City status: Croydon loses out again

Picture of the NLA Tower, an octagonal 24-storey building, in east CroydonYesterday, three towns — one in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland — were awarded City status by the queen (i.e. the government). This is a status which is purely symbolic and does not carry special funding or any change in local government; it simply allows the local council to put “City” on stationery and road signs. The three places were Chelmsford, St Asaph and Perth. As ever, my old home town of Croydon, which made what must be at least its third bid, has lost out once more. Chelmsford’s status is somewhat puzzling, as it is a medium-sized town and has no particular national or regional distinction.

The reason, of course, is that Chelmsford has a cathedral, and there is a popular misconception that a city is a town with a cathedral, something that has not been true for more than a century. When Chelmsford City football club was founded, it was called that on the basis that the town had a cathedral and therefore it was assumed that the town had city status. It seems that St Asaph, a town of about 3,400 in north Wales, was awarded city status purely on that basis, joining a number of other small towns (like Ely) and even villages (St David’s in south Wales) which have nominal City status because of their cathedrals. Perth actually had city status until the mid-1970s when it lost it in local government re-organisation; it is also an important regional centre.

Croydon’s insistence on repeatedly seeking city status is rather pathetic. I used to live in Croydon and there are a lot of people there who do not really care about the place and who regard it as a dump, and want to be anywhere else. The population of its borough is well over 300,000, but that is because it incorporates Purley and Coulsdon which was a separate borough until the 1960s (not to mention other formerly separate small towns and villages which are now part of the south London urban sprawl, but nominally part of Croydon). It’s best known for its grey skyscrapers of the Wellesley Road “wind tunnel” (several of which are taken up by the Home Office’s immigration department) and the uninspired shopping centre next to it. Its church has recently been upgraded to Minster status, so one expects local politicians are praying for a cathedral before the next round of towns are considered for city status. I suspect that some locals are praying for the opposite.

I remember the vain attempts the council and the local paper (the Croydon Advertiser) made to inculcate civic pride in the local population: on one occasion, the paper put it on the front page, under the headline “A New Hope for Our Town”, when the two Marks and Spencer’s shops amalgamated, with the bit that had been on the west side of North End (the main shopping street, which runs parallel to the Whitgift Centre) moving into the old shop in the Whitgift Centre. At one point (about 1994 when I was at sixth form college), some architects were commissioned to make futuristic architectural plans, which consisted of making landmarks of the town’s seven multi-storey car parks (a bit like the seven hills of Rome) and some scheme involving offices under lakes, which I never quite understood (did they really want a lake twenty or more storeys deep?). Responses in the guest book included “keep taking the acid” and “nice exhibition, shame about the ideas”.

Most of these attempts were greeted by scorn in the Croydon Advertiser’s letters page; on one occasion, someone wrote that “the whole rotten apple needs condemning”. There are those who mock the town for being downmarket and chavvy, but there’s a whole website dedicated to such places, called ChavTowns, and probably every town in the UK has a listing. Its surrounding countryside is actually very pleasant, and it has quite a substantial acreage of parks — Grange Park, Lloyd Park, Croham Hurst and Addington Hills in particular. That said, I don’t believe the people in Croydon care much about whether the town attains City status. In fact, I suspect the number of people who do not think Croydon deserves it outnumbers those those who do. The council might like to consider whether repeated bids for city status are a worthwhile use of money in the face of repeated failures, the lack of the increasingly important cathedral. and local apathy.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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