City status in the United Kingdom

Historically, city status was associated with the presence of a , such as .
Historically, city status was associated with the presence of a cathedral, such as York Minster.

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 (the City of London and the City of Westminster) 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.


City status

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 examples of 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 (a historic diocese) 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 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 . Patrick John Stannard wears the chain of that office to which he was appointed.
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 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.

City Mayor Since Cathedral Council
English Cities
Bath   1590 Bath Abbey (1) Charter Trustees
Birmingham Lord Mayor 1889 n/a metropolitan borough
Bradford Lord Mayor 1897 n/a metropolitan borough
Brighton and Hove   2000 n/a unitary authority
Bristol Lord Mayor
(The Rt Hon.)
1542 Bristol Cathedral unitary authority
Cambridge   1951 n/a district
Canterbury Lord Mayor TI Christchurch Cathedral district
Carlisle Lord Mayor TI Carlisle Cathedral district
Chester Lord Mayor TI Chester Cathedral district
Chichester   TI Chichester Cathedral civil parish
Coventry Lord Mayor 1345 Coventry Cathedral(2) metropolitan borough
Derby   1977 n/a unitary authority
Durham   TI Durham Cathedral district
Ely   TI Ely Cathedral civil parish
Exeter Lord Mayor TI Exeter Cathedral district
Gloucester   1541 Gloucester Cathedral district
Hereford   1189 Hereford Cathedral civil parish
Kingston upon Hull Lord Mayor 1299 none unitary authority
Lancaster   1937 n/a district
Leeds Lord Mayor 1893 n/a metropolitan borough
Leicester Lord Mayor 1919 n/a unitary authority
Lichfield   1553 Lichfield Cathedral civil parish
Lincoln   TI Lincoln Cathedral district
Liverpool Lord Mayor 1880 Liverpool Cathedral (1880) metropolitan borough
City of London (3) Lord Mayor
(The Rt Hon.)
TI St Paul's Cathedral Corporation of London
Manchester Lord Mayor 1853 Manchester Cathedral (1847) metropolitan borough
Newcastle upon Tyne Lord Mayor 1882 Newcastle Cathedral (1882) metropolitan borough
Norwich Lord Mayor 1195 Norwich Cathedral district
Nottingham Lord Mayor 1897 n/a unitary authority
Oxford Lord Mayor 1542 Christ Church Cathedral district
Peterborough   1541 Peterborough Cathedral unitary authority
Plymouth Lord Mayor 1928 n/a unitary authority
Portsmouth Lord Mayor 1926 n/a unitary authority
Preston   2002 n/a district
Ripon   1836 Ripon Cathedral (1836) civil parish
Salford   1926 n/a metropolitan borough
Salisbury   TI Salisbury Cathedral Charter Trustees
Sheffield Lord Mayor 1893 n/a metropolitan borough
Southampton   1964 n/a unitary authority
St Albans(4)   1877 St Albans Cathedral (1877) district
Stoke-on-Trent Lord Mayor 1925 n/a unitary authority
Sunderland   1992 n/a metropolitan borough
Truro   1877 Truro Cathedral civil parish
Wakefield   1888 Wakefield Cathedral (1888) metropolitan borough
Wells   1205 Wells Cathedral civil parish
Westminster Lord Mayor 1540 Westminster Abbey (1) London borough
Winchester   TI Winchester Cathedral district
Wolverhampton   2000 n/a metropolitan borough
Worcester   1189 Worcester Cathedral district
York Lord Mayor
(The Rt Hon.)
TI York Minster unitary authority
Welsh Cities
Bangor   TI Bangor Cathedral community
Cardiff Lord Mayor
(The Rt Hon.)
1905 n/a unitary authority
Newport   2002 n/a unitary authority
St. David's   1994 n/a community
Swansea Lord Mayor 1969 n/a unitary authority
Scottish Cities
Aberdeen Lord Provost 1891 n/a unitary authority
Dundee Lord Provost 1889 n/a unitary authority
Edinburgh Lord Provost
(The Rt Hon.)
1329 n/a unitary authority
Glasgow Lord Provost
(The Rt Hon.)
1492 n/a unitary authority
Inverness Provost 2000 n/a none
Stirling Provost 2002 n/a none
Northern Ireland Cities
Armagh   1994 n/a unitary authority
Belfast Lord Mayor
(The Rt Hon.)
1888 n/a unitary authority
Londonderry   1613 Saint Columb's Cathedral unitary authority
Lisburn   2002 n/a unitary authority
Newry   2002 n/a none

(1) Bath Abbey and Westminster Abbey are no longer cathedrals.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

(4) 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

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
(The Rt Hon.)
1171 Christchurch Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral

City Council
Limerick   1197 St Mary's Cathedral City Council
Galway   1484 none 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 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) that are responsible for all local government services within their area. The only current London borough having city status is the City of Westminster. Many cities have district councils. At the bottom end of the scale, some cities have civil parish councils, with no more power than in any other 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.

The borough council boundaries of many cities embrace other towns with distinct identities, and some, for example the Canterbury and Wakefield, cover large rural areas. The largest "city" borough in terms of area is the City of Carlisle, which covers some 1040km² (400 square miles) of mostly 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. 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". 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".

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 40th 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:

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 and 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 city status to two entrants: Lisburn (predominantly unionist) and Newry (predominantly nationalist). Exeter was awarded Lord Mayoralty status in a separate application.

Cathedral towns

Under the new system,  does not make  a city.
Under the new system, Southwark Cathedral does not make Southwark a city.

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.

Place Cathedral Diocese established
Blackburn Blackburn Cathedral 1926
Brecon Brecon Cathedral 1923
Chelmsford Chelmsford Cathedral 1914
Guildford Guildford Cathedral 1927
Rochester Rochester Cathedral historic;
previously a city, see above
Southwark Southwark Cathedral 1905
Southwell Southwell Minster 1884
St Asaph St Asaph Cathedral historic

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.

Large towns

As noted above, in ordinary discourse, "city" can refer to any large settlement, with no fixed limit. Of those not a metropolitan borough or London borough, the largest are:

See also

External links

de:Liste der Stdte in Grobritannien und Nordirland uk:Список міст Великобританії


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