Today marks an incredibly important anniversary for the city - Southampton has now been a city for 58 years.

It was on this date in 1964 that 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.

The humble petition of Your Majesty’s Loyal and Dutiful Subjects the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Town and County of the Town of Southampton Most Humbly Praying: That Your Majesty may be pleased to grant to the Town and County of the Town of Southampton the Title of City. And the Petitioners pray that Your Majesty may be prepared in good health to reign over them for many years and that they may always be worthy of the honour which they most humbly ask Your Majesty to confer upon them.

Southampton City Status Ceremony, 11 Februuary 1964. Town clerk Norman Scholfield hand the city charter to the Mayor of Southampton Alderman Ronald Pugh. Southern Daily Echo Archives. Neg ref. 3418D/3

Town clerk Norman Scholfield handed the city charter to the Mayor of Southampton Alderman Ronald Pugh.

The main reasons given for seeking city status were:

  1. The growth in the size and population of the town.
  2. The growth in the importance of the town in the shipping world and in the Country’s economy.
  3. The long-established history of public administration and the efficiency of its municipal services.
  4. The record of voluntary service, public service, the practice of charity, the maintenance of historical records and customs, and the existence of a true sense of citizenship.

The petition was sent to the Home Secretary. 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, Laderman 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.”

Hanover Buildings. October 30, 1964. THE SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO ARCHIVES. VIEW FROM THE PAST.

Hanover Buildings at the time.

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.

Until the 19th century, city status was associated with the presence of a cathedral.

City status does not apply automatically on the basis of any particular criterion, such as having a university, but it was once associated with the presence of a cathedral.

Charter

The charter.

This link 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 died out in the 19th century.

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, a total of 12 cities are vying for Lord Provost or Lord Mayor status as part of a competition to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. The competition is part of celebrations to mark the Queen’s historic 70-year reign, with a special four-day bank holiday weekend set to start on Thursday June 2.

Southampton Parks. THE SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO ARCHIVES. VIEW FROM THE PAST. April 24, 1964.

Southampton Parks at the time when Southampton gained city status.

Southampton has gone for Lord Mayor status. In 2023 Southampton will see the appointment of its 800th Mayor. Maybe it would be a fitting celebration of the history of our city if this coincides with Southampton being granted Lord Mayor status by Her Majesty the Queen.

SeeSouthampton logo.

 

Martin Brisland is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .