Westminster facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsWestminster
The Palace of Westminster
Western facade of Westminster Abbey
|OS grid reference|
|• Charing Cross||0.58 mi (0.9 km) NEbE|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
The area, which extends from the River Thames to Oxford Street has many visitor attractions and historic landmarks, including the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and much of the West End shopping and entertainment district.
The name (Old English: Westmynstre) originated from the informal description of the abbey church and royal peculiar of St Peter's (Westminster Abbey), west of the City of London (until the Reformation there was also an Eastminster, near the Tower of London, in the East End of London). The abbey's origins date from between the 7th and 10th centuries, but it rose to national prominence when rebuilt by Edward the Confessor in the 11th. It has been the home of England's government since about 1200, and from 1707 the Government of the United Kingdom.
The area has a substantial resident population, indeed most of its listed buildings are residential. A proportion of residents are people of limited means, living in council and Peabody Trust estates in certain streets between Westminster Abbey and Millbank. Hotels, large Victorian homes and barracks exist nearer to Buckingham Palace.
The name describes an area no more than 1 mile (1.6 km) from Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster immediately to the west of the River Thames. The settlement grew up around the palace and abbey, as a service area for them. The need for a parish church, St Margaret's Westminster for the servants of the palace and of the abbey who could not worship there indicates that it had a large enough population as a small village. It became larger and in the Georgian period became connected through urban ribbon development with the City along the Strand. It did not become a viable local government unit until created as a civil parish.
Henry VIII's Reformation in the early 16th century abolished the Abbey and established a Cathedral - thus the parish ranked as a "City", although it was only a fraction of the size of the City of London and the Borough of Southwark at that time.
Indeed, the Cathedral and diocesan status of the church lasted only from 1539 to 1556, but the "city" status remained for a mere parish within Middlesex. As such it is first known to have had two Members of Parliament in 1545 as a new Parliamentary Borough, centuries after the City of London and Southwark were enfranchised.
The historic core of Westminster is the former Thorney Island on which Westminster Abbey was built. The abbey became the traditional venue of the coronation of the kings and queens of England from that of Harold Godwinson (1066) onwards.
From about 1200, near the abbey, the Palace of Westminster became the principal royal residence, marked by the transfer of royal treasury and financial records to Westminster from Winchester. Later the palace housed the developing Parliament and England's law courts. Thus London developed two focal points: the City of London (financial/economic) and Westminster (political and cultural).
The monarchs later moved to St James' Palace and the Palace of Whitehall a little towards the north-east, and eventually to Buckingham Palace and other palaces. The main law courts have since moved to the Royal Courts of Justice.
Charles Booth's poverty map showing Westminster in 1889 recorded the full range of income and capital brackets living in adjacent streets within the area; its central western area had become (by 1850) (the) Devil's Acre in the southern flood channel ravine of the Tyburn (stream), yet along Victoria Street and other small streets and squares had the highest colouring of social class in London, yellow/gold. Westminster has shed the abject poverty with the clearance of this slum and with drainage improvement, but there is a typical Central London property distinction within the area which is very acute, epitomised by grandiose 21st-century developments, architectural high-point listed buildings and nearby social housing (mostly non-council housing) buildings of the Peabody Trust founded by philanthropist George Peabody.
The Westminster area formed part of the City and Liberty of Westminster in Middlesex. The ancient parish was St Margaret; after 1727 this became the civil parish of 'St Margaret and St John', the latter a new church required for the increasing population. The area around Westminster Abbey formed the extra-parochial Close of the Collegiate Church of St Peter surrounded by — but not part of — either parish. Until 1900 the local authority was the combined vestry of St Margaret and St John (also known as the Westminster District Board of Works from 1855 to 1887), which was based at Westminster City Hall in Caxton Street from 1883.
The Liberty of Westminster, governed by the Westminster Court of Burgesses, also included St Martin in the Fields and several other parishes and places. Westminster had its own quarter sessions, but the Middlesex sessions also had jurisdiction. The area was transferred from Middlesex to the County of London in 1889, and the local government of Westminster was reformed in 1900, when the court of burgesses and the parish vestries were abolished, and replaced by a metropolitan borough council. The borough was given city status, allowing it to be known as the City of Westminster and its council as Westminster City Council— a title which was retained when it was merged with the boroughs of St Marylebone and Paddington in the 1960s.
Wider uses of the term
Thus "Westminster", with its focus in public life from early history, is casually used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally. (The civil service is similarly referred to by the northern sub-neighbourhood it inhabits, "Whitehall".) "Westminster" is consequently also used in reference to the Westminster system, the parliamentary model of democratic government that has evolved in the United Kingdom and for those other nations, particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations and other parts of the former British Empire that adopted it.
The term "Westminster Village", sometimes used in the context of British politics, does not refer to a geographical area at all; employed especially in the phrase "Westminster Village gossip", it denotes a supposedly close social circle of members of parliament, political journalists, so-called spin doctors and others connected to events in the Palace of Westminster and Government ministries.
The area has a substantial residential population. By the 20th Century Westminster has seen rising numbers of residential apartments with wealthy inhabitants. Hotels, large Victorian homes and barracks exist near to Buckingham Palace.
Westminster hosts the High Commissions of many Commonwealth countries:
- Arthur Barnby (1881–1937), first-class cricketer and Royal Marines/Royal Naval Air Service officer
- Richard Colley (1833–1902), first-class cricketer and British Army officer
- Geoffrey Cooke (1897–1980), first-class cricketer and British Army officer
- John Fuller (1834–1893), first-class cricketer, clergyman and theologian
- Hady Ghandour (born 2000), footballer
- Tatiana Hambro (born 1989), fashion writer and editor
- Tom Hiddleston (born 1981), Golden Globe-winning actor
- Dua Lipa (born 1995), singer and songwriter
- Eddie Redmayne (born 1982), Oscar-winning actor
- Quintin Twiss (1835–1900), first-class cricketer and stage actor
Images for kids
St Peter's Abbey at the time of Edward's funeral, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry
Westminster Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.