County town

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This article is about county administrative centres in Ireland and the UK. For those in the United States, see county seat.

A county town is a county's current or former administrative centre in the United Kingdom, Ireland, or Jamaica. County towns are usually the location of administrative or judicial functions, or established over time as the de facto main town of a county. The concept of a county town eventually became detached from its original meaning of where the county administration or county hall is based. In fact, many county towns are no longer part of "their" administrative county. For example, Nottingham is administered by a unitary authority entirely separate from the rest of Nottinghamshire. Many county towns are classified as cities, but all are referred to as county towns regardless of whether city status is held or not.

County towns prior to the late 19th century reforms[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

Historic counties of England[edit]

This list shows county towns prior to the reforms of 1889.

County County town
Bedfordshire Bedford
Berkshire Abingdon, supplanted by Reading[1]
Buckinghamshire Aylesbury 2, although the county is named after Buckingham
Cambridgeshire Cambridge
Cheshire Chester
Cornwall Truro 3
Cumberland Carlisle 4
Derbyshire Derby
Devon Exeter
Dorset Dorchester
County Durham Durham
Essex Chelmsford
Gloucestershire Gloucester
Hampshire Winchester, although the county is named after Southampton[2]
Herefordshire Hereford
Hertfordshire Hertford
Huntingdonshire Huntingdon
Kent Maidstone 5
Lancashire Lancaster, superseded by Preston, where the County Hall was opened in 1882.6
Leicestershire Leicester
Lincolnshire Lincoln
Middlesex Brentford, Clerkenwell, the City of London or Westminster for different functions 7
Norfolk Norwich
Northamptonshire Northampton
Northumberland Alnwick 8
Nottinghamshire Nottingham 13
Oxfordshire Oxford
Rutland Oakham
Shropshire Shrewsbury
Somerset Taunton 9, although the county is named after Somerton
Staffordshire Stafford
Suffolk Ipswich
Surrey Guildford 10
Sussex Chichester or Lewes 11
Warwickshire Warwick
Westmorland Appleby
Wiltshire Trowbridge 12 although the county is named after Wilton
Worcestershire Worcester
Yorkshire York
  1. Lent assizes were held at Reading, where the county gaol and house of correction were situated; summer assizes were held at Abingdon, which was the site of the county bridewell. Knights for the shire were nominated at Reading and elected at Abingdon.[3]
  2. Sir John Baldwin, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, caused the county assizes to be moved to Aylesbury. Knights for the shire continued to be elected at Buckingham. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica considered Buckingham to be the county town.[3]
  3. The County Assize Court sat at Bodmin, and the 1911 Britannica considered Bodmin to be the county town. Prior to 1835, it was Launceston.[dubious ]
  4. Knights of the Shire were elected at Cockermouth
  5. East Kent and West Kent had separate administrations until 1814, with East Kent sessions meeting at Canterbury, and West Kent at Maidstone, the over-all county town.
  6. In 1787 the Lancashire Quarter Sessions decreed that in future the annual general sessions for transacting all business for the county at large should be held at Preston as it was "a central place in the county." The magistrates of Lonsdale Hundred refused to accept the decision, and would meet only at Lancaster. The matter was settled only when a local act of parliament (38 Geo.III c.58) established that the principal administrative business of the county could be transacted only at Preston.[4]
  7. Knights of the Shire were elected at Brentford; sessions presided over by Middlesex Justices of the Peace were held at Clerkenwell; trials for persons accused of the most serious crimes took place in the Old Bailey before the Aldermen of the City prior to the committing of the accused to Newgate Prison (which functioned as the county gaol for Middlesex) if found guilty; while the county council had its headquarters at the Middlesex Guildhall in Westminster from its establishment in 1889 until its abolition in 1965.[5]
  8. Alnwick's position as the county town seems to have been based largely on its castle being the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, although Knights of the Shire were elected at the town too.[6] Assizes for the county however were held mainly or exclusively in Newcastle upon Tyne. Morpeth Castle was used as the prison for Northumberland, and the county gaol was built there in 1824.[7][8]
  9. Knights of the Shire were elected at Ilchester. Somerton temporarily became the county town in the late thirteenth century, when the shire courts and county gaol were moved from Ilchester.[9]
  10. Under an act of 1791, the justices of the peace of the county of Surrey were empowered to build a new sessions house and county gaol at Newington adjacent to the borough of Southwark and in the suburbs of London.[10] By 1799 the buildings were completed and the county administration was based there until 1893.[11] Newington, or more inaccurately Southwark were sometimes described as the county town thereafter, for instance in a school textbook of 1828.[12]
  11. Horsham was occasionally described as the county town of Sussex due to the presence of the county gaol and the periodic holding of the county assizes and quarter sessions in the town. The last assizes were held there in 1830, while the gaol was closed in 1845.[13]
  12. Wiltshire County Council note that Wiltshire "never had a well recognised county town". Wilton had served as the seat of Quarter Sessions and for election of Knights of the Shire until 1832. Knights had been nominated at Devizes.[14] An 1870s gazetteer describes "Salisbury and Devizes" as the "county towns".[15] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica names only Salisbury.
  13. Nottingham was constituted a county corporate separate from Nottinghamshire in 1449. The area containing the Shire Hall however remained an exclave of Nottinghamshire.[16]

Historic counties of Scotland[edit]

County County town
Aberdeenshire Aberdeen1
Angus (or Forfarshire) Forfar
Argyll Lochgilphead (formerly Inveraray
Ayrshire Ayr
Banffshire Banff
Berwickshire Duns (formerly Berwick-upon-Tweed, formerly Greenlaw)
Bute Rothesay
Caithness Wick
Clackmannanshire Alloa (formerly Clackmannan)
Cromartyshire Cromarty
Dumfriesshire Dumfries
Dunbartonshire Dumbarton
East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire) Haddington
Fife Cupar
Inverness-shire Inverness
Kincardineshire Stonehaven (formerly Kincardine – but not Kincardine-on-Forth)
Kinross-shire Kinross
Kirkcudbrightshire Kirkcudbright
Lanarkshire Lanark³
Midlothian (or Edinburghshire) Edinburgh4
Morayshire (or Elginshire) Elgin
Nairnshire Nairn
Orkney Kirkwall
Peeblesshire Peebles
Perthshire Perth
Renfrewshire Renfrew5
Ross-shire Dingwall (also the county town of Ross and Cromarty)
Roxburghshire Jedburgh (formerly Roxburgh)6
Selkirkshire Selkirk
Shetland Lerwick
Stirlingshire Stirling
Sutherland Dornoch7
West Lothian (or Linlithgowshire) Linlithgow
Wigtownshire Wigtown8
  1. In 1900 Aberdeen became a county of a city and thus outside Aberdeenshire.
  2. Inveraray (the seat of the Duke of Argyll) was regarded as the county town until 1890, when the Argyll County Council was created with headquarters in Lochgilphead.
  3. The headquarters of the Lanark County Council were established in 1890 in Glasgow. In 1893 Glasgow became a county of itself, and was therefore outside the council's area. The county council moved to Hamilton in 1964.[17]
  4. Edinburgh was a county of itself, and therefore lay outside the county of Midlothian.
  5. The headquarters of Renfrew County Council were in Paisley from 1890.
  6. Newtown St Boswells was the administrative headquarters of the county council established in 1890.
  7. The headquarters of Sutherland County Council were at Golspie from 1890.
  8. Stranraer became the administrative headquarters of the Wigtown county council in 1890, and was sometimes described as the "county town" thereafter.

Historic counties of Wales[edit]

This list shows county towns prior to the reforms of 1889.

County County town
Anglesey Beaumaris
Brecknockshire Brecon
Caernarfonshire Caernarfon
Cardiganshire Cardigan
Carmarthenshire Carmarthen
Denbighshire Ruthin (formerly Denbigh)
Flintshire Mold (formerly Flint)
Glamorgan Cardiff
Merionethshire Dolgellau
Montgomeryshire Welshpool (formerly Montgomery)
Monmouthshire 1 Monmouth 1
Pembrokeshire Haverfordwest (formerly Pembroke)
Radnorshire Presteigne (formerly New Radnor)
  1. Between 1536 and 1974, Monmouthshire was included by successive English and later, British, governments within England for some administrative and legal purposes. Always regarded culturally and ecclesiastically as part of Wales, particularly by the Welsh, since 1974 when new local government legislation was introduced it has unequivocally been within that country. The county is named after Monmouth, but the Sheriff's county court was held alternately in Monmouth and Newport.

Counties of Northern Ireland[edit]

County County town
County Antrim Antrim
County Armagh Armagh
County Down Downpatrick
County Fermanagh Enniskillen
County Londonderry Coleraine
County Tyrone Omagh

Note – Despite the fact that Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, it is not the county town of any county. Greater Belfast straddles two counties (Antrim and Down).

County towns post the late 19th century reforms[edit]

With the creation of elected county councils in 1889 the location of administrative headquarters in some cases moved away from the traditional county town. Furthermore, in 1965 and 1974 there were major boundary changes in England and Wales and administrative counties were replaced with new metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. The boundaries underwent further alterations between 1995 and 1998 to create unitary authorities and some of the ancient counties and county towns were restored. (Note: not all headquarters are or were called County Halls or Shire Halls e.g.: Cumbria County Council's HQ is called The Courts). Before 1974 many of the county halls were located in towns and cities that had the status of a county borough i.e.: a borough outside of the county council's jurisdiction.

England[edit]

County council Date Headquarters
Avon 1974 to 1996 Bristol
Bedfordshire 1889 to 2009 Bedford
Berkshire 1889 to 1998 Reading (county borough until 1974)
City and County of Bristol 1996 onwards Bristol
Buckinghamshire 1889 onwards Aylesbury
Cambridgeshire 1889 to 1965
1974 onwards
Cambridge
Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely 1965 to 1974 Cambridge
Cheshire 1889 to 2009 Chester
Cleveland 1974 to 1996 Middlesbrough
Cornwall 1889 onwards Truro
Cumberland 1889 to 1974 Carlisle (county borough from 1914)
Cumbria 1974 onwards Carlisle
Derbyshire 1889 onwards Matlock (moved from Derby, county borough 1958)[18]
Devon 1889 onwards Exeter (county borough until 1974). In 1963 the Devon County Buildings Area was transferred from the county borough of Exeter to the administrative county of Devon, of which it formed an exclave until 1974.[19]
Dorset 1889 onwards Dorchester
Durham 1889 onwards Durham
Essex 1889 onwards Chelmsford
Gloucestershire 1889 onwards Gloucester (county borough until 1974)
Greater London 1965 to 1986
2002 onwards
County Hall, Lambeth (Greater London Council)
City Hall, Southwark (Greater London Authority)
Greater Manchester 1974 to 1986 Manchester
Hampshire 1889 onwards Winchester
Herefordshire 1889 to 1974
1998 onwards
Hereford
Hereford and Worcester 1974 to 1998 Worcester
Hertfordshire 1889 onwards Hertford
Humberside 1974 to 1996 Beverley
Huntingdonshire 1889 to 1965 Huntingdon
Huntingdon and Peterborough 1965 to 1974 Huntingdon
Isle of Ely 1889 to 1965 March
Isle of Wight 1890 onwards Newport
Kent 1889 onwards Maidstone
Lancashire 1889 onwards Preston (county borough until 1974)
Leicestershire 1889 onwards Leicester
Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey 1889 to 1974 Lincoln (county borough)
Lincolnshire, Parts of Holland 1889 to 1974 Boston
Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven 1889 to 1974 Sleaford
Lincolnshire 1974 onwards Lincoln
London 1889 to 1965 Spring Gardens, Westminster until 1922, County Hall at Lambeth thereafter.
Merseyside 1974 to 1986 Liverpool
Middlesex 1889 to 1965 Middlesex Guildhall at Westminster in County of London
Norfolk 1889 onwards Norwich (county borough until 1974)
Northamptonshire 1889 onwards Northampton (county borough until 1974)
Northumberland 1889 onwards Newcastle upon Tyne 1889 – 1981[20]
Morpeth since 1981[21]
Nottinghamshire 1889 onwards West Bridgford (moved from county borough of Nottingham in 1959)
Oxfordshire 1889 onwards Oxford (county borough until 1974)
Soke of Peterborough 1889 to 1965 Peterborough, although geographically considered part of Northamptonshire
Rutland 1889 to 1974
1997 onwards
Oakham
Shropshire 1889 onwards Shrewsbury
Somerset 1889 onwards Taunton
Staffordshire 1889 onwards Stafford
East Suffolk 1889 to 1974 Ipswich (county borough)
West Suffolk 1889 to 1974 Bury
Suffolk 1974 onwards Ipswich
Surrey 1889 onwards Inner London Sessions House, Newington, until County Hall, Kingston upon Thames opened in 1893 (Kingston has been in Greater London since 1965).[22]
East Sussex 1889 onwards Lewes
West Sussex 1889 onwards Chichester (originally jointly with Horsham)[13]
Tyne and Wear 1974 to 1986 Newcastle upon Tyne
Warwickshire 1889 onwards Warwick
West Midlands 1974 to 1986 Birmingham
Westmorland 1889 to 1974 Kendal
Wiltshire 1889 onwards Trowbridge
Worcestershire 1889 to 1974
1998 onwards
Worcester (county borough until 1974)
Yorkshire, East Riding 1889 to 1974
1996 onwards
Beverley (later HQ of Humberside)
Yorkshire, North Riding 1889 to 1974 Northallerton
North Yorkshire 1974 onwards Northallerton
South Yorkshire 1974 to 1986 Barnsley
Yorkshire, West Riding 1889 to 1974 Wakefield (county borough from 1915)
West Yorkshire 1974 to 1986 Wakefield

Wales[edit]

County council Date Headquarters
Anglesey 1889 to 1974 Beaumaris.1
Brecknockshire 1889 to 1974 Brecon
Caernarvonshire 1889 to 1974 Caernarfon
Carmarthenshire 1889 to 1974
1996 onwards
Carmarthen
Cardiganshire 1889 to 1974 Aberystwyth2
Ceredigion 1996 onwards Aberaeron
Clwyd 1974 to 1996 Mold
Denbighshire 1889 to 1974 Denbigh
Dyfed 1974 to 1996 Carmarthen
Flintshire 1889 to 1974 Mold
Glamorgan 1889 to 1974 Cardiff (county borough)
Gwent 1974 to 1996 Newport (1974–78), Cwmbran (1978–96)
Gwynedd 1974 onwards Caernarfon
Mid Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Cardiff (extraterritorial)
Merionethshire 1889 to 1974 Dolgellau
Montgomeryshire 1889 to 1974 Welshpool
Monmouthshire 1889 to 1974 Newport (county borough from 1891)
Radnorshire 1889 to 1974 Presteigne3
Pembrokeshire 1889 to 1974
1996 onwards
Haverfordwest
Powys 1974 onwards Llandrindod Wells
South Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Cardiff
West Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Swansea
Ynys Môn (Anglesey) 1996 onwards Llangefni
  1. Due to its better transport links and more central location, some administrative functions were moved to Llangefni.
  2. Cardigan was often still referred to as 'the county town' due to the name link. However, assizes were held at Lampeter while Aberystwyth housed the administration of the county council. Aberystwyth was therefore the de facto county town.
  3. Due to its better transport links and more central location, some administrative functions were moved to Llandrindod Wells.

Ireland[edit]

County County town
County Carlow Carlow
County Cavan Cavan
County Clare Ennis
County Cork Cork
County Donegal Lifford
County Dublin ^ Dublin
Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown Dún Laoghaire *
Fingal Swords *
County Galway Galway
County Kerry Tralee
County Kildare Naas
County Kilkenny Kilkenny
County Laois (formerly Queen's County) Portlaoise (formerly known as Maryborough)
County Leitrim Carrick-on-Shannon
County Limerick Limerick
County Longford Longford
County Louth Dundalk
County Mayo Castlebar
County Meath Navan (previously Trim).
County Monaghan Monaghan
County Offaly (formerly King's County) Tullamore (since 1835), originally Philipstown
County Roscommon Roscommon
County Sligo Sligo
South Dublin Tallaght *
County Tipperary Nenagh
County Waterford Dungarvan [23]
County Westmeath Mullingar
County Wexford Wexford
County Wicklow Wicklow

Notes:

* indicates that the county was created after the reforms of the late 20th century

^ indicates that the county no longer has an administration purpose

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Berkshire Quarter Sessions". Jackson's Oxford Journal. 4 July 1868. 
  2. ^ "Hampshire Placenames and their Meanings". .hants.gov.uk. 17 February 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of England, Vol. I, 1831
  4. ^ Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb (1906). English Local Government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations Act: The Parish and the County. London: Longmans Green and Co. pp. 432–433. 
  5. ^ Justice in Eighteenth-Century Hackney (Process and Procedures), by Ruth Paley British History Online
  6. ^ "''Alnwick (St. Mary and St. Michael)'', ''A Topographical Dictionary of England'' (1848), pp. 39–44, accessed 26 January 2008". British-history.ac.uk. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "''Morpeth (St. Mary)'', ''A Topographical Dictionary of England'' (1848), pp. 345–350, accessed January 26, 2008". British-history.ac.uk. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "''Northiam – Nortoft'', ''A Topographical Dictionary of England'' (1848), pp. 433–439. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=51184. Date accessed: 26 January 2008". British-history.ac.uk. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Somerton archaeological survey (Somerset County Council)
  10. ^ "Southwark Prisons". Survey of London: volume 25: St George's Fields (The parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington). British History Online. 1955. Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Edward Walford (1878). "The Old Kent Road". Old and New London: Volume 6. British History Online. Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  12. ^ Stewart, Alexander (1828). A compendium of modern geography: with remarks on the physical peculiarities, productions of the various countries; Questions for Examination at the end of each Section; and Descriptive Tables. Oliver & Boyde. 
  13. ^ a b General history of Horsham – The town as county centre, Victoria County History of Sussex, Volume VI British History Online
  14. ^ "Why is Trowbridge the county town of Wiltshire?". Wiltshire County Council. 9 January 2003. 
  15. ^ Wilson, John Marius (1872). "Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales: WILTS". A. Fullarton and Co. 
  16. ^ Nicholson, A P (11 November 2007). "Shire (County) Hall, Nottingham". Nottinghamshire History. Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  17. ^ Notice in Edinburgh Gazette, 28 February 1964 that county council's address changed from Lanarkshire House, 191 Ingram Street, Glasgow C1 to County Buildings, Hamilton from 6 April 1964
  18. ^ Removal of County Headquarters, The Times, 28 January 1958
  19. ^ Frederic A. Youngs, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol.1: Southern England, London, 1979, p.83
  20. ^ Northumberland County Hall was situated within an exclave of Northumberland (Moot Hall Precincts) within the county borough of Newcastle 1889 – 1974; the area became part of the county of Tyne and Wear in 1974 and was thus extraterritorial
  21. ^ County Hall moved to Morpeth on 21 April 1981 (see notice in London Gazette issue 48579, dated 10 April 1981)
  22. ^ When the question of where the council should meet arose in 1889/90 six towns were considered: Epsom, Guildford, Kingston, Redhill, Surbiton and Wimbledon.The Times, 27 March 1890
  23. ^ Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report 2013p. 124: The new local electoral area in the west of the county acknowledges the position and status of Dungarvan, which is currently the 'county' town of Waterford County Council and has a town council.