The home counties are the counties of South East England and the East of England that surround London, not including the capital city itself. No exact definition of the term exists, and the composition of the home counties is often a matter of debate.
Origin and definition
The first use of the term "Home Counties" cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1695. Charles Davenant, in An essay upon ways and means of supplying the war, wrote, "The Eleven Home Counties, which are thought in Land Taxes to pay more than their proportion, viz. Surry [sic] with Southwark, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgshire, Kent, Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, Berks, Bucks, and Oxfordshire."
The term is sometimes understood to mean those counties which, on their borders closest to London, have partly been subsumed into London. Indeed, the former county of Middlesex is now almost wholly within London since 1965 with parts in Hertfordshire and Surrey, although the name still exists in various incarnations. The third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (2010) defines the term as "the English counties surrounding London, into which London has extended. They comprise chiefly Essex, Kent, Surrey, and Hertfordshire." Parts of all of those counties are now effectively within London, though no part of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or Sussex is. The counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Sussex are also wholly outside the M25 motorway, the route of which is often treated as an unofficial perimeter of Greater London, and some definitions of the home counties mention that those counties are not always included amongst the home counties, or that the term has been extended to include them.
Other theories sometimes mentioned for the origin of the term include the idea that the counties were where the wealthy of London had second homes, the counties that Members of Parliament returned to after the end of business, or the counties in which regular commuters into London lived.
In official use
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Although there is no one official definition of the term, it has frequently been used in legislation and by official bodies. In the twentieth century, for instance as follows: (the table includes all the areas mentioned above, plus Dorset, Hampshire, and Middlesex):
- 1908: The Home Counties Division of the Territorial Force comprised units recruiting in Middlesex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
- 1920: The London and Home Counties Electricity District consisted of the counties of London and Middlesex; and parts of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey.
- 1924: The London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, covering the London Traffic Area: London, Middlesex, and parts of Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey.
- 1926: The Home Counties (Music and Dancing) Licensing Act regulated activities in all parts of Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey within 20 miles of the City of London or City of Westminster.
- 1938: Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act limited development in parts of Middlesex, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Essex, Berkshire and Hertfordshire.
- 1948: The Home Counties Brigade was formed to administer the infantry regiments of the City and County of London, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.
|County||1851 Post Office Directory||1908 Home Counties Division||1920 London and Home Counties Electricity District||1924 London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee||1926 The Home Counties (Music and Dancing) Licensing Act||1938 Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act||1948 Home Counties Brigade||1995 Valuation Office Rating Manual|
|Middlesex||Absorbed into London 1965|
(East & West)
Unofficial use and use in popular culture
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As well as official and legal uses, the term is also widely used in a loose sense in British culture to denote the counties surrounding London.
- Quoted in Oxford English Dictionary.
- Brewers Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. 16th edition. London: Cassell, 1999, p. 769. ISBN 0304350966
- "Home Counties" in Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 2010. www.oxfordreference.com Retrieved 4 December 2013.
- The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 180. ISBN 0192129708
- Brewer’s, p. 583.
- 1851 Post Office Directory of the Six Home Counties covered Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.