London – Metropolitan Boroughs

Above: Map of 1856 showing the four counties that were near the City of London – Middlesex, Essex, Surrey and Kent.

From the time of the Saxons and Normans, the only place that was called ‘London’ was the City of London. As the above map shows, all the land around the City was part of a county. In Norman times those counties were full of small villages – like Deptford and Islington – but as the centuries rolled by the villages increased in size.

By the 1800s many villages were so large that they almost touched the adjacent village. By the middle of the century, people in government were already calling the large collection of villages around the City of London a ‘metropolis’. The land was still divided into parishes which contained one or more villages and a handful of hamlets. It was the parish councils that were struggling to restrain over-development of the commons and fields by well-organised developers who were determined to make vast profits from building streets of houses. Commons were supposed to be ‘for everybody’ and not for building on at all. The people on local councils were no match for the developers and the Government realised that it had to act and act swiftly.

The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was the principal instrument of London-wide government from December 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council (LCC) in March 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London’s rapid growth, which it accomplished. Many of the departments were run by Barristers which meant that developers had formidable legal opposition, instead of the humble parish councils. So draconian were some of the rules that, even today, London has magnificent open land in the form of the many commons across London. That took determination and a far-sighted vision to protect so much land from the developers.

The idea was to run the metropolis as if it was a large city. Eventually, in 1900, the ‘County of London’ was formed, presided over by the London County Council (LCC). To create a new county, it was necessary to take parts of the County of Middlesex, the County of Middlesex and the County of Kent and draw a boundary around the edge. From 1900 those living within that boundary would regard London as their ‘county’. The County of Essex was not included. Within that boundary were created 28 Metropolitan Boroughs – all existing with Metropolitan London, with the LCC taking overall control. The headquarters building for the LCC was a newly built set of offices at the eastern end of Westminster Bridge, called County Hall.

Above: A map showing the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs situated around the City of London which remained independent of the LCC.

The 28 Metropolitan Boroughs are shown on the above map. North of the Thames, 18 boroughs occupied land that had previously been in the County of Middlesex. On the south side of the Thames are the remaining 10 boroughs. Six occupied land which had been part of the County of Surrey (PINK) and four which had been part of the County of Kent (PALE BLUE). It will be seen that the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford (DEPT) straddled the county border but it was considered to have been in Kent.

Using the four-letter codes shown on the above map, the Metropolitan Boroughs will be listed in alphabetical order. In addition to those 28 boroughs was the City of London which had (and still has) its own administration.

(BATT) Battersea, (BERM) Bermondsey, (BETH) Bethnal Green, (CAMB) Camberwell, (CHEL) Chelsea, (DEPT) Deptford, (FINS) Finsbury, (FULH) Fulham, (GREE) Greenwich, (HACK) Hackney, (HAMM) Hammersmith, (HAMP) Hampstead, (HOLB) Holborn, (ISLI) Islington, (KENS) Kensington, (LAMB) Lambeth, (LEWI) Lewisham, (PADD) Paddington, (POPL) Poplar, (STMM) St Marylebone, (STPP) St Pancras, (SHOR), Shoreditch, (SOUT) Southwark, (STEP Stepney), (STOK) Stoke Newington, (WAND) Wandsworth, (WEST) Westminster, (WOOL) Woolwich.

One small detail to note is that the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich extended north of the Thames with two small pieces of additional land. This had historical origins so that both ends of the ancient Woolwich Ferry were within the same administration.

All the Metropolitan Boroughs eventually used a Post Code system that reflected the fact that they were no longer within the original counties but were in the new County of London which was usually referred to as Metropolitan London. Having come into existence in 1900, its life was just 65 years and on 1 April 1965, a new regime was brought into action. Called ‘Greater London’ it was to supersede Metropolitan London. (See ‘London – London Boroughs‘).


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