Southampton flourished as a town, emerging as a key hub for commerce and industry, boasting a vibrant community that was ripe for elevation to city status.

After years of behind-the-scenes discussions and informal advocacy efforts, the town of Southampton finally received the long-awaited news in February 1964.

Informal lobbying was ongoing throughout the duration of the 1950s, leading up to the significant announcement.

Numerous members of the local community believed this recognition had been delayed for far too long.

Southampton, with roots deep in the history of the land, played a noble part in two world wars, and was determined to wear its new honour well.

Daily Echo: Aerial shot of Southampton's city centre in 1964..

It was February 11, 1964, when the charter was received to elevate Southampton into the Premier League of British local authorities. However, the official document was dated February 24 - exactly 60 years ago today.

The vital seaport of the UK transitioned into a bustling city, a transformation eagerly anticipated by its residents who believed it was a well-deserved upgrade.

Elevating a small town into a bustling city appears to lack a clear-cut blueprint. Many cathedral towns are cities by official definition, but some are not by title or charter.

There is an ongoing debate surrounding the importance of having a population of at least 250,000 when considering the promotion of a non-cathedral town. While some argue for its significance, others refute the notion.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the Home Secretary to offer guidance to the monarch on selecting a particular town for city status.

This is then confirmed by the grant of a Royal Charter, which in the case of Southampton, was one of about 40, each relating to some particular privilege and mostly dating from many hundreds of years ago.

One of the most important occurred In 1447 when King Henry VI bestowed upon Southampton the Shrievalty, marking a pivotal moment that allowed for the establishment of a sheriff within the region. This put Southampton on the same footing as a shire.

Daily Echo: The charter from Queen Elizabeth II.

Hampshire used to be formally known as “The County of Southampton”, as opposed to the Midland county of Northampton. It has officially been “Hampshire” only since 1959, when a change of title was made to end continuing confusion between Hampshire itself and Southampton.

There was widespread support for the idea of granting city status to Southampton, especially after the loses it endured during the Second World War.

One of the loudest voices calling for city status at the time was the Daily Echo, which said: “If only as a recognition of what it has suffered at the hands of the enemy, the distinction is surely deserved.”

Confidence was high in 1949 when the port became known as “the gateway to the Empire” and then, a few years later, when Southampton University College was raised to full university status.

Anticipation lingered as the residents of Southampton eagerly awaited the charter, with hopes high for its arrival in time for the upcoming royal Coronation of the Queen in 1953. However, reality did not align with expectations, and it would be more than a decade before the honour was finally bestowed upon the city and its people.

Delivered directly to the office of then-mayor, Alderman Ronald Pugh, it came in the form of a letter and was handed over by the town clerk at the time, Norman Scholfield.

In return, the newly-created city council sent a letter of thanks, written on parchment, bearing the coat of arms and the seal of Southampton to Buckingham Palace. The scroll read:

“Your loyal and dutiful subjects pray that your Majesty may be preserved in good health to reign over them for many years and that they may always be worthy of the honour which your Majesty has conferred upon them.”

Daily Echo: Mayor Alderman Ronald Pugh receiving the charter granting Southampton city status in the form of a letter. It was handed to him by the town clerk at the time, Norman Scholfield.

The Echo's front page appeared with the banner headline: “Now It’s The City of Southampton”.

The story said: “Southampton today became a city. An official announcement stated that the Queen, on the recommendation of the Home Secretary, had been graciously pleased to confer on the town of Southampton the title and dignity of a city.”

Although no material gain goes with the title, the Daily Echo said every citizen must feel a “surge of pride”.

In expressing his joy and gratitude, Alderman Ronald Pugh shared his delight over the Queen's decision. He felt a personal sense of satisfaction in being both the final mayor of the town and the first mayor of the newly established city.

As Southampton celebrated the achievement, the city council's official handbook reflected a community that honoured its history, embraced growth opportunities, and was confident for its future.

“Southampton is a fine clean city with wide streets,” said the guidebook.

“Vast new schemes for housing, shopping and industry have eliminated most of the air-raid scars, and the modern city taking shape is evidence of the efforts which should make prosperity in the future amply secure.”

In 1964, existing industrial areas were being extended with 2,500 people working at Mullard’s on the Millbrook Trading Estate with other key employers in the city including: Dimplex, Adwest Engineering, Raleigh Industries, Corona, Solent Carpet, Vickers-Armstrong, Pirelli General Cable Work at Western Esplanade, John I Thornycroft and Camper and Nicholsons.


“In all there are some 782 factory premises within the city,” said the handbook.

“It appears that every factory is present to ensure that Southampton will flourish and make an important contribution to Britain’s productivity and future progress.”

Even 50 years ago the importance of attracting visitors into Southampton as a regional shopping centre was not lost on the city.

“The modern stores and shops achieve an outstanding standard of comfort and well lit premises,” said the guide.