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Why is Reading not a city?

Reading is home to over 300,000 people, speaking 150 different languages. Its population exceeds the cities of Newcastle, Nottingham, and Oxford. It has its own festival, its own Pride celebration, its own half-marathon, and is governed by its own borough council.

It is also the largest urban area in the UK to not have city status. How is this possible?

The town that gives you the city

To the vast majority of us who are not familiar with the ever-changing definition of a ‘city’ over history and the grey areas that surround such a definition, Reading appears, on the face of it, to offer everything we associate with metropolises like London, Birmingham and Bristol – a diverse population, a thriving industrial hub, ample job opportunities, an exciting cultural scene, an interesting historical background and a high-rated university – albeit on a smaller scale to its counterparts. In fact, we would argue that Reading more closely resembles cities like Southampton or Nottingham than it does of towns Wokingham and Bracknell, if only for the transport links, chain restaurants, clubs and bars, shopping centre and university.

What makes a city?

The question of Reading’s city status has always been a disputed topic, yet with the Elizabeth line coming as soon as early 2022 and placing Reading firmly on the underground map (the very epitome of city status), the question is brought to light yet again. Whilst it is often suggested that historically, a town had to have a cathedral to qualify for city status, in modern times it has become clear that this is no longer the case - Bath, Hull, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton have all achieved city status without having a cathedral. In this light, the absence of a cathedral in Reading can’t be the reason that the town is not a city!

No –Reading’s status is nothing to do with cathedrals, populations, languages spoken or festivals held. Quite simply, it is not a city because it does not have a Royal Charter, which is a grant given by the Queen in one of her Letters Patent. It cannot become a city without this grant.

The bid for a Royal Charter

Reading’s lack of Royal Charter is not for want of trying! Competitions for new grants of city status are held on special events such as coronations, jubilees, or the millennium. Reading have entered the past three competitions in 2000, 2002 and 2012, but to no avail. In 2012 they missed out to Chelmsford in Essex, St Asaph in Wales and Perth in Scotland, despite being considered favourite to win.

However, in June 2021, Reading council announced its intention to bid for city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022. Fourth time’s a charm! By this time, the Elizabeth line should have arrived in Reading, which surely swings the odds in our favour – after all, the line is named after Her Royal Highness herself!

It should be noted that the town does not gain anything from becoming a city. It is purely an honorific title, and though we may be a little biased, we think it is long overdue!

What are your thoughts? Should Reading be a city or are we nothing more than a large town? Let us know your thoughts by popping over to Facebook and join in the conversation!



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