In terms of importance, the Thames has long been the most significant of England's rivers, and London is located on the upper tidal reaches of the river. Early in the first century AD, it was already a thriving trading centre, and it was the epicentre of Roman power in the British Isles. The capture of London by King Alfred from the Danes dealt a devastating blow to the Danes' hopes of conquering the entire United Kingdom. London grew in power and became increasingly resentful of its own independence. The administration of the current square mile known as the City of London owes a great deal to precedents set by the Saxons and by early Normans, respectively.
A Saxon folkmote inspired the formation of the Common Council, which is composed of three members: the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Councilmen. The annual election of the Mayor dates back to 1215, when King John granted a charter authorising the practise, though the title "Lord Mayor" was not used until the fifteenth century, when the title "Lord Mayor" was first used. It is also of Saxon origin that the office of Alderman was established. In the beginning, aldermen were elected on an annual basis, but Richard II decreed that they should be chosen for life. Of course, the city of London has grown far beyond its original boundaries since the time of the Romans.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, London was still a small city by today's standards, especially in comparison to other European capitals. Whilst the old city continued to serve as a commercial hub, residential buildings had begun to spread westward, and architects such as John Nash in the eighteenth century had constructed fine terraces of houses, separated by broad streets that were a far cry from the narrow, overhanging alleyways of the old city. As the nineteenth century progressed, London grew in all directions, and places that had previously been isolated villages on the outskirts found themselves suddenly incorporated into a single great metropolis. Despite the fact that the process of expansion is still ongoing today. Since the Local Government Act of 1963, the Greater London Council has served as the overall ruling body for the entire London area, taking the place of the former London County Council and Middlesex County Councils. A population of nearly eight million people live in the Greater London Area, which spans 1,580 kilometres (610 sq. miles).
In addition to serving as the capital and administrative centre of the United Kingdom, London serves as the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The Commonwealth is an association of 34 independent member states, eighteen of which are republics and sixteen of which are monarchies, all of which are members of the United Nations (eleven of which recognise Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State). Many people believe that the city of London has been allowed to grow to an unmanageable size. In addition to its physical size, they are considering the fact that it outperforms other parts of the country in terms of business and as a cultural centre. Its sheer size, of course, poses a number of challenges, not the least of which is transportation.
The majority of Londoners live in the suburbs while working in the city, partly because of the high cost of living in the centre of the city, but also because of the noise and dirt. The movement of this large number of people into London in the morning and out at night places a strain on both the rail and road transportation systems, making living conditions on the main traffic-carrying routes even more intolerable for residents and movement along the roads extremely slow. Though the construction of new underground railway lines (the Victoria line was completed in 1971, and the first stage of the Fleet line is nearing completion), will help to alleviate some of the congestion, the real solution is to encourage businesses to relocate their operations outside of London. Many people have already done so, with the assistance of government grants.
London's industrial base is also dispersing, and much of the city's central and eastern areas are now sparsely populated as a result. Following the closure of the great docks, plans are being drawn up for the area's reconstruction and repurposing for other purposes.
Due to London's higher wages, people from all over the country come to work in the city, particularly from poorer areas where employers cannot afford to compete with the city's wages. As a result, London and the south-east, already the richest regions of the country, continue to grow richer as they attract the talented people and the money necessary to spur industrial expansion, while the poorer regions continue to deteriorate and lose population. This holds true for the arts as well. London is home to the world's greatest museums, the world's greatest collections of paintings and sculpture, the majority of the world's most important theatres, and two opera houses. People who live outside of London, whose taxes contribute to the support of all of these institutions, are understandably upset when they discover that they are too far away to make any regular use of these facilities.
However, even though London dominates the country as a whole, there are still some important local centres that have a strong pull in their respective regions. York is still the capital of the North, or at least that's what people in the north-east would call it. York served as the headquarters of the Roman Ninth Legion (who referred to the town as Eboracum), and it was here that Constantine was proclaimed Emperor in AD 306. Northumbria dominated the rest of England during a period when the country was divided up into a number of small Saxon kingdoms in the seventh century, and the city of York was its capital during that time. The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most beautiful mediaeval books, was illuminated by Northumbrian monks, and it can still be seen today in the British Museum, thanks to their efforts. Conquered by the Vikings and severely damaged by the Normans, York had recovered and re-emerged by the fourteenth century, becoming one of the most important trading centres in the mediaeval wool trade and a thriving market town again. It is still in operation today, manufacturing chocolate, scientific instruments, sugar, and glass containers, as well as rolling stock for the railways, among other things.
York is a fascinating city to visit because, despite the fact that modern industries thrive here, many remnants of the city's fascinating past remain. The Minster, the largest cathedral built in England during the Middle Ages and covering an area of 5,662 square metres, is perhaps the most impressive of them all (60,952 sq. ft). The Minster was begun in the early thirteenth century and not completed until the mid-fifteenth century, allowing it to represent three distinct periods of mediaeval architecture. Many of the windows are decorated with intricately designed and coloured mediaeval glass, which was created by local artisans. Many churches can be found within the massive mediaeval walls of the old city, which still stand with their gates or 'bars'. Within the walls are Tudor, Stuart and Georgian houses, as well as a castle on a mound built by Henry III and known as Clifford's Tower, a fine museum, and an art gallery, among other attractions. Bristol is located approximately 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the mouth of the Avon River and the Bristol Channel. It had been a royal borough since before the Norman Conquest, and in 1373, in a charter, Edward III elevated it to the status of county.
Because of its location on the Avon, it became a significant seaport, and in the eighteenth century, it surpassed all others as the primary port for trade with the West Indies. This was the centre of the sugar trade as well as the tobacco trade, and cigarettes are still manufactured here from tobacco that is imported from other parts of the world. Bristol was severely damaged during World War II, but some of the city's most beautiful buildings from the past have survived to this day. I. K. Brunel's designs for a suspension bridge over the River Avon on the seaward side of Bristol were completed in 1864, and the bridge spans a deep gorge on the seaward side of Bristol. It is 214 metres (702 feet) in length and was considered an engineering marvel when it was built. Because modern freight ships require a greater depth of water than the ships used in the eighteenth century, the Avon is no longer deep enough to accommodate the larger ships that travel between London and Bristol. The majority of them now dock at Avonmouth or Portishead, and the closure of Bristol Docks is expected to take place in the late 1970's or early 1980's. Cereals, tea, cocoa, and coffee, molasses, and sugar, fruit and frozen meat, metals, ores, and chemicals, tobacco, wines, and spirits are among the most important imports nowadays.
Manchester was still a small village, whereas Bristol was growing into a major seaport city. At one point in time, the Cathedral served as the parish church. Although Manchester and its surrounding towns and villages were not directly affected by the Industrial Revolution, the development of the cotton industry turned farm workers into factory workers and villages into vast expanses of sprawling terraced houses. Manchester was officially established as a city in 1853. It is no longer primarily a manufacturing town, but rather a commercial centre. The work of manufacturing is primarily the responsibility of the numerous towns in the vicinity of Manchester. The engineering works, the chemical plants, and the textile factories can all be found in Birmingham, while Manchester is responsible for the packaging and distribution of goods, as well as banking and insurance. The Manchester ship canal, which connected the city with the sea at the end of the nineteenth century, was completed in 1902. Manchester has developed into a thriving and vibrant city that serves as the regional commercial, entertainment, and cultural hub, in addition to serving as the region's commercial centre.
There is the city's own orchestra, the Halle, an excellent art gallery, a university, and a plethora of artistic and scientific societies to choose from. Despite the fact that it is now a national newspaper, the Guardian began as a daily newspaper serving the Manchester area. National Parks include the Lake District, whose highest point is Scafell Pike (964m/3,162 ft), and this is a beautiful area for walkers and climbers, but the mountains are confined to a relatively small area in comparison to the rest of the country. There are many other areas of hill and fell, the most notable of which is the Pennine Chain, which stretches from the upper reaches of the Tyne to the Peak District in Derbyshire and is the longest in Europe. In the nineteenth century, the rapid streams that flowed down from the Pennines to the Irish Sea provided the motive power for the industry that developed in Lancashire, which rose to become one of the most important manufactures in the country and a significant factor in the transformation of England from being primarily an agricultural to being primarily an industrial country.
The North Yorkshire Moors are located east of the Pennines. Dartmoor and Exmoor are the two other upland areas in the United Kingdom, both located in the West Country. In addition to the Thames Valley, there are several other ridges of high ground that strike off at an angle to its general direction: the Cotswolds and Chiltern Hills in one direction, the North Downs, Forest Ridges, and South Downs in another, and Salisbury Plain dominates the country that separates the Thames Valley from the valley of the Bristol Avon in the other.