Evolution of Worcestershire county boundaries

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Flag of Worcestershire
County of Worcestershire
County of Worcestershire: Past & Present. Modern Worcestershire set against a backdrop of territory ceded to surrounding or new counties since 1844 (Image includes territory gained from surrounding counties since 1844).

The administrative boundaries of Worcestershire, England have been fluid for over 150 years since the first major changes in 1844, although the continual expansion of Birmingham and the Black Country during and after the Industrial Revolution altered the county map considerably. A few of these changes took place as recently as the latter half of the 20th century.[1] and mirror similar boundary changes in neighbouring Staffordshire and Warwickshire. Thus culminating with the creation of the West Midlands County and Worcestershire's brief merger with neighbouring Herefordshire.[2]

Worcestershire's boundaries were relatively stable before the Victorian era. Notwithstanding the 'gift' of Halas to Roger de Montgomerie, the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury in 1086 by William the Conqueror[3] or other parishes within the county that were given by the Monarch, Church or through conquest, thus creating enclaves or exclaves.[3] The original instigation of change was enactment of HM Government legislation within Parliament such as the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 and more crucially the Local Government Act 1888.[4]

Worcestershire's Hundreds[edit]

Worcestershire's Hundreds (until 1844)
Fig 1: Map of Worcestershire's Hundreds - Prior to enactment of the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844

Until 1 April 1889; Worcestershire was administrated by a combination of hundreds and by municipal boroughs, parishes, rural sanitary districts and poor law unions. Each hundred was also sub-divided into "divisions".

Worcestershire's remaining hundreds prior to the reforms were Blakenhurst, Doddingtree, Halfshire, Oswaldslow and Pershore.[5]

Name of Hundred Number of Divisions Parish / Placename
Blakenhurst 2 Badsey, Bretforton, Evesham, Honeybourne, Lenchwick, North and Middle Littleton, Offenham, Oldberrow, Ombersley, South Middleton, Wickhamford
Doddingtree 2 Abberley, Astley, Alfrick, Bewdley, Dunley, Clifton-upon-Teme, Cotheridge, Martley, Suckley, Tenbury
Halfshire 2 Belbroughton, Bromsgrove, Chaddesley Corbett, Church Lench, Cofton Hackett, Cradley, Doverdale, Droitwich, Dudley, Feckenham, Frankley, Hagley, Kidderminster, Kings Norton, Northfield, Old Swinford, Pedmore, Salwarpe, Stourbridge, Warley Wigorn
Oswaldslow 3 Alvechurch, Blackwell, Blockley, Broadwas, Claines, Cropthorne, Crowle, Elmley Castle, Evenlode, Fladbury, Hallow, Hartlebury, Harvington, Himbleton, Hindlip, Icomb, Inkberrow, Little Malvern, Overbury, Sedgeberrow, Shipston-on-Stour, St. John in Bedwardine, Stoke Prior, Tibberton, Tredington, Warndon, Welland, Wichenford
Pershore 2 Alderminster, Broadway, Castlemorton, Eckington, Flyford Flavell, Hanley Castle, Leigh, Martin Hussingtree, Newland, Peopleton, Pershore, Pinvin, Powick. Severn Stoke, Strensham, Upton Snodsbury, Wyre Piddle, Yardley

The main exception to Fig 1 and the above table is Worcester, which gained autonomy from Oswaldslow and the wider shire by virtue of being a county corporate since 1622.[6] The main township part of St. John in Bedwardine parish was incorporated into the City of Worcester in 1837.[7]

The fractured layout of the hundreds was at best confusing. Most of the hundreds were split into two or even three divisions in differing parts of the county. As the above table and Fig 1 shows, some of these parishes were islands surrounded by other hundreds. Meanwhile some of Worcestershire's parishes existed in other counties jurisdictions, known as enclaves, exclaves or simply "islands". However there were parishes that merely stretched over the county boundary as part of their contiguous area; Old Swinford parish included Amblecote from Staffordshire for instance.[8]

The hundreds were replaced by a new district council formation of either urban or rural districts following implementation of the Local Government Act 1894. The Act did not legislate the abolition of the hundreds, but their remaining powers were given to the new district councils.[9] The district council boundaries were also self-contained in one administrative county as per the legislation and therefore did not stray over the external shire boundaries, unlike some of their predecessors. For example the former Poor Law Union of Alcester in Warwickshire included Abbots Morton, Feckenham, Inkberrow and Oldberrow within its area until the 1894 changes.[10]

Exclaves and enclaves (1844 & 1931)[edit]

One of the most notable aspects about Worcestershire were its many exclaves and enclaves. These were areas of land cut off from the main geographical area of the county and completely surrounded by the nearby counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire (Detached) and Oxfordshire. This relationship with neighbouring counties mirrored the confusing and fragmented layout of parishes within Worcestershire's own hundreds. The most notable islands were Dudley, Evenlode, Blockley and the area around Shipston-on-Stour.[11] Warley Wigorn formed a series of small islands of Worcestershire contained entirely within Halesowen parish,[12][13] which in turn was a detached part of Shropshire.

Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Shropshire had their own exclaves within Worcestershire. These were found at Rochford,[14] Broome,[15] Clent,[16] Tardebigge (Tutnall and Cobley)[17] and Halesowen respectively and were transferred to or rejoined Worcestershire in October 1844 following enactment of the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844. This Act of Parliament was designed to eradicate the issue of "islands" or "exclaves", however Shipston-on-Stour Rural District remained in Worcestershire until April 1931 and likewise Dudley until 1966.

Tardebigge's history outside the county is even more colourful, considering it changed hands from Worcestershire to Staffordshire to Warwickshire, before returning to Worcesterhire at differing times over the centuries.[18] Halesowen's inclusion back into the county saw a unification between Warley Wigorn and neighbouring "Warley Salop" to form the new parish of Warley in 1884.

The southern boundary of the county was also confusing, with parish boundaries penetrating deep into Gloucestershire and vice-versa. Several parishes were transferred to Gloucestershire in 1844, including Alstone and Icomb. Followed in 1931 by enactment of the Provisional Order Confirmation (Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire) Act 1931 which transferred Blockley, Daylesford and Evenlode, plus Warwickshire gained Alderminster, Tredington and Shipston-on-Stour Rural District.

Map of Halfshire, complete with enclaves and exclaves
Fig 2: Map of the Worcestershire Hundred of Halfshire (C19) – with enclaves and exclaves
Number Parish/Placename County and Hundred (before 1844) County and Hundred (after 1844) Notes
1 Dudley Worcestershire, Halfshire Worcestershire, Halfshire Became a Municipal Borough in 1865[19]
2 Halesowen (excluding Warley Wigorn, Cradley and Lutley) Shropshire, Brimstrey Worcestershire, Halfshire
3 Clent Staffordshire, Seisdon South Worcestershire, Halfshire Seisdon Hundred: the Chapelry of Rowley Regis was originally dependent on Clent[20]
4 Broome Staffordshire, Seisdon South[21] Worcestershire, Halfshire
5 Upper Arley Staffordshire, Seisdon South Staffordshire, Seisdon South Transferred to Worcestershire in 1895[22]
6 Tardebigge (now Tutnall and Cobley) Warwickshire, Barlinchway Worcestershire, Halfshire Also formerly part of Staffordshire (Seisdon Hundred)
7 Feckenham Worcestershire, Halfshire Worcestershire, Halfshire
8 Kington Worcestershire, Halfshire Worcestershire, Halfshire
9 Church Lench Worcestershire, Halfshire Worcestershire, Halfshire
10 Yardley Worcestershire, Pershore Worcestershire, Halfshire Formerly part of Pershore Hundred, Policing duties transferred to Warwickshire between 1857–1899

Birmingham's rise (1891–1911)[edit]

Worcestershire County Council came into existence following the Local Government Act 1888 and covered the historic county, except for two newly designated county boroughs at Dudley and Worcester.[4] The repealed Local Government (Boundaries) Act 1887 would have witnessed the formation of a county administration and a loss of territory to Birmingham. The Act also legislated for Dudley to unite with the rest of Worcestershire, through a transfer of territory from Staffordshire. This Act was repealed in favour of the new Local Government Act in 1888.

Within a short space of time of the county's incorporation, the boundaries started altering. The district of Balsall Heath, which had originally constituted the most northerly part of the Parish of King's Norton, was the first area of the county to be added to the County Borough of Birmingham on 1 October 1891. This was followed by the small island of Edvin Loach[23] near Bromyard, which was transferred to Herefordshire in 1893. Two years following the loss of Edvin Loach, the county gained the parish of Upper Arley,[22] which was a small Staffordshire enclave surrounded by Worcestershire and Shropshire.

Birmingham's continuous expansion[24] has been a large contributory factor to Worcestershire's fluid boundary changes and associated housing issues. Quinton Urban District followed Balsall Heath into Birmingham in November 1909 and then by both the Rural District of Yardley and the greater part of the Urban District of King's Norton and Northfield. These latter transfers into the City were as part of the Greater Birmingham Scheme on 9 November 1911, which saw a considerable expansion of the city into its surrounding districts.

As a consequence of the transfer to Birmingham; these areas were no longer regarded as part of Worcestershire and became associated with Warwickshire for ceremonial purposes only.

The Local Government Boundary Commission proposed radical changes to the local government structures during 1948. The plans included merging Worcestershire with Herefordshire to form a new administrative unit, except Dudley and Oldbury which would become part of a new "South Staffordshire" county. Worcester and Dudley would remain as county boroughs, however some services would be carried out by the respective county council. The commission's proposals were abandoned, although revised proposals for a Herefordshire & South Worcestershire combined county surfaced twenty years later.

Dudley's expansion (1926)[edit]

In 1926, the border of Staffordshire and Worcestershire was altered to allow the expansion of Dudley County Borough in order for the Priory Estate to be built on land which was mostly situated in Sedgley. These boundary changes also saw the transfer of the town's castle and priory ruins to the borough of Dudley. Between 1929 and 1954, several thousand homes (mostly council owned), a public park and three primary schools were built on the land which formed the Priory, Wren's Nest and Old Park Farm estates, to rehouse families from town centre slums.[25]

The Black Country county boroughs (1966)[edit]

Warley map
County Borough of Warley map - The county borough's boundaries are shown as blue

Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries; the Birmingham and Black Country urban areas were converging into a single, but extensive conurbation spanning over the borders of the three counties; namely Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. This was similar to other areas in England which grew in size since the Industrial Revolution, such as Lancashire, Tyneside, London or within Yorkshire West Riding. The convergence of these conurbations saw economic and physical integration with neighbouring towns and communities. This process became more prominent because of growing housing issues, due to extensive bombing during World War II, slum clearance and continuing migration into urban areas. The Black Country contained a combination of county boroughs, urban districts, municipal boroughs and county councils taking responsibility for services, thus resulting in a fragmented local government infrastructure. The Local Government Act 1958 appointed a Local Government Commission to review administrative structures and boundaries in England outside London. The Act designated a West Midlands Special Review Area.[26] The commission made its report in July 1961, recommending that the Black Country area should be administered by five large county boroughs centred on Dudley, Walsall, Warley, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. The remaining urban districts or municipal boroughs within the Special Review Area were merged into the new county boroughs. As a consequence, the county council's responsibility for services within the majority of the conurbation were curtailed and association with the historic shire was for ceremonial purposes only. The West Midlands Special Review Area included Dudley, Oldbury, Stourbridge and Halesowen, although the latter two council areas were not incorporated into the county borough plan. Worcestershire County Council retained Halesowen and Stourbridge as a consequence, but ceded Oldbury to the new Warley county borough. However; Warley was to be associated with Worcestershire for ceremonial reasons.

Subsequent associated legislation established the West Midlands Constabulary,[27] which policed the area, and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive.[28]

In April 1966; Dudley expanded beyond its historical boundaries and took in the surrounding Staffordshire districts of Sedgley,[29] Brierley Hill, Coseley[29] and part of Amblecote.[30] The West Midlands Order 1965 redefined its status and the Dudley County Borough became part of Staffordshire for ceremonial purposes. Neighbouring Warley County Borough was an amalgamation of Oldbury Urban District, Rowley Regis Urban District, the County Borough of Smethwick as well as the Oakham area of Dudley and Tividale area of Tipton.

During these reorganisations; the territory of the county council grew only where Stourbridge took in the majority of Amblecote Urban District[30] from Staffordshire and the designation of Redditch in 1964 as a "New Town". This in turn saw expansion into the area in and around the villages of Ipsley and Matchborough in Warwickshire. The Redditch New Town designation coincided with a considerable programme of social and private house building in Droitwich, Worcester, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster and near to the Birmingham boundary at Frankley, Hawkesley, Kitwell, Rednal, Rubery and Walkers Heath. Most of these developments within Worcestershire and also neighbouring Warwickshire were to alleviate housing and land shortages within Birmingham's boundaries.

Redcliffe-Maud Report (1966–1969)[edit]

Redcliffe-Maud map
Fig 3: Redcliffe-Maud map - featuring the proposals for Worcestershire and the surrounding areas of Herefordshire and South Staffordshire

The Redcliffe-Maud report recommended the abolition of all the existing county, county borough, borough, urban district and rural district councils and replacement with new authorities. These new unitary authorities were largely based on major towns, which acted as regional employment, commercial, social and recreational centres and took into account local transport infrastructure and travel patterns.

The proposals for Worcestershire included a considerable loss of territory to a proposed West Midlands Metropolitan Area, as per Fig 3. The Metropolitan District of Dudley included Stourbridge in the plans, whilst West Bromwich-Warley included Halesowen and a district known as North Worcestershire incorporated Bewdley, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Redditch and Stourport-on-Severn. The remaining part of central and southern Worcestershire (including Worcester), would be amalgamated with Herefordshire to form a new county. All of these areas would exist under an overarching West Midlands Provincial Council covering the entire region in a devolved capacity.[31]

Halesowen, Stourbridge and Malvernshire (1971 - 1974)[edit]

The subsequent Local Government Act 1972 legislation didn't go as far as the "Redcliffe–Maud Report". However revised plans for a metropolitan county within the West Midlands remained, along with the amalgamation of Herefordshire and the majority of the Worcestershire County Council area, except for Halesowen and Stourbridge. During the debates associated with the Local Government Bill, Terry Davis MP (Bromsgrove) tabled Amendment Numbers 73, 74 and 100 which proposed maintaining Worcestershire and Herefordshire as separate counties. He also stated that the bill "is not welcomed in Halesowen or Stourbridge or the county as a whole" and "The situation has therefore been reluctantly accepted in Worcestershire, and this group of amendments would not change this part of the Bill." He said that whilst agreement was in place for Worcester to be "included in the County of Worcestershire", the merger with Herefordshire was "intensely unpopular", especially from within the neighbouring county.[32] Dr. John Gilbert MP (Dudley) said in the Amendment debate regarding the future of Seisdon Rural District that whilst Dudley has "no imperialist ambitions. <snip> We have no wish to engorge Stourbridge or Halesowen. Although the merger is going through smoothly, as a result of the exercise of tact and co-operation on the part of all the local authorities and between and within all the political parties...".[32] These Amendments were defeated in the subsequent vote paving the way for the future "Hereford & Worcester", along with Amendment Numbers 294 and 295 which would have consented the Kinver Parish transfer from Seisdon in Staffordshire to the new combined Herefordshire & Worcestershire authority.[32] In the accompanying debates in the House of Lords, Worcestershire Peer Lord Sandys said that Stourbridge and Halesowen's respective borough council's "duly elected, are wholly opposed to being joined to the conurbation". He continued by stating that "a reason for the support of the county council, which is wholeheartedly for the boroughs of Halesowen and Stourbridge in their opposition to joining the conurbation, is the question of the Green Belt." which could become threatened by future development.[33]

Originally the combined authority was to be called Malvernshire and this term was used in the early Local Government Bill debates and statistics.[34][35] By the time the Bill became law, the county was renamed Hereford and Worcester.[36]

Hereford and Worcester (1974 - 1998)[edit]

From 1974, the central and southern part of the county was amalgamated with Herefordshire and Worcester County Borough to form a single non-metropolitan county of "Hereford and Worcester". The county boroughs of Dudley and Warley along with Stourbridge and Halesowen were incorporated into the new "Metropolitan County of West Midlands". This new administrative county included Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Solihull, Warley, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. Within this new structure, Dudley County Borough along with Stourbridge and Halesowen formed Dudley Metropolitan District (later to become Dudley Metropolitan Borough), whilst Warley County Borough merged with West Bromwich to create Sandwell.

The West Midlands County Council existed for only a short period before abolition in April 1986 via enactment of the Local Government Act 1985,[37] which abolished the metropolitan county councils and Greater London Council.

Meanwhile the Local Government Boundary Commission for England started its periodic structural reviews and looked at all administrative areas on an individual basis. Leominster District Council proposed a boundary change at Burford,[38] near Tenbury Wells to incorporate the area into Hereford & Worcester from Shropshire during 1987/1988. This proposal was rejected by the LGBCE as well as a minor adjustment at Upper Arley. The commission also investigated splitting Hereford & Worcester in 1990,[39] following submissions by Hereford City Council and the "Herefordshire Action Committee", although the proposals were rejected at this time. The LGBCE also did not have statutory authority to recommend major boundary changes or the abolition of administrative counties at this time (except for a wholesale review of Humberside as directed specifically by the Secretary of State).[40] Boundary changes between Hereford & Worcester and Warwickshire at Mappleborough Green, Pebworth, Long Marston and Studley were also proposed and some of which was accepted resulting in minor changes to both counties.[41][42] In 1993 there were more minor adjustments of the county boundary, this time between Bromsgrove and Dudley Metropolitan Borough near to 'Lye & Wollescote'[43] and Solihull Metropolitan Borough near Hockley Heath.[44]

The most recent transfer of territory between the West Midlands County and Hereford & Worcester (including the "post-1998" Worcestershire) occurred along sections of the Birmingham and Bromsgrove district boundary.[45] The draft proposals and final report of the LBGCE Review of the West Midlands (City of Birmingham) Boundaries with Bromsgrove (Hereford & Worcester) proposed that Bartley Reservoir, Frankley, Kitwell Estate, Rednal, Rubery and Walkers Heath transfer to Birmingham. This intended to unify several housing estates built and maintained by Birmingham City Council, but fell within the Bromsgrove boundary.[46] Frankley was split into two parts with New Frankley and the area around Bartley Reservoir transferring from Bromsgrove to Birmingham in April 1995. The small village of Frankley remained in Hereford & Worcester and formed a new Civil Parish under the same name, also Hopwood's surrounding areas were transferred from the city to Bromsgrove. Rubery remained within Hereford & Worcester, contrary to the LGBCE final proposal and does so to this day within the post-1998 Worcestershire.

These boundary changes were relatively minor in comparison to previous transfers.

Local Government Act 1992[edit]

Following the Local Government Act 1992 legislation; the LGBCE was once again charged with examining all English non-metropolitan counties, but was given authority to recommend proposals that significantly alter or abolish administrative areas. The county of Hereford & Worcester was to be reviewed again, despite an earlier structural review which recommended no change to the county.

Various options were put to consultation, including:

Concept Description
Six Unitary Authorities A single unitary authority for Herefordshire and five Worcestershire unitary authorities based on the District Council boundaries. Preference of Hereford & Worcester Association of District Councils
Three Ridings Three unitary authorities in Herefordshire, North Worcestershire (Bromsgrove, Redditch & Wyre Forest) and South Worcestershire (Malvern, Worcester, Wychavon). This idea was supported by Wychavon D.C.
Alternative Three Ridings The 'Greater Herefordshire' idea of a Herefordshire unitary authority, complete with Malvern Hills and Leominster districts in their entirety and two Worcestershire unitary authorities based on the North (Bromsgrove, Redditch and Wyre Forest) and South (Worcester and Wychavon). Preference of Malvern Hills District Council and supported by Leominster District Council.
Hybrid A unitary Herefordshire and two tier Worcestershire, based on pre-1974 boundaries (excluding Stourbridge & Halesowen). Recommended by Hereford & Worcester County Council
Two Unitary Authorities A unitary authority for both Herefordshire and Worcestershire. This was put forward by the commission as an alternative structure to the final recommendation

Other ideas put forward and discounted before the consultation stage included a complete restoration of the Pre-1974 Worcestershire county boundary. This option included Stourbridge and Halesowen, as they were under the jurisdiction of Worcestershire County Council until 1 April 1974. The LGBCFE deemed that this Local Government review did not include metropolitan counties (except a one-off review of Sefton on Merseyside[47]), so there would be no change to the boundaries of Dudley Metropolitan Borough.

The Local Government Boundary Commission recommended that Hereford & Worcester should be split into three unitary authorities centred on Herefordshire, North Worcestershire and South Worcestershire.[48] However the final recommendation of the hybrid unitary and two-tier option[48] was finally ratified by Law, thus ultimately abolishing the County of Hereford & Worcester.

New Worcestershire (1998 to present)[edit]

Hereford and Worcester County Council ceased to exist on 1 April 1998[49] and was replaced by the new non-metropolitan and ceremonial county of Worcestershire. The new county regained its historic border with Herefordshire, which was now a Unitary Authority.

The former "Hereford & Worcester" districts of Redditch, Worcester, Bromsgrove, Wychavon and Wyre Forest were retained with little or no change. The Leominster and Malvern Hills districts crossed over the historic border, so a new Malvern Hills district was constituted which straddled the pre-April 1974 county boundary to the west, south-west and north-west. The external boundaries of the administrative county have not altered since the 1998 split.

The subsequent local government restructuring in April 2009, which abolished more two-tier administrative counties (including Shropshire and Cheshire) did not affect Worcestershire. The county still maintains a two-tier administrative system as per the Local Government Act 1992. Although Lord Heseltine's No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth review for the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills suggested that all English local authorities should be unitary or combined authority models similar to the existing structures in Scotland and Wales.[50] However conversations are already taking place within the local media about the positives and negatives of a possible unitary council structure within Worcestershire.[51][52][53][54][55] Possibilities being put forward in these discussions are broadly similar to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England proposals prior to the 'Hereford & Worcester' abolition. These ideas consist of either two unitary authorities based in North Worcestershire (Bromsgrove, Redditch, Wyre Forest) and South Worcestershire (Malvern Hills, Worcester, Wychavon) or a single countywide council as per Herefordshire or Shropshire. Already the three district councils in the south of the county are working together to produce the South Worcestershire Development Plan,[56] which will replace the existing Local Plans of these three partner councils when it is adopted in late 2013. It will also supersede elements of Worcestershire County Council’s County Structure Plan.[57]

In a separate move, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced on St. George's Day 2013 in a symbolic move that England's historic and traditional counties still exist, and are now recognised by the government, who will now encourage the marking and continued use of such traditional county names by the existing tiers of local government and residents.[58] A follow up announcement in April 2014 put forward an initiative in changing planning regulations, stating that 'traditional county' names can be placed on roadsigns. [59] It is not known yet whether signs proclaiming Welcome to the Historic County of Worcestershire will appear within Dudley, Sandwell or other areas where previous Worcestershire boundary changes have occurred.


Despite the abolition of Hereford & Worcester as an administrative county, some cross-boundary organisations and resources are shared with Herefordshire. These include waste management, the youth offending service, Hereford & Worcester Fire & Rescue Service and the radio station BBC Hereford & Worcester. West Mercia Police is still shared with Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin. The Hereford & Worcester Ambulance Service was merged into the wider West Midlands Ambulance Service in 2006.

The West Midlands legally exists to this day as an administrative and ceremonial county, with countywide functions such as West Midlands Police, West Midlands Fire Service and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (known as Centro).


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°04′N 1°36′W / 52.06°N 1.60°W / 52.06; -1.60