Research from local archivists suggests Dundee is Scotland’s first city — “technically”.
City archivist Sarah Aitken has detailed Dundee’s transition from a burgh to a city in a online blog.
Dundee is unique in that an exact date of the ascension to city status is documented — January 26 1889 — making it the earliest official city in the country.
A charter signed by Queen Victoria confirmed the transition.
Ms Aitken, Dundee City Archives records manager and assistant archivist, worked on her research, in 2019, to mark the 130th anniversary of Dundee officially becoming a city.
Scotland is different from England and Wales in what constitutes a city. Anywhere with a cathedral is classed as one south of the border, but “cities in Scotland never really took off”, according to Ms Aitken.
There were many royal burghs, but no official cities for some time. The first royal burghs were created in the 12th century by King David, with Berwick and Roxburgh thought to be the earliest examples.
This was then followed by Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen. The exact date of Dundee’s accession to burgh-hood is unknown, but is thought to be between 1181 and 1195.
When other burghs became cities is something of a messy picture. Edinburgh had a town council, but met in the city chambers, for example.
The Queen Victoria charter was formally accepted by Dundee town council on February 4 1889. It is thought the council went the extra mile to have its status enshrined so they could change the Provost into a Lord Provost — and because Dundee had grown significantly in the previous few decades.
It went from a population of 60,553 in 1841 to 158,066 in 1891 — leapfrogging Aberdeen as the third largest burgh in Scotland.
The Granite City quickly followed suit, and was confirmed as a city in 1891.
But Ms Aitken’s research suggests that Inverness was rejected city status in 1897 as it may have highlighted that Glasgow and Edinburgh weren’t technically cities themselves yet.
This changed in 1929 when Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow were all made City Counties as part of a local government reorganisation.
Ms Aitken said: “Dundee is the first city to get a charter of this kind. A lot of places, such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Perth and I think Glasgow, were already calling themselves a city over time and that would stick.
“When they first adopted the name of being a city is unknown. Perhaps someone from one of these places can enlighten us?
“But Dundee is the first place to have been granted city status through a charter.”