Most people would think of London as one great big city, but there are really two cities within London: the City of London and Greater London. The City of London in many ways is the “original” London. When the Romans came in 43 A.D., they created the settlement of Londinium and built walls for protection. The London Wall essentially formed the edges of the city. In fact, the City of London itself does not extend much beyond the Wall and certainly not below the Thames.
Following his domination of London, William the Conqueror built what is perhaps London’s first landmark, The Tower of London. At the time, its multiple-stories were designed to remind Londoners who was in charge. Perhaps the most influential moment of in the City of London’s history was the Great Fire of 1666, which raged for days and destroyed about 60% of the city, including Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. As the city was rebuilt, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt St. Paul’s and many other churches within the city.
As the population of London grew, the original City of London couldn’t hold everyone and began to expand outward. Many cities existed outside of London began to be absorbed into the growing metropolis while maintaining their own administration. The cities finding themselves part of the new London included the City of Westminster, Shoreditch, Greenwich, Bethnal Green, Islington, Fulham, Chelsea, Hammersmith, Paddington, Kensington, and more. By 1889, the administrative district of the County of London was formed and only eleven years, later, the county was divided into the City of London and 28 metropolitan boroughs.
By 1965, the County of London and the County of Middlesex were abolished and combined into what is now known as Greater London. In essence, what was the County of London essentially became ceremonial and Greater London became a city in its own right. Well before this point, however, the administration of both cities was kept separate. Perhaps the first real distinction between them was with the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Created by Sir Robert Peel, the Metropolitan Police was created to police the area beyond the City of London. Even today, the police service for the City of London and Greater London are separate. As part of this, while the head of the Metropolitan Police carries the rank of Commissioner, the only other person in England with that title is the Commissioner of the City of London Police Service.
The cities are run by two separate administrative firms. The City of London is governed by the City of London Corporation, while Greater London is governed by the Greater London Authority. They both have separate mayors and governing bodies. Presently, the Lord Mayor of the City of London is Fiona Woolf, while Boris Johnson holds the title of Mayor of London, the “Lord” title dropped to distinguish the two positions. Each borough within Greater London maintains its own borough council, the GLA was created to coordinate the local authorities and the Mayor of London was created to give the city one person to represent it. With the creation of the GLA in 2000, the Lord Mayor title became largely ceremonial and the Mayor of London is the most powerful city official in the region.
Despite being only one square mile, the City of London is governed by the Court of Aldermen (consisting of 25 Aldermen elected for a period of six years) and the Court of Common Council (consisting of 100 Common Councilmen elected among the city’s wards). Meanwhile, the Greater London Authority has the Greater London Council with 25 elected assembly members. While the Mayor, Boris Johnson, belongs to the Conservative Party, the Labour Party controls the Assembly with 12 members. The rest of the Assembly includes 9 Conservatives, 2 members of the Liberal-Democrats, and 2 members of the Green Party.
City services are also divided, with the GLA solely responsible for passenger transport and fire response. The GLA and the CLC both handle housing, strategic planning, transport planning, and highways. The City of London and other boroughs’ councils are responsible for all other city services. The GLA coordinates land use planning throughout Greater London and it’s the responsibility of the Mayor of London to produce the strategic plan, dubbed “The London Plan” to which the boroughs (including the City of London) must comply. Additionally, the London Sustainable Development Commission exists to craft the city’s energy policy and reduce emissions.
In the end, London is more than just one city. The story of London is one of two cities of the same name—and many other cities as well. As the city grew, its administration changed to handle the massive metropolis it formed. Now what we think of London includes both the City of London and Greater London.