Dave the Taxi Driver's


Guide to London

London Villages

London Villages--where London has come from

London was never planned as a major city. It gradually came about as a result of the merging of a collection of villages and developments. Most of these villages became the well known bustling cosmopolitan areas such as Mayfair and Soho and some are more rural such as Barnes(SW13) and Richmond.

After The Great Fire of 1666 Sir Christopher Wren planned to rebuild The City of London with much wider streets on a grid system such as the present day cities of America. The Merchants and City Livery Companies wanted none of that so as quickly as they could they rebuilt and recreated the City as it was, with its narrow streets and alleyways. That is largely how it has remained. The shape of the City in the sixteenth century map is virtually the same as it is today.

In the eighteenth century London was biased towards the east. The City had its coffee houses, legal chambers and businesses just as it does today. The Docks and industry lay farther east mainly because of the prevailing winds which are generally westerly. The smoke and smells were not welcome in residential and social areas to the west.

The Docks are now all gone. The cranes stand like silent sentries by the water as we drive out to the City Airport. Dirty old river smells have been replaced by the aroma of Chanel, coffee and toasted paninis in the Canary Wharf Development which is rapidly becoming the new ’City’. If you really hanker after the old days though, you could always spend some time standing outside the new Billingsgate Fish Market near Canary Wharf Tower then move on maybe to the stretch of mud of Bow Creek near where the River Lea enters The River Thames. There is a smell around there that I have never been able to identify. It is something like very strong tea brewed with petrol and melted balloons. Later why not round off your trip comparing the odours at McDonald’s by the roundabout?

In the west London ended at Tyburn, where stands Marble Arch. Well known roads such as Edgware Road and Tottenham Court Road ran through fields. Islington was quite separate from the City. Hampstead which can be reached now by taxi in about twenty minutes was a considerable distance away.

With the huge influx of population and subsequent development since the eighteenth century, certain social theories have originated as to why people settled where they did.

It was generally assumed that the well-to-do city gent would only live somewhere close to the country, on the hills of Hampstead or Highgate. There was the ‘point of entry’ idea that newcomers stayed close to where they had arrived. Therefore Australians having arrived at Heathrow lived in Earl’s Court, which duly acquired the title of ‘Kangaroo Valley’. The Irish areas of London are defined by how far someone can walk with two heavy suitcases from Euston Station--Camden Town or Islington and the stronger ones Kilburn.

It seems clear that the villages of London acquired their identities early on. Mayfair, though I would not call it a village, has always had its sophistication having been developed by rich landowners. Soho got its ‘soul’ as foreign migrants arrived, mainly Greek Christians and French Huguenots in the late1600s. Later Theatres and Music Halls opened as well as other houses of dubious entertainment. Soho has character and great restaurants.

The dividing lines are blurred, Bayswater, which did not exist until the 1800s, merges with Notting Hill; Notting Hill with Kensington and Kensington with Chelsea; Chelsea with Fulham. They all have their own historical identity. Richmond has become a town. Barnes lies just south of Hammersmith Bridge and still retains its country feel. They have all become the London we know.

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