Cornish town with 1,440 residents seeks to become UK’s smallest city

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: travellinglight/Alamy</span>
Photograph: travellinglight/Alamy

Marazion, opposite St Michael’s Mount, faces stiff opposition from larger areas in contest for city status

It may not boast a cathedral, a university or a major sports team – the sort of features often associated with a typical British metropolis. But the town of Marazion (population 1,440), perched prettily on the south coast of Cornwall, has nevertheless launched a bold campaign for city status.

Marazion, which does have a couple of churches, a primary school and rowing and sailing clubs, would become the smallest and most southerly city if its proposal is accepted.

Richard Stokoe, a town councillor who is leading the campaign, argued that Marazion deserved to be promoted.

“The wonderful people, the fascinating history, stunning beauty and incredible community spirit mean Marazion would be a fitting and popular place to become the next town to be honoured with becoming a city,” he said.

There is stiff opposition, with much larger urban areas such as Reading, Bournemouth and Middlesbrough having also entered the UK civic honours competition, launched as part of the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations, but Stokoe, a university lecturer, said the Cornish town was up for the fight.

“Size is not important. Despite being a David in a field of Goliaths applying for city status, anyone who has ever lived, worked or visited Marazion knows that there is something for everyone and that it would be a worthy winner.”

Visitors often whiz through Marazion on their way to the extraordinary island castle of St Michael’s Mount (which would not be part of the city, as it has its own parish council) and the town tends to be overshadowed by places such as St Ives and Penzance.

But Marazion’s application is packed with intriguing facts and figures, one highlight being a comparison between the town’s clock tower and the style of architecture featured in the beloved children’s shows Trumpton and Camberwick Green. It also flags up its fine Cornish pasty shop.

But champions of the entry say there is a serious side too. While visitors tend to see the idyllic aspects of Cornwall, there are pockets of deprivation.

“Becoming the smallest city in the UK would bring a buzz to Marazion, pride to local people, and a real opportunity to help boost inward investment and create jobs,” said Stokoe, whose house is so close to the waves that his windows become draped with seaweed in stormy weather.

“Apart from for holidays and tourism, south-west Cornwall has been an area that has all too often been overlooked, forgotten and ignored by the rest of the country. Making Marazion a city would show that Cornwall is no longer a Cinderella county.”

Graphic: Marazion would be the UK’s smallest city if successful in its bid

The current smallest city in the UK by population is St Davids in Pembrokeshire, Wales, with a population of about 1,600. Marazion takes heart that St Asaph in north Wales (with a 3,355 population) was made a city as recently as 2012.

Perhaps, inevitably, the campaign has not been welcomed by everyone. The town’s motto is semper eadem (always the same) and there were naysayers on the town council.

Derek Laity, the town mayor, did not sound too enthusiastic, saying: “Marazion is very proud of being a Cornish town. It is our belief that it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, chartered town in the United Kingdom.” But he added it would be “fitting” if the Queen considered the application.

The chair of Marazion’s chamber of commerce, Paul Elliott, who runs a B&B, is bullish about the contest and – jokingly – said it would be a “kick in the teeth” for St Davids if the campaign was successful.

He admitted that the town did not expect to win, but would do well out of the publicity anyway. “People have heard of St Michael’s Mount, because people like Michael Portillo make programmes here. But not so many have heard of Marazion.”

Joanie Willett, from the University of Exeter’s Institute of Cornish Studies, said: “Given the disproportionate amount of policy time that cities get compared to rural areas, this seems like a really good move.

“It also recognises that the area’s visitor economy sees a regular throughfare of hundreds of thousands of people, and asks us to question what we mean by population, and whether this can also come to mean transient populations.”

Wendy Stoten, a therapist, said Marazion was a beautiful old charter town. “Having smallest city status would draw attention to how wonderful it is. St Michael’s Mount is like our cathedral, and well visited to say the least, but Marazion is very worthy of being explored too.”

Marazion facts

  • The town’s curious name may be a corruption of Marghas Bighan, which means “little market” in Cornish. Through the ages there were many versions of the name before Marazion stuck.

  • At low tide, Marazion is connected to St Michael’s Mount, a rocky island crowned by a medieval church and castle, by a stone causeway half a mile in length. For centuries it has been a place of pilgrimage – and is now a popular tourist attraction.

  • As with many Cornish communities, keystones of the economy were historically farming, fishing and tin mining. The shallow water of Mount’s Bay made it perfect for netting pilchards.

  • Henry Francis Lyte, who wrote the hymns Abide with Me and Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven, was a curate in Marazion in the 19th century. John Wesley, the founder of the Wesleyan church, preached in the town.

  • Marazion now features a sailing club, a gig-rowing club, a snooker club and a quakers’ meeting house. There is a football team, a choir and the Marazion Wives’ Club, which hosts talks to inspire and celebrate. It also puts on a daylong summer festival – the Folly Fest – and a Father Christmas parade in the winter.

  • A favourite locals’ watering spot is the Marazion Hotel and Cutty Sark Bar. In the 1950s, Pathé News turned up to film an item there about a beer-drinking horse.

  • There is at present only one city in Cornwall: Truro, which is 25 miles to the north-east.

  • The last time the UK government asked for applications for city status was as part of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012. It was granted to St Asaph in Wales, Perth in Scotland and Chelmsford in England.

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