What was it about this tiny stretch of land called Thorney Island, measuring barely 560m by 330m - that has had such an effect on the English-speaking world? If it had merely given birth to Westminster Abbey, where so many kings and queens of England were crowned and buried in competitive splendour it would have earned its place in history. But it also became the seat of government, and for over 500 years a palace for kings and queens.
The Cotton Library in Old Palace Yard became the foundation of the British library. Caxton set up the first English printing press there which changed the direction of the English language as did the King James Bible which was partly written there. The beautiful medieval Chapter House of the Abbey hosted Britain's first parliament and then became a repository for official documents - the forerunner of today's Public Record Office.
Was the galaxy of talent, including Ben Jonson, Christopher Wren, Henry Purcell, John Dryden and Edward Gibbon, that came out of Westminster School an accident or due to something they put into the water? Thorney Island, among numerous other things was also where the Fabian Society had its first headquarters and where the modern rules of association football were formulated. Is there any other area of land, anywhere in the world, so small in size that could claim as much?
Part of its success was due to what today we call the power of the network. It suited Edward the Confessor to move his palace from Winchester to Westminster near his beloved abbey and, later, Henry II to move the Exchequer to Thorney Island forming the first link between Westminster and the government of the land. Cotton's Library was convenient for peers and MPs being so close to parliament and Chaucer's printing presses were ideally suited to get business both from the abbey - among other things he had a contract to print indulgences – and from the growing masses of courtiers who lived and fluttered around the Court in hope of preferment. Everyone knew,and fed off, everyone else.