Every since I started this blog I have labelled posts about with walks the county in which they took place. Living where I do in Berkshire, I have sometimes to check whether places in the north-west of the county are "still" in Berkshire or are now in Oxfordshire, and whether places in the east are in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire. (The county boundary changed in 1974 when a whole swath of territory including significant towns like Wantage, Wallingford and Abingdon transferred to Oxfordshire, while Slough came to Berkshire from Buckinghamshire.) Other places have sometimes been much more confusing. I am really using this page to try to clarify my own confusion - because the situation is in reality a total mess.

Administrative Counties

Counties have always been part of the administration of the country.

Part of the problem is the way new administrative counties were modified, invented (e.g. West Midlands, Cleveland) and abolished in the 1974 reorganisation (e.g. Rutland, Huntingdonshire) - some have been both (e.g. Avon which existed only from 1974-1996). Since then there has been a partial move to dissolve some county councils and create new unitary authorities e.g. in Berkshire (where there are six) or Cornwall (where there is just one).

So far as I can see we now have 47 administratively-based counties:

4 Metropolitan Counties (Greater London, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside). These counties have Metropolitan or London Boroughs within them.

27 "Shire" counties i.e. those which have the traditional combination of a County Council with District Councils beneath them. Typical examples would be Kent or Lancashire. Many of these also contain Unitary authorities e.g North Somerset in Somerset or Torbay in Devon.

10 Unitary Councils which carry the name of a county and cover the whole of its territory (Bristol, Cornwall, Durham, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Rutland, East Yorkshire [Hull is a separate Unitary authority], West Yorkshire, Wiltshire [Swindon is a separate Unitary authority]).

6 counties where there are a number of Unitary Authroities which together cover the territory of a former County or Metropolitan County Council: Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire, Shropshire, Tyne & Wear.

Ceremonial counties

I have started to hear (notably on University Challenge) of a new (to me) concept of "Ceremonial counties". There are 48 of these and many bear the same names as administrative ones, although the boundaries are often larger. They also include the City of London and historic counties like Westmorland. It turns out they derive from the Lieutenancies Act of 1997 and are areas to which a Lord Lieutenant is appointed. Wikipedia provides a full list and a map.

Postal counties

Although websites often ask for a County and many people write then on envelopes or quote their address including one, the Post Office no longer includes them on the definitive address file. Effectively therefore they are only of historical interest.

Historic Counties

A body called the Association of British Counties promotes greater use of and a partial return to historic counties. The emphasis is on these counties as a source of identify and self-identification. This implies reinstating lost ones like Middlesex and Westmorland, uniting the component parts of Sussex and Yorkshire and disregarding modern inventions like the Metropolitan Counties. Their County Wise website has a wealth of interesting information. They have obviously had some influence since the current government has encouraged the use of flags and boundary markers to celebrate historic counties.

Clearly there are examples of historic counties still being extremely relevant, e.g. to supporters of Middlesex Cricket Club or people who live in Huntingdonshire (officially a District of Cambridgeshire). But how far do you go? I can't personally see any point for example in trying to undo the 1974 boundary changes and insist that Abingdon is "really" in Berkshire for example.


I am going to stick to administratively-based counties to label my posts, having done the work to understand where we now are. I attach below a link to my list of my 47 such counties, with the addition of three lost ones (Huntingdonshire, Middlesex and Westmorland), three abolished ones (Avon, Cleveland and Humberside)  and the City of London, which shows the how each one relates to the three main categories discussed here. I borrowed the concept from this website, but I hope my version is more up to date and comprehensive.


List of English Counties

County towns

Counties have a county towns and they are listed below. Having made this list, I would naturally like to have a walk around all of them, just as I am trying gradually to do with English cities (see my Cities page). So far I have walked in 21of the 49.

Bedfordshire: Bedford
Berkshire: Reading
Bristol: Bristol
Buckinghamshire: Aylesbury
Cambridgeshire: Cambridge
Cheshire: Chester
Cornwall: Truro
Cumbria: Carlisle
Derbyshire: Derby
Devon: Exeter
Dorset: Dorchester
Durham: Durham
Essex: Chelmsford
Gloucestershire: Gloucester
Greater London: London
Greater Manchester: Manchester
Hampshire: Winchester
Herefordshire: Hereford
Hertfordshire: Hertford
Huntingdonshire: Huntingdon
Isle of Wight: Newport
Kent: Maidstone
Lancashire: Lancaster
Leicestershire: Leicester
Lincolnshire: Lincoln
Merseyside: Liverpool
Norfolk: Norwich
Northamptonshire: Northampton
Northumberland: Alnwick
Nottinghamshire: Nottingham
Oxfordshire: Oxford
Rutland: Oakham
Shropshire: Shrewsbury
Somerset: Taunton
Staffordshire: Stafford
Suffolk: Ipswich
Surrey: Guildford
Sussex – East: Lewes
Sussex – West: Chichester 
Tyne and Wear: Newcastle
Warwickshire: Warwick
West Midlands: Birmingham
Westmorland: Appleby
Wiltshire: Trowbridge
Worcestershire: Worcester
Yorkshire – East: Beverley
Yorkshire – North: Northallerton
Yorkshire – South: Barnsley
Yorkshire – West: Wakefield

No comments: