Ranked and rated: Which of the new Jubilee cities really deserves the title?

·15-min read
Milton Keynes - CHUNYIP WONG/iStockphoto
Milton Keynes - CHUNYIP WONG/iStockphoto

The old adage runs that three is a magic number. And it might well be. But in the case of the Platinum Jubilee festivities, the key figure is a weightier eight. Why? Because this is the precise total of towns that have been granted city status as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. Bunting and ticker-tape all round.

What are they? Where are they? Do they have enormous museums and important back-stories? Which of them is the best – and which of them is most worthy of your time?

Excellent questions. Most of which we will attempt to answer below, before giving each city a score, and a ranking. Warning – contains subjective opinions…

Milton Keynes, England

The gist

Buckinghamshire “new town” plonked onto the map in the Sixties to help ease housing congestion in London. Insert a joke here about its many (OK, 130) roundabouts.

milton keynes - Getty
milton keynes - Getty

Notable heritage: 6/10

If we are going with the official foundation date (January 23, 1967), not much. If we are going on the fact that the new town incorporated four older ones – including Wolverton, which is listed in the Domesday Book, and Fenny Stratford, which was the Roman “Magiovinium” – then you have two millennia of quiet British life.

Architectural wonders: 4/10

The pickings, if we are honest, are relatively slim. There is a certain glassy sleekness to the facade of the central railway station – but otherwise, much of “downtown” Milton Keynes merges into largely undramatic modernity.

Cultural might: 6/10

Milton Keynes Theatre (atgtickets.com/venues/milton-keynes-theatre) has earned a solid reputation since it opened in 1999. A cynic might argue that its arrival a full 32 years after the town appeared on the map suggests that culture was not a massive priority in this exciting new urban project – but this 1,400-capacity venue stages opera and ballet performances, as well as drama, and is doing quite nicely, ta very much

Famous progeny: 6/10

You might name Alan Turing, the ground-breaking computer scientist, who worked down the road at Bletchley Park – but was born in London. So it’s Everton and onetime England footballer Dele Alli, and darts player Fallon Sherrock, who made waves in 2019 as the first woman to win a match at the PDC World Championships.

Sporting prowess: 2/10

There is little love outside the city for local football team, MK Dons (mkdons.com). Notoriously, until 2004, the club was the original incarnation of south London side Wimbledon, until a controversial relocation stripped away its identity.

Did you know?

The site of Milton Keynes was chosen so as to create a town that is all but equidistant from each of London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge.

Total score: 24/50

Colchester, England

The gist

Crucial foundation stone of ancient Britain, out in the pastures of eastern Essex.

Notable heritage: 10/10

Yes indeed. Back in the Roman era, Colchester was “Camulodunum” – a significant dot on the map which came to be the first capital of Roman Britannia (in the first century AD). It was so big and important, in fact, that when the Iceni rebellion kicked off in 61AD, the city found itself in Boudicca’s line of fire. The fighting which ensued all but razed it to the ground – necessitating a long spell of reconstruction.

Architectural wonders: 10/10

In some parts of Colchester, 2,000 years – and Boudicca’s fury – fade away. Certainly, you can trace its earliest era in the remaining stretches of its Roman walls, the ruins of a once-vast amphitheatre, and the remnants of a temple to the deified emperor Claudius (one of the Iceni bones of contention). The latter sits next to Colchester Castle (colchester.cimuseums.org.uk) – which brings the tale up to Norman times.

Colchester - Alex_11/iStockphoto
Colchester - Alex_11/iStockphoto

Cultural might: 8/10

At the risk of suggesting that Colchester is ripe for destruction whatever the era or context, the city is the only place named in George Orwell’s (1949) masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four as having been struck down in a nuclear attack. On a more positive note, the Mercury Theatre (mercurytheatre.co.uk) is a respected cultural cornerstone, while the Firstsite gallery (firstsite.uk) hosts art exhibitions in a dramatic modern structure.

Famous progeny: 7/10

Blur frontman Damon Albarn spent part of his childhood in Colchester. He referred to it (without a great deal of affection) on 1997 album track Essex Dogs, and in more positive terms on his 2014 solo LP Everyday Robots. Alas, the home where Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe once lived burned down in 2009.

Sporting prowess: 5/10

Colchester United (cu-fc.com) has been the city’s football heroes since 1937, but have never been higher than the second tier of English league football. Sadly, Essex no longer takes the field at the photogenic Castle Park Cricket Ground.

Did you know?

The city’s most recognisable landmark is arguably the Jumbo Water Tower – a fine feat of Victorian engineering in red brick, completed in 1883. Its name was meant as an insult – thrown at it by a local vicar annoyed that it dwarfed his church.

Total score: 40/50

Doncaster, England

The gist

Important dot on the map of South Yorkshire. Sort of between Sheffield and Leeds (but smaller than both) if you’re travelling from the former to the latter by a mildly diversionary route. On the East Coast Main Line – so you’ve probably passed through it.

Notable heritage: 10/10

Doncaster sprouted from a first-century Roman fort, and was probably known as “Danum” by the men in togas and sandals. Come the Middle Ages, it was a large place – Richard I (he of the Crusades, absentee monarchism and cameo appearance as Sean Connery at the end of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves) granted it a town charter in 1194. Admittedly, it burned down in 1204. But still. It has history. Loads of it.

Architectural wonders: 7/10

You won’t find much of the Roman fort beyond a few short strips of wall, but Doncaster Minster (doncasterminster.co.uk) is about as lovely a church as you can admire in the UK – a Victorian jewel designed by George Gilbert Scott.

Doncaster - Dave Couldwell/iStockphoto
Doncaster - Dave Couldwell/iStockphoto

Cultural might: 8/10

Danum (dglam.org.uk) opened last year as a cultural hub, combining a library, a gallery and a museum, while preserving the structure of the former Doncaster High School for Girls. South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum gathers flying machines of various eras into one intriguing collection (southyorkshireaircraftmuseum.org.uk).

Famous progeny: 6/10

Take your pick from the mixed bag of car obsessive Jeremy Clarkson, esteemed actress and former Bond girl Diana Rigg, Louis Tomlinson from One Direction and indie-pop guitar-fondler Yungblud – whose mother knows him as “Dominic”.

Sporting prowess: 9/10

Doncaster Rovers (doncasterroversfc.co.uk) are a solid third-tier club who have flirted with higher levels of the football league; Doncaster Rovers Belles (doncasterroversfc.co.uk/belles), though not the force they once were, are one of the most important teams in the history of women’s football. Doncaster Racecourse (doncaster-racecourse.co.uk) is a first-rate venue for a day watching the gee-gees.

Did you know?

Doncaster-Sheffield Airport (flydsa.co.uk) is definitely in the former, and not the latter. It offers flights all the way to Orlando and Cancun (with Tui Airways).

Total score: 40/50

Dunfermline, Scotland

The gist

Get to Edinburgh. Go west along the Firth of Forth until you reach Queensferry. Take the Forth Road Bridge over the water, to Fife. There you go. You’re in Dunfermline.

Notable heritage: 9/10

The Romans, famously, decided it was easier to build a big wall than fight the Scots, so there is no Latin incarnation of Dunfermline. It first cropped up in written record in the 11th century, but developed into one of the main burial places for Scottish royalty. England’s nemesis Robert The Bruce was interred there in 1329.

Architectural wonders: 8/10

Dunfermline Abbey (dunfermlineabbey.com) – where 18 kings and queens of Scotland were committed to tombs between 1093 and 1420 – is as key a place of worship now as when it was founded as a church in the 11th century, despite the harm it suffered in 1560 as the Reformation boiled over into physical damage. The former Pilmuir Works mill – essential to Dunfermline’s time as a powerhouse of 19th century linen production – has been carefully redeveloped as housing (linenquarter.co.uk).

Dunfermline - Dennis Barnes/Photographer's Choice RF
Dunfermline - Dennis Barnes/Photographer's Choice RF

Cultural might: 7/10

Andrew Carnegie – the Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist whose name is imprinted across his adopted country in a range of museums and concert halls – was born in Dunfermline in 1835. His achievements also echo in his birthplace – in the books, paintings and cafes of Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries (onfife.com/venues/dunfermline-carnegie-library-galleries), and in Pittencrieff Park, the gorgeous green space that he gifted to his first home in 1903.

Famous progeny: 8/10

Aside from Andrew Carnegie, Dunfermline gave the world guitarist Stuart Adamson of The Skids and Big Country – and prolific novelist Iain Banks.

Sporting prowess: 6/10

Neither Dunfermline Athletic (football; dafc.co.uk) nor Dunfermline RFC (rugby; dunfermlinerugby.co.uk) play in the national top divisions of their respective sports, but are loudly supported. Dunfermline Reign (dunfermlinereign.com), by contrast, do hold a place in the upper tier of their chosen pursuit – basketball.

Did you know?

Dunfermline is twinned with Logroño, the capital of Spain’s wine-growing La Rioja province – and with Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida.

Total score: 38/50

Wrexham, Wales

The gist

Pleasant market town (until its promotion in status) of 66,000 people, perched in the Welsh borders – directly west of Cheshire. Offa’s Dyke runs just past its doorstep.

Notable heritage: 4/10

Less than you think. Despite its location on one of those bits of the British landscape where Wales and England bash elbows, Wrexham does not appear in the Domesday Book, and is not mentioned at all until 1161, when it pops up in written record as “Wristleham”. Still, that gives it at least 806 years over Milton Keynes.

Architectural wonders: 7/10

Having failed to turn up for the first millennium AD, Wrexham made a better fist of the second. A fine fragment of the 16th century, St Giles’s Church is considered one of the “Seven Wonders of Wales” – thanks to a tower which rises to 136ft (41m). The ecclesiastical architect WD Caroe called it a “glorious masterpiece”. Bersham Ironworks – a key cog in the Industrial Revolution – is being restored as a museum.

Cultural might: 7/10

The city has played regular host to Wales’s annual cultural gathering, the National Eisteddfod (six times, to date, most recently in 2011), and has a yearly festival of its own in the musical showcase that is Focus Wales (focuswales.com).

Famous progeny: 6/10

Wrexham Glyndŵr University takes its name from Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh prince and resistance leader who proved such a thorn in the side of Henry IV of England in the early 15th century. He was born 18 miles away at Llansilin, but that’s close enough – particularly when the alternative is football irritant Robbie Savage.

Sporting prowess: 5/10

Wrexham AFC (wrexhamafc.co.uk) is the oldest professional football club in Wales (and one of the oldest on the planet), dating back to 1864. The team plays in the English pyramid – but has never been higher than the second tier, and is currently out of the league. However, its purchase by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in 2020 has brought A-list sparkle, and the hope of a brighter future.

Wrexham - PAUL ELLIS/AFP
Wrexham - PAUL ELLIS/AFP

Did you know?

Wrexham has gained city status at the fourth time of asking this century. It applied for an upgrade as part of the celebrations for both the Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and the festivities for the millennium. If at first you don’t succeed…

Total score: 29/50

Bangor, Northern Ireland

The gist

Not the Welsh one, but the Bangor which sits a little across the water in Northern Ireland – 13 miles east of Belfast, where Belfast Lough digs into County Down.

Notable heritage: 7/10

Largely known as a seaside resort in the present day, Bangor has dotted the map since at least the sixth century – when an abbey was founded (in around 555) by the Irish holy man St Comgall. The monastery was sufficiently well established as to be a target for Viking raids in the eighth and ninth centuries – a full millennium before a different sort of incomer, the Victorian tourist, began visiting by train from Belfast.

Architectural wonders: 5/10

Originally known as the “North Pier”, the city’s Eisenhower Pier owes its name to a visit from the US general (and later president), who wandered along it to address troops about to depart for the D-Day Landings in 1944. The many Edwardian houses along the waterline on Seacliff Road remember Bangor’s heyday, before the rise of cheap foreign holidays in the 1960s removed some of its spark.

Bangor, Northern Ireland - NurPhoto
Bangor, Northern Ireland - NurPhoto

Cultural might: 4/10

You won’t find a chorus line of major galleries and art institutions in Bangor, but the North Down Museum (andculture.org.uk/visit-us/north-down-museum) does a diligent job of showcasing the area’s history from the Bronze Age onwards.

Famous progeny: 7/10

Comedian Eddie Izzard (who lived in Bangor between the ages of one and five); various members of the indie-rock band Snow Patrol; the former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon; former Arsenal footballer (and later manager) Terry Neill.

Sporting prowess: 6/10

Bangor FC (bangorfc.com) currently play in the third tier of Northern Ireland’s football league system, but Royal Ulster Yacht Club (ruyc.uk) and Ballyholme Yacht Club (ballyholme.com) help to make the city a first-class venue for sailing.

Did you know?

With its Platinum Jubilee upgrade, Bangor becomes Northern Ireland’s sixth city – following the examples of Belfast, Armagh, Londonderry, Lisburn and Newry.

Total score: 29/50

Douglas, Isle of Man

The gist

The capital of the Isle of Man, set on the east coast of said Crown Dependency.

Notable heritage: 6/10

Ancient archaeological remains are in short supply, but Douglas almost certainly existed as some sort of settlement in Viking times, and is mentioned in written records from the 12th century onwards – a small port on a curving bay in the Irish Sea. Come the 1870s, it was a popular holiday resort, with close ties to Liverpool.

Architectural wonders: 7/10

Douglas Promenade is a two-mile encapsulation of the Victorian holiday era – a grand arc dotted with seafront hotels, and given an extra clatter of life by the horse-drawn tramway (douglashorsetramway.im) which runs along it (linking visitors to the Manx Electric Railway, and the top half of the island, at the north end of the line). Some of the accommodation needs refurbishment, and the tramway is currently in the midst of an overhaul which has taken three years and counting, but there is a happy charm to the scene which, on sunny days, could be beamed in from a century ago.

Douglas, Isle of Man - benkrut/iStockphoto
Douglas, Isle of Man - benkrut/iStockphoto

Cultural might: 7/10

The Manx Museum (manxnationalheritage.im/our-sites/manx-museum) offers the history of the island in impressive depth, via everything from local landscapes by the painter William Hoggatt to exhibitions on the annual “TT” motorbike races.

Famous progeny: 8/10

Mark Cavendish, the lightning-fast cyclist who jointly holds the record for the most stage wins in Tour de France history (34); Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees – all of whom were born in the city between 1946 and 1949.

Sporting prowess: 6/10

There are 26 clubs in the Isle of Man Football League – half of which are located in or around Douglas. The city is the start- and finish-point for the TT.

Did you know?

The Jubilee Clock on Loch Promenade marks a different multiple-decade royal anniversary – Queen Victoria’s 50-year golden bonanza (in 1887).

Total score: 34/50

Stanley, Falkland Islands

The gist

The capital of the Falkland Islands – which, as of this month, makes it the British-affiliated city furthest from London. A full 7,878 miles away.

Notable heritage: 4/10

The wider archipelago was all but uninhabited until the mid-18th century. The present-day city – at the east end of East Falkland island – was the smaller outpost of Port Jackson when the decision was made to set up a new capital, in 1843.

Port Stanley, Falklands Islands - redtea/iStockphoto
Port Stanley, Falklands Islands - redtea/iStockphoto

Architectural wonders: 7/10

Christ Church, the southernmost Anglican cathedral on the planet. A sturdy feast of red brick and local stone, it ascended into existence between 1890 and 1892, after its predecessor had fallen foul of a peat-bog landslip.

Cultural might: 6/10

The Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust (falklands-museum.com), which details the various chapters of the archipelago’s history, including the war of 1982, and its pertinent role in the exploration of Antarctica.

Famous progeny: 3/10

If you are looking for modern rock stars and international sports icons, you’re out of luck. If you are a true believer in the musical comedies of the Edwardian era then Ellaline Terriss – the star of Bluebell in Fairyland (1901), Quality Street (1902) and The Beauty of Bath (1906) – is your woman. She was born in Stanley in 1871.

Sporting prowess: 4/10

The Falkland Islands football team plays in the city, at Stanley Stadium. Due to the ongoing sovereignty dispute with Argentina, the side is not a member of FIFA, and cannot play formal international fixtures. The ground is little more than a pitch and goal-posts – but it does offer a splendid view of Stanley Harbour. Stanley Racecourse fares better, with Christmas race meetings every December 26 and 27.

Did you know?

The only Falklands newspaper – Penguin News – is published in Stanley.

Total score: 24/50

Do you think any of the new cities deserve their status? Comment below to join the conversation

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