I have lived continuously in London for exactly 50 years now, plus a year when I was a bit younger. Unlike my daughter, I am not a real Londoner; but I can say that I am an honorary Londoner, and on my mother’s side they all I think were Londoners, going back for perhaps 150 years, or more if I can find the energy and drive to research the family history to the back of beyond.
No other place feels more like home to me. In fact my real home town, Cardiff, feels a bit strange and I do not feel at all at home when I am there but instead slightly uncomfortable and distinctly foreign. My accent is wrong for Cardiff, my height, my colouring too; and I do not entirely know my way around even the town centre, compact thought it is compared to London’s, which if one takes the Circle Line as a boundary is about 9 kilometres across – perhaps 6 miles. I wouldn’t be surprised if central London alone was far bigger than the whole of greater Cardiff.
It may have been here long before the Romans arrived, but London is only 50 years old in one sense – which is that the present boundaries were established by the London Government Act of 1963. Strictly speaking though, the newly enlarged entity didn’t come into effect until a year or two later.
Greater London, like perhaps any great metropolis, consists largely of hundreds of small towns, villages and hamlets, engulfed by the spread of housing that filled in all the fields, orchards, claypits, piggeries, water meadows and woods that once lay in between them. Many London suburbs still have at heart a central shopping street that is recognisably a village high street, and one may even sometimes find a few old cottages surviving intact from an earlier era in the outer areas, though most were destroyed by the relentless demands of the original speculative development, and by all the development pressures since. There are lanes and greens surviving in the road names and place names, even if no trace of those features exists now. Near me is a Verdant Lane, which is anything but. And yet it meanders slightly as it climbs a gentle rise, and with a bit of imagination the endless houses can be made to melt away and instead hedgerows and ditches, cows and neat rows of carrots line the road in place of the 4×4’s, wheelie bins, and anonymous white vans that nowadays fill our London gardens, having eliminated most of the vegetation that our parents would have carefully nurtured of a Sunday afternoon.