Many, many, years ago when I was a wild-eyed, hare-brained journalist on the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, I became emotionally invested in the town’s stop-start aspirations for city status.
The idea is being discussed again. The same reasoning as before prevails. Northampton is a town that is already bigger than many of the cities in England and is doomed to ‘grow’ further (by this we really mean ‘become denser’ although there is likely to be some compromising of the space left for fox hunting, golfing and mountain biking). It is a cultural, administrative and sporting centre. It is the headquarters of many famous industries. Historically and spiritually it has made pivotal contributions to the nation’s history.
Northampton is a town that is being a city already without admitting it. Geographically the character of one part of town can be very different to another. Upton has a Euro-urban vibe. Abington is Victorian gothic to 30s glamour via atomic age optimism. Everbody thinks they are in Abington. There’s all these cool arty people living on boats at the marina and there is a kind of hospital quarter the stretches from the General Hospital up to the last gate of St Andrew’s Healthcare. Semilong is Bishop’s Palace’s and bail hostels.
Richard III was born in Northamptonshire (and probably hung out in Northampton a lot). Day to day I bet he barely thought about Leicester (a city) and the unseemly enthusiasm for him from the current residents of the town only adds insult to the injury of having had him buried under a car park for the past few hundred years. Is this what not being a city really means for the residents of Northampton and by association Northamptonshire?
Are we doomed to have our awkward Royals stolen from us by predatory neighbouring cities until we get that Royal seal of city status approval? Is Milton Keynes going to lay claim to Althorp?
Support the city status bid here
For a long time the innately un-impressable nature of the Northampton citizenry has seen us toil through life as a ‘town’ despite our ever increasing size. Hundreds of thousands of us doing the whole needing transport, life space and using up resources thing while the rest of the country puts us in the same administrative fruit bowl as Bedford, Dunstable and Aylesbury. The chances to upgrade to city status have come and gone. We’ve been able to fight our corner on things through sheer weight of numbers but overall the population of Northampton has not grasped eagerly for promotion. It’s as though we take some perverse pleasure in our perennial mis-classification. We’re the elephant in the reptile house and we seem to be content with that.
Over the years there has been investment coming in, things like the gleaming new University of Northampton campus happen against all odds but are we reaching a point where Northampton can no longer afford to be the Cinderella city? Milton Keynes stole our Ikea, Leicester stole our Richard III and Peterborough (formerly part of Northamptonshire but now Northamptonshire doesn’t exist and Peterborough believes it is in Cambridgeshire) hasn’t stolen anything worth having but gets a mention as the ugliest of our three higher ranking sisters.
But we are moving into the age of the algorithm: the little computational routines that filter and evaluate the never ending streams of data that everything generates now are the new kingmakers. Deep within the brains of computers that compare like with like, or organise hierarchies of need, or predict the future, algorithms are making decisions that get churned out as advice in reports and computer models. In the real world Northampton is not a city *wink*wink*. In algorithm world Northampton is not a city *full* stop*.
Northamptonshire’s cricket team are The Steelbacks – a nickname derived from the Northamptonshire Regiment that earned it by being the most flogged regiment back in the day. Presenting the people of Northampton with city status now is a bit like offering not to flog the Steelbacks any more. That’s great but the people of Northampton have just got on with being the biggest town in the country. It is too late to save the skin off their backs.
City status yes. Obviously. The Cinderella City. City of the eternal unrecognised princess. I’m not going to say it but some of you can work it out for yourselves. We know what we are. But if it needs a great upswell of public gratitude and joy to drive it along, if we need to grovel cravenly to have this administrative reality recognised, then it might just pass us by again.