, Volume 51, Issue 1–2, pp 23–32 | Cite as

Capital and Empire: Geographies of Imperial London

  • David Gilbert
  • Felix Driver


The notion of empire has often been regarded in Europe as a matter of diffusion and expansion; something which happened ‘over there’ rather than close to home. Yet the form, use and representation of modern European cities have been shaped by the global history of imperialism in ways that continue to matter even in an apparently post-imperial age. The signs of empire were prominently displayed within the built environments of all the major cities of late-nineteenth century Europe, as they came (in different ways) to play the role of regional, national and imperial capitals. In what was evidently a pan-European discourse on the imperial city between the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth, national models were defined in relation to other national models, in a spirit of competition as much as emulation. This paper examines the case of London. British architects and planners frequently complained that London lagged behind its rivals in the struggle for imperial primacy, given the absence of state-sponsored projects to parallel Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris or Leopold's grand plans for Brussels. At the intra-urban scale, the imperial city had a geography which mattered: in the case of London, different parts of the city were associated with different aspects of empire. More generally, it is clear that national debates over imperial urbanism were conditioned not simply by understandings of the global reach of European empires, but also by attitudes towards social, cultural and political change within Europe itself.

London imperial capital 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Gilbert
    • 1
  • Felix Driver
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Geography, Royal HollowayUniversity of London, EghamSurreyU.K.

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