The Palace of Westminster
Westminster shown within Greater London
|OS grid reference|
|- Charing Cross||0.5 mi (0.8 km) NE|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||Cities of London and Westminster|
|London Assembly||West Central|
Westminster // is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and 0.5 miles (0.8 km) southwest of Charing Cross. It has a large concentration of London's historic and prestigious landmarks and visitor attractions, including the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Westminster Cathedral.
Historically part of the parish of St Margaret in the City and Liberty of Westminster and the county of Middlesex, the name Westminster was the ancient description for the area around Westminster Abbey – the West Minster, or monastery church, that gave the area its name – which has been the seat of the government of England (and later the British government) for almost a thousand years. Westminster is the location of the Palace of Westminster, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The nearest tube stations to Westminster are Westminster tube station, St James Park tube station and Waterloo tube station.
The name Westminster describes the area around Westminster Abbey and Palace of Westminster. Its name derives from the West Minster, or monastery church, west of the City of London's St Paul's. The area has been the seat of the government of England for almost a thousand years. The name is also used for the larger City of Westminster which covers a wider geographical area; and, since 1965, has included the former boroughs of Marylebone and Paddington.
"Westminster" is thus often used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally. The civil service is similarly referred to by the area it inhabits, "Whitehall", and "Westminster" is consequently also used in reference to the Westminster System, the parliamentary model of democratic government that has evolved in the United Kingdom. The Westminster System is used with some adaptation in many other nations, particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations and other parts of the former British Empire.
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.
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. The nearby Palace of Westminster came to be the principal royal residence after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, and later housed the developing Parliament and law courts of England. It can be said that London thus has developed two distinct focal points: an economic one in the City of London; and a political and cultural one in Westminster, where the Royal Court had its home. This division is still very apparent today.
The Westminster area formed part of the City and Liberty of Westminster and the county of Middlesex. The ancient parish was St Margaret; after 1727 split into the parishes of St Margaret and St John. 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 on 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 parish vestries were abolished, to be replaced with a metropolitan borough council. The council was given city status, allowing it to be known as Westminster City Council.
The area is the centre of UK government, with Parliament now located in the Palace of Westminster and most of the major Government ministries situated in Westminster, centred on Whitehall. Close to the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey is Westminster School, one of the English public schools. Three of the four campuses of the University of Westminster are within the greater London borough of the City of Westminster, although none in the ancient area of Westminster.
The area has a substantial residential population, a surprisingly large proportion of which is a traditional London working class community living in council and Peabody Trust estates at the back of Westminster Abbey and off Millbank.
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