Administrative counties of England

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Administrative county (England)
England Admin Counties 1965-1974.png
The administrative counties as they were when abolished in 1974
CategoryAdministrative county
Found inCounty
Created byLocal Government Act 1888
  • 1889
Abolished by
  • 1974
Populations25,000–4.2 million
  • County council

Administrative counties were subnational divisions of England used for local government from 1889 to 1974. They were created by the Local Government Act 1888, which established an elected county council for each area. Some geographically large historic counties were divided into several administrative counties, each with its own county council. The administrative counties operated until 1974, when they were replaced by a system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties under the Local Government Act 1972.


Introduction of county councils[edit]

In 1888 the government, led by the Tory prime minister Lord Salisbury established county councils throughout England and Wales, covering areas known as administrative counties. Many larger towns and cities were given the status of county borough, with similar powers and independent of county council control. Under the Act, each county borough was an "administrative county of itself".

Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex, and Yorkshire were split up for administrative purposes, following historical divisions used by the Courts of Quarter Sessions.

Additionally there was a County of London which covered the area today known as Inner London. The Isle of Wight was previously administered as part of Hampshire but became its own administrative county in 1890.[1]

In 1894 a uniform two-tier system was established outside the county boroughs and London, with subdivisions of the administrative counties called urban districts, rural districts and municipal boroughs. The structure was complete once the County of London was divided into metropolitan boroughs in 1900.

Most exclaves of counties were eliminated under the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844, but in 1894 county councils were given the power to adjust county boundaries, and most of the remaining anomalies were removed in the next few years. For example, the Measham area of Derbyshire was transferred to Leicestershire in 1897.

Map 1890–1965[edit]

The map shows the counties and the county boroughs. When a county borough expanded into territory of a county that was not the one it came from, maps sometimes showed this as an increase in size of the county which the county borough was associated with.

Monmouthshire, not shown on the map, was reckoned for some legal purposes among the English counties for most of this period.

The 1888 Act did not contain a list of administrative counties: it was not until 1933 and the passing of a new Local Government Act that they were enumerated in the Act's schedule. Unlike the 1888 Act, the 1933 Act did not include county boroughs as administrative counties.

In legislation and formal documents the suffix "shire" was generally not used: for example, Bedfordshire was referred to as "the administrative county of Bedford" and the Northamptonshire council as the "county council of Northampton". In the case of Lancashire and Cheshire the councils were officially the "county council of the palatine county". Shropshire was always officially entitled the "county of Salop". The right of Berkshire to be described as a "royal county" was recognised by the monarch in 1958. On 1 April 1959 the administrative county of Southampton was renamed as Hampshire.

This system was the basis of the ceremonial counties used for Lieutenancy – except that Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk and Sussex were not split for Lieutenancy. (Yorkshire, however, was).

England – Administrative Counties 1890–1965

Area and population[edit]

The table lists the area and population of each administrative county at the censuses of 1891 and 1961.[2][3]

Several county councils had administrative headquarters outside of their area. This was usually because the traditional county town was a county borough. The headquarters of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire county councils were moved from the county boroughs to locations within their respective administrative counties.

(statute acres)
(statute acres)
Bedfordshire Bedfordshire 298,494 160,704 302,940 380,837 Bedford
Berkshire Berkshire 455,864 176,109 454,726 385,017 Reading
Buckinghamshire Buckinghamshire 475,694 185,284 479,405 488,233 Aylesbury
Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire 310,306 121,961 315,166 190,384 Cambridge
Cambridgeshire Isle of Ely 239,259 63,861 239,951 89,180 March
Cheshire Cheshire 646,627 536,644 621,884 475,313 Chester (1)
Cornwall Cornwall 868,208 322,571 868,260 342,301 Truro
County Durham County Durham 639,436 721,461 620,278 951,956 Durham
Cumberland Cumberland 970,161 266,549 967,054 223,202 Carlisle(2)
Derbyshire Derbyshire 654,100 426,768 635,459 745,212 Derby until 1958, Matlock thereafter
Devon Devon 1,661,914 455,353 1,649,434 539,021 Exeter(3)
Dorset Dorset 632,272 194,517 633,745 313,460 Dorchester
East Riding of Yorkshire East Riding of Yorkshire 741,827 141,516 735,963 224,031 Beverley
Essex Essex 980,839 579,355 959,755 1,859,916 Chelmsford
Gloucestershire Gloucestershire 790,833 384,552 773,295 494,885 Gloucester
Hampshire Hampshire 938,098 386,849 929,951 762,599 Winchester
Hampshire Isle of Wight 93,342 78,672 94,142 95,752 Newport
Herefordshire Herefordshire 537,363 115,949 538,924 130,928 Hereford
Hertfordshire Hertfordshire 406,932 224,550 404,525 832,901 Hertford
Huntingdonshire Huntingdonshire 233,928 54,969 233,985 79,924 Huntingdon
Kent Kent 971,849 785,674 971,125 1,671,436 Maidstone
Lancashire Lancashire 1,124,450 1,768,278 1,060,804 2,280,359 Preston
Leicestershire Leicestershire 520,400 200,468 515,404 409,098 Leicester until 1967, Glenfield thereafter
Lincolnshire Parts of Holland 255,252 75,522 267,847 103,327 Boston
Lincolnshire Parts of Kesteven 471,749 105,910 462,100 134,842 Sleaford
Lincolnshire Parts of Lindsey 961,327 199,095 961,038 505,427 Lincoln
London London 75,442 4,232,118 74,903 3,200,484 Spring Gardens until 1933, Lambeth thereafter
Middlesex Middlesex 149,046 560,012 148,691 2,234,543 Westminster
Monmouthshire Monmouthshire 342,548 203,347 339,008 336,566 Newport(4)
Norfolk Norfolk 1,303,967 317,983 1,302,505 388,005 Norwich
North Riding of Yorkshire North Riding of Yorkshire 1,358,101 284,837 1,376,607 396,707 Northallerton
Northamptonshire Northamptonshire 584,759 203,247 578,947 292,584 Northampton
Northamptonshire Soke of Peterborough 53,471 35,249 53,465 74,758 Peterborough
Northumberland Northumberland 1,284,385 319,730 1,276,266 481,474 Morpeth(5)
Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire 528,817 231,946 521,647 591,089 Nottingham until 1959, West Bridgford thereafter
Oxfordshire Oxfordshire 480,608 145,149 470,390 203,161 Oxford
Rutland Rutland 97,273 20,659 97,273 23,504 Oakham
Shropshire Shropshire 859,516 236,339 861,800 297,466 Shrewsbury
Somerset Somerset 1,039,106 386,866 1,026,043 518,145 Taunton
Staffordshire Staffordshire 731,089 818,290 685,250 983,758 Stafford
Suffolk East Suffolk 549,744 183,478 547,397 219,759 Ipswich
Suffolk West Suffolk 389,870 120,952 390,915 128,918 Bury St Edmunds
Surrey Surrey 452,218 418,856 449,160 1,478,841 Newington, moved to Kingston upon Thames in 1893 (6)
Sussex East Sussex 525,904 240,264 494,580 375,349 Lewes
Sussex West Sussex 389,870 120,952 405,351 411,613 Chichester
Warwickshire Warwickshire 562,797 307,193 558,684 612,768 Warwick
Westmorland Westmorland 500,906 66,098 504,917 67,180 Kendal
West Riding of Yorkshire West Riding of Yorkshire 1,701,386 1,351,570 1,606,921 1,678,010 Wakefield(7)
Wiltshire Wiltshire 880,248 264,997 860,607 422,985 Trowbridge
Worcestershire Worcestershire 473,542 296,661 514,341 441,069 Worcester
^† County borough, outside the administrative county
^‡ In the administrative county of London
^(1) Chester Castle, in which County Hall is situated, was a civil parish and exclave of the Chester Rural District and thus an exclave of the administrative county and an enclave in the county borough.
^(2) County borough from 1914
^(3) Devon County Buildings Area transferred from the county borough to the administrative county of Devon (of which it formed an exclave) in 1963
^(4) County borough from 1891
^(5) Moot Hall Precincts were an exclave of the administrative county within the county borough of Newcastle upon tyne
^(6) The decision to move the county council headquarters was made on 15 April 1890, and the new county hall opened 14 November 1893.[4] Kingston was removed from the administrative county of Surrey in 1965, becoming part of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in Greater London
^(7) County borough from 1915
Structure of subnational entities in England 1899–1965
County level Administrative county Administrative county County borough County of London
District level Rural district Urban district
or Municipal borough
n/a Metropolitan Borough
Parish level Civil parish n/a n/a n/a

Alterations in boundaries[edit]

The boundaries of the administrative counties changed considerably over time. The reasons for this were threefold: the growth of towns on either side of an existing boundary, the creation and extension of county boroughs and the elimination of outlying exclaves and other anomalies.

As urbanisation increased, and suburbs were built on a scale not seen before, the urban areas surrounding various towns and cities started to cross traditional county borders. The Local Government Act 1888 provided that in the case that an urban sanitary district crossed a county border, the entire district would be considered part of the county in which the larger part was. This condition was maintained with the expansion of urban districts and municipal boroughs.

Towns that were split by historic borders and were unified in one administrative county include Banbury, Mossley, Tamworth, Todmorden.

Urban districts to annexe areas in another counties include:

Additionally, the territory and population of administrative counties was reduced by the increasing numbers of county boroughs, and extensions thereof. This was recognised as a problem, and the process of creation and enlargement of such boroughs was made more difficult by the Local Government (County Boroughs and Adjustments) Act 1926. By June 1970 25% of the population were within the county boroughs.[5]

On creation, many of the administrative counties had a number of exclaves. During the 1890s most of these were eliminated, with parishes being exchanged between counties. The boundaries of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire contained numerous enclaves and exclaves, and were realigned in 1931.

Greater London[edit]

Throughout the next century, debates took place about what should be done about local government in respect of the increasing urbanisation of the country. Proposals to expand or change county boroughs or to create larger urban counties were discussed, but nothing happened until 1963, when legislation was passed to come into effect in 1965.

The County of London was abolished, and replaced by Greater London, a sui generis council area, taking the three of the surrounding county boroughs, more of Surrey and Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire and consuming nearly all of Middlesex – the remaining parts being ceded to Surrey and Hertfordshire. Some other changes took place, such as the Soke of Peterborough and Huntingdonshire being merged into Huntingdon and Peterborough, and the merger of the original Cambridgeshire with the Isle of Ely to form Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely.

Map 1965–1974[edit]

The map shows the counties and county boroughs just prior to their abolition in 1974.

England – Administrative Counties 1965–1974


In 1974 the administrative counties were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 and replaced with the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Local Government Board's Provisional Order Confirmation (No.2) Act 1889 (52 & 53 Vict. C.clxxvii)
  2. ^ Census of England and Wales 1891, Vol. I, Table III. Administrative Counties and County Boroughs; Area, and Houses and Population in 1891 (Historic GIS Project, Queen's University, Belfast)[1] Archived 3 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ 1961 Census England and Wales: County Reports ( [2]
  4. ^ David Robinson, A brief history of County Hall, Surrey County Council, 1993
  5. ^ Bryne, T., Local Government in Britain, (1994)

External links[edit]