What Counts As London?

Chris Lockie
By Chris Lockie Last edited 32 months ago
What Counts As London?

As Londonist settled down for a swift half in the Old Shades recently (right by Trafalgar Square and yet oddly tourist-free – can anyone explain?) we happened to overhear a debate that must have been playing out in the capital for countless generations: what counts as London?

A gentleman in a fetching felt hat was calmly pointing out to his companion that London is defined by its boroughs – the 32 administrative areas that were formed in 1965 following the London Government Act of two years earlier.

His increasingly irate friend, however, refused to countenance that, among many other examples, Romford or Kingston in any way counted as London, residing instead in Essex and Surrey respectively. Her contention was that London is defined by its postcodes – if you're lucky enough to live in an NW or an E you're in the Smoke, but an EN or TW? Out into the shires with you.

So what actually counts as London? Londonist invites you to help us to once and for all define the boundaries of our capital. Vote for one of the following seven definitions in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

1. The boroughs: the 'official', but perhaps slightly less romantic definition.

Where's in? All those areas covered by the 1963 Act, including Barking & Dagenham, Romford, Bromley, Enfield, Kingston and Richmond.
Where's out? All areas outside the 32 boroughs (and the Square Mile).

2. Postcodes: there must have been a reason why the Post Office settled on certain areas as London and others as elsewhere. Did they know something we don't?

Where's in? Anything with a postal code beginning with N, NW, W, SW, SE or E (including EC1, WC2, etc).
Where's out? Many of the outer boroughs without those postcodes, including Bromley, Enfield and Harrow. Some unexpected areas also lose their London status, such as Brentford, Morden and Edgware.

3. The M25: it would certainly make it nice and easy if the enormous ring around the city on every road map counted as the official boundary.

Where's in? Everything inside the orbital motorway, outposts such as Epsom, Watford, Upminster and even Staines are now proud Londoners.
Where's out? Sorry, still no place for Luton, despite its best efforts with the airport.

4. The Tube: we all love it (most of the time), so why not let our wonderful old Underground network define the city by saying London counts as anywhere within a mile of a tube station?

Where's in? Take a look at the tube map – that's where's in. Watford again gets the nod, Morden is back in as is High Barnet, Uxbridge and chunks of Essex.
Where's out? Almost the whole of south London, but for the areas closest the river and anywhere lucky enough to be within a mile of the Northern Line. Be warned, this choice may lead to civil war.

5. Telephone codes: preceding the London borough rearrangements of 1965 by seven years, the classic 01 code for London has since been 071 and 081, then 0171 and 0181, before settling on today's 020. Embedded in the minds of Londoners as these numbers are, could any property with a 'London' phone number be our winner?

Where's in? All central London areas and most of the boroughs, but also interlopers such as Elstree, Loughton and…Thames Ditton?
Where's out? Certain outlying parts of some boroughs like Uxbridge, Orpington and poor old in again/out again Romford.

6. Elections: Londoners vote for a mayor, so perhaps any house whose occupants get a vote in the mayoral election should could as London?

Where's in? OK, it's a swindle — only people in the boroughs get a vote, so it's really just another way to describe option 1.
Where's out? The non-boroughs, as above.

7. The City: the controversial choice: is true London really just the historical Roman settlement of 1.12 square miles at its heart?

Where's in? A tiny section of 'London' from Chancery Lane in the west to Mansell Street in the east.
Where's out? Everything else, and don't forget to close the door on your way out.

Schemes crunched by Chris Lockie. Photo by Lux ex tenebris from the Londonist Flickr pool.

See also:

Last Updated 14 September 2015


Romford, watford and staines are not London in my opinion. Not convinced by Uxbridge being in London either.
To the above poster Lambeth is the soul of London. People are angry due to the social problems.

Geoff Marshall

are you including the Overground as 'the tube' - as it' son the tube map? if so, Croydon, etc.. gets back in. even more so if you somehow include the Tram Link. but from this, i've always considered London to be out to the edge of Zone 6 - after Zone 6 is where TfL's pricing structure changes. i used to live in Epsom which was just outside Zone 6, and i never considered myself 'in' London then. works for me ...

Bill Ellson

Oh Dear!

Perhaps you should actually look the London Government Act 1963 before referring to it. The Common Council of the City of London (a.k.a. the Corporation of London) was given the same powers and responsibilities as a London Borough (in much the same way as the London Government Act 1899 had given the City the same powers and responsibilities as the Metropolitan Boroughs created by the Act). So the City is one of the areas covered by the 1963 Act.

With the exception of policing Boris's powers and responsibilities regarding the City are the same as the rest of London, so City residents get a vote in Mayoral and London Assembley elections. So 6 is the same as 1, but both are wrongly defined.


Everywhere that people commute from daily to jobs in central London, from Doncaster in the north to Bristol in the west.


Obviously 7, The City. It has a carefully placed wall and some dragons to mark the edges.

Dean Nicholas

I vote for (7), the City. Anybody who doesn't live within its boundaries must be prevented from saying they live in London. Should be legally enforced. I might be biased though.

Jonn Elledge

The legally correct answer is clearly the boroughs, but that's a bit boring and oddly arbitrary. I'd go with the M25 as the most sensible way of including suburbs coterminous with London, but excluding satellite towns. Plus it's a better psychological barrier than the edge of Greater London.

Confuses things slightly in Dartford and Byfleet, mind.


It's clearly the 32 boroughs, plus the City, plus the Future London Borough of Elstree and Borehamwood, which has honorary membership (in my head).


Actually, I'd go by the greater metropolitan area i.e. 12-15 million people, since those areas have been built up over time because of their proximity to London, and people commute in for work. In other words, anywhere within the influence of London, rather than another city.

Pete Stean

It's the boroughs of course, although if you head out to the fringes of Havering and Redbridge it certainly feels more like Essex than London...


Postcodes. It's got to be postcodes.

Don Horacio

The boroughs, but I'd chop off the bit outside the M25 straight away. And maybe once we've got rid of them we could shrink it down a bit further.

Jonathan Wadman

For me it's (1) the boroughs, but another hitherto unconsidered criterion might be anywhere with a TfL bus stop. I always breathe a bit easier when I see that little red roundel.


Clearly, any borough that has the title 'The London Borough of...' is London. Any boroughs that do not, are not. I worked for many years in statistics and research and the boroughs were *always* used as the official definition of London (they form the 'London NUTS1 region'). But I remember having this argument with a friend, who asserted that we should use postcodes. The problem is that the postcodes were allocated based solely on their proximity to their nearest sorting office, with each sorting office having its own postcode, so Royal Mail's 'definition' of London was always arbitrary and never planned to be a definition of London.


Everything inside the M25 is London. Done! Now London truly does have everything including rolling fields.


I say 4, the tube. South London my arse!

Alex Woodcraft

When Time out did this a few years someone suggested that London ends when you reach a Harvester restaurant. It's a sign that you are far enough away from a decent restaurant to make you consider going in one.


So you won't be considering the entirity of the former Middlesex? Nor the former extent of the areas used by the Met police force or the LPTB? What if some southern communities had not refused to be in London upon creation of the modern area in 1965? What about the Outer Metropolitan Area, as used in governmental circles for statistical purposes? This is all a never ending arguement, but it isn't helped by people confusing metaphorically the Ille de Paris with Paris. London is bigger and more diverse than any one person has much reason to consider it, so to turn round and say 'Kingston isn't in London because it isn't' is fatuous!

I'd agree with the shorthand version of the M25 being the phychological boundary, but that excludes Potters Bar, which historically was part of the 'greater' capital. And what then of Ceshunt, Epping, Brentwood, Grays, Sevenoaks, Leatherhead and Egham, all sitting sourly on the wrong side of the cusp, as it were? All have good historical connections and interactions with London... and then you have the deep excursions of 'Metroland'. Created and encouraged by the Metropolitan Railway, what deeper relationship can there be than to be the child of the most important force for London in the past 150 years?

And then you start to get down to 'Journey to work times', and % of ecconomic activity dependant on London, and % of commuter population measurements, etc.

Whats really needed is a solid physical representation of where London ends for everyday purposes, and a second, greater area, encompassing all those legitimate areas outside...

Ian Wright

Well give than I'm walking the whole tube network I'd like to go with number 4, but I think 1 + the square mile really is the best definition. Plus it still keeps Matt out of London.

Andy P

No, no, no...as everyone knows: The Circle Line defines central London, the North Circular defines the rest and well, outside that...you're on your own! (Obviously the phone thing helps, but there's been a lot of gerrymandering with that to keep house prices up)


M25: Where’s out? Sorry, still no place for Luton, despite its best efforts with the airport.

Wot, no mention of North Ockendon?

Laurel Canyon

People seem to be getting their political mixed up with their geographical. For example, politically Bromley is in London (designated as a London borough by the 1963 Act) but geographically it's in Kent. Geographically Croydon is in Surrey despite being a London borough. Having a London postcode is probably the most accurate definition in my opinion.

Laurel Canyon

Also in the outer boroughs, the locals talk of 'going up to London' so I think they've already decided they're not part of London!

Jack Cullen

All of it's London but then within that you have an inner core, outer core, magma and crust. And with a bit of intelligence you should be able to entertain a multi-dimensional answer to this article's question.

Yes distance helps, but certain areas have bigger clout than others due to their history, attractions or utilities. Shadwell and Kennington and Acton are all London. But they're not Hampstead, Old Street or Paddington are they.

"Gone" is a song by Madonna, but it's not "Vogue" is it.


The age old question. Growing up in Ilford, I personally always felt more of a Londoner. Our phone number was 01 for London, the buses were all London buses, our borough was London borough of redbridge etc. Tube stations were all over the borough, the 'East end' football club West Ham was less than 3 miles away. Heading out to areas such as Brentwood where it was less urban and with different coloured buses felt different and there were signs on the a12 saying 'welcome to Essex'. Yet our post code was Essex IG. The boroughs gets my vote.


In 1990 I foolishly went to Brunel in Uxbridge partly due to falling for its strapline "the university of West London". Tube took 45 mins just into Baker St., IIRC, plus added time for getting to anywhere of interest. Definitely not London proper. I still feel conned.


It's the iconic 32 boroughs for me - though loads of apparent anomalies and contradictions across official Greater London: Wembley, post code (HA) when you'd reasonably expect (NW)? Central Kingston, (KT) post code, while Kingston Vale (SW15)? (Same Royal Borough) Lambeth, Southwark, and Wandsworth once in the county of Surrey, but so central to London's heart? Surbiton (KT6) Greater London closely neighbouring Thames Ditton (KT7) Surrey. Wimbledon, (SW19) merged into Greater London in 1965, so why Richmond (TW and not SW) post code, when it merged the very same year? Would welcome some elucidation??

Problem Solver

If you're in a London Borough, then you're in London. Incidentally, any postcode that is within a London Borough is a London postcode, because it's in London. Address wise, if you live within a London Borough, but your post town isn't London, then use whatever the post town is followed by London, not some county that you're not in. However, in places like Hainault, you may wanna avoid using the post town Chigwell. This is because Chigwell the place is in Essex, but Hainault, some of which is covered postally by the Chigwell post town area, is in London. Yes, whoever set up the postal areas & codes has alot of confusion to answer for. They'd argue that postal addresses are not official locations, but since alot of people view them as such, it'd be good if they were as accurate as possible.

Romford Cockney

Romford is the beating heart of east London!

Jonathan Hollow

Nice to stumble across your work, Chris, but I have to say none of the options are very satisfactory! Particularly those that exclude the Square Mile ... Please can you try again? :-)

Julie Williams

Boroughs :
London ends at South Woodford
E18 London postcode

Essex begins at Woodford Green
IG8 Essex postcode
Woodford Green was under Epping Forest Council, last 5 years under Redbridge

Essex : Woodford Green, Buckhurst Hill, Loughton, Debden, Epping

Likewise Romford is in Essex


All 32 London boroughs. You failed to include the Metropolitan Police Boundary on your list. I recently moved from NW London to Romford and I'm served by the Good old Metropolitan Police. So is Uxbridge and the outlining areas you mentioned. That Met boundary is also defined by a parliamentary Act.