Second city of the United Kingdom

Identifying the second city of the United Kingdom is a subject of some disagreement. A country's second city is the city that is thought to be the second-most important, usually after the capital or first city (London, in this case), according to some criteria such as population size, economic or commercial importance, political importance or some cultural sense. There is no official mechanism by which second city status is conferred on a city, rather, it is a description which is unofficial carrying no authority, and arguments often take place between citizens and civic leaders of rival cities making conflicting claims.

While Birmingham has generally been described as the second city of the United Kingdom since around the First World War, [cite book|author=Hopkins, Eric|title=Birmingham: The Making of the Second City 1850-1939|publisher=Tempus Publishing|year=2001|isbn= ISBN 0-7524-2327-4] recent polls and media references have quoted Manchester as the second city. Other cities in both England and Scotland have at times been considered to the second city. For example: Glasgow, in Scotland, was in the past called The Second City of the Empire. For the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. During some of this time Dublin was considered to be second city. ["Provincial Towns in Early Modern England and Ireland: Change, Convergence, and Divergence", Oxford University Press, p.22, 2002]

It is perhaps even more difficult to make a distinction based on cultural factors, as all major UK cities play an important role in the cultural make-up of the country: in addition to Birmingham and Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow(European Capital of Culture for 1990), Liverpool (joint European Capital of Culture for 2008), Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, and others all boast internationally recognised sporting, music and performing arts scenes.


Since the formation of the United Kingdom, several places have been described as the "second city". Dublin was the second most populous city at the time of the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, though it lost that position later in the 19th century as other cities grew through industrialisation. [ [ BBC: "A Short History of Ireland"] - "The population, which had been 58,000 in 1683, was close to 129,000 by 1772 and 182,000 including the garrison by 1798, making Dublin the second largest city in the British Empire."] As such, it was often described as the second city of the UK.Sidney Edwards Morse and Jedidiah Morse, "A New System of Geography, Ancient and Modern", p.177, 1824] Dublin, and the rest of the Republic of Ireland, ceased to be a part of the UK in the 1920s.

By the early 19th century, Glasgow was frequently named as the second city; [ For example, see T. H. B. Oldfield, "The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland", p.566, 1816 or Spencer Walpole, "A History of England from the Conclusion of the Great War in 1815", p.103, 1878] and in the 20th century it had a population of over one million, comparable with that of Birmingham. The Official Census population for Glasgow was 0.784 million in April 1911; 1.034 million in April 1921; 1.088 million in April 1931 and 1.090 million in April 1951. [Roberson, D. J. (1958). "Population, Past and Present". Chapter 2 in: Cunnison, J. and Gilfillan, J. B. S. (1958). "The Third Statistical Account of Scotland", Volume V. "The City of Glasgow". Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. ] However, slum clearances in the 1960s led to displacement of residents from the city centre to new communities, called schemes, located outside the city boundaries. This, together with local government reorganisation, resulted in the official population of Glasgow appearing to fall sharply. The Glasgow City Council area currently has a population of 600,000 although the overall population of Greater Glasgow is around 2.3 million.cite web| url=| title=2007 Population Estimates| accessdate=2008-01-16] In contrast, the population of the city of Birmingham has remained steadily around the one million mark; its central population fell like Glasgow's but the city boundaries were extended several times in the early 20th century. Occasional claims were made for Liverpool, [D. Appleton, "Appletons' American Standard Geographies", p.130, 1881.] Birmingham [W. Stewart & Co., "The Journal of Education", p.38, 1867.] and Manchester. [Chetham Society, "Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancashire and Chester", 1862, p.531.]

The title Second city of Empire or Second city of the British Empire has been claimed by a number of cities with respect to their status in the British Empire in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. These include Dublin, ["When you remember that Dublin has been a capital for thousands of years, that it is the second city of the British Empire, that it is nearly three times as big as Venice it seems strange that no artist has given it to the world." James Joyce, Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, c. 24 September 1905 ("Letters of James Joyce", vol. II, pp. 109-112. (Viking Press, 1966).] Glasgow (which continues to use the title as a marketing slogan), [cite web|url=|title=The Second City|source=Glasgow City Council (] Liverpool; [ Liverpool University: "... the city's pre-eminent position at the turn of the 19th century resulted from the port's willingness to handle a very wide range of cargo (including millions of migrants to the new world). Liverpool was second only to London in this respect - and this, together with its great ethnic diversity, was the basis of its claim to being the 'second city of empire'." ] and (outside the UK) Kolkata (known as Calcutta through the British Empire) [ [ Tourism of India - Special Feature - Relics of the Raj ] ] and Philadelphia. [ [ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania facts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania travel videos, flags, photos - National Geographic ] ]

Prior to the Acts of Union 1707 of the Parliaments of England and Scotland, which led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, from the English Civil War until the 18th century, Norwich was the second-largest city of England, being a major trading centre, Britain's richest provincial city and county town of Norfolk, at that time the most populous county of England. [cite web |url = |title = Enabling Norwich in the Knowledge Economy |accessdate = 2007-08-20 |last = Williams |first = Laura |authorlink = |coauthors = Alexandra Jones, Neil Lee, Simon Griffiths |format = pdf | pages = p 11 |work = The Work Foundation web pages |publisher = The Work Foundation] Bristol was the second wealthiest city in England in the 16th century; [J. E. T. and A. G. L. Rogers, "A History of Agriculture and Prices in England", p.82, 1887] and by the 18th century, Bristol was often described as the second city of England. [Charles Knight, "The Popular History of England", p.8, 1859] During the 19th century, claims were made for Manchester, [Robert Southey, "Letters from England", p.177, 1836] Liverpool [James Richard Joy, "An Outline History of England", p.26, 1890] and York. [John Major, Aeneas James George Mackay and Thomas Graves Law, "A History of Greater Britain as Well England as Scotland", p.xxxvi, 1892] York had also been named as the second city in earlier centuries. [John Macky, "A Journey Through England", p.208, 1722]


Birmingham or Manchester

Since the First World War Birmingham has historically been considered the second city of the United Kingdom, but recent polls and media references have concluded with Manchester being seen as the second city.

In a recent survey commissioned by the BBC North West investigating the subject of the "'Second city' of England", 48% of 1,000 people claimed that Manchester deserves the distinction with 40% choosing Birmingham. [cite web|url=|title=Manchester tops second city poll|accessdate=2007-02-10|publisher=BBC NEWS|year=2007] The BBC further report that Manchester is close to being the second city of the UK. [cite web|url=|title=Manchester 'close to second city'|accessdate=2006-05-03|publisher=BBC NEWS|year=2005] In a similar survey conducted by Ipsos MORI, commissioned by "Visit Manchester" (Manchester's tourism department), Manchester received the highest response for the category of second city at 34% compared to Birmingham at 29% but also in the same poll, the highest response for the category of third city with 27% of the vote, 6% more than the 21% for Birmingham. [ [ // Visit Manchester / Homepage // ] ] Only 85% of respondents put London as first City. [cite web|url=|title= Manchester 'England's second city'|accessdate=2007-02-09|publisher=Ipsos MORI North|year=2002]

Manchester is both reported by international news media as the UK's second city, [cite web|url=,0,6491516.story?coll=cl-music-features|title=Manchester second city|accessdate=2007-07-19|publisher=LA Times|year=2007] [cite web|url=|title=Manchester travel article from LA Times|accessdate=2007-07-19|publisher=LA Times|year=2007] [ [ Britain's Second City Sandblasts Its Image] - New York Times (article on Manchester)] and sometimes as the UK's third city.cite web |url = |title = Queen closes 'stunning' games |accessdate = 2007-07-19 |date = 05 August 2002 |work = |publisher = Cable News Network LP, LLLP |quote = ... a 10-day-long sporting festival hailed by critics as a 'stunning' success for England's third city.
cite web |url = |title = Manchester United "target" of bomb attack |accessdate = 2007-07-19 |author = Agence France-Presse |authorlink = Agence France-Presse |date = 20 April 2004 |work = |publisher = |quote = ... plotting to bomb a football ground or a shopping centre in Manchester, Britain's third city with a population of 2.6 million.
cite web
url = |title = Church of England locks horns with Sony |accessdate = 2007-07-07
author = Agence France-Presse |authorlink = Agence France-Presse
date = 10 June 2007 |work =
publisher = MCN International Pte Ltd |quote = The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, Britain's third city, said that the game trivialises and glamourises (gun crime).

cite news | author = Agence France-Presse | authorlink = Agence France-Presse | title = Church of England locks horns with Sony | url = | work = Deccan Herald | publisher = The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd | date = 10 June 2007 | accessdate = 2007-07-15 | quote = The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, Britain's third city, said that the game trivialises and glamourises (gun crime).
cite web |url =,,2-10-1462_2149371,00.html |title = Three held in UK terror probe |accessdate = 2007-07-19 |author = SA |authorlink = |date = 18 July 2007 |work = news24 |publisher = |quote = The arrests in Manchester, Britain's third city, are not linked to the recent failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow ...] Whereas Birmingham is almost always reported as the UK's second city in similar international news media. [ [ What It Was, Was Britball] - New York Times] [ [,23599,22148653-23109,00.html Australia] , "...Britain's second city of Birmingham...", 28 July 2007, retrieved 31 July 2007.] [ [ BBC News] , "Is this the nicest place to live in Britain?...Britain's second city...Birmingham...", 09 July 2003, retrieved 31 July 2007.] [ [ BBC] , "...Britain’s second city, Birmingham...", 15 March 2006, retrieved 01 August 2007.]

Based on population within official city boundaries the City of Birmingham, the most populous local government district in the UK, is substantially larger than the City of Manchester, which is the fifth largest in the UK (2006 estimates, see List of English districts by population). However, most sources do not use formal city boundaries as the sole criterion for population comparison; for instance, the City of London, with a population of only 7,185 (2001 census), is very small, though London as a whole is the most populous city within city limits in the European Union [ [ National Statistics Online ] ] with an official population of 7.6 million (as of 2006) and has a metropolitan area population of between 12 and 14 million people. [ [ World Gazetteer] - World: metropolitan areas] [ [ Demographia] - Southeast England Population by Area from 1891]

The surrounding conurbations and the areas that can be considered informally part of each city are hard to define. However after the 1974 re-organisation of local government and the creation of metropolitan counties, the City of Birmingham was included with the City of Coventry and five other metropolitan boroughs (one, Wolverhampton gained city status in 2000) into a new West Midlands county. The City of Manchester joined with the neighbouring City of Salford and eight other Metropolitan boroughs within the County of Greater Manchester.

The City of Birmingham has a population of 1,006,500 (2006 estimate). It forms part of the larger West Midlands conurbation, which has a population of 2,284,093 (2001 census) and also includes the city of Wolverhampton, the towns of the Black Country, and other towns such as Solihull. The City of Manchester has a population of 452,000 (2006 estimate), while the Greater Manchester Urban Area is home to 2,240,230 people (2001 census) and also includes the city of Salford, and towns like Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport and Wigan. The population of Metropolitan counties such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester also vary slightly from both the urban areas and other population statistics criteria like the Travel to Work Area. Birmingham City Council (BCC) is the largest local authority in Europe and is notable for having the largest wards, by population, in the whole of the UK (each ward has approximately 18,000 voters). BCC is also the UK's largest landlord with its Housing Department managing over 70,000 council homes. [ [ Birmingham City Council: "About the Housing Department"] ]

There has been a variety of Ministerial opinion on the subject for some time, opinions include:

* David Miliband the current Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Member of Parliament for the constituency of South Shields, Tyne and Wear "However, if you look at Birmingham, I think a lot of people would say that it's a city, Britain's second city..." [cite web |url = |title = New Labour troubles |accessdate = 2007-08-01 |date = 5 March 2005 |work = BBC Sunday AM |publisher = BBC |quote = ]
* Sir Digby Jones (born and raised in Birmingham), Minister of State at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Foreign Office (former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said "Birmingham is naturally the second most important city in Britain after London because of where she is and how important she is as part of that crossroads,". [cite web |url = |title = Manchester tops second city poll |accessdate = 2007-02-10 |date = 9 February 2007 |work = BBC News |publisher = BBC ] Jones later said "As a Brummie it's not easy to say, but I can find no better place than the north west in terms of having a diverse manufacturing base, whether it's engineering manufacturing at Rolls-Royce, automotive manufacturing at Bentley or pharmaceuticals manufacturing at AstraZeneca." which contradicts what he said about Birmingham being the most important base outside London. He also praised "Manchester's 'first-class global' university, knowledge and transport infrastructure were the two key factors that determined the success of a city or region." [cite web|url=|title=Jones: North west best for innovation|accessdate=2008-04-14|date=10 April 2008|publisher=Manchester Evening News]
* John Prescott (born in Wales and raised in Merseyside), former Deputy Prime Minister and current Member of Parliament for the constituency of Hull East was also quoted as saying "Manchester - our second city", but this was later played down by his department, claiming they were made in a "light-hearted context".cite news | title = Prescott ranks Manchester as second city | url = | work = Manchester Evening News | publisher = M.E.N media | date = 3 February 2005 | accessdate = 2007-08-20 | quote = We have had fantastic co-operation here in Manchester - our second city, I am prepared to concede. ]
* Graham Stringer (born, raised and currently representing Manchester), MP for Manchester Blackley responded with "Manchester has always been the second city after the capital, in many ways it is the first. Birmingham has never really been in the competition."

* Sandra White (born, raised and representing Glasgow) a Scottish National Party MSP for Glasgow, claimed "Glasgow was always seen as the second city in the Empire, and Glasgow is still the second British city. Manchester is probably the second city in England after London."

* Phil Woolas (born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire living in Lees and representing the constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth), Minister of State for the Environment - "And, of course, I, and colleagues in Manchester, am pleased to see its very sensible plans to relocate to Manchester - Britain's third city." [cite web |url = |title = 'Setting the Standard' - Speech by Phil Woolas MP at the fifth Annual Assembly of Standards Committees on 16 October 2006. |accessdate = 2007-09-02 |date = 16 October 2006 |work = Department for Communities and Local Government |publisher = Department for Communities and Local Government | quote = And, of course, I, and colleagues in Manchester, am pleased to see its very sensible plans to relocate to Manchester - Britain's third city. ]

Other candidates for the title

Edinburgh, [ [ New York Times, August 6, 1989] : "Edinburgh's castle high on the rock has looked down on many a triumph and tragedy in the proud Scots capital, but every year since 1947, Britain's "Second City" steals the spotlight from London during the three weeks of the international festival."] Belfast [] and Cardiff also have a claim on the title of "second city" by virtue of their status as the capital cities of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. In addition, Edinburgh is the second busiest tourist destination after London, [ [] "Edinburgh is the UK’s second city of tourism after London and acts as a gateway to the rest of Scotland. It generates 22% of UK and 33% of overseas tourism spend in Scotland"] ] and since devolution has become the most important city after London in governmental terms, housing the Scottish Parliament. It is a growing financial centre and houses, amongst other financial and insurance companies, Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, two of the UK's big five banks. [cite web|url=|title=Overview of Scotland's Financial Industry|publisher=Scottish Financial Enterprise|accessdate=2007-01-21] Edinburgh is also home to the world's largest arts festival every August; is the only British city to have hosted the Commonwealth Games twice (1970 & 1986); and has since the 1990s been one of the main alternatives in the UK to London for hosting major political summits, having hosted meetings of the European Council (1992), G8 (2005, nearby at Auchterarder - see 31st G8 summit), and the Commonwealth of Nations (1997).


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