I may not be the most experienced traveller in the world, but I’ve seen my share of cities – the organised chaos of New York overseen by the Statue of Liberty; the disorganised chaos of Cairo, shadowed by the Pyramids. I was told about The Da Vinci Code by a hippy in San Francisco; I spent hours in the World’s Biggest Bookshop when on holiday in Toronto.
There’s a reason I mention this. It’s because I don’t live in a city. I never have. I live in a large town, or at least next to one. It’s not a city.
As part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee later this year, one town in Britain will be upgraded to a city; Dudley is one of 26 in the running for this. I’ll admit this surprised me – Dudley is less a large town with outlying suburbs, but a borough made up of a number of townships, each fairly distinct from the others. It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of this bid for city status – the resulting investment would be invaluable; the town needs it, and that’s not me being disparaging.
Dudley is a place that has always been on the fringes of history. Abraham Darby, one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution was born here; so was Robert Plant, and you can see Dudley’s tower block on the gatefold cover of Led Zeppelin IV, the album that gave Stairway to Heaven to the world. One of Manchester United’s ‘Busby’s Babes’, Duncan Edwards, was born in the town, becoming a victim of the Munich Air Disaster at the tragically young age of 21. We’ve had a castle since 1071 that was visited by Elizabeth I and involved in the intrigues of that era, especially those revolving around Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen.
Does this make Dudley a city? I don’t know. Traditionally, a city is meant to have a university and/or a cathedral, and Dudley doesn’t have either (although it’s developing a significant Learning Quarter, which is cool), but it turns out that’s not true – the monarch confers city status, nothing else. And so maybe it’s appropriate for Dudley to become a city – it’s the second biggest town in the country, according to Wikipedia, the largest town in the UK not to have its own university or league football club.
The problem is, when you think of a city, you think of somewhere like London or New York, a 24-7 environment full of stuff. That’s an unrealistic standard for any new city to have to live up to, and anyway, City Status isn’t about that – it’s about identity, and Dudley has that; you’ll learn that if you call the locals Brummies. Despite what you may think of the rest of the town, there’s something powerful about driving over the hill and seeing that castle rising on the horizon. The town has history.
So all the best Dudley, it’ll be interesting to see what the Jubilee brings. Hope it’s good news…