Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Town or a city?

Unlike most other countries, us Brits are very pedantic about what we call a ‘city’. Elsewhere, a city is a large town. But here, a city has to have a cathederal, or a royal charter from the Queen making it a city. This means you get some very large towns which can’t become cities, and some cities which are no bigger than large villages, like Ely in Cambridgeshire.

I therefore propose a new system, based on something I heard some time ago on Home Truths on Radio 4:

  • If it’s just a group of houses, it’s a settlement.
  • If there is also a church, it is a hamlet.
  • If there is also a pub, it is a village.
  • If there is a branch of Woolworths, it is a town.
  • And finally, if there is a branch of Marks & Spencer, it is a city.

What do you think – good system or bad?


  1. I’ve never considered religion when calling a place a city or a town. I just do it by eye. Bradford is big-ish (bigger than a village at least) therefore it’s a town and Leeds is huge therefore it is a city.

  2. Well it’s not an entirely perfect system. I’d question whether Ilkley is really a town – it has a Woolworths. And Ashton certainly isn’t a city – it has an M&S.
    Why can’t we just have the (ex) 01×1 area codes made cities, and anything with more than a certain number of (non-tourist) shops a town.
    Of course it’s another non-perfect system, Leeds would be very unhappy. Really though, why should we all care whether we’re called a town or a city?

  3. If you are a city, you can charge more rent, higher prices for houses, higher council tax etc. I stay in a city (which was appointed for the Queens Jubilee a couple of years ago) and that is about all that has happened here….
    As for Neil’s proposal, I think it seems fair as it won’t affect most of the places I know, although I’d perhaps revise the last point to be “And finally, if there is at least 30 roundabouts and 30 sets of traffic lights within the boundary, then it is a city.”

  4. With the way M&S are going, they might not be around much longer and that would get rid of a lot of cities. The same principles would also demote a lot of cities or towns if woolies ever changed their name.

  5. Does The Big W count as Woolworths?
    Here’s my system
    If it’s just a group of houses, it’s a settlement.
    If there is also a church, it is a hamlet.
    If there is also a pub, chippy, bookie, indian/chinese takaway, blockbuster video store and newsagent in a row, it is a village.
    If there is a 24 hour petrol station, it is a town.
    If there is an abundance of roundabouts instead of regular junctions, it is a “new town” (eg Milton Keynes or East Kilbride).
    And finally, if there is 15,000 Pret-A-Manger, Starbucks, (insert wanky coffee house name here), it is a city.
    Still flawed though

  6. Greg: I’d say yes, Big W does count – otherwise, Bradford would be some kind of anomoly because it has plenty of pubs and a M&S, but no Woolworths, only a Big W.
    It would, however, make Bracknell a city. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing… 🙂

  7. This is very local. So I will just nod my head, and act sage like.

  8. I grew up in a hamlet with no church. It has 3 farms and 18 houses, one of those being a great hall – big black & white building with high walls around the grounds.
    The nearest village with a church has 1 farm, 1 school, 1 parish hall and about 12 houses. If that.
    The nearest town has a few churches, and a Woolworths, but does not have a pub, chippy, bookie, indian/chinese takaway, blockbuster video store and newsagent in a row. Neither does it have any 24-hour petrol stations. In fact, it doesn’t have a Blockbuster at all. And I believe it to be one of the few remaining places in the country which doesn’t have a Macdonalds or any other large chain fast food outlet (yet the Chav population seem to be growing. Strange!)

  9. This is weird. I was explaining the difference to my German housemate who I was talking around a few really English towns around me. Generally it’s Settlement

  10. I’d say its only a city if it has a branch of John Lewis, that way Leeds would become a town and i’d be able to stick my tongue out at my brother. Ha.

  11. Well, over here in germany there’s only two basic different kinds:
    Gemeinde (10.000 ppl)
    You can differentiate a little further though (> 50.000 is normally called “Großstadt” – big city)…apart from that nothing much to worry about.
    As we have a seperation of church and state there’s no religious stuff involved (e.g. you gotta have a cathedral to be called city)…and as I’m used to it I really like it.
    Your new system seems a little bit too much for me…as in: define pub, define group of houses (5? 10? 20? does it matter how many ppl live in those houses? etc)…

  12. we did hamlets in geography – can’t remember what the definition was (i didn’t get an A*+ or whatever the youngun’s get nowadays).
    Incidentally happy 3rd birthday Neil.

  13. Ok, we’ve got “Leicester City” with the M+S store, a Woolworths and houses/shops.
    Now we’ve got “Braunstone Town” with the Fosse Park shopping complex in it which has an even larger M+S, but no Wollies or Big W. So is that actually a town or a city or?
    And the boundaries of “Leicester City” are slowly creaping into Braunstone so that’ll get confused even further….
    It needs to be population or density based IMHO.

  14. I propose a whole new system:
    Name them according to football clubs…
    Bradford = city,
    Leicester = city,
    Coventry = city,
    Northampton = town,
    Manchester = both city and united (hmm), and finally:
    Aston (in Birmingham) = villa.
    Okay, maybe not then.

  15. Interesting. I wouldn’t be calling some places we have here in Australia town just because they have a pub though. Some places are just a pub with two permanent residents running the pub.
    Here it’s basically,
    Population 30 000 = city.

  16. Good Grief. I’m back, with Tesco still too !!!
    The system has broken down I’m afraid. It would mean that Stockton-On-Tees is a City, when really it is a slum.

  17. Theres a cattle shed in truro City centre