Counties of England

From Academic Kids

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The traditional counties as usually portrayed.

England has been divided into counties for hundreds of years. The divisions originated as administrative areas, but have been adopted for geographic purposes.

A series of local government reforms from the 19th century onwards has left the exact definition of the term 'county' slightly ambiguous.


Historic counties

Main article: Historic counties of England

The accepted system of the 39 traditional counties arose from the 12th to the 16th centuries, though many of the specific areas are much older. They became established as a geographic reference frame over time. There is some dispute as to whether an Act passed in 1844 to simplify the counties by reducing the many exclaves should be accepted or not.

Administrative counties

Main article: Administrative counties of England

Counties as established in
Counties as established in 1974

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Administrative counties since 1998


Elected County councils were set up in England in 1888, taking over many of the administrative functions of the Quarter Sessions courts, as well as being given other powers over the years. For political purposes, these covered newly established areas known as 'administrative counties', which included such entities as the County of London, covering parts of historic Kent, Middlesex and Surrey, and the historic counties were not formally abolished. The administrative counties did not cover the independent county boroughs; and many historic counties were covered by two (Suffolk, Sussex, Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Cambridgeshire) or three (Yorkshire, Lincolnshire) administrative counties.

1965 saw a minor change as the original County of London became instead the 'administrative area' of Greater London, in the process absorbing most of the remaining part of Middlesex; Huntingdonshire merged with the Soke of Peterborough to form Huntingdon and Peterborough, and the original Cambridgeshire administrative county merged with the Isle of Ely (historically the north of Cambridgeshire, around Ely) to form Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.

In 1974 the Local Government Act came into force. This abolished the existing local government structure. The county council areas were not called 'administrative counties' but simply 'counties' in the new legislation. Many new counties were created, such as Avon, Cleveland, Cumbria, Humberside along with the new metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, and West Yorkshire. The counties of Cumberland, Herefordshire, Rutland, Westmorland and Worcestershire vanished from the administrative map, as did the county boroughs.

Local government reforms in the 1990s have left the administrative counties rather odd, with many small unitary authorities possessing county status, but restored Herefordshire, Rutland and Worcestershire as administrative entities.

There are now exactly 81 administrative counties, excluding Greater London. Of these, 34 are 'shire counties' with county councils and district councils, and 40 are unitary authorities. Six are metropolitan counties. The remaining one is Berkshire, whose county council has been abolished and its districts have become unitary authorities.

Ceremonial counties

Main article: Ceremonial counties of England

Ceremonial counties since 1998
Ceremonial counties since 1998

The ceremonial counties are the areas covered by a Lord-Lieutenant. Historically these largely coincided with the traditional counties, but with the addition of the City of London and the City and County of Bristol. They broadly followed the administrative changes, although for example East Suffolk and West Suffolk were a single ceremonial county, Suffolk.

These counties were adopted as the usual geographic reference frame. In 1974 when the administrative counties were reformed, the ceremonial counties were made to match these exactly.

After the local government reforms in the 1990s, certain areas that became unitary authorities were returned to their original ceremonial county. These counties are probably the ones most commonly in geographic use, although many people still use the 1974 ones.

Postal counties

Main article: Postal counties of Great Britain

The Postal counties as used by the Post Office are no longer required on addresses, but have not been abolished, and may still be used by the Post Office. They include most of the 1974 changes, but did not acknowledge Greater Manchester or Greater London as postal counties.

See also

de:Grafschaft (England)


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