Have you ever wondered why London has exactly 32 boroughs? Not 5, or 20, or even 100, but 32? Well luckily for you, we’ve done our homework with some help from Jay Foreman, who broke everything down in his handy YouTube video, and are here to give you the deets.
London hasn’t always had 32 boroughs, in fact before 1965 it had a staggering number of 86 different authorities throughout what is now known as Greater London. These 86 authorities have been around for a long old time, with many being based on ancient church parishes that date back to the Middle Ages. However, having this many different local authorities proved to be quite cumbersome which was made pretty evident in this particular small area of North Woolwich.
In this small area there was a primary school ran by the County Borough of East Ham, emergency services ran by the County Borough of West Ham, public baths and libraries ran by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich, and a secondary school ran by London County Council all of which were five minutes away from each other. We can only imagine the absolute chaos that this would have caused.
It wasn’t hard to see why having 86 different authorities in London can be wildly inconvenient, so in 1965 it was agreed that 32 London boroughs would be created out of the existing 86. Huzzah! Although this was great news, there still lay the mammoth task of creating these new 32 boroughs and it was not an easy feat.
In order to cut down the number of boroughs in London, existing areas would have to merge in order to make new combinations of boroughs but this was not a popular decision with all the boroughs. Rival boroughs like West Ham and East Ham were furious over their merge and certain boroughs had preferences over who they would have liked to be merged with. Perhaps most controversial of all was the uniting of Wembley and Willesden. The two boroughs despite being neighbours were very different indeed, with Wembley being a mostly Tory-voting suburban borough and Willesden a mostly Labour-voting urban neighbourhood. Residents were infuriated with the match, alas nothing could be done as its surrounding areas were coupled nicely and the marge was set to go through.
There was also the task of renaming these new boroughs. They were all given the chance to come up with suggestions to name themselves and although many simply chose one of their existing names, the borough with the highest population or the borough with the most historical significance, others made the job more difficult. For example, the suggestions for the new borough comprising of West and East Ham included Hamstrung, Ham Sandwich, and my personal favourite, Ham Sweet Ham. For the boroughs who were unable to come up with suitable names for themselves, suitable names were given by the council instead.
Many wanted to have both names of the existing boroughs in the name of the new borough but all of these suggestions were opposed by the council, apart from one. It was only the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea that were able to have their way and were dubbed the incredibly and unnecessarily long The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
So there you have it, now you know why London has 32 boroughs and the difficult road it took to get there.