The shifting population story of the fall and rise of inner London

terrace rooftops BW

The population is a little over 8.6 million and the city is struggling with a housing shortage. This description may sound familiar to Londoners, but it not only reflects the current reality but the situation in 1939.

London reached its previous peak in population just before the Second World War. The numbers dropped in the post war years and only broke the milestone number of 8.61 million people this year, according to estimates by the GLA.

While the numbers are back to pre-war levels the shape of the city has changed. The foreign-born population has grown from single figures to the 37% of Londoners who were born outside the UK today. Data from the GLA shows how the geography of the city population has changed too.

In 1939 far more people lived in central London – 4.4 million lived in inner boroughs while 4.1 lived in outer ones. The most highly populated areas were Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth, and can be seen as the darker areas on the map.

1939 population

A new London emerged after the war. Much housing had been destroyed in the Blitz and new house building took off in the outer London suburbs pulling the population from the centre. The effects of that trend are seen today. The population of the inner boroughs is down by 1 million while the outer boroughs have swelled by 24% to 5.1 million. The most highly populated areas in 2015 are Barnet, Croydon and Ealing.

1939 2015

But looking at the annual data in detail shows a more complex pattern of how London has changed since 1939 and continues to evolve.   The population hit its low point in 1988 driven largely by the exodus from central boroughs. The lighter areas on the population change map below show where numbers were falling up to 1988.

1939 change pre 88

But the trend begins to reverse as numbers in the capital rise again. Between 1988 and today the population has risen in every area. Tower Hamlets and Newham have seen the strongest growth but central areas like Southwark and Hackney have witnessed larger rates of increase that outlying areas.

1939 change post 88

As the capital grows to record levels it is shifting once again. The biggest rate of growth in the past 12 months is in the City of London, but the numbers are small. After that it is Tower Hamlets where there has been at a 2.3% rise in residents in a year.  And over the next 25 years the GLA projections show that Tower Hamlets will lead the growth in residents, closely followed by Newham as many head east in search of a home in the capital.

1939 projection



Source data

Booming population will struggle to find a place to live

London drives UK population growth

Poles and Pakistanis help shape the multi-cultural make up of the city


All aboard! Big growth in public transport use in past 5 years

tube commutersThe public transport network across the capital is seeing a rise in passengers at twice the rate of population growth.  In the past 5 years the number of journeys taken on the Transport for London system of Tube, train, tram and bus has gone up by 14% while the population has risen by half that rate to break the 8.6 million mark.

The number of people in inner London, who may be more reliant on public transport,  has grown slightly faster than the rate for the capital as a whole, but the data underlines that the greater use of the transport network is linked not just to population but to economic factors.

The greatest growth in passenger numbers is on the Tube with 20% increase in journeys between the financial year 2010/11 and the most recent 12 months. Bus journeys rose by 5% rise over the same period. But the bus is still the most popular form of transport. Latest data from TfL shows that in the last 12 months buses carried 2.4 billion people while 1.3 billion Tube journeys were recorded.

TFL growth all

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Overground trains and the trams service make up just 5% of the journeys over the 5 years. But the growth in the DLR over that period has been strong as an improving economy has brought more jobs and homes along its routes.

TFL growth DLR

The biggest growth is in London Overground, the orbital train network around the capital. Passenger journeys have increased by 81% over 5 years but this is not a like for like comparison as the network has expanded during the period. The link between Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays was opened at the end of 2012 and the network recently added more lines including Liverpool Street to Enfield, Cheshunt and Chingford.

The only mode of transport that has seen a decline is the tram. Passenger journeys are down in recent months, but this may be related to station development work at Wimbledon which means the service is currently not running to this main connection point with the train and Tube network.

Source data

See also

Central Line leads the lost hours league table of your Tube delays

London leads the way in declining car use but the East is bucking the trend

Thousands forced to stand as train overcrowding worsens

Crime down nearly a third in 5 years on buses, Tube and trains








Over 50% of London babies have mothers born outside the UK

Baby hand

More than half the babies in London last year were born to mothers who were from outside the UK. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that 58% of new Londoners had mothers who were born outside the UK.  That’s more than double the national rate as across the country non-UK mums account for 27% of births.

In 3 boroughs, Newham, Westminster and Brent, three quarters of the births were to mothers from outside the UK. Since 2004 Newham has had the highest rate in the country for births by women born overseas. Last year it was 76.4%.

The boroughs with the lowest rates of births to mothers born overseas are Havering, Bromley and Bexley. With 28% non UK-born mothers Havering comes closest to the national average.

Mothers born outside UK

National data shows that Poland, Pakistan and India are the most common countries of birth for mothers who are not UK-born. The Polish-born population of the UK has increased 10-fold in the past 10 years.

Of the 127,000 babies born in London in 2014, 25,000 had mothers born in Asia or the Middle East, 20,000 had mothers born in the EU, the majority in newer EU members, which includes Poland, and nearly 17,000 had mothers from Africa.

Across London the most common region of birth for mothers from outside the UK varies from borough to borough. In 6 of the 14 inner London boroughs, including Haringey and Islington, it is the EU. In 10 of the 19 outer London boroughs, including Hillingdon, Harrow, Redbridge and Sutton, it is Asia and the Middle East. For 8 boroughs, including Lewisham, Southwark and Barking and Dagenham, it is Africa.

Source data

See also

Muhammad and Amelia top London’s baby name charts, again

Fewer babies born last year but birth rates vary across city

Our multi-lingual city – English second language for half of primary pupils

Mapping Londoners: Born in Japan

The number of Japanese-born Londoners appears to be shrinking.

At the time of the last census in 2011 21,000 people said that they were born in Japan. The Annual Population Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics estimated that number had fallen to 17,000 last year.

Japanese Londoners live mainly north of the river. The largest communities are in Barnet and Ealing, but more central boroughs such as Camden and Westminster are also popular places to make a home.

Born in Japan

Source data

More population maps

Mapping Londoners: Born in Mauritius

The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius gained independence from Britain in 1968. The relationship began in 1810 when the British took control of the island from the French.

Mauritius remains part of the Commonwealth and there are 24,000 Mauritian-born Londoners according to data from the last census in 2011. The more recent Annual Population Survey last year found that number is unchanged.

Mauritians show a preference for North London with Enfield the favourite location to make a home. In the east of the capital there are significant groups in Redbridge and Newham. Croydon in the south is also a popular choice.

Born in Mauritius

Source data

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Mapping Londoners: Born in Canada

Canada may be a land of wide open spaces but Canadians resident in London seem to like inner city living.

According to the last census in 2011 there are 21,000 Canadian Londoners. The most recent estimates in the Annual Population Survey by the Office of National Statistics shows that this number has remained unchanged.

Canadian-born Londoners favour central and western boroughs. Westminster and Camden have the biggest communities and there are substantial numbers in Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Born in Canada

Source data

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How London swallowed a county and had room for a bit of some others

The release of historical boundary maps data as part of the Ordinance Survey Open Data portal provides a reminder of how the formation of Greater London came at the expense of one of England’s historic counties, Middlesex.

For those not familiar with this piece of geographic history, most of London outside the boundaries of the City of London, used to sit within the county of Middlesex. Local government reorganisation at the end of the 19th Century created a newly defined Middlesex County Council splitting off the inner London boroughs to form the County of London.

But the growing population of London kept heading to the suburbs, to Middlesex. By the post war years the shape of the capital had changed and the Royal Commission on Local Government for London was set up in the early 60s to determine boundaries and local governance.

It came up with concept of Greater London, which came into being in 1965, swallowing Middlesex as a county council area. The map of southern England used to look like this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 21.56.58

Map Contains OS data © Crown copyright & Royal Mail data © Royal Mail copyright

Today’s county boundaries, marked in pink, look like this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 21.57.33

Map Contains OS data © Crown copyright & Royal Mail data © Royal Mail copyright

Middlesex disappeared as a county and Greater London has also absorbed parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey.

Middlesex lives on as a place name still used by many and its legacy includes Middlesex County Cricket Club, which plays its home games at Lord’s cricket ground in St John’s Wood, home of the Marylebone Cricket Club, the MCC, guardians of the rules of the game.

OS Open data

OS Interactive Boundary Map

See also

Are you a north of the river or south of the river Londoner?

Go east young man – it’s where young London lives

A London exodus? But wait, isn’t the population growing?

Poles and Pakistanis help shape the multi-cultural make up of the city

crowd zoom b&WThe capital’s migrant mix is shifting once more but it is not just the much reported arrival of people from Eastern Europe that is changing the multi-cultural face of the city. Data from the latest population survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics shows that South Asia and Southern Europe play a significant part too.

The biggest growth in numbers is in the Pakistani and Polish communities. Both have increased by 38,000 between 2011 and last year. Romanians, who were allowed access to work in the UK from the start of 2014, increased by 79% on 2011.

People born in India are the largest non-British group in the capital and their numbers grew by 12% over the period.

But the data also shows the Italian born population has grown by 27,000 and there are 16,000 more Spaniards. That’s an increase of more than 50% for both nationalities.

The biggest rate of growth was for Latvian’s, up 140% but numbers remain small and that high percentage represented 14,000 people.

Pop top 10

In contrast, large numbers of South Africans, Bangladeshis, Chinese and Nigerians have left London. The survey does not tell us how many returned to their country of birth and how many did what many UK born Londoners do – move to another part of the country.

Pop decline 10

The survey spoke to 27,000 people in London and more than 300,000 across the UK. The ONS warns that it is not as robust as the data in last census in 2011, and Urbs has written extensively on population profiles based on that data, but it provides the best estimates of how populations are shifting since 2011.

By comparing London and UK-wide data it is possible to identify the communities who are concentrated in the capital and those who are more dispersed across the UK.

The most London-centric group is from Ecuador. There are 14,000 in the capital; that’s 96% of the UK population. 79% of the people in the UK from the troubled Balkan state of Kosovo are in London.

But it is not just newer migrant groups that favour the capital. Ghana has a long relationship with the UK dating back through colonial times yet nearly three quarters of Ghanaian-born people in the UK are resident in London.

Pop Lon centric

In contrast, a small proportion of the small group of Slovakians in the country has chosen London. Germans seem to be widely dispersed around the UK, as do Chinese and people born in Zimbabwe.

Pop dispersed

Source data

See also

Mapping Londoners

London is more diverse than the UN or Fifa

Schools data reveals ethnic mix with fall in proportion of white British pupils






Mapping Londoners: Born in Ghana

Ghanaian-born Londoners are the third biggest African group by birth after Nigerians and Somalis. There are 63,000 of them and they are dispersed across the capital, according to data from the last census.

The largest numbers are in Croydon and Southwark with substantial communities in Newham, Lambeth and Enfield.

Ghana was a British colony and known as the Gold Coast until it gained independence in 1957. As a result Ghanaians have a long history of settling in the UK.

Born in Ghana

Source data

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Mapping Londoners: Born in Romania

At the time of the last census in 2011 there were 45,000 Romanian-born people living in London. This figure may now be higher after restrictions on Romanians coming to the UK were lifted in January 2014, some 7 years after the country joined the EU.

The last census data show Romanians concentrated in North London, especially in Brent, with another large community in Newham.

One unhappy statistic is the number of Romanians sleeping rough, which has doubled between 2014 and 2015 to 1,388 according to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network.

Born in Romania

Source data

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