7 Secrets Of The City Of Westminster

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 23 months ago
7 Secrets Of The City Of Westminster

For centuries separate from London, the City of Westminster is now a city in moniker only. The oddly-named borough contains many of London's iconic sights, but here are some things you might not know about it...

Photo: Londonist

1. Named to avoid confusion with St Paul's?

Reputable sources claim the name 'Westminster' comes from the necessity to distinguish the area's Abbey from the 'east minster', i.e. St Paul's Cathedral. This is the stance of Brewer's Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable, and of Westminster Abbey itself. Yet others, including certain Blue Badge Guides and, ahem, Londonist, dispute this. 'Minster' is typically used to denote monastic churches, and St Paul's was never a monastery. The real truth? God only knows.

2. The crowned portcullis

A crowned portcullis appears on both the logo for the City of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. The symbol harks back to the Tudors [pdf] — all very historical. Except the portcullis was only popularized again in relatively modern times, by the Victorian architect Charles Barry, who rebuilt Parliament. And the portcullis icon was only signed off as the official badge for Parliament by the Queen in 1996.

There's no portcullis on the coat of arms for the City of New Westminster in Canada. They went with a grizzly bear instead.

3. Bigger than you might think

Central as the City of Westminster is, it's little shock there are only eight boroughs with a larger population. Somewhat more surprising is just how far north it reaches: the same borough that has Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Somerset House also sinks its claws into parts of Kilburn:

© Google Maps

4. The tours guides sometimes lie

London's tour guides are occasionally guilty of perpetuating myths. A prime example: the 'Coco Chanel' lampposts. We've had tour guides assure us the French fashion designer and perfumer's 'double C' is branded on City of Westminster lampposts (see main image). Not true. There is some truth to the tale; the second Duke of Westminster did have an affair with Chanel. But the lampposts were installed in the 1950s — long after the two had split. 'CC' stands, simply, for City Council.

5. The rude bridge

Westminster Bridge may have inspired the lilting poetry of William Wordsworth. But it's also got this crude joke, which appears every lunchtime that the sun's out:

Photo: Neil Richards.

Architectural mishap or one in the eye for the politicians crossing the bridge every day? We'll probably never know.

6. Westminster weddings

Think Westminster Abbey, and you think blockbuster royal weddings. Old Marylebone Town Hall — also in the City of Westminster — is the favoured wedding venue of rock stars, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Chrissie Hynde and Liam Gallagher (twice). Historically though, the phrase 'Westminster weddings' means the marriage of two characters of ill repute. As Brewer's Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable tells us, a 1678 ballad, about the infamous Judge Jeffreys and a marriage to his second wife, coined the term:

As for the business of friendship you mentioned,
'tis not to be had at a Westminster Wedding
...Where virtue is not made the measure of
a correspondence, 'tis no better than that of thieves and pirates.

We have no comment on the repute of the former Oasis frontman and his spouses.

Photo: English Heritage

7. London's oldest blue plaque

Westminster has the city's oldest blue plaque; it's dedicated to Napoleon III, and you'll find it on 1b-c King Street. It's the only blue plaque to have been unveiled while the subject was still alive. Napoleon had another six years to admire it, before snuffing it in Chislehurst, south London. Here, at the Imperial Arms pub, he is remembered in a kids' menu called the 'Little Napoleon'. Surely what he would have wanted.

Last Updated 20 February 2017