Central London includes the West End, the City of Westminster and the City. This area is roughly bounded by the Underground Circle Line (the British call their underground “the tube”).
They say, the City is “the money of London”, the West End is “the goods of London”, the East End is “the hands of London”.
The City is often called the commercial and business heart of London. This is the area with lots of banks and offices. Every morning there are many clerks in suits hurrying to their offices. Very few people live there. Only some five thousand people live permanently in the City today, but nearly a million works there. In the day-time the streets of the city are crowded but late at night they are deserted. It is know as “the Square Mile” (its total area is 2.59 sq km = 1 sq mile).
The Royal Exchange, the Stock Exchange, Mansion House (official residence of the Lord Mayor), the Central Criminal Court (“The Old Bailey”) and the Bank of England are in the City. In front of the buildings of the Bank there is a monument to the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo and brought fame and glory to England.
In the centre of the City there is the Tower of London and St.Paul’s Cathedral.
The Tower of London is one of the most ancient buildings in London with very long history. For over 900 years the Tower has been a fortress and a royal palace, a prison and a place for execution, an arsenal, royal mint, menagerie and a safe for Crown Jewels. Now it is a museum.
The Tower of London had never had a chance to serve as a fortress and to resist an enemy’s attack.
The tower does not belong to the City historically. This fortress was built by William the Conqueror at the end of the 11th century. He built ‘it right at the Gates of the City to keep the unruly Londoners in fear.
Later the kings began to use it as a royal residence. They used to spend a night before coronation there.
In the centre of the Tower of London there is the famous White Tower which is the most ancient part of the Tower and the oldest building of London. William the Conqueror built it right away after his successful invasion. It is not white of course, it became dark with age. Its walls are four meters thick an now this building is a museum.
The Tower is also known as Bloody Tower because it once became a state prison and a place for executions for the greatest political leaders of the country. Among them were Sir Thomas More – great scientist was beheaded there, Sir Walter Raleigh – the famous sea captain spent more than twelve years in its walls. Lady Jane grey, who was the Queen of England for several days, was also kept here.
Only the ravens of the Tower remind of those dark years. Ravens have lived at the Tower of London for hundreds of years. There are six of them, according to the order of King Charles II. The state donates the money to feed the birds. All the visitors must be careful as the ravens are not tame and they do bite.
The ravens are taken particular care of because there is a legend that Great Britain will keep its might and glory until the ravens leave the Tower. If the ravens disappear, Great Britain will face a great tragedy. The Tower is guarded by the Yeomen Warders, who are often called “Beefeaters”. They are dressed in traditional medieval clothes of Tudor times. They work as guides and tell this story to the visitors.
Not far from the Tower of London there is Tower Bridge – a masterpiece of engineering skill. Tower Bridge was built at the and of the 19th century to match the medieval style of the fortress. This bridge is opened to let big ocean ships move up the Thames from the ocean. The territory between the Tower and the bridge is called the Pool for that reason.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is in the centre of London and is considered to be an architectural masterpiece.
After the Great Fire the City had to be built again. The commission of six architects was organized to the rebuilding and Sir Christopher Wren was the most talented of them. This architect drew a plan which greatly determined the look of today’s London though it was not realized in every detail. It was forbidden to build wooden houses in the City of London.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was the greatest work of Sir Christopher Wren. It is one of the largest churches in the world. Sir Wren was building the Cathedral for 35 years, completed it in 1711, and his aim was to build a church that could rival the great St. Peter Basilica in Rome. St. Paul was built of white stone as well as many other buildings in the City of London. But smoke and soot made the stones black and only the columns and edges were washed by the rain and remained white. That is how the building got its peculiar white – and – black look.
On top of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a high dome, which contains the Whispering Gallery, where whisper can be heard at a great distance.
Fleet street is famous all laver the world as the centre of British news services.
Barbican is a district of the City of London. Nowadays Barbican is one of the most beautiful districts of London. It is also famous for the Barbican Centre. The Barbican Centre is an enormous complex which contains two theatres (the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Symphony Orchestra), an art gallery, three cinemas, two restaurants and two exhibition halls.
The City of Westminster
Westminster area is also called the City of Westminster. It is the most important part of London, where Parliament and most government offices are located.
Westminster Abbey is regarded as the centre of this area. They say, the City was founded here near the monastery as far back as the 7th century.
In the 11th century King Edward the Confessor decided to build a great abbey church there. It was a monastery for a long time.
William the Conqueror was crowned there and since then many kings and queens of England followed this tradition. There is the ancient Coronation Chair beneath which there is the Stone of Scone (the ancient Scottish Coronation Throne) that was brought to England by King Edward I as a sign of defeat of Scotland.
Many English kings and queens and other famous statesmen, writers, scientists are buried in Westminster Abbey. Among them there are two queens: rivals Elizabeth I Tudor and Mary Stuart, Oliver Cromwell, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. It is famous for the Poet’s Corner, where most popular writers (Kipling, Chaucer, Hardy, Dickens), poets and musicians are buried.
Opposite Westminster Abbey there are the Houses of Parliament, which are often called the Palace of Westminster (or Westminster Palace). Westminster Palace was built in medieval days. It was a place of royal dwelling as early as the 11th century, which later became the meeting place of Parliament. It was destroyed many times by fire, and the foundation stone of the new Houses of Parliament was laid in 1840.
It is a beautiful building with two towers. In the north part of the Houses there is Victoria Tower. It is 104 meters high and the national flag is hoisted on its top when the Parliament is sitting. In the southern part of the building there is its clock tower, St. Stephen’s Tower with the famous Big Ben.
It’s interesting to know…
St. Stephen’s Tower is more often called Big Ben, which is actually the name of the largest bell on the clock tower and a part of the Great Clock of Westminster. Its official name is the Great Bell of Westminster. It is 13.5 tons. The origin of the name belongs to Sir Benjamin Hall, the chief Commissioner of Works, when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt in 1850. Sir Benjamin Hall was a very tall and stout man. His nickname was “Beg Ben”.
Parliament Square in front of the Palace of Westminster is famous for the monuments to great British statesmen. There is a monument to Oliver Cromwell and a monument to Winston Churchill.
Whitehall, the governmental street, begins from Parliament Square. Most British ministries like the Admiralty and official residences are situated here. The British Government itself is often called Whitehall.
Downing Street is very small and is usually associated with Whitehall. Downing Street (House N10) is the official residence of British prime ministers.
Down the Whitehall Street there is not less popular street called the Mall, the straightest and the broadest street in the central part of London.
Buckingham Palace (the Palace) is the official London residence of the Queen and the Royal family. When the Queen is at the residence the flag is flying on top of Buckingham Palace. It was a country residence of the Duke of Buckingham. But in the 19th century it was rebuilt for King George. The square in front of the Palace is decorated with Victoria Memorial built in 1911.
Trafalgar Square is the geographical centre of the British capital. The square was named “Trafalgar” to commemorate Admiral Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. There is the monument in the centre of the square known as Nelson’s Column. Around the monument there are four bronze bar-reliefs, representing scenes of Nelson’s life and death. The statue is guarded at the base by four bronze lions. Nelson was killed in the battle but the victory was won. The English consider Admiral Nelson to be a national hero for his victory in the war against Napoleon.
The National Gallery (a great picture museum) is situated on Trafalgar Square. It contains a wonderful collection of works from the British, French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish schools, which existed between the 13th and the 19th centuries.
Scotland Yard is the name of the police headquarters and the police itself.
Fleet Street is associated with British newspapers and is located between Westminster and the City.