The great city of London is often divided into the 4 cardinal points and each described, correctly or by assumption, in various ways. If you plan to visit London, it pays to know how Londoners describe their city.
Historically known as the poor side of London, it is only barely changing nowadays, and much of that is due to the upcoming 2012 London Olympics which will take place in and around Stratford. In fact, the poverty of the area was one of the main factors for having the games there, the other being of course availability of space – this is provided by the previously neglected Lee Valley, now turned into a busy building site near completion where the stadium will be. Before the Olympic Games came to town, the only other prosperous area was part of Tower Hamlets, one of the most run-down area of London. This sounds contradictory but part of this borough is home to designers and artists, this is where Pete Doherty lives. If his drug habits are anything to go by, the rest of the borough is not much better!
The City of London is geographically on the east side. It is also known as the financial district and as its name describes, home to the head office of many high street banks, investment banks and other financial institutions such as Lloyds of London. This used to be the historical heart of London, where money changed hands, merchants prospered more often than not and business was made. The area is about 1 square mile in size but it is very compact and dense. The names of the streets themselves are historical, such as Threadneedle Street and just outside, Whitechapel Road where Jack the Ripper used to roam. St Paul’s Cathedral lies in the City of London and its roof, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in its modern form, is a feature of the rooftops of the city.
Over to the other side, this is where the news are made. At the heart of West London is Westminster Parliament overlooked by this worldwide icon of London, the Big Ben. If you want to visit this area, the quickest way to reach it from the suburbs of London is by tube – get off at Westminster Station which is next to the Thames. Next to the Parliament building is Westminster Abbey. The abbey is over a thousand years old and is traditionally the venue where new royalty is crowned. The king is dead, long live the king! Sir Isaac Newton is buried there, with a globe on his tomb to symbolise his theory of gravity.
If money is made on the east side in the financial district, there is but a short distance for it to cover to get quickly spent on the west side, namely in the West End, the place where night never sets. This is because the place is crammed with theatres, night clubs, pubs and shops. It’s a hot spot for tourists and Oxford Street the mecca for shopaholics.
But the west is not all glimmer; parts of it are decaying as much as the east side. Further out west is Harrow, a place well-known for its multi-ethnicity and Indian food. It is rivalled in terms of ethnicity on the east side by the borough of Newham where the white British form in fact a small minority and the ethnic minorities are the majority. What contradictory terms.
Here flows a river
While the divide between east and west is not clear geographically, north and south of London are clearly separated by the largest river in the UK: the Thames. Famous bridges span this river such as Chelsea Bridge, London Bridge and Tower Bridge, another icon of London. Many hundred years ago, when the city was still weak and subject to attack from the mighty Vikings, the bridges were made of wood. The Vikings would tie their ships to the bridge and row furiously down river to bring the whole structure down. They didn’t earn their fearsome name for nothing!
North London is neither rich nor poor yet houses both. The Islington area is now priced out for many people, this is where Tony Blair used to live before he became Prime Minister. The area around Hampstead Heath is a favourite among celebrities. Perhaps drugaddict George Micahel brings the area into disrepute but if you are a fan of his, you may find him there slumped at the wheel of a vehicle in the early hours of the morning. Camden town and its market is popular for its clothes and gothic shops. Beware the pickpockets operating on Sundays though.
If you can forget about Lewisham and especially Brixton, a crime spot to rival America, then south of the river is a very pleasant place to be. The further west you travel, the brighter and more open it gets. As the east side of London used to be a port, it was crowded with people and buildings. The port eventually moved to Tilbury and factories moved up north where land was cheaper but the high density of buildings didn’t change much. Thus as you move from Greenwich and Lewisham, jumping over Elephant & Castle in the centre over to Streatham and then Wandsworth, Wimbledon and Richmond, streets open up and trees pop up either sides. Greenwich is famous for its observatory on top of the hill in the park of the same name. You will have an excellent view of London, canary Wharf and the Gerkin from there. Be sure to visit the observatory, it’s free. Down the hill is the Royal Maritime Museum, if you are into replicas of ships. And if you enjoy nature, Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park and its deers and of course Kew Gardens are all on the south side of the Thames.
Each quadrant of London cannot really be defined distinctively from its neighbours but Londoners living in their respective area love to set themselves apart from others – thus the north-south and the east-west divides. Now you can take part in that too.