liberty of Westminster, with ancient Oxford Street as the northern boundary.

Most of the parishes of Westminster originated as sub-divisions of St Margaret's parish, in the City and Liberty of Westminster, Middlesex.

The ancient parish was St Margaret; after 1727 this became the civil parish of 'St Margaret and St John', the latter a new church required for the increasing population. The area around Westminster Abbey formed the extra-parochial Close of the Collegiate Church of St Peter. Until 1900 the local authority was the combined vestry of St Margaret and St John (also known as the Westminster District Board of Works from 1855 to 1887), which was based at Westminster Town Hall in Caxton Street from 1883.[14]

The Liberty of Westminster, governed by the Westminster Court of Burgesses, also included St Martin in the Fields and several other parishes and places. Westminster had its own quarter sessions, but the Middlesex sessions also had jurisdiction. The area was transferred from Middlesex to the County of London in 1889, and the local government of Westminster was reformed in 1900, when the court of burgesses and the parish vestries were abolished, and replaced by the Metropolitan Borough of Westminster. The borough was given city status at the same time, allowing it to be known as the City of Westminster and its council as Westminster City Council — a title which was retained when it was merged with the boroughs of St Marylebone and Paddington in 1965.[15]

The City and Liberty of Westminster and the Metropolitan Borough of Westminster were very similar in extent, covering the parts of the wider modern City of Westminster south of the Oxford Street, and its continuations Hyde Park Place. The exception is that part of Kensington Gardens, south of that road, are part of Paddington.

Wider uses of the termEdit

Thus "Westminster", with its focus in public life from early history, is casually used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally. (The civil service is similarly referred to by the northern sub-neighbourhood it inhabits, "Whitehall".) "Westminster" is consequently also used in reference to the Westminster system, the parliamentary model of democratic government that has evolved in the United Kingdom and for those other nations, particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations and other parts of the former British Empire that adopted it.

The term "Westminster Village", sometimes used in the context of British politics, does not refer to a geographical area at all; employed especially in the phrase "Westminster Village gossip", it denotes a supposedly close social circle of members of parliament, political journalists, so-called spin doctors and others connected to events in the Palace of Westminster and Government ministries.

Panorama of Westminster taken from the roof of the Methodist Central Hall

Economy and land useEdit

The area has a substantial residential population. By the 20th Century Westminster has seen rising numbers of residential apartments with wealthy inhabitants. Hotels, large Victorian homes and barracks exist near to Buckingham Palace.

High CommissionsEdit

Westminster host the High Commissions of many Commonwealth countries:

Open spacesEdit

The district's open spaces include:

EducationEdit

Within the area is Westminster School, a major public school which grew out of the abbey, and the University of Westminster, attended by over 20,000 students.

Notable peopleEdit

ReferencesEdit

Notes
  1. ^ "London's Places" (PDF). London Plan. Greater London Authority. 2011. p. 46. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 April 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Manuscript C: Cotton Tiberius C.i". asc.jebbo.co.uk. Retrieved 24 November 2018. 'On þisum geare com Harold kyng of Eoforwic to Westmynstre'
  3. ^ "Loftie's Historic London (review)". The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. 63 (1, 634): 271. 19 February 1887. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  4. ^ http://www.choirschools.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Abbey-Fishy-Tale.pdf
  5. ^ pixeltocode.uk, PixelToCode. "Fishmongers' Company". Westminster Abbey.
  6. ^ Page, William (1909). "'Benedictine monks: St Peter's abbey, Westminster', in A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark". London. pp. 433–457. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  7. ^ Eric Fernie, in Mortimer ed., Edward the Confessor, pp. 139–143
  8. ^ Pauline Stafford, 'Edith, Edward's Wife and Queen', in Mortimer ed., Edward the Confessor, p. 137
  9. ^ "William I (the Conqueror)". Westminster-abbey.org. 2016. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  10. ^ Harvey 1993, p. 2
  11. ^ "Westminster | History of Parliament Online". www.historyofparliamentonline.org.
  12. ^ Richard, Dennis (2008). Cities in Modernity: Representations and Productions of Metropolitan Space. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-46841-1.
  13. ^ "OS Map with Listed Buildings". English Heritage. Archived from the original on 10 April 2011.
  14. ^ GLA planning report PDU/0583/01 Archived 17 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine 2003
  15. ^ "Local Government Act 1963". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
Bibliography
  • Manchee, W. H. (1924), The Westminster City Fathers (the Burgess Court of Westminster) 1585–1901: Being some account of their powers and domestic rule of the City prior to its incorporation in 1901; with a foreword by Walter G. Bell and 36 illustrations which relate to documents (some pull-outs) and artefacts. London: John Lane (The Bodley Head).
  • Davies, E. A. (1952), An Account of the Formation and Early Years of The Westminster Fire Office; (Includes black-and-white photographic plates with a colour frontispiece of 'A Waterman' and a foreword by Major K. M. Beaumont. London: Country Life Limited for the Westminster Fire Office.
  • Hunting, P. (1981), Royal Westminster. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Printed by Penshurst Press. ISBN 0-85406-127-4 (paper); ISBN 0-85406-128-2 (cased).

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit