Londonshire

London isn’t a shire or county of course, but it used to be.

A 1921 Builder map of the county of London

From 1889 to 1965, there was a county of London. It didn’t include all of Greater London – it didn’t even reach the North Circular Road – but it did cover what we now call “inner London”, including pretty much all of what’s now Zone 2. In the south-east, it reached out as far as Woolwich. Originally, its southernmost extremity was Penge, which was within the County of London because it was an exclave of the borough of Battersea. Unfortunately that ended in 1900, when poor old Penge was excommunicated from Battersea, and unceremoniously shunted off into Kent to begin 65 years in exile.

New Cross fire station still has
its “London County Council” signs

The County of London was divided into twenty-eight metropolitan boroughs – although the City of London wasn’t one of them (and wasn’t part of the county). Like its constituent boroughs, the County of London had a council, which was elected. To start with, it even had its own political parties: instead of Liberals and Tories, it had “Progressives”, and “Moderates” (officially called the Municipal Reform Party). That only changed when the Labour Party took control of the council in 1934.

County Hall soon after it was built in 1911

By 1965, London had far outgrown its old county, which was merged with Middlesex, and parts of Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire, to create the Greater London we know today. None the less, there are relics of the old County of London all over the place if you look for them. Some old fire stations still have the words “London County Council” emblazoned across them; some old council estates still have “LCC” signs on them; and on the south side of Westminster Bridge, the old London County Council headquarters, subsequently used by the GLC, and then sold off by the UK government in 1993, is still called “County Hall”.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be coming back to talk about each in turn of the County of London's 28 original metropolitan boroughs, so watch this space.