Westminster is a central London area within the City of Westminster lying on the River Thames' north bank, centred southwest by west from the City of London's St Paul's Cathedral, and locally southwest by south from Charing Cross. Westminster's concentration of visitor attractions and historic landmarks, one of the highest in London, includes the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.
Historically within St Margaret's parish, City & Liberty of Westminster, Middlesex and the name Westminster is from an ancient description for Westminster Abbey's surrounds, literally West Minster or, before the abbey, monastery church. Pre-dating its being the seat of British government, it has continuously been the home of England's government since about 1200, High Middle Ages' Plantagenet times.
In a governmental context, Westminster often refers to Parliament itself, by virtue of its UNESCO World Heritage Palace of Westminster location. Also known as the Houses of Parliament, the closest tube stations are: Westminster, St James Park and Waterloo.
Westminster is typical of Central London toponymy which can be derived from a loose mixture of small ecclesiastical parishes, local government wards then later postcodes then neologisms and informal neighbourhood names such as Victoria, London which this area contains.
In any event Westminster, City of Westminster describes an area no more than from Westminster Abbey and Palace of Westminster north of the Thames. Its name derives from the west Minster, or monastery church, west of the City of London's St Paul's. The area has been the seat of the government of England for almost a thousand years. The name is also used for the larger City of Westminster which is one of the relatively homogeneously sized divisions of the capital (London boroughs); and, since 1965, has included the former boroughs of Marylebone and Paddington.
From about 1200, near the abbey, the Palace of Westminster became the principal royal residence, marked by the transfer of royal treasury and financial records to Westminster, from Winchester. Later the palace housed the developing Parliament and England's law courts. Consequentiality, London developed two focal points: the City of London (financial economic) and, following the Royal Court, Westminster (political and cultural) - The distinction remains, as does the palace being Parliament's seat.
Charles Booth's poverty map showing Westminster in 1889 showed the full range of income and capital brackets living in adjacent streets within it - its central western area had become (by 1850) (the) Devil's Acre in the southern flood channel ravine of the Tyburn (stream), yet along Victoria Street and other small streets and squares were the highest colouring of social class in London, yellow/gold. The abject poverty with the clearance of this slum and drainage improvement has been shed from Westminster but there is a typical Central London property distinction within the area which is very acute, epitomised by grandiose 21st century developments, architectural high point listed buildings and nearby social housing (mostly non-council housing) buildings of the Peabody Trust founded by philanthropist George Peabody.
The Westminster area formed part of the City and Liberty of Westminster and the county of Middlesex. The ancient parish was St Margaret; after 1727 split into the parishes of St Margaret and St John. The area around Westminster Abbey formed the extra-parochial Close of the Collegiate Church of St Peter surrounded by—but not part of—either parish. Until 1900 the local council was the combined vestry of St Margaret and St John (also known as the Westminster District Board of Works from 1855 to 1887), which was based at Westminster City Hall on Caxton Street from 1883. The Liberty of Westminster, governed by the Westminster Court of Burgesses, also included St Martin in the Fields and several other parishes and places. Westminster had its own quarter sessions, but the Middlesex sessions also had jurisdiction. The area was transferred from Middlesex to the County of London in 1889 and the local government of Westminster was reformed in 1900 when the court of burgesses and parish vestries were abolished, to be replaced with a metropolitan borough council. The council was given city status, allowing it to be known as Westminster City Council.
Administratively, Westminster was a borough and city as well as a liberty. The borough and city covered just the parishes and extra parochial places of St Margaret, St John the Evangelist and Westminster Abbey, whilst the liberty included (as well as the three places in the borough) the parishes and extra parochial places of the Liberty of the Rolls, Precinct of the Savoy, St Anne Soho, St Clement Danes, St George Hanover Square, St Martin in the Fields, St Mary le Strand, St Paul Covent Garden and St James Piccadilly. Westminster was transferred from Middlesex to the newly-created County of London in 1889 and became the Westminster Metropolitan Borough in 1900. Westminster Metropolitan Borough was abolished in 1965, becoming part of the London Borough of the City of Westminster, which also covered the former boroughs and parishes of Marylebone and Paddington.