City status in the United Kingdom
Learn more about City status in the United Kingdom
City status in the United Kingdom is granted by the British monarch to a select group of communities. The status does not apply automatically on the basis of any particular criteria, although it was traditionally given to towns with diocesan cathedrals. This association between having a cathedral and being called a city was established in the early 1540s when Henry VIII founded dioceses (and therefore cathedrals) in six English towns and also granted them all city status by issuing Letters Patent.
Until the sixteenth century, a town was recognised as a city by the Crown if it had a diocesan cathedral within its limits. This means some cities today are very small, because they were unaffected by population growth during the industrial revolution — notably Wells, which has a population of about 10,000 (see Smallest cities in the United Kingdom). After the sixteenth century, no new dioceses (and no new cities) were created until the nineteenth century, but the practice was revived with the creation of the diocese of Ripon in 1836. A string of new dioceses and cities followed. This process was changed in 1888 to allow Birmingham and other large settlements that did not have cathedrals to become cities (Birmingham's parish church later became a cathedral).
 City status conferment
City status brings no benefits other than the right to be called a city. It should be noted that all cities have to be re-issued with letters patent reconfirming city status following local government re-organisation where the original city has been abolished. This process was followed by a number of cities since 1974, and York and Hereford's status was confirmed in both 1974 and again in the 1990s. Failure to do so leads to the loss of city status as happened at Rochester in 1998 (see below).
Charters originated as charters of incorporation, allowing a town to become an incorporated borough, or to hold markets. Some of these charters recognised officially that the town involved was a city. Apart from that recognition, it became accepted that such a charter could make a town into a city. The earliest examples of these are Hereford and Worcester, both of which date their city status to 1189.
Some people have disputed the official definition, especially inhabitants of places that have been considered cities in the past but are not generally considered cities today. Additionally, although the Crown clearly has the right to bestow 'official' city status, some have doubted the right of the Crown to define the word "city" in the United Kingdom. In informal usage, "city" can be used for large towns or conurbations that are not formally cities. The best-known example of this is London, which contains two cities (the City of London, and the City of Westminster) but is not itself a city.
 Officially-designated cities
There are currently 66 officially-designated cities in the UK, of which eight have been created since 2000 in competitions to celebrate the new millennium and Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. The designation is highly sought after, with over 40 communities submitting bids at recent competitions.
 Modern practice of granting city status
Towns that became seats of bishoprics in the twentieth century, such as Chelmsford, Guildford, and Blackburn, were not automatically granted city status. However, well into the twentieth century it was often assumed that the presence of a cathedral was sufficient to elevate a town to city status, and that for cathedral cities the city charters were recognising its city status rather than granting it. On this basis, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica said that Southwell (diocese established 1884) and St Asaph (an historic diocese) are cities. These towns were never granted letters patent recognising this by the Crown, and so when the letters patent became the important criterion they were no longer generally considered cities.
In 1911 an application for city status by Portsmouth was refused. Explaining the Home Secretary's reason for not recommending the King to approve the petition, the Lord Advocate stated: "..during the reign of his late Majesty it was found necessary, in order to maintain the value of the distinction, to lay down a rule as to the minimum population which should ordinarily, in connexion with other considerations, be regarded as qualifying a borough for that higher status."<ref>House of Commons - Status of Portsmouth, The Times, June 21, 1911</ref>
In 1927 a Royal Commission on Local Government was examining local authority areas and functions in England and Wales. The question arose as to which towns were entitled to be called cities, and the chairman, the Earl of Onslow, wrote to the Home Office to seek clarification. The Home Office replied with a memorandum which read:
"The title of a city which is borne by certain boroughs is a purely titular distinction. It has no connexion with the status of the borough in respect of local government and confers no powers or privileges. At the present time and for several centuries past the title has been obtained only by an express grant from the Sovereign effected by letters patent; but a certain number of cities possess the title by very ancient prescriptive right. There is no necessary connexion between the title of a city and the seat of a bishopric, and the creation of a new see neither constitutes the town concerned a city nor gives it any claim to the grant of letters patent creating it a city.
If a town wishes to obtain the title of a city the proper method of procedure is to address a petition to the King through the Home Office. It is the duty of the Home Secretary to submit such petitions to his Majesty and to advise his Majesty to the reply to be returned. It is a well-established principle that the grant of the title is only recommended in the case of towns of the first rank in population, size and importance, and having a distinctive character and identity of their own. At the present day, therefore, it is only rarely and in exceptional circumstances that the title is given."<ref>Functions of local authorities. Memorandum from Health Ministry, The Times, 17 June, 1927</ref>
A town can now apply for city status by submitting an application to the Lord Chancellor, who makes recommendations to the sovereign. Such competitions are usually held to mark special events, such as coronations, royal jubilees or the Millennium.
 Lord Mayors
Some cities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have the further distinction of having a Lord Mayor rather than a simple Mayor - in Scotland, the equivalent is the Lord Provost. Lord Mayors have the right to be styled "The Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor". The Lord Mayors and Provosts of Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, City of London, and York all have the further right to be styled "The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor" (or Provost), though they are not members of the Privy Council as this style usually indicates. The style is associated with the office, not the person holding it, so "The Right Worshipful Joe Bloggs" would be incorrect.
There are currently 66 recognised cities (including 30 Lord Mayoralties or Lord Provostships) in the UK: 50 cities (23 Lord Mayoralties) in England, five cities (two Lord Mayoralties) in Wales, six cities (four Lord Provostships) in Scotland and five cities (one Lord Mayoralty) in Northern Ireland.
Rochester was recognised as a city from 1211 to 1998. On April 1 1974 the city was abolished, becoming part of the Borough of Medway, a local government district in the county of Kent. However, under letters patent the area of the former city was to continue to be styled the "City of Rochester" to "perpetuate the ancient name" and to recall "the long history and proud heritage of the said city".<ref>Letters Patent dated March 18, 1974, text retrieved from Medway Council archives website</ref> The city was unique, as it had no council or charter trustees and no mayor or civic head. In 1979 the Borough of Medway was renamed as Rochester-upon-Medway, and in 1982 further letters patent transferred the city status to the entire borough.<ref>Letters Patent dated January 25, 1982, text retrieved from Medway Council archives website</ref> On April 1, 1998, the existing local government districts of Rochester-upon-Medway and Gillingham were abolished and became the new unitary authority of Medway. Since it was the local government district that officially held city status under the 1982 letters patent, when it was abolished, it also ceased to be a city. The other local government districts with city status that were abolished around this time (Bath and Hereford) had decided to appoint Charter Trustees to maintain the existence of the city and the mayoralty. However, Rochester upon Medway City Council had decided not to. Medway Council apparently only became aware of this when, in 2002, they discovered that Rochester was not on the Lord Chancellor's Office's list of cities.  
After its unsuccessful attempt to gain city status, the town of Reading, Berkshire started using the phrase "City Centre" on its buses and car park signs. In its planning, the government of the day intended Milton Keynes to be a "new city" in scale, it was referred to as such in contemporary supporting papers, but was gazetted in 1967 as a New Town. It has used the term "City Centre" on its buses and road signs for many years. Although it has been county town of Essex since the 13th century and has a cathedral, Chelmsford does not have city status: nevertheless it's local football team calls itself Chelmsford City F.C..
 List of cities
The following are the official cities in the United Kingdom as in 2004. Those that have been cities since time immemorial are indicated with "TI" in the "since" column.
Note that the Cathedral column lists the diocesan cathedrals that were the grounds for the granting of city status, that is, cathedrals of the established Church of England, and the formerly established Church in Wales or Church of Ireland, in cities recognised prior to 1888. The Church of Scotland has no bishops. Many of these cities have Roman Catholic cathedrals, but these are not listed. From 1888 on, the presence or absence of a cathedral ceased to be relevant and, for all subsequent cities, this entry is shown as not applicable.
Note (5): Coventry has had three cathedrals: the first, St Mary's from 1043 to 1539; the second, St Michael's, from 1918 to 1940, when it was destroyed by German bombardment; and its replacement, also St Michael's, built alongside the old cathedral, consecrated in 1962.
Note (6): Note that the City of London covers only the "square mile", and is usually just referred to as "the City". The larger conurbation of Greater London has no city charter, and consists of the City of London, the City of Westminster and 31 other London boroughs. This can be compared to the City of Brussels, within Brussels.
Note (7): City status was confirmed by Letters Patent dated July 9, 1974.<ref>London Gazette, issue no. 46352, September 24, 1974</ref> The city status extends to the entire district, although the district council calls itself "St Albans District Council" or "St Albans City and District".
Note (8): Letters Patent under the Great Seal conferring City Status were issued to the unitary authority of York on 1st April, 1996, confirming the right of the Lord Mayor to be styled "Right Honourable", in continuation to those granted to the previous City Council abolished March 31, 1996.<ref name="londongaz">London Gazette, issue no. 54363, April 4, 1996</ref>
Note (9): Letters Patent under the Great Seal were issued on March 29, 1996 ordaining that the counties of Swansea and Cardiff should have the status of cities from April 1, 1996. The counties replaced the previous district councils which had enjoyed city status.<ref name="londongaz"/>
Note (10): According to the Municipal Year Book, 1972 the royal burghs of Perth and Elgin officially enjoyed city status. The royal burghs of Brechin, Dunfermline and Kirkwall had also been officially described as "cities". As all burghs were abolished in 1975, these areas are now often called "former cities". Although Brechin does not have city status, the community council formed for the area uses the title "City of Brechin and District".
Note (12): The Provost of Stirling is the civic head of the entire Stirling council area, although city status only extends to the town of Stirling.
Note (13): Armagh had previously enjoyed city status, with St Patrick's Cathedral the site of the metropolitan primate of all Ireland. The city status was lost in 1840 when the city corporation was abolished. However, the successor urban district council and district council frequently used the title of city without official sanction prior to 1994.
Note (16): City status granted to the "Town of Newport in the County Borough of Newport" and the "Town of Preston" by Letters Patent dated May 15, 2002.<ref>London Gazette, issue no. 56573, May 21, 2002</ref>
Note (19): Letters Patent dated November 4, 1980 ordained that the "Town of Lichfield shall have the status of a City". A town council had been constituted in 1980 leading to the dissolution of the Charter Trustees of the City of Lichfield.<ref>London Gazette, issue no. 48364, November 7 1980</ref><ref>Lichfield City Council website</ref>
Note (21): City status was conferred on Hereford Town Council October 11, 2000.<ref>Charters of Hereford City Council</ref> The status had previously been confirmed to the district council formed in 1974. When that council was abolished in 1996 charter trustees were formed for the City of Hereford. On the formation of a town council for Hereford in April 2000 the charter trustees were dissolved, and the city status temporarily lapsed.
Note (23): The title of City was used "by courtesy" after 1550 when Westminster ceased to be the see of a bishop. By Letters Patent dated October 27 1900 city status was conferred on the newly created Metropolitan Borough of Westminster from November 1.<ref>London Gazette issue no. 27242, October 30 1900</ref> This status was continued on the creation of the City of Westminster as a london borough in 1965.
Note (24): A letter from the Home Secretary to the Mayor of Leicester confirming that the city status would be bestowed, noted that this was a "restoration to your ancient town of its former status of a city."<ref>The Times: Leicester, a City: Sequel to the Recent Royal Visit</ref><ref>Leicester: The Dignity of a City 655-1926, Leicester's city status, its loss and its regaining over thirteen centuries by Daniel Williams</ref>
Note (37): Declaration that the Chief Magistrate and Officer of the City to bear the style and title of Lord Mayor due to the city's high position in the roll of ports of [the] kingdom June 26, 1914<ref>London Gazette, issue no.28845, June 30, 1914</ref><ref>The King's Honour to Hull, The Times, June 27, 1914</ref>
Note (39): Declaration that the Chief Magistrate of the City to bear the style and title of Lord Mayor July 10, 1928 in consideration of its antiquity and importance<ref>London Gazette, issue no.33405, June 20, 1928</ref><ref>The Times, July 11, 1928</ref>
Note (41): Letters Patent dated May 10, 1935, in commemoration of his Majesty's silver jubilee<ref>London Gazette, issue no.34160, May 10, 1935</ref><ref>Lord Mayor of Plymouth, The Times, May 7, 1935</ref>
Note (43): Style of "Right Honourable" conferred on Lord Mayor by Letters Patent dated October 26, 1956. The city was designated the capital of wales at that date.<ref>London Gazette, issue no.40911, October 26, 1956</ref>
Note (44): The first Lord Mayor was appointed June 3, 1896<ref>History of Mayoralty of Birmingham from Birmingham City Council website</ref>
Note (46): The Lord Mayoralty of Bristol was granted as part of the Birthday Honours in 1899<ref>Birthday Honours, The Times, June 3, 1899</ref><ref>History of The Lord Mayor of Bristol from Bristol City Council website</ref>
Note (47): The Lord Mayoralty was granted in 1897<ref>Lord Mayor of Leeds from Leeds City Council website</ref>
Note (48): The Lord Mayoralty was granted in 1928<ref>Lord Mayors of Leicester from Leicester City Council website</ref>
Note (49): The Lord Mayoralty was granted in 1892<ref>List of Lord Mayors of Liverpool from Liverpool City Council website</ref>
Note (50): The Lord Mayoralty was granted in 1892<ref>List of Lord Mayors from Manchester City Council website</ref>
Note (51): The Lord Mayoralty was granted in 1910 in view of the position occupied by that city as the chief city of East Anglia and of its close association with his Majesty<ref>The King and Norwich, The Times, February 7, 1910</ref>
Note (52): The Lord Mayoralty was granted in 1927<ref>Lord Mayors of Portsmouth from Portsmouth City Council website</ref>
Note (53): The Lord Mayoralty was granted July 12, 1897<ref>History of the Lord Mayor from Sheffield City Council website</ref>
Note (55): Warrant issued 28 January 1889 that Letters Patent be issued under the Seal appointed by the treaty of union to be used in place of the Great Seal of Scotland, ordaining and declaring that the Burgh of Dundee shall be a City, and shall be called and styled "The City of Dundee"<ref>London Gazette, January 29, 1889</ref>
Note (56): Burghs of Old Aberdeen and Woodside and the district of Torry incorporated as the City and Royal Burgh of Aberdeen by the Aberdeen Corporation Act 1891 (1891 c.cxxiv)
Note (57): The present council areas are designated "cities" by virtue of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994, which also reserves the post of Lord Provost for the convener of the four councils. The previous local government districts and district councils created by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 enjoyed the same privileges.
Note (58): Letters Patent dated January 14, 1889<ref>From the London Gazette, January 18, 1889, The Times, January 19, 1889</ref>
 Cities now in the Republic of Ireland
|City||Mayor||Since||Church of Ireland Cathedral||Council|
|Republic of Ireland Cities|
|Cork||Lord Mayor||1172||Saint Finbarre's Cathedral||City Council|
|Dublin||Lord Mayor||1171||Christchurch Cathedral||City Council|
|Limerick||1197||St Mary's Cathedral||City Council|
|Kilkenny||1609||St Canice's Cathedral||Borough Council|
|Waterford||1171||Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford||City Council|
 City councils
Being a city gives a settlement no special rights other than that of calling itself a city. Nonetheless, this is considered very prestigious and competitions for the status are hard fought.
Most cities have "city councils", which have varying powers depending upon the type of settlement. There are unitary authorities (including metropolitan and London boroughs) that are responsible for all local government services within their area. (The only London borough having city status is the City of Westminster). Many cities have ordinary district councils, which share power with county councils. At the bottom end of the scale, some cities have civil parish councils, with no more power than a village.
Some cities have no council at all. Where they used to have a city council but it has been abolished they may have Charter Trustees, drawn from the local district council, who appoint the mayor and look after the city's traditions.
Most "cities" are not cities in the traditional sense of the word (that is, a large urban area) but are in fact local government districts that have city status, and which often include large rural areas. For example the City of Canterbury and City of Wakefield cover large rural areas. The largest "city" district in terms of area is the City of Carlisle, which covers some 400 square miles (1040 km²) of mostly rural landscape in the north of England, and is larger than smaller counties such as Merseyside or Rutland. The City of Sheffield contains part of the Peak District National Park. This is however merely a curiosity and has had no impact on the general usage of the word "city" in the UK, which has unambiguously retained its urban meaning in British English. Residents of the rural parts of the "City of Carlisle" and the like might be aware of the name of their local council, but would not consider themselves to be inhabitants of a city with a small "c".
Equally, there are some cities where the local government district is in fact smaller than the historical or natural boundaries of the city. Four examples of this are Manchester (where the traditional area associated includes areas of the neighbouring authorities of Trafford, Tameside and Bury), Glasgow (where suburban areas of the city are located in East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire), Wolverhampton (areas of the neighbouring authorities of Walsall, Dudley and South Staffordshire) and most obviously, London (Greater London outside the City of London).
This contrasts with the situation in the United States, where the primary meaning of the word "city" is any area contained within city limits, completely disregarding whether or not that area is recognisable as a traditional "city".
Due to the widespread interest in information about towns and cities, and for comparisons between urban populations and with those living outside towns, the Government at each census produces a report Key Statistics for Urban Areas that separates the population of the actual town or city from the population of the area controlled by the council bearing its name.
 City applications
City status grants have been used to mark special royal and other occasions. Swansea was granted city status in 1969 to mark the investiture of Charles, Duke of Cornwall as Prince of Wales. At the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, Derby was granted the honour. The use of formal competitions for city status is a recent practice. The first competition was held in 1992, to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Queen's reign. Sunderland was the winner. In 1994 two historic seats of Bishoprics — St David's and Armagh — were granted city status. They had been considered cities historically, but this status had lapsed. For the city applications in 2000, held to celebrate the millennium, the following towns and boroughs requested city status:
- England: Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Brighton & Hove, Chelmsford, Colchester, Croydon, Doncaster, Dover, Guildford, Ipswich, Luton, Maidstone, Medway, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Preston, Reading, Shrewsbury and Atcham, Southend-on-Sea, Southwark, Stockport, Swindon, Telford and Wrekin, Warrington, Wolverhampton.
- Wales: Aberystwyth, Machynlleth, Newport, Newtown, St Asaph, Wrexham.
- Scotland: Ayr, Inverness, Paisley, Stirling.
- Northern Ireland: Ballymena, Lisburn.
For the 2002 applications, held to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the entrants included all of the above towns except Southwark, together with Greenwich and Wirral in England, Dumfries in Scotland and Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Craigavon and Newry in Northern Ireland. There was controversy in the rest of the UK — especially in Wales — over the fact that two of the three winners of the 2000 competition were English towns, so 2002 was run as four separate competitions. The winners in Great Britain were Preston in England, Newport in Wales, and Stirling in Scotland. In Northern Ireland it was decided to award city status to two entrants: Lisburn (predominantly unionist) and Newry (predominantly nationalist) so that offence would not be caused to either community. Exeter was awarded Lord Mayoralty status in a separate application.
 Cathedral towns
 England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Now that being the seat of a Church of England diocese is no longer sufficient (or necessary) to become a city, there are a number of cathedral towns. These are sometimes referred to as cities by their residents — particularly St Asaph and Rochester.
|Bury St. Edmunds||St Edmundsbury Cathedral||1914|
previously a city, see above
|St Asaph||St Asaph Cathedral||historic|
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica refers to Llandaff, Southwell and St Asaph as cities, along with Armagh and Lisburn in Northern Ireland. (The latter two achieved city status formally in 1994 and 2002 respectively.)
In total there are 17 English, Welsh and Northern Ireland towns that have city status but do not have Anglican cathedrals within their borders - Bath (a former cathedral), Brighton & Hove, Cambridge, Hull, Lancaster, Leeds, Newry, Nottingham, Plymouth, Preston, Salford, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Swansea, Westminster (but Westminster Abbey was a cathedral briefly during the reign of Henry VIII) and Wolverhampton. Cities to have acquired cathedrals after 1888 are Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Leicester, Newport, Portsmouth and Sheffield.
The national church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, is presbyterian in governance with no bishops or dioceses, and thus has high kirks rather than cathedrals. However the pre-Reformation and modern Roman Catholic dioceses, and the modern dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church, do have extant cathedrals. There are three towns in Scotland that have Episcopal cathedrals but do not have city status — Millport, Oban and Perth. Perth is often called a city, the fair city of Perth, but Oban is not. Additionally, St. Andrews, Brechin and Elgin are often referred to as cities, as they have (ruinous) pre-Reformation cathedrals. In the past Elgin, Brechin and Perth were all cities.
Stirling, which was awarded city status in 2002, has never had an Episcopal or Catholic cathedral.
 Large towns
As noted above, in ordinary discourse, "city" can refer to any large settlement, with no fixed limit.
There are certain towns which have large urban areas, which could qualify for city status on the grounds of their population size. Some have applied for city status and had the application turned down. Northampton is one of the most populous urban districts not to be a London Borough, metropolitan borough or city; on this basis the council claims that it is the largest town in England.
At every census the government produces the report Key Statistics for Urban Areas which shows that the following are the largest nine urban sub-areas outside London not a part of a city or having a city as a component:
- Reading — 232,662
- Dudley — 194,919
- Northampton — 189,474
- Luton — 185,543
- Milton Keynes (urban area) — 184,506
- Walsall — 170,994
- Bournemouth — 167,527
- Southend-on-Sea — 160,257
- Swindon — 155,432
See List of English cities by population for further such examples in England.
It should be noted that city status is usually not granted to urban areas, but to local government areas such as civil parishes and boroughs, the boundaries, and hence populations, of which are not necessarily the same. The City of Stirling and the City of Inverness provide counterexamples here. Stirling Council's application for city status was specifically for the urban area of the (now former) Royal Burgh of Stirling - proposed city boundaries were included, and so not all of the council area has city status.
This leads to the oddity whereby city status can be granted to areas that are not generally regarded as towns. Historical or "federal cities" of this type would be Stoke on Trent, Sunderland and Brighton & Hove - in all these cases the borough was formed and then city status granted to it afterwards.
The largest local authorities to have applied for city status in the recent competitions are
- London Borough of Croydon — 330,587
- Metropolitan Borough of Wirral — 312,293
- Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster — 286,866
- Metropolitan Borough of Stockport — 284,528
- Metropolitan Borough of Bolton — 261,037
- Borough of Medway — 249,488
- London Borough of Southwark — 244,866
- London Borough of Greenwich — 214,403
- Borough of Milton Keynes — 207,057
- Borough of Northampton — 194,458
- Borough of Warrington — 191,080
- Borough of Luton — 184,371
- Borough of Swindon — 180,051
- Borough of Southend-on-Sea — 159,600
 See also
- Cities in England
- Towns of the United Kingdom
- List of UK place names with royal patronage
- List of English cities by population
- Smallest cities in Britain
- List of conurbations in the United Kingdom
- UK topics
- City status in Sweden
 External links
- Government list of UK cities
- BBC News: Rochester loses city statuscy:Rhestr dinasoedd y Deyrnas Unedig
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