Guide to the South East of England
If there is one place that could sum up south east England in cultural, economic or historic terms then it would be London. The south eastern corner of the country certainly has a lot more to offer than just the capital, but it is London that remains at the epicentre, not just of the south east, but of the UK as a whole. Since early Roman times, when a bridge was built to covey troops over the Thames, London has grown in significance in global terms. The rest of the south east both serves London, in terms of the many commuters who travel there each day, as well as following its lead culturally. It is the heart of the art world, the music scene and of theatre.
The south east is covered by a number of motorways which head in all directions. The major roads look like a spider's web on a map, leading from the capital to East Anglia, the Midlands, the North, the West Country and Wales. Connecting them all is the M25, London's notorious ring road, which was constructed in the 1980s and has been upgraded ever since. The south east has three major airport hubs. Heathrow is by far the largest, to the west of London, near to Windsor. Stansted Airport is in Essex, close to Bishop's Stortford, a typical market town in the region. Gatwick Airport, near to Crawley - a New Town built after the Second World War - lies to the south. In addition, there are a number of other smaller airports, such as Luton and Southend. The south east also has excellent ports. Harwich serves eastern destinations in Holland and Denmark, while Dover and Folkestone in Kent connect to France. Southampton is another important port where you tend to find the large cruise ships calling in.
The south east of England has the lowest unemployment rates of anywhere in the country and this means that many are attracted to the area. As such, rental prices for accommodation and office space are higher than anywhere else, especially in central locations. Manufacturing, research and development, pharmaceuticals, avionics and defence are all major industry sectors in the region, employing millions. However, the real economic powerhouse of the south east is the financial district in the City of London. Here, you don't simply find banks, but a range of financial services companies, underwriters, re-insurers, investment banks, fund management companies, futures markets and derivatives traders. Thinking of the City in terms of banking alone is to underestimate it.
The counties of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire lie to the south of London. One of the key historic centres is Winchester which was the capital for a time, whilst London fell under the control of invading Danes. This medieval city has many modern suburbs and a few light industrial parks on the edge of town. However, the city centre retains much of its original charm. Canterbury, in Kent, is a similarly historic cathedral city which is still the focal point for many pilgrimages. In between the two is Brighton, one of the south east's most famous seaside resorts. With old-fashioned charm, Brighton also has a very vibrant night life and a well-deserved reputation for fun.
North of the river Thames, the counties of Essex and Hertfordshire offer a slightly different feel. Essex has some cities in it - Chelmsford, where radio was first developed and Colchester which was founded by the Romans. However, much of it is rural and it is here that you will find idyllic villages with thatched roof cottages. The southern part of Hertfordshire is part of London's urban sprawl, but Hertford, further north is not just the county's administrative centre, but home to well known companies, such as Which?
Reading, Slough and Windsor are all to the west of London. Offering easy access to the M4 motorway there are many blue chip type companies that operate in the area and Berkshire as a whole is home to some big organisations. Panasonic, the Japanese consumer good manufacturer, has been headquartered in the county for decades, for example. 3M, Novell and Motorola are all international big name brands which operate from the west of London, which has great access to Heathrow.
The most populous city in Western Europe, London stands alone for business and commerce. It is also the centre of the legal profession in England and Wales, as well as being home to by far the majority of government departments. Not only is it a hit tourist destination, it is a popular place for overseas investment in terms of property portfolios. These days, London rivals cities like Tokyo and New York for the price of accommodation as well as the cost of living.