The decentralized aspect of London owes to the fact that London’s many centres were once, as Style City points out, autonomous villages, which over the years grew outwards and conjoined to form the sprawling mass that is, that is you know what.
This point has long been recognized by scholars. Said John Northouck, in 1773, just before London would undergo the most incredible development, ‘In strict language, London is still confined to its walls, and the limits of the corporate jurisdiction of the city; but as a contiguity of buildings has connected it with Westminster and all the neighbouring villages and hamlets, the name in common usage has extended over them all, and rendered their respective proper names no more than subdivisions of one great metropolis. In this general view therefore, London may now be said to include two cities, one borough and forty six antient villages: viz. the city of London properly so called, the city of Westminster, borough of Southwark, the villages of Mora, Finsbury Wenlaxbarn, Clerkenwell, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Nortonfalgate, the Spital, White-chapel, Mile-End New-Town, Mile-End Old-Town, Bethnal-Green Stepney, Poplar, Limehouse, Blackwall, Ratcliff, Shadwell, Wapping, Stepney, East Smithfield, the Hermitage, St. Catharine’s, the Minories, St. Clements-Danes, the Strand, Charing-cross, St. James’s, Knights-Bridge, Soho, St. Martin’s in the fields, St. Giles’s in the fields, Bloomsbury, Marybone, Portpool, Saffron-Hill, Holborn, Vaux-Hall, Lambeth, Lambeth-Marsh, Kennington, Newington-Butts, Bermondsey, the Grange, Horsleydown and Rotherhithe. Beside which the villages of Chelsea, Paddington, Islington, Hackney, Bow, and Deptford, are so near being united, that they might without any great impropriety have been added to the list, and considered as appendages to this immense capital.’
A mindblowing scream from the past, a bit of writing like this makes you feel three hundred years old. Nine years ago I’d bike every Wednesday evening through Highbury to Petherton Road to receive French lessons, from a woman, who at the age of fifteen left her home town and unbeknownst to her parents, travelled all the way up to Paris to watch the French Open. Now that’s initiative. But all that’s just as much in the past and as completely irretrievable as Northouck’s London.
Although the villages and towns that grew together to form what we know as London may have once been autonomous, the centers, which are a legacy of these former villages and towns, whilst sometimes being quite different in style and ambiance, are no longer autonomous. The whole of Greater London, is, after all, governed by the Mayor of London and many of London’s centers will share and thus be governed by a local authority.