One of the most central boroughs of London is also the center of British government, history, and culture. While the nearby area had been the site of various settlements since before the Romans, it began to take shape when Edward the Confessor began work on Westminster Abbey and the original Palace of Westminster. The current boundaries of Westminster were established as part of the London Government Act of 1963, which also created the Greater London Corporation, with both officially established in 1965. Still one of the most importantly boroughs in London, check out these ten interesting facts.
The City of Westminster has more than 11,000 listed buildings of architectural or historical importance. These include not only the Abbey and Houses of Parliament, but also Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews, the Victoria Memorial, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, the Wellington Arch, the Royal Albert Hall, and more. And that’s just a small sample of the Grade I listed buildings. Grade II includes other structures such as Broadcasting House and Covent Garden Market.
Covent Garden got its name because it was originally the market garden for the convent at Westminster Abbey.
Drowning in Beer
One of London’s worst disasters actually took place in Westminster. What is now the Dominion Theatre was the Horse Shoe Brewery in 1814. On 17 October, one of the iron rings holding a seven-metre vat of beer burst and upended another vat of beer, ultimately spilling the equivalent of 2.5 million pints of porter into the brewery and the nearby streets. The beer ended up filling people’s basements and destroying their homes. Ultimately, the disaster claimed nine lives.
The earliest surviving Blue Plaque can be found in the City of Westminster on King Street. It was placed in 1867 to mark where the late French emperor lived at 1c King St.
The Palace of Westminster, where the House of Lords and the House of Commons meet, has 1,000 rooms, 100 staircases, 11 courtyards, a hair salon, a rifle range, 6 restaurants, and as many as 8 pubs. The pubs are difficult to access unless you’re a passholder for the estate, but those with a pass can get entry for up to 3 guests. Since the pubs are part of the parliamentary estate, they are subsidised by the taxpayers and the prices are kept low for those visiting Parliament.
Where’s the Gents?
If you need to go, there are 32 different public toilets in the City of Westminster. They are managed by private firm Cityloos and not by the city.
Are You Dense?
The City of Westminster is one of the most densely-populated boroughs in London. The total population as of mid-2014 is 233,292 and with a total square mileage of 8.29, the population density is approximately 28,000 per square mile. In size, the City of Westminster ranks 318th out of 326 English districts, but its population rank is 68th.
Missing a Line
The only Underground line that does not serve a station in Westminster is the Waterloo and City Line.
A Poetic Death
Many of Britain’s greatest authors, poets, and playwrights are buried or have memorials in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. Some of the notable names include Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Thomas Hardy, George Frederic Handel, Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen, William Blake, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll, Lord Byron, and more. One of the legends of Poets’ Corner is that the grave of Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser contains manuscripts from Shakespeare, Marlowe, and other contemporaries that they threw into the grave in testament to Spenser’s genius.
No Borough is an Island
But once upon a time, Westminster was. The island was essentially created by London’s poorly-draining marshes, though subsequent drainage and construction caused the island to disappear.