60th anniversary of Southampton’s city status approaches

60th anniversary of Southampton’s city status approaches

By Martin Brisland.

On 24th. February 1964 Southampton was granted a royal charter to henceforth be known as the City and County of the City of Southampton. It was the culmination of a process that had begun 30 years earlier.

The first informal approaches were made in the mid-1930s, when it was suggested that Southampton, along with other towns, should be made a city in honour of the Silver Jubilee in 1935 of King George V (1865-1936). Although Plymouth received its city charter, Southampton was unsuccessful.

The Second World War and post war austerity delayed the next application until September 1958, when a petition was prepared for the Queen.

At the time the minister of local government, Mr Henry Brooke, was in the process of reorganising the boundaries of local authorities. Consequently, so as not to confuse things, he temporarily withheld his approval. Later, when he became Home Secretary, he recommended the petition to the Queen.

On the day Southampton obtained city status the Daily Echo front page read: “Southampton, with roots deep in the history of the land, played a noble part in two world wars, and will wear its new honour well.”

There was a brief but important ceremony in the mayor’s parlour at 11am when the official letter was read and the mayor, Alderman Ronald Pugh, made a short speech.

“I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that upon his recommendation, Her Majesty the Queen has been graciously pleased to raise the town of Southampton to the title and dignity of a city.”

The Mayor was not only delighted the Queen had granted the town the title of city but was also pleased on a personal level to have been the last Mayor of the town of Southampton and the first Mayor of the city of Southampton.

As of 2021, there were 69 cities in the UK with 51 in England, 7 in Scotland, 6 in Wales and 5 in Northern Ireland. Although it carries no special rights, city status is seen as a marker of prestige and local pride.

A link with a cathedral was established in the early 1540s when King Henry VIII founded dioceses each having a cathedral in six English towns. He granted them city status by issuing letter patent, a type of legal device that does not have to be passed by parliament. This link between cathedral and city however died out in the 19th century. Southampton does have a Bishop but does not have a cathedral.

The Local Government Act of 1972 meant the City of Southampton was turned into a non-metropolitan district within Hampshire in 1973. Southampton City Council took over most of the functions of Hampshire County Council within the city in April 1997 including education and social services, but not the fire service, and became a unitary authority.

In 2022, 12 cities tried to obtain Lord Mayor status as part of a competition to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Southampton was successful in gaining this honour and Jacqui Rayment became its 800th Mayor and first Lord Mayor.

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