In the summer of 2013 Stephen Frey (undoubtedly a bloody genius) did a small series on the City of London, revealing that essentially it is in a world of it’s own. So bear with me whilst I try to explain just how the City of London functions as its own small entity.
Firstly the City of London and London are two different places – though both are known for their historical landmarks, modern skyscrapers, ancient markets and famous bridges. London however has a population of seven million and also houses the government and royal family, whereas the City of London has a far smaller population of seven thousand people. But, if you look map of London it will have a one-square mile hole near the middle — it’s here where the City of London lives inside of the city named London. Despite these confusingly close names the two London’s have separate city halls and elect separate mayors, who collect separate taxes to fund separate police who enforce separate laws.
The Mayor of the City of London has a fancy title ‘The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London’ to match his regal outfit. He also gets to ride in a golden carriage and work in a Guildhall while the mayor of London has to wear a suit, ride a bike and work in an office building – none of which London Mayor Boris Johnson minds. The City of London also has its own flag and its own crest which is bloody cool, London however lacks both. To top it off the City of London gets to act more like one of the countries in the UK than just an oddly located city — for uniquely the corporation that runs the city of London is older than the United Kingdom by several hundred years.
So how did the UK end up with two London’s, one inside of the other? Because: Romans (bloody romans!) 2,000 years ago they came to Great Britain, killed a bunch of druids, and founded a trading post on the River Thames and named it Londonimium. Being Romans they got to work doing what Romans do: enforcing laws, increasing trade, building temples, public baths, roads, bridges and a wall to defend their work. And it’s this wall which is why the current City of London exists — for though the Romans came and the Romans went and kingdoms rose and kingdoms fell, the wall endured protecting the city within. And The City, governing itself and trading with the world, grew rich.
A thousand years after the Romans (yet still a thousand years ago) when William the Conqueror came to Great Britain to conquer everything and begin modern British history he found the City of London, with its sturdy walls more challenging to defeat. So he agreed to recognize the rights and privileges that the City of Londoners were used to in return for the them recognizing him as the new King. Though after the negotiation, William quickly built towers around the City of London (namely the Tower of London) which were just as much about protecting William from the locals within as defending against the Vikings from without. This started a thousand-year long tradition whereby Monarchs always reconfirmed that ‘yes’ the City of London is a special, unique place best left to its own business, while simultaneously distrusting it.
Many a monarch thought the City of London was too powerful and rich. And one even built a new Capital city nearby, named Westminster, to compete with the City of London and hopefully, suck power and wealth away from it. As the centuries passed, Westminster grew and merged with nearby towns eventually surrounding the walled-in, and still separate City of London. But, people began to call the whole urban collection ‘London’ and the name became official when Parliament joined towns together under a single municipal government with a mayor. But, the mayor of London still doesn’t have power over the tiny City of London which has rules and traditions like nowhere else in the country and possibly the world.
For example, the ruling monarch doesn’t just enter the City of London whenever he/she wants, but instead asks for permission from the Lord Mayor at a ceremony however it isn’t required by law. The City of London also has a representative in Parliament, The Remembrancer, whose job it is to protects the City’s special rights. Because of this, laws passed by Parliament sometimes don’t apply to the City of London: most notably voting reforms, and unlike anywhere else in the UK elections in the City of London involve Medieval Guilds (yes they still exist here in London) and modern companies.
Finally, the City of London also owns and operates land and buildings far outside its border, making it quite wealthy. Once you start looking for The City’s Crest you’ll find it in lots of places, but most notably on Tower Bridge which, while being in London is operated by City of London. Regardless The City of London is not an independent nation like the Vatican is, rather it’s a unique place in the United Kingdom with a long and complicated history. so the border between London and its secret inner city isn’t so obvious. So essentially its a city in a city in a country in a country..