Where Is The Centre Of London? Finding The Real Midtown

The statue of Charles I near Trafalgar Square has long represented the centre of London. This weather-beaten monument is the point from which all distances to the capital are measured, and marks the former site of the original Charing Cross. Go back earlier and the centre of our city was often associated with London Stone, that sorry-looking piece of rock hidden in a niche on Cannon Street.

But last week, a new (ish) claimant to the honour emerged. Business advocates in the Bloomsbury-Holborn-St Giles area have suggested renaming their territory as ‘Midtown’, which could be taken to imply a central position in London’s geography.

So where is the centre of London, geometrically speaking? Being of empirical bent, we set to find out in good old Blue Peter fashion. Our method was simple. Print out a map of the city, mount it on card, cut it out, and then find the centre of gravity by balancing the shape on the point of a needle. “Would you like a plumb-bob?”, asked the ever-helpful Mrs Londonist. “No thanks,” we replied. “And who is this Bob fellow?”

We tried the experiment with three representations of the capital: Greater London (i.e. all the boroughs); Zone 1 (as defined by TfL) and the Square Mile (representing ancient London). To find out where, in each case, the experimentally derived centre of London is, please click through the gallery. Hint: it’s not Midtown.

We welcome peer review in the comments, and urge others to repeat the experiment at better resolution, factoring in elevation and with a more spreadable glue.

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  • http://undefined Jason

    Excellent! Good to see a bit of scientific method at work.

  • http://undefined Andy

    A shocking disregard for proper geospatial techniques from Londonist. The uneven use of glue could put you easily 50 metres or so out.

    I suggest repeating using a compass and a bit of string or any off the shelf GIS package.

    Andy

  • http://undefined Hugh

    How about weighting it based on population… You could have little pieces for every 10,000 residents that you stick to your card… What kind of a difference do you think it’d make?

  • http://undefined M@

    Interesting idea, Hugh. I think that’d take computer modelling to work out with any accuracy, although it would be fun to try it with card and blu-tak. You’d probably end up with a doughnut, thanks to the low population of the City and West End.

  • http://undefined Paul St Pancras

    I knew that! George Brown, my MP in Belper, came from Lambeth, not far from where you identify.

    He once took me and another young reporter on a tour of his old neighbourhood – ending at a House of Commons bar.

    He was proud of the fact that he came from the heart of London.

  • http://undefined DeanN

    “The spot lies close to the Soutwark-Lambeth border, approximately where you’ll find Lambeth North Tube station”

    My office is right beside Lambeth North tube. Doesn’t feel like the centre of anything.

  • http://www.breakfastatbritannia.blogspot.com/ CRAiG

    The needle thingummy near Elephant has a justifiable claim to centrisity of London too.

    Although with gags like the ‘Bob’ one above i was almost put off commenting.

    • Dean

      That “thingummy” would be St. Goerge’s Circus….where 5 roads meet. Westminster Bridge Road, London Road, Borough Road. Waterloo Road and Blackfriar’s road. It’s one mile marker from Westminster. As a London Cabbie I’d stick with King Charles Island south of Trafalgar Square…why not!

  • Jonn

    @Craig St George’s Circus. Also doesn’t feel much like the centre of anything.

    This post may be actual, bona fide genius.

  • http://undefined Thomasthetaxi

    What a shock for a north London Boy!
    In the late sixties, traveling to work from kilburn park to the west end, I fell asleep on the tube and found myself in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know at the time I was in the heart of the metropolis.

  • http://undefined jamesu

    Brilliant.

    Am I deluding myself? I’m convinced that the official centre is the Charring Cross outside eponymous station…

    Can I suggest doing it with the map of London postal districts? It’s a lot rounder and should be more centrally balanced.

    These days I think Centre Point seems about right for me.

  • Dave

    I’ve always liked to think that the intersection of the EC and WC central London postcodes should indicate a meaningful location for the centre of London.

    Unfortunately, that point would appear to be slap bang on top of Chancery Lane station. How underwhelming.

  • http://undefined Glyn1

    Hmm, does the Zone 1 map really misspell Piccadilly as “Picadilly” or is it a cunning forgery?

    Traditionally the centre of the City is supposed to be the junction of Bow Lane and Watling Street, and Trump Street is under 100 metres from there, so your method is very accurate.

  • Joericemd

    There is a cross on the pavement near Lambeth North station that indicates the real center of London
    You are right.

  • Michael Jennings

    There are two major rail projects going on in London right now. One is Crossrail, that links mainline services coming in to London from the West with mainline services coming in from the east. The other is the Thameslink Program, that does the same for many north/south services. The two lines interest at Farringdon, and when both projects are complete, this station will possibly be the most important railway station in London, at least for commuter services. This is going to put pressure on development, and is going to encourage development on the west side of the City and the East side of the West End. Maybe one day London will lose its bipolar City / West End quality as a consequence, and the key point will become somewhere in between, around Farringdon, instead. 

  • Sales

    Theres actually a large red cross painted on the pavement on the north side of Baylis Road just down from Lambeth North Tube station!

  • Hedge

    I always thought that Charing Cross was where they measured the distances to on road signs, as In “London 123miles”but I could be wrong

  • Deborah Mason

    I live just up the road near Kennington Cross and it does actually feel like the centre because it is so easy to get around London from – the city, the west end, hampstead, dulwich, richmond, docklands – the only places that feel far away are the NW/NE/SE far corners (Pinner, Purley etc) but they would be far away from any centre!

  • http://twitter.com/calmcarl carl chamberlain

    1.6 billion in regeneration based on the geographical centre means it’s the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Marin/1839662282 John Marin

    London appears a better integrated metropolis than New York City.  Here one speaks of five different seats of government centered in five boroughs each with its duly elected president. “Downtown” is the fashionable name for the city halls that control Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. To show magisterial authority each city hall has a municipal building all in the Greco-Roman style which became the favorite architectural style of the early republic and which some labelled the Federal Style best recognizable in the architecture of Washington D.C. Where authority finally resides here in a big city like NYC is due to a gentleman’s agreement earlier established as the city became incoporated by 1898. In principle it is the mayor in Manhattan’s city hall who is chief or boss although that  authority can always be contested by a coalition of other borough presidents.  In fact the city’s mayor is simply an equal amongst equals or as they would have stated in medieval parlance, primus inter pares.

    • BrooklynNellie

      The borough presidents have little power since the Board of Estimate was dissolved years ago. I think you are just taking the piss, as our British friends might say.

  • Damon

    The Holborn / St Giles area has been called ‘midtown’ for years, notably by businesses.

    • http://twitter.com/mattfromlondon M@

      Yes, the article is also several years old.

  • Ken from Canada.

    Should not the centre be the centre of the actual sq Mile????
    Old London but i am just from the colonies.

  • george

    great page! Get in there south London!