Part 3…. this is the last part of the last Chapter in Book, hope you have enjoyed it….
The London County Council thus created had a distinguished first chairman, the Earl of Rosebery. Later he became Prime Minister, and the English public, always liking a sporting politician, shouted with joy when his horses twice won the Derby at Epsom. London government was yet incomplete, until Mr Balfour’s Act of 1899 established Borough Councils in the areas in which Londoners live and sleep and trade–twenty-eight new municipalities, each with its mayor, aldermen and councillors. It swept away the old crazy patchwork. The City Corporation was left intact.
The City of Westminster, although customarily included among the boroughs, actually stands apart, with an ancient history of self -government.
London is governed to-day by these various Metropolitan Borough Councils, with the County Council acting in most important matters as the unifying authority. The London County Council alone deals with education, it relieves the poor, cares for the sick and insane, looks after public health, the parks and open spaces and sewerage, and plays a big part in town improvements. London government has a large body, but no head. Many have regretted the City’s failure to rise to the greater destiny. The Lord Mayor, as the chief citizen of London’s millions, would again have been that great officer whom I have shown at work throughout many centuries, Mayor of London as effectively as was FitzAlwyn in the days of King John.
The City has not witheld support from its neighbours in Outer London. It has given the people tracts of country for health and holiday like Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches; the City’s benevolence is proverbial. Asserting religious toleration, it was the first among the towns to put a Jew into the Mayoral chair, and it sent Baron de Rothschild as the City’s representative in parliament in 1856-the first Jew to sit there. But the great decision the City has always refused to take. It keeps the glamour of its authority and long history, and its ancient privileges, within the narrow frontiers, which once comprised London, but certainly do not do so to-day.
So London which set the example of self-government to other English towns, fashions its own government on a system unlike that of any other municipality. Alice in Wonderland saw nothing so topsy-turvy as the spectacle presented each year of the City’s hospitable Lord Mayor retiring from office with a baronetcy, the sheriffs with knighthoods, while rarely indeed is recognition paid to those who give their abilities, time and labour to the heavy task of caring for the welfare of eight millions of Londoners.
But we are practical people, accepting facts that stand up before us, and really it does seem that while we have hesitated and stood inactive, Time has decided for us. London has grown so vast-and still the town grows-that the prospect recedes of our ever creating a single central government over a capital so far spread out, whether from Guildhall or elsewhere. It was possible when the horse-drawn omnibus set the limit to journeying in London. The numbers of people are now too many. ”A nation, not a city,” Disraeli finally said of London. The London County Council and the many Borough Councils are awakening a spirit of civic patriotism, but it grows slowly, dreadfully slowly, the electors themselves being in large part apathetic.
The perils of indifference arising as to how London is governed are too vast lightly to be contemplated.
The twentieth century moves on; its most significant contribution to London’s story thus so far is the increase of industrial activity in the South, which the approaching electrical age will tend to hasten. London’s newspapers already are printed by electrical power; electricity hauls the trains, turns the shafts of machinery, lights the streets and dwellings, and more and more it is doing the housework for us. London is the inevitable pivotal point upon which the new industries converge. Along the sides of every main railway, by each radiating highway, farther and farther the factories and residential areas are seen spread out. Where will London end?
Some say at the sea. Let us hope, never. Happily there is a desire to surround the huge town with a “Green Belt” of unspoilt countryside while time avails, and for this great efforts and sacrifices are being made.
London has not, like ancient Rome, given its name to an empire, but it is the capital city of a British empire widespread over a world that itself is much greater than ever Rome knew. The spirit of its people is as of old. The Great War proved that, when of every ten men who served amid the tens of thousands, nine dropped out of civilian life into the Army and the Fleets, and women tended the wounded and the sick in hospitals.
The story ends in our day with a London which contains much that would have been strange to the city of even half a century ago; planes in the sky, electric trains on the surface, tubes underground, talks and music broadcast on the air and conversations carried over seas and continents, motors on the roads, speed the goddess of the moment-a dangerous pagan hussy. What would Richard Whittington, Mayor, could he be back with us, think of it all?
I close repeating a passage already passed in pages far behind this one. Don’t believe people who bemoan to you the passing of “the good old times”. The good times are to-day.
Work as citizens of your proud city of London to make them better. Always be proud of London.