Is London a City or a Town? [The Debate Finally Answered]

How many times have you heard both phrases, ‘London Town’ and ‘London City’?

A few times, I’m sure.

The definition of both town and city, according to UK legislation, are very clearly laid out, so why the confusion?

Is London a city, or a town?

London is a city, not a town. London has always been a city since its inception. A city is defined as an important or large town and is derived from the French word citizenry. London is also the capital city of England and has a population of 8.1 million people, grown from 1 million people in 1901.

Although the names are used interchangeably the fact London is the capital city of England means it has the authority behind it to officially be named as a city.

It is worth noting that London, as a combination of the 32 boroughs, is not a city in itself – but London houses two distinct cities which are the City of London and also the City of Westminster.

Due to this rather unusual situation London as an entity is often described as a city by itself.

When did London change from a town become a city?

Surprisingly, London has always been a city. The City of London was established by the Romans in 43 AD. The original name for London was Londinium and was the capital of Roman Britain 19,50 years ago. The prominence of London since inception always gave it city status.

London ironically is still a town.

A city is always a town, but a town can only be given the title of a city with the right status and importance.

How a Town becomes a City in the UK

Although London has always been a city, there have been certain conditions – both historically and by today’s standards – that allows a town to apply for city status.

Until 1889 a town could only become a city if it were home to a cathedral.

In fact, this rule is still believed by many as still being relevant today, although this ruling was dissolved more than 131 years ago when Birmingham became the first city without a cathedral in 1889.

Towns do not become cities by default when meeting certain criteria, like population, infrastructure or mayor status.

Towns are given status to city on successful application after a decision is made to increase the city count, and generally coincides with the anniversary of the reigning monarch.

The last town to receive city status was Chelmsford in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Many towns put in a very lengthy application during each announcement, but only one or two each period is chosen.

According to the UK City status Wikipedia page, there have only been 6 towns lifted to city status since 2000:

  • Brighton and Hove
  • Wolverhamption
  • Preston
  • Newport
  • St Asaph
  • Chelmsford

Why UK Towns Want to Become Cities

Anytime it’s announced the status of city will be handed out, many town councils up and down the country start tendering an application.

The application process is long, arduous and will always be against very strong competition.

So, why do towns want to become cities?

Status. Pure and simple.

There are no cash incentives or perks on introduction to the ‘city club’. Towns apply purely for the prestige title of being called a city.

Town’s themselves could argue the status and prestige nature of the award brings businesses in.

This is an argument relatively unproven but often cited as the reason to spend the £30,000 price tag on applying.

In Conclusion

London is a city. Well to be absolute letter of the law, London houses two cities:

  • City of Westminster
  • City of London

For all intensive purposes, and as it is the capital city of England, it will therefore be known forevermore as London City!

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