The home counties are the counties of England that surround London (although not all of them border it). The counties generally included are Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. Other counties more distant from London—such as Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire—are also sometimes regarded as home counties due to their proximity to London and their connection to the London regional economy.
The historic county of Middlesex, now mostly within Greater London, was one of the home counties when it existed.
The origin of the term "home counties" is uncertain and no exact definition exists, making their composition a matter of debate.
The origin of the term "home counties" is uncertain. Marcus Crouch, writing in 1975, thought that it derived from the Home Counties Circuit of courts that since at least the 18th century had surrounded London. Looking further back, he suggested that it included the counties in which, since Tudor times, it has been possible for civil servants and politicians to have their country homes and still be able to travel into London without excessive delay when they were needed.
The earliest use of the term 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."
Later definitions have tended to be more narrow and Bacon's Large Scale Atlas of London and Suburbs (revised edition c. 1912) includes Berkshire, Buckingham, Essex, Hertford, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey in the "maps of the home counties".
In reviewing S. P. B. Mais's The Home Counties (Batsford The Face of Britain series, 1942), Norah Richardson noted that "the home counties" was a term in constant use but hard to define, but that Mais's definition of "the five counties around London County - Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey" could not be improved upon.
The term is sometimes understood to mean those counties which, on their borders closest to London, have been partly subsumed into London. Indeed, the former county of Middlesex has been almost wholly within London since 1965 as have parts of Kent, Hertfordshire and Surrey, although the name Middlesex 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 historic counties are, since 1965, officially within London, although no part of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or Sussex is. The county of Sussex is also wholly outside, and Berkshire almost wholly outside, the route of the M25 motorway, which is often treated as an unofficial perimeter of Greater London, and some definitions mention that those counties are not always included amongst the home counties, or that the term has been extended to include them.
The home counties have been characterised as being "inhabited on the whole by 'nice', comfortable, and conformist middle-class people" (1987) exemplified by the county of Surrey which has been described as possessing quintessential home counties characteristics of "a comfortable plasticized commuterland with respectable villas and neatly mown lawns interspersed with patches of mild scenery". In fiction, the character of Margot Leadbetter in the BBC sitcom The Good Life, set in Surbiton, formerly in Surrey, has been described by The Spectator as "a Home Counties Conservative to her fingertips".
Marcus Crouch, however, has made the point that the home counties have been more affected by migration from within and without the United Kingdom than any other region of the country, making them the most cosmopolitan region of England and meaning that there is no typical home counties inhabitant. One result of this diversity, he argues, is that local loyalties are shallower in the home counties than in, for instance, Yorkshire or parts of Scotland where there has been less population mobility.
The home counties are some of the wealthiest in Britain with the towns of Virginia Water, Esher and Weybridge, all in Surrey, ranked in one 2019 survey as having some of the highest average house prices in the country. However, a 2011 report described the perception that South East England, the official region of England in which most of the home counties are located, was universally wealthy as inaccurate and noted that 500,000 people in the region lived in areas that were within the 20% most deprived areas in the country with deprivation concentrated in coastal areas such as Margate (Kent) and Hastings (Sussex). Significant areas of deprivation were also found in the urban areas of south Hampshire and Slough (Berkshire).
In official use
Multiple definitions of the term have been used in legislation and by official bodies. In the twentieth century, for instance, as follows: (the table includes all the areas mentioned above):
- 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||County dissolved in 1965|
- Crouch, Marcus. (1975) The Home Counties. The Regions of Britain series. London: Robert Hale. pp. 13-14. ISBN 0709148690
- Quoted in Oxford English Dictionary.
- Stanford, William. (1912) (Ed.) Bacon's Large Scale Atlas of London and Suburbs. London: George Washington Bacon. In Ann Sunders (Ed.) (2007) The A to Z of Edwardian London. London: London Topographical Society. ISBN 0902087533
- "The Home Counties by S. P. B. Mais", Norah Richardson, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 92, No. 4677 (27 Oct. 1944), p. 633.
- 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.
- Urdang, Laurence. (1987) Names & nicknames of places and things. London: Grafton, p. 146. ISBN 0246132469
- Urdang, 1987, p. 278.
- The Good Life – how a 70s sitcom became a Tory lodestar. William Cook, The Spectator, 14 April 2015. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
- Crouch, p. 18.
- Crouch, pp. 14-15.
- The UK’s Most Expensive Towns - The Week - May 8, 2019
- South East England Councils. (2011) Deprivation and Public Sector Reliance in the South East. Kingston upon Thames: South East England Councils. p. 2. Archived here.
- 1851 Post Office Directory of the Six Home Counties covered Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.
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