How does a town get a 'royal' title?

Wootton Bassett Wootton Bassett is near to RAF Lyneham

Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire is the first town in more than 100 years to be given the "royal" title, but how is it bestowed?

For four years local people have lined the streets of Wootton Bassett as a mark of respect to service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Joining families of the dead and war veterans, hundreds have stopped to pay their respects as the bodies of those killed were driven through the town, after being repatriated at nearby RAF Lyneham. The practice started spontaneously.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Wednesday that the town is going to be granted the "royal" title. He said the tribute was a symbol of the nation's "gratitude" to local people.

It's the reigning monarch who decides to bestow the honour. Petitions either come directly from the prime minister, as in this case, or are made through the Cabinet Office. Requests for the title are made for various reasons and cities, towns, boroughs and hospitals can apply. Businesses can as well, but there are certain restrictions under the Companies Act.

Once the Queen has conferred the title, the new name legally comes into effect on the date she signs and seals a Letters Patent. This is a type of legal instrument in the form of an open letter, granting the title.

The answer

  • The decision is made by the reigning monarch, in this case the Queen
  • The prime minister can personally petition the Queen
  • Organisations can also make petitions through the Cabinet Office

The only other royal towns in England are Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Both of these spa towns petitioned for the honour in recognition of their history and royal patronage of their facilities, says the Cabinet Office. Leamington Spa was granted the title in 1838 by Queen Victoria, and Tunbridge Wells in 1909 by King Edward VII.

The Royal County of Berkshire was given the title because it is home to Windsor Castle. It has been using the "royal" since before the 19th Century, but it was recognised by the Queen in 1958 and a Letters Patent was issued confirming this in 1974.

Sutton Coldfield became a Royal manor in 1489 and remained in the hands of the crown until 1528. Then Henry VIII granted the town its first Charter of Incorporation which decreed the village should forever be named the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield.

Caernarfon in Wales is a royal town of a different kind. It was made a royal borough by the Queen in 1963 and was allowed to retain the honour when it ceased to be a borough in 1974.

There are a number of royal boroughs in England, including Kensington and Chelsea. Greenwich is to become one in 2012 in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

It is a similar process for towns that have the Latin suffix "Regis", meaning "of the king" or "belonging to a king", says the Cabinet Office. It is the monarch's decision and in the past it has usually been bestowed on towns frequented by royalty or where they have convalesced.

Admiration

Bognor was allowed to add Regis to its name in 1929, after George V stayed in the town while recovering from an illness. After he left the council applied for permission and it was granted.

Soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan started to be driven through Wootton Bassett in 2007, when repairs to the runway at RAF Brize Norton meant they were flown into RAF Lyneham instead. The town's High Street is on the route to the mortuary.

Members of the local branch of the Royal British Legion asked to be notified of any repatriations, which started the tradition of lining the streets. Information of each repatriation is now posted on the town council's website.

WHO, WHAT, WHY?

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The locals of Wootton Bassett say they are honoured to be granted the title.

"Whilst we have never sought recognition for our simple act of respect, I am certain this will serve to reinforce the pride and gratitude we feel for the members of our armed services who will always be in our thoughts," said the Mayor of Wootton Bassett, Mary Champion.

Pastor Tim Ravenscroft, of the Wootton Bassett Community Church, said he was very pleased for the town, but reiterated that it was not something local people had sought.

"The town will see it as a gift, not from the government, but from the Queen and I think that will please them greatly."

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