While London is a world-renowned global city, the City of London is a unique and specific area within it. Often referred to as the ‘Square Mile’, or simply ‘the City’, this historic district traces its roots back to the Roman settlement of Londinium. Today, it stands as a prominent global financial hub, housing several of the world’s most powerful financial institutions. The City of London boasts a wealth of unusual historical characteristics that set it apart. Read on to find out what makes the City of London unique.
The City Is the Ancient Core of London
From Temple to the Tower of London, the so-called ‘Square Mile’ is the beating heart of London. The site itself is more or less the same concentrated area of settlement and trade founded by the Romans and named Londinium around 47-50 CE. Today, the Museum of London houses over 47,000 Roman artefacts from the City of London. London Wall, a Roman defensive wall built in 200 CE, now lends its name to a modern street at Tower Hill.
The Roman-era fortifications of Londinium laid the groundwork for London’s evolution into a major global city. These ancient structures also maintain their significance by continuing to demarcate the City from the rest of London. In this distinctive role, the Square Mile has played a unique role in serving as a historic center facilitating trade, the movement of commodities, people, and the exchange of ideas, for well over a millennium.
The City of London Is Not a Democracy
The Corporation of the City of London technically operates a bit like a local council, but with a unique difference. There are twenty-five electoral wards in the City of London. In four of these wards, the approximately 9,000 residents that live there get a vote each. In the remaining twenty-one wards, voting power is wielded by corporations (predominantly banks and financial services corporations). The bigger the corporation is, the more votes they get.
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Further still, the City of London Corporation employs a four-tier system of elected representatives: Councilmen, Aldermen, Sheriffs, and the Lord Mayor. To become Lord Mayor, you must first have served as an Alderman and Sheriff – which are elected by city Livery Clubs as opposed to the public.
The City of London Corporation is thus no ordinary local government. Instead, it’s the perfect example of a longstanding, deeply entrenched ‘old boys’ network.
The City Has its Own Lord Mayor
At the helm of the City of London Corporation stands the Lord Mayor, a figure of great distinction, that glides through the City’s streets every November in a quasi-vice-regal carriage during the ‘Lord Mayor’s Show.’ Dating back to 1189, the ‘Lord Mayor of London’ is not to be confused with the Mayor of London The tradition of Lord Mayor dates back to a royal charter issued by King John in 1215. These days, a Lord Mayor is elected once a year as ceremonial leader of the City of London Corporation and international ambassador of the City’s financial services industry.
The Lord Mayor – typically a representative of the financial services industry – resides for the duration of their term in the illustrious Grade I listed Mansion House. Built in the Palladian style, with a grand façade boasting six imposing Corinthian columns, Mansion House is a potent symbol of the power and prestige of the City.
Its Own Police Force
The London City Police were formed in 1832 before officially becoming the City of London Police in 1839. The force is entirely separate from the Greater London Metropolitan Police. While the City of London Police are the smallest police force in all of England they have dealt with some of England’s most high profile crimes.
When Catherine Eddowes was found and identified as the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper in 1888, due to the location of her body at Mitre Square (within the City of London) the City of London Police were called to investigate. They failed to find the killer.
In the early-1990s, the City of London Police dealt with a series of high-profile IRA bombs in the City. Today, owing to the threat of potential terrorist attacks on the UK’s premier economic and financial centre, alongside day to day policing, counter-terrorism operations are the force’s top priority.
The City of London Is the Mother of All Tax Havens
As with matters of government, when it comes to tax, the Corporation of the City of London exists outside many of the democratic controls that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom. When the British Empire collapsed, the City of London seized on the opportunity to construct a web of cash and influence. The ‘off-shore’ territories of the empire were kept and developed towards a new purpose. The result was to place the City at the centre of a spider web-like network of offshore tax havens, based in a range of crown dependencies and British overseas territories, from the Channel Islands to Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands.
Accordingly, the City of London Corporation is able to safeguard its financial interests on the global stage. At the same time, London itself remains a magnet for global capital and one of the most popular residential destinations for billionaires from all over the world.
By Scott MclaughlanPhD SociologyScott is an independent scholar with an interest in physical cultures, far-right movements, and Indian politics. He has a doctorate in political sociology from Birkbeck College, University of London.