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. Normally, city status is conferred by royal charter, but there are some British cities which predate the historical monarchy and have been regarded as cities since "time immemorial." City status brings no special benefits, other than the right to be called a city.
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 but is not itself a city.
There are currently sixty-six 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 forty communities submitting bids at recent competitions.
Charters originated as charters of incorporation, allowing a town to became an incorporated borough, or to hold markets. Some of these charters recognised officially that the town involved was a city. Apart from recognition, it became accepted that such a charter could make a town into a city. The earliest dates for these are Hereford and Worcester both of which date their city status to 1189.
Until the 16th century, a town was invariably recognised as a city by the Crown if it had a diocesan cathedral within its limits. This has led to some cities that are very small today, because they were unaffected by population growth during the industrial revolution—notably Wells, which has a population of about 10,000. After the 16th century, no new dioceses (and no new cities) were created until the 19th 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 didn't have cathedrals to become recognised as cities (Birmingham's parish church later became a cathedral).
Towns that became seats of bishoprics in the 20th century, such as Guildford and Blackburn, were not automatically granted recognition as cities. However, well into the 20th century, it was 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 makes the claim that Southwell (diocese established 1884) and St Asaph (diocese is historic) are cities. These towns were never granted charters recognising this by the Crown, and so when the charter became the important criterion they were no longer generally considered as cities.
A town can now apply for city status by submitting an application to the Lord Chancellor, who makes recommendations to the sovereign. These application competitions are usually held to mark special events, such as coronations, royal jubilees or the Millennium.
Only 28 cities have ceremonial Lord Mayors
. Patrick John Stannard wears the chain of that office to which he was appointed. (2004)
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, Bristol, 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. Until 1998, it was a local government district in the county of Kent. On April 1, 1998, the existing local government districts of Rochester and Gillingham were abolished, and became the new unitary authority of Medway. Since it was the local government district that officially held city status, 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. Rochester did not, for reasons that Medway Council have been investigating. Medway Council only became aware of this when, in 2002, they discovered that Rochester was not on the Lord Chancellor's Office's list of cities. The City of Rochester Society has pleaded for this status to be reinstated.
List of cities
The following are the official cities in the United Kingdom as of 2004. Those which have been cities since time immemorial are indicated with "TI" in the "since" column.
Note that the Cathedral column lists diocesan cathedrals which were the grounds for the granting of city status, i.e. cathedrals of the established Church of England, and the formerly established Church in Wales or Church of Ireland, in cities recognised pre-1888. The Church of Scotland has no bishops. Many of these cities have Roman Catholic cathedrals — these are not listed.
(1) Bath Abbey and Westminster Abbey are no longer cathedrals.
(2) Only diocesan cathedrals which were the grounds for the granting of city status are listed - i.e. cathedrals of the established Church of England, and the formerly established Church in Wales or Church of Ireland, in cities recognised pre-1888. The Church of Scotland has no bishops. Many of these cities have other or later cathedrals, including Roman Catholic cathedrals — these are not listed.
(3) Coventry has had three cathedrals, the first, St. Mary's from 1043–1539; the second, St. Michael's from 1918–1940, when it was destroyed by German bombardment; and its replacement, also St. Michael's, built alongside the old cathedral, consecrated in 1962.
(4) Note that the City of London covers only the "square mile", and is usually just referred to as "the City". The larger conurbation of 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.
(5) Only St Albans proper takes the status of city. Nearby Harpenden, part of the City and District of St Albans remains a town, hence the rather convoluted branding, now used by St Albans District Council.
Cities now in the Republic of Ireland
The current cities in the Republic of Ireland were created using this system, but have since left the United Kingdom. These cities are
Being a city gives a settlement no special rights other than the ability to call 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 boroughs) which are responsible for all local government services within their area. The only current London borough to be a city is the City of Westminster. Many cities have district councils. At the bottom of the rung, 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, that appoint the mayor and look after the city's traditions.
Many of the cities cover large rural areas and other towns with distinct identities. In some cases, such as Canterbury and Wakefield, the definition of "city" is taken to breaking point. In both these cases the local authority incorporates both the historic city itself and a substantial part of the surrounding area. The largest "city" is the City of Carlisle, which covers some 1040kmē of rural landscape in Cumbria in the north of England, and is larger than some of the smaller counties such as Merseyside or Rutland. The City of Sheffield contains part of the Peak District National Park.
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 Queen's 40th anniversary. 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 or boroughs requested city status:
- England: Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Brighton and 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, Warrington, Wolverhampton.
- Wales: Aberystwyth, Machynlleth, Newport, Newtown, St Asaph, Wrexham.
- Scotland: Ayr, Inverness, Paisley, Stirling.
- Northern Ireland: Ballymena, Lisburn.
The three winners were Brighton and Hove, Wolverhampton, and Inverness.
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, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Craigavon and Newry in Northern Ireland. There was mild controversy in the rest of the UK over the fact that two of the three winners of the 2000 competition were English towns — especially in Wales, and 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 two cities: Lisburn (predominantly unionist) and Newry (predominantly nationalist). Exeter was awarded Lord Mayoralty status in a separate application.
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.
Additionally Llandaff, which is now part of the City of Cardiff local government district is home to Llandaff Cathedral.
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica refers to Llandaff, Southwell and St Asaph as cities, along with Armagh and Lisburn in Northern Ireland, which only gained the status formally in 1994 and 2002 respectively.
As noted above, in ordinary discourse, 'city' can refer to any large settlement, with no fixed limit. Of these, the largest not to be a metropolitan borough or London borough are -
- Medway - 250,921 (not usually thought of as a single settlement)
- Milton Keynes - 210,426
- Northampton - 194,122
- Luton - 186,179
- Swindon - 180,558
- Stockton-on-Tees - 179,668
- Bournemouth - 163,808
- Government list of UK cities (http://www.lcd.gov.uk/constitution/city/citygj.htm#part6)
- Map of the largest cities (http://www.world-gazetteer.com/s/p_gb.htm)
- BBC News: Rochester loses city status (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/england/1991827.stm)
- LoveMyTown - City Status Facts and Tables (http://www.lovemytown.co.uk/CityStatus/index.htm)