Traditional counties of England

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The traditional counties of England or historic counties of England are the 39 counties (counties) , in which England was divided up 1889th In English, these counties are called ancient counties , historic counties or, more rarely, traditional counties . The traditional counties of England are administratively insignificant today.

The traditional counties have existed as administrative and judicial districts for centuries. The English administrative structure has been reformed frequently since the 19th century. For this reason, the traditional counties of today are ceremonial counties (ceremonial counties) and today's counties with administrative functions (non-metropolitan counties) to distinguish. At the same time, many English people still identify with the traditional counties because over time these have become geographical names. The formation of the first counties goes back to the 10th century and extends into the 16th century.


The following map shows the 39 traditional counties of England.

Traditional counties of England
Map of the Traditional Counties of England
  1. Bedfordshire
  2. Berkshire
  3. Buckinghamshire
  4. Cambridgeshire
  5. Cheshire
  6. Cornwall
  7. Cumberland
  8. Derbyshire
  9. Devon
  10. Dorset
  11. County Durham
  12. Essex
  13. Gloucestershire
  14. Hampshire
  15. Herefordshire
  16. Hertfordshire
  17. Huntingdonshire
  18. Kent
  19. Lancashire
  20. Leicestershire
  1. Lincolnshire
  2. Middlesex
  3. Norfolk
  4. Northamptonshire
  5. Northumberland
  6. Nottinghamshire
  7. Oxfordshire
  8. Rutland
  9. Shropshire
  10. Somerset
  11. Staffordshire
  12. Suffolk
  13. Surrey
  14. Sussex
  15. Warwickshire
  16. Westmorland
  17. Wiltshire
  18. Worcestershire
  19. Yorkshire

The county Monmouthshire has long been considered part of England, but is now one of Wales counted. The City of London no longer belongs to a county, but historically is in Middlesex .


In legal regulations, the counties were often referred to as County of , followed by the name of the capital (e.g. Yorkshire as County of York ). Later those counties, which are named after their main town (county town) or whose name would otherwise be monosyllabic, were identified by the ending shire . There are two exceptions to this rule:

  • County Durham . This anomaly is explained by Durham's special status as a bishopric (county palatinate) .
  • Kent was originally a Jutian kingdom. The anticipated name Kentshire was never used.

In the past, the names Devonshire , Dorsetshire , Rutlandshire and Somersetshire were also used . They are now out of date, although the Duke of Devonshire title still exists today .

Abbreviations are used for many counties in English. In most cases it is an abbreviation with an appended "s", for example Berks for Berkshire or Bucks for Buckinghamshire . Some abbreviations are not as obvious, such as Salop for Shropshire , Oxon for Oxfordshire or Hants and Northants for Hampshire and Northamptonshire, respectively .


The traditional counties as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086

The traditional counties came into being over several centuries; they have different origins and are also of different ages.

In southern England there were already corresponding subdivisions in the Kingdom of Wessex ; the same applies to areas that were added later - e.g. B. Kent , which emerged from the Kingdom of Kent . Of the counties on the coast of the English Channel , only one has the suffix -shire . Hampshire is named after the place Hampton, which is now Southampton .

After Wessex had conquered the Kingdom of Mercia in the 9th and 10th centuries, its area was also divided into several shires , which were named after their capital with the addition -shire . These include B. Northamptonshire and Warwickshire . In some cases the name was later shortened (e.g. Cheshire was first Chestershire ).

Large parts of the Kingdom of Northumbria were also divided into shires , the best known being the counties of Hallamshire and Cravenshire . However, because this subdivision was not used by the Normans , they are generally not regarded as traditional counties. After the invasion of the Normans in 1066 under William the Conqueror , the population left large parts of the north; the Domesday Book of 1086 lists only the counties of Cheshire and Yorkshire for the north of England . The area in the northeast is not listed; here later the counties of County Durham and Northumberland emerged .

Cumberland , Westmorland , Lancashire , County Durham and Northumberland were founded in the 12th century, with Lancashire being 1182. As part of the dominion of the Bishop of Durham, Hexhamshire was considered an independent county until 1572.

The border between England and Wales was not established until the Act of Union in 1536 . In the Domesday Book, the counties on the border include areas that later belonged to Wales; Monmouth belonged to B. to Herefordshire .

Because of their different origins, traditional counties are also of different sizes. The largest county in terms of area of ​​Yorkshire emerged from the Kingdom of York . At the time of the Domesday Book, Yorkshire also included northern Lancashire , Cumberland and Westmorland . Lincolnshire emerged from the Kingdom of Lindsey . Rutland was originally a "soke" (judicial district) and was part of Nottinghamshire , but later became its own, and indeed the smallest county in England.

Traditional subunits

Some of the traditional counties had significant sub-units. The most important were the three Ridings of Yorkshire ( East Riding , West Riding and North Riding ). The ridings originated as geographical names due to the size of Yorkshire.

The second largest county, Lincolnshire, was divided into three parts ( Lindsey , Holland and Kesteven ). Similarly, Sussex was divided into East Sussex and West Sussex .

Several counties had separate areas or sokes that were administered independently. So one of Cambridgeshire , the Isle of Ely and Northamptonshire the Soke of Peterborough .

There were also sub-units at the local level in almost all counties. Most counties were divided into hundreds , Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in wapentakes and Durham, Cumberland and Westmoreland in wards . In Kent and Sussex there was another stage between the main subdivisions and the hundreds, which were called lathes in Kent and rapes in Sussex .

The Hundreds or their corresponding sub-units in other counties were for their part divided into tithings and parishes , the latter being an administrative unit to this day. These in turn were divided into townships and manors .

Enclaves and divided cities

Several of the traditional counties included areas that were on the territory of another county ( enclave ). In 1844 the parliament passed a law according to which the enclaves were to be counted as belonging to the counties in which they were located. In England to this day there is still a dispute as to whether this regulation was compulsory.

Even if the law of 1844 is taken into account, the traditional counties continued to have a number of smaller exclaves . The regulation of 1844 mainly affected the County Durham belonging exclaves Islandshire , Bedlingtonshire and Norhamshire , which were assigned to Northumberland .

The area around Donisthorpe , which was part of Derbyshire but was in Leicestershire, was not affected by this law . The same is true of most of Worcestershire's larger exclaves , e.g. B. the town of Dudley , which was in Staffordshire . The area of Lancashire called Furness was also separated from this county by a narrow strip that belonged to Westmorland .

Some cities were historically divided between two counties, e.g. B. Newmarket , Royston , Stamford , Tamworth and Todmorden . In some of these cases the border ran across the middle of the main road. In Todmorden, the boundary between to Lancashire and Yorkshire to be run through the middle of the town hall.

Usage today

To this day in England the names of the traditional counties, which were never formally dissolved, are in use. From an administrative point of view, the traditional counties were replaced by the administrative counties from 1888 . These differed significantly from traditional counties in terms of boundaries and number. At the same time, the larger cities were separated from the counties and formed independent county boroughs .

In 1974 the division into Administrative Counties and County Boroughs was replaced by a division into Metropolitan Counties and Non-Metropolitan Counties , which lasted until 1996. In 1996 and the following years, many non-metropolitan counties were replaced by unitary authorities .

For the purposes of the Lord Lieutenancy , the Ceremonial Counties have also existed in England since 1888 . They are essentially based on the boundaries of the traditional counties, but in some cases also differ from these and have been changed several times in the 20th century.

See also

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