Well, that's what my old granny used to say and, on the whole, she wasn't a million miles from the truth. There have, quite coincidentally, been two things that have prodded me into doing a bit of learning about what makes a city. Now, you might well be excused for thinking that as I have lived in this country for 70 years, I would have some idea of what it takes for a town to become a city. Up until a few years ago I, like most people, would have said that a city is essentially a very large town and has a cathedral. Like most people, I would have been thinking of those ancient cathedral cities like Canterbury and Salisbury, Gloucester and Worcester, Norwich, Lincoln and Durham. Many people would still say that, but I know better. I know that it is not necessary for a city to have a cathedral. I know that because Brighton & Hove was made a city to mark the millenium but we have no cathedral.
Then I remembered that some cities - curiously enough, usually with cathedrals - could by no means be described as very large towns. Ely, for instance, has a population of little more than 15,000 or 16,000 while Lichfield has only about 32,000 residents; but both have cathedrals.
I was quite obviously back at square one with neither the size of the town nor its ecclesiastical status apparently having any great influence on whether or not a town is promoted to city status. Time, then, to look things up. So, what did I learn?
First, there are 50 cities in England plus more in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The dates when city status was granted to each of them is recorded as being somewhere between 673 (Ely) and 2012 (Preston), although there are twelve English cities whose dates of incorporation as such are so long ago that they are lost in the mists of time. Canterbury, Carlisle, Chester, Chichester, Durham, Exeter, Gloucester, Lancaster, Lincoln, Winchester and York are described officially as having been cities "since time immemorial". But we are still no nearer knowing just what makes a city.
In the past, towns with a diocesan cathedral were granted city charters, but the cathedral requirement was dropped in the 19th century. The important thing is that the charter is granted by the monarch. According to the Department for Constitutional Affairs website: "City
status is a rare mark of distinction granted by the Sovereign and
conferred by Letters Patent. It is granted by personal Command of The
Queen, on the advice of Her Ministers. It is for Her Majesty The Queen
to decide when a competition for city status should be held.
Competitions are usually held on occasions such as important Royal
You might wonder what rights or privileges apply to cities but not towns. The answer is, none at all. City status is just that - a status thing.
And, basically, there we have it. There are, however, a few little anomalies. For example, Rochester received its charter as a city in 1211, but when Rochester was absorbed into the Medway unitary authority, the council overlooked the need to appoint Charter Trustees. As a result, the city status was lost - but nobody noticed for four year! They've been trying ever since to regain their city status without any success so far.
London is another anomaly. Most people across the world would argue that London, by which they mean Greater London, is a city. But that is not the case. Greater London contains towns and villages - and two cities, London and Westminster. The true City of London is just one square mile in size and is situated on the north bank of the Thames, around St Paul's cathedral and the financial centre. This is the city that has a Lord Mayor, although just to confuse matters, there is also a Mayor of London, that is, Greater London.
Which reminds me: I must look up which cities have Lord Mayors and why.
Took a walk up the Waterhall valley yesterday afternoon and I was astonished to see tadpoles in the dew pond. I wouldn't have expected them for another couple of weeks. Granted, they were very tiny - not much bigger than fruit flies. And here is the pond in all its glory.