Did You Know?
- Scotland's Cities
In many parts of the world "city" is applied to any large or important town - or can even be applied to small locations where the founders had big aspirations! In Scotland (and in the rest of the UK) a city used to be defined as somewhere that had a diocesan cathedral (headed by a bishop). In the 19th century, a number of large towns were given a royal charter, which gave them additional honorific status and so the title was strenuously sought. In the four largest cities in Scotland, the most senior elected local government official is designated as "Lord Provost" instead of just provost (equivalent of mayor in England).
For over 100 years, no further city charters were allocated in Scotland, although in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 14 towns were upgraded in the 20th century, most recently Armagh and St David's in 1994 and Sunderland in 1992. Then, to mark the Millennium, followed by the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations, two Scottish towns (Stirling and Inverness) were awarded "city" status after competing with a number of other locations.
Prior to the creation of cities, a number of towns had been awarded the status of a "Royal Burgh", usually granted by a charter from the king. Many of the very earliest royal burghs were created by King David I (1124-1153). This gave the people who lived there certain rights and responsibilities. Many were sea ports and burgh status gave the "burgesses" (people of status who lived in the burgh) the right to own land and trade abroad. Nearly all the royal burghs sent a representative to the Scottish parliament and by 1707 (when the parliament was merged with the one in London) there were 70 royal burghs.
Strictly speaking, burghs in Scotland were abolished in 1975 a result of local government reorganisation, but the term remains in common usage.
Below, you will find brief details of all of Scotland's present cities (and a few towns that are often referred to as cities or aspire to the title, but have never been given official recognition).
Although the volcanic rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands and the nearby Arthur's Seat were defensive strongholds from the earliest times, Edinburgh did not crop up very often in Scottish history until the reign of Malcolm III (1058-1093) when he who built a fortress on the site of the present castle. King Robert Bruce granted Edinburgh a charter in 1329 but it did not become the national capital until 1437, following the murder of King James I at Perth, which had been the capital up to that point (though Stirling and even Forfar had been the base for government). Prior to that date, however, Edinburgh had been the usual residence of the king.
In 1603 King James VI of Scotland acceded to the English throne and promptly moved to the "bright lights" of London. In 1633 Edinburgh was again officially recognised as the capital of Scotland - after all, the Scottish Parliament continued to sit and legislate there until 1707 when the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments took place.
Geographically, Edinburgh has expanded greatly since the days of the old walled city and now covers an area of about 260 square kilometres (100 square miles). As a result, the population is now around 400,000.
Legend has it that St Mungo founded Glasgow in 543AD when he established a church on the banks of the Molendinar Burn (a tributary of the river Clyde). As it was near a crossing point on the Clyde and the river became an important artery, Glasgow grew in importance. William the Lionheart gave the town an official charter in 1175. A university was established in Glasgow in 1451, the second in Scotland after St Andrews. A charter as a royal burgh was granted in 1454. Glasgow cathedral became an archbishopric, and hence city status, in 1492.
By the second half of the 19th century, Glasgow had a population of 800,000 and became known as the "Second City of the Empire". By 1931, the population had peaked at 1.13 million. As its heavy industries declined and as many residents moved to more salubrious surroundings in the suburbs, outside the city boundary, the population declined and is currently around 600,000. Unlike Edinburgh, Glasgow has not expanded its boundaries over the years - those living on its outskirts have resisted such moves.
Often referred to as the "Granite City" or "Silver City" because of the large number of buildings made out of this hard, sparkling, local stone, Aberdeen is located in the north-east of Scotland, on the North Sea coast, between the River Don, to the north, and the River Dee, two miles to the south.
William the Lion granted Aberdeen a charter as a royal burgh in 1179 and from the wording it appears that Aberdeen was already a Royal Burgh and trading community of some importance. According to tradition, the people of Aberdeen helped Robert the Bruce in 1306 by entering the castle and killing the English defenders. Later the town's motto became "Bon Accord", which was the password on the night the castle was taken. Robert the Bruce transformed Aberdeen into a property-owning and financially independent community in 1319 when he granted the "Great Charter". Further royal charters granting burgh status were granted in 1489 and 1498. The present city was incorporated in 1891 when the two ancient burghs of Old and New Aberdeen, which for centuries had been legally separate, were united.
Aberdeen's current population is around 200,000, many of them involved in the North Sea oil industry.
King William the Lion made Dundee, at the mouth of the river Tay on the east coast, a Royal Burgh in the twelfth century and its ancient rights were re-established by a Charter of King Robert the Bruce in 1327. The Great Charter of Charles I, dated 14th September 1641, finally confirmed these rights. The Burgh of Dundee was constituted a "City" by Royal Charter on 26 January 1889, the title of "Lord Provost of the City of Dundee" following a few years later.
Dundee's population is 143,000. Many of its old industries have declined (from whaling in the 19th century to the post-war decline of jute manufacture) but Dundee is trying to reposition itself as the "City of Discovery".
Located at the mouth of the river Ness before it flows into the Moray Firth, Inverness is sometimes referred to as the "Capital of the Highlands". This is not just because the Royal Court of the Pictish King Brude (or Bridei) was here in the 6th century, but also because it has long been the social and cultural capital of the Highlands.
Inverness was awarded its charter as a Royal Burgh in 1158 by King David of Scotland. But it took the Millennium celebrations in 2000 before the burgh competed with other locations to be awarded the status of "city" by the Queen in 2001 (along with Brighton and Wolverhampton in England). Even before this event, Inverness had been an expanding and vibrant city but being able to refer to itself as the "City of Inverness" seems to have kick-started another growth spurt. Its population is around 42,000 but, unlike many other parts of Scotland, the numbers living and working in the city are rising.
There used to be a Royal Burgh coat of arms for the Inverness which incorporated a camel and an elephant (a reminder of its foreign trade links) but it lost that with the formation of the Highland Council, covering a large part of the north of Scotland. But to qualify for a coat of arms as a city, it must have its own local authority (as is the case with the other - much larger - cities). Undaunted, the Lord Lyon who administers all matters to do with coats of arms, is to be asked to provide special dispensation.
There had been a gap of over 100 years between awarding "city" status to Dundee and then Inverness, but a year after that accolade, Queen Elizabeth II marked her Golden Jubilee on the throne by officially declaring Stirling (population 39,000) to be Scotland's newest city on 24th May 2002. Ayr (population 45,0000), Paisley (80,000 Paisley "Buddies") failed (this time?) in their bid. Three main factors were taken into account when assessing the bids - notable features (including significance regionally or nationally), historical (including Royal) features and a forward-looking attitude.
Like a good number of other locations, Stirling had been an ancient capital of Scotland (Robert the Bruce held a parliament there in 1326). Stirling's location at the lowest crossing point (until the 20th century) of the river Forth meant that it had a strategic importance. Having a royal castle (on top of a volcanic plug, as in the case of Edinburgh) strengthened that role. While this led to economic growth for Stirling, it also meant that it was a target of English invasions. Wallace's defeat of the English at Stirling Bridge and Robert the Bruce's victory over King Edward II at nearby Bannockburn bear witness to that.
Often called the "Fair City of Perth" this royal burgh (a status granted by King William the Lionheart in 1210 - and celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2010) was often referred as a city, though it lacked official recognition after a local government reorganisation in 1975 when the definition of a city was re-examined and a list of approved cities omitted Perth. It was therefore considered to be a "former city", like Brechin and Elgin. However, it is claimed that Perth (currently with a population of 43,450) has been recognised as a city since 1600 when King James VI bestowed a so called "Golden Charter". In more recent times, 19th century official documents such as the Acts of the UK Parliament which were given Royal Assent have also constantly referred to Perth as a city. It was a capital of Scotland for a spell in the 13th and early 14th centuries. For reasons of status, Perth has been agitating to formally become recognised as a city (road-signs around the borders state "The City of Perth", and directional signs within indicate "City Centre". The campaign proved to be successful in March 2012 when, as part of Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee celebrations, Perth was one of three cities awarded that status. The others were St Asaph in Wales (admittedly it has a cathedral but a population of under 3,500) and Chelmsford in England (32 miles / 51 kilometres northeast of central London) were the other winners of the contest for city status.
Here is a selection of towns that are either often referred to as "City" without being officially recognised or those that aspire to the status.
Brechin in Angus qualified under the old definition of a "city" because it had a cathedral within its boundary. These days it is the Brechin City football (soccer) club which perpetuates the name of this town, which has a population of under 8,000.
The only "City of Paisley" is in Oregon, USA. Despite its size (population of Paisley in Scotland is 80,000) and having a magnificent abbey, a centre of local government in the area and a university, it has failed to be awarded the status of a modern city in Scotland. Paisley has perhaps suffered from its close proximity to Glasgow, though the "Paisley Buddies" would never agree that the town has been overshadowed by its larger neighbour.
Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, born in nearby Alloway, was full of praise for "Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses, for honest men and bonnie lassies". The town has a long history, too, with its "Low Green" designated as a public open space by William the Lion in around 1205, shortly after granting it Royal Burgh status. But that has not been enough to gain the title of city for this Clyde coastal town with a population of 48,000. Like Paisley, Ayr put its name forward in both the Millennium and Queen's Golden Jubilee.
Elgin claims that it was granted city status during the reign of King David I in the 12th century and has described itself as such ever since. Others argue that King David only raised the town to that of a "royal burgh" and not a city. The community council in Elgin describes their location as "City and Royal Burgh of Elgin" and Moray Council support the campaign for official recognition. And the local football (soccer) team, formed in 1893, is Elgin City.
It has been argued that the original definition of a "city", namely that it has a cathedral, should be revived. If that unlikely claim should be upheld, Elgin, Dunfermline, Brechin, St Andrews, Kirkwall, Dunblane and the villages of Dunkeld, Fortrose, Dornoch and Whithorn would all be recognised. Of course, what these locations are really looking for, apart from prestige, is a share in the funds allocated by the Scottish Executive as a "city growth fund".
Where else would you like to go in Scotland?
All Features Index>
Search This Site>
Scottish Pictorial Calendar 2012>
Places to Visit>