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Ceremonial counties of England

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Ceremonial counties of England
shrieval counties of England
Populations8,000 (City of London) to 8,167,000 (Greater London)[1]
Areas3km² to 8,611 km²
Densities62/km² to 4,806/km²

Ceremonial counties,[2] formally known as counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies,[3] are areas of England to which lord-lieutenants are appointed. They are one of the two main legal definitions of the counties of England in modern usage, the other being the counties for the purposes of local government legislation. A lord-lieutenant is the monarch's representative in an area.[4] Shrieval counties have the same boundaries and serve a similar purpose, being the areas to which high sheriffs are appointed. High sheriffs are the monarch's judicial representative in an area.[5]

The ceremonial counties are defined in the Lieutenancies Act 1997, and the shrieval counties in the Sheriffs Act 1887. Both are defined as groups of local government counties.


The predecessor geographic counties from 1889 to 1965.

The historic counties of England were originally used as areas for administering justice and organising the militia, overseen by a sheriff. From Tudor times onwards a lord-lieutenant was appointed to oversee the militia, taking some of the sheriff's functions.[6]

Certain towns and cities were counties corporate, which gave them the right to appoint their own sheriffs and hold their own courts. Whilst in theory the counties corporate could have had separate lieutenants appointed for them, in practice all of them except London shared a lieutenant with the wider county from which they had been created.[a] London had instead a commission of lieutenancy, headed by the Lord Mayor.[7] The long-standing practice of appointing lieutenants jointly to the wider county and any counties corporate it contained was formalised by the Militia Act 1882.[8]

Apart from the inclusion of the counties corporate, the counties for the purposes of lieutenancy generally corresponded to the judicial counties. The exception was Yorkshire, which was one judicial county, having a single Sheriff of Yorkshire, but from 1660 onwards each of Yorkshire's three ridings had its own lieutenant.

In 1889 elected county councils were established under the Local Government Act 1888, taking over the administrative functions of the quarter sessions. Certain towns and cities were made county boroughs, independent from the county councils. In counties where the quarter sessions had been held separately for different parts of the county, such as the Parts of Lincolnshire, each part was given its own county council. The area administered by a county council was called an administrative county. As such, some of the judicial or lieutenancy counties comprised several administrative counties and county boroughs.[9]

The Ordnance Survey adopted the term 'geographical county' to describe the widest definition of the county. In most cases this was the lieutenancy county; the exceptions were Yorkshire, where the judicial county was larger on account of it being split into its three ridings for lieutenancy purposes, and the County of London where the administrative county was larger on account of the City of London and the rest of the county being separate for both judicial and lieutenancy purposes.[10]

Ceremonial counties from 1974 to 1996 (City of London not shown)

The counties lost their judicial functions in 1972, after which the main functions of the counties were the administrative functions of local government.[11] Despite the loss of their functions, sheriffs continued to be appointed to the former judicial counties up until 1974.[12]

In 1974, administrative counties and county boroughs were abolished, and a new system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties was introduced instead. Sheriffs were renamed 'high sheriffs' and both they and the lieutenants were appointed to the new versions of the counties.[13][14]

The counties of Avon, Cleveland and Humberside, each of which had only been created in 1974, were all abolished in 1996. They were divided into unitary authorities; legally these are also non-metropolitan counties. As part of these reforms, it was decided to define counties for the purposes of lieutenancy differently from the local government counties in some cases, effectively reverting to the pre-1974 arrangements for lieutenancies. Whereas the lieutenancies had been defined slightly differently from the shrieval counties prior to 1974, it was decided in 1996 that the high sheriffs and lieutenants should be appointed to the same areas. Regulations amending the Sheriffs Act 1887 and specifying the areas for the appointment of lieutenants were accordingly brought in with effect from 1 April 1996.[15][16]

The regulations were then consolidated into the Lieutenancies Act 1997. When Herefordshire, Rutland and Worcestershire were re-established as local government counties in 1997 and 1998 no amendment was made to the 1997 Act regarding them, allowing them to also serve as their own lieutenancy areas.[17][18] The lieutenancy counties have not changed in area since 1998, although the definitions of which local government counties are included in each lieutenancy have been amended to reflect new unitary authorities being created since 1997.[16]

In legislation the lieutenancy areas are described as 'counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies'; the informal term 'ceremonial county' has come into usage for such areas, appearing in parliamentary debates as early as 1996.[19]

Shrieval counties


The shrieval counties are defined by the Sheriffs Act 1887 as amended, in a similar way to the lieutenancies defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997. Each has a high sheriff appointed (except the City of London, which has two sheriffs).



The Lieutenancies Act 1997 defines counties for the purposes of lieutenancies in terms of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties (created by the Local Government Act 1972, as amended) as well as Greater London and the Isles of Scilly (which lie outside the 1972 Act's system). Although the term is not used in the act, these counties are sometimes known as "ceremonial counties". The counties are defined in Schedule 1, paragraphs 2–5[3] as amended[20] (in 2009,[21] 2019[22] and 2023).[23] Generally, each time a new non-metropolitan county is created the 1997 Act is amended to redefine the existing areas of the lieutenancies in terms of the new areas.[note 1] No such amendment was made in 1997 when Rutland was made a unitary authority or in 1998 when Herefordshire and Worcestershire were re-established; those three therefore have been given their own lieutenants again since the passing of the 1997 Act. The actual areas of the ceremonial counties have not changed since 1998.

Lieutenancy areas since 1998


These are the 48 counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies in England, as currently defined:

Location Population
Area Density Composition
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties
(including unitary authority areas)
km2 mi2 /km2 /mi2
Bedfordshire 715,940 1,235 477 580 1,500 Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton
Berkshire 958,803 1,262 487 760 2,000 Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham
Bristol 479,024 110 42 4,368 11,310 Bristol
Buckinghamshire 852,589 1,874 724 455 1,180 Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes
Cambridgeshire 906,814 3,390 1,310 268 690 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
Cheshire 1,108,765 2,346 906 473 1,230 Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, and Warrington
City of London[b] 10,847 2.89 1.12 3,753 9,720 City of London
Cornwall 577,694 3,562 1,375 162 420 Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Cumbria 503,033 6,768 2,613 74 190 Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness[23]
Derbyshire 1,066,954 2,625 1,014 406 1,050 Derbyshire and Derby
Devon 1,232,660 6,707 2,590 184 480 Devon, Plymouth and Torbay
Dorset 785,172 2,653 1,024 296 770 Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole[22]
Durham [c]872,075 2,676 1,033 326 840 County Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool and part of Stockton-on-Tees north of the River Tees
East Riding of Yorkshire 615,161 2,475 956 249 640 East Riding of Yorkshire and Kingston upon Hull
East Sussex 828,685 1,791 692 463 1,200 East Sussex and Brighton and Hove
Essex 1,877,301 3,664 1,415 512 1,330 Essex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock
Gloucestershire 947,174 3,150 1,220 301 780 Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire
Greater London 8,855,333 1,569 606 5,643 14,620 None (see the London boroughs)
Greater Manchester 2,911,744 1,276 493 2,282 5,910 Greater Manchester
Hampshire 1,877,917 3,769 1,455 498 1,290 Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton
Herefordshire 188,719 2,180 840 87 230 Herefordshire
Hertfordshire 1,204,588 1,643 634 733 1,900 Hertfordshire
Isle of Wight 140,794 380 150 371 960 Isle of Wight
Kent 1,875,893 3,738 1,443 502 1,300 Kent and Medway
Lancashire 1,550,490 3,066 1,184 506 1,310 Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire
Leicestershire 1,095,554 2,156 832 508 1,320 Leicestershire and Leicester
Lincolnshire 1,103,320 6,977 2,694 158 410 Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire
Merseyside 1,442,081 652 252 2,211 5,730 Merseyside
Norfolk 925,299 5,384 2,079 172 450 Norfolk
North Yorkshire [c]1,172,860 8,654 3,341 136 350 Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Redcar and Cleveland, York and part of Stockton-on-Tees south of the River Tees
Northamptonshire 792,421 2,364 913 335 870 North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire
Northumberland 324,362 5,020 1,940 65 170 Northumberland
Nottinghamshire 1,163,335 2,159 834 539 1,400 Nottinghamshire and Nottingham
Oxfordshire 738,276 2,605 1,006 283 730 Oxfordshire
Rutland 41,151 382 147 108 280 Rutland
Shropshire 516,049 3,488 1,347 148 380 Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin
Somerset 991,615 4,170 1,610 238 620 Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and Somerset
South Yorkshire 1,392,105 1,552 599 897 2,320 South Yorkshire
Staffordshire 1,146,249 2,714 1,048 422 1,090 Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
Suffolk 768,555 3,800 1,500 202 520 Suffolk
Surrey 1,214,540 1,663 642 731 1,890 Surrey
Tyne and Wear 1,141,795 540 210 2,115 5,480 Tyne and Wear
Warwickshire 607,604 1,975 763 308 800 Warwickshire
West Midlands 2,953,816 902 348 3,276 8,480 West Midlands
West Sussex 892,336 1,991 769 448 1,160 West Sussex
West Yorkshire 2,378,148 2,029 783 1,172 3,040 West Yorkshire
Wiltshire 751,542 3,485 1,346 216 560 Swindon and Wiltshire
Worcestershire 609,216 1,741 672 350 910 Worcestershire

Geographical counties 1889–1974


After the creation of county councils in 1889, there were counties for judicial and shrieval purposes, counties for lieutenancy purposes, and administrative counties and county boroughs for the purposes of local government. The 1888 Act used the term 'entire county' to refer to the group of administrative counties and county boroughs created within each judicial county.[25] The Ordnance Survey used the term 'geographical county' to refer to this wider definition of the county.[10]

Yorkshire had three lieutenancies, one for each riding, but was a single judicial county with one sheriff, and was counted as one geographical county by Ordnance Survey.[26]

The counties lost their judicial functions in 1972 under the Courts Act 1971 which abolished the quarter sessions and assizes.[11] Sheriffs continued to be appointed for each county despite the loss of the judicial functions. Certain towns and cities were counties corporate appointing their own sheriffs. The counties corporate were all included in a wider county for lieutenancy purposes, except the City of London which had its own lieutenants.

The geographical counties were relatively stable between 1889 and 1965. There were occasional boundary changes, notably following the Local Government Act 1894 which said that parishes and districts were no longer allowed to straddle county boundaries. After that most boundary changes were primarily to accommodate urban areas which were growing across county boundaries, such as when Caversham was transferred from Oxfordshire to Berkshire as a result of being absorbed into the County Borough of Reading in 1911.

The lieutenancies and judicial / shrieval counties were defined as groups of administrative counties and county boroughs, and so were automatically adjusted if the boundaries of those administrative areas changed. There were two exceptions to this rule (one only briefly). The county borough of Great Yarmouth straddled Norfolk and Suffolk for judicial and lieutenancy purposes until 1891 when it was placed entirely in Norfolk for those purposes.[27] The county borough of Stockport straddled Cheshire and Lancashire for judicial and lieutenancy purposes - it was placed entirely in Lancashire for judicial purposes in 1956 but continued to straddle the two counties for lieutenancy purposes until 1974.[28][d]

Geographical, shrieval, lieutenancy and administrative counties 1889–1965

More significant changes to the geographical counties were made in 1965 with the creation of Greater London and of Huntingdon and Peterborough, which resulted in the abolition of the offices of Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, Lord Lieutenant of the County of London, and Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire and the creation of the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London and of the Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdon and Peterborough.

See also



  1. ^ For example, Cheshire was prior to the 2009 structural changes to local government defined as the non-metropolitan counties of Cheshire, Halton & Warrington; the non-metropolitan county of Cheshire on 1 April that year split into the non-metropolitan counties of Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, and Schedule 1 of the Lieutenancies Act 1997 was duly amended to take into account these changes to local government within the ceremonial county.
  1. ^ The county corporate of Bristol was created from parts of both Gloucestershire and Somerset, but was entirely included in the Gloucestershire lieutenancy, except for between 1660 and 1672 when it was included in the Somerset lieutenancy.
  2. ^ Because the City of London has a Commission of Lieutenancy rather than a single lord-lieutenant, it is treated as a county for some purposes of the Lieutenancy Act. (Schedule 1 paragraph 4)
  3. ^ a b Uniquely, the district of Stockton-on-Tees is split between County Durham and North Yorkshire.
  4. ^ The Third Schedule of the 1888 Act lists the county boroughs with the "Name of the County in which, for the purposes of this Act, the Borough is deemed to be situate." Four county boroughs were then listed as deemed to be in more than one county: Bristol, Great Yarmouth, Stockport and York. However, the purposes of the act did not include changing which counties, ridings and counties corporate were included in each lieutenancy area; those were already set by the Militia Act 1882 and were not altered by the 1888 Act, except that if the boundaries of an administrative county changed then so too did any lieutenancy, shrieval or judicial area to match (section 59). For lieutenancy purposes, Bristol was solely in Gloucestershire, and York was solely in the West Riding. As both were counties corporate they had their own sheriffs and served as their own judicial areas.[29] The purposes of the 1888 Act which necessitated county boroughs to be deemed to be situated in a wider county related to certain financial matters rather than lieutenancy.[30][31]
  5. ^ Shared with Huntingdonshire
  6. ^ a b For judicial and lieutenancy purposes, Stockport south of the River Mersey and River Tame was in Cheshire, north of the rivers in Lancashire. In 1956 the whole borough was placed in Lancashire for judicial purposes whilst continuing to straddle the two counties for the purposes of lieutenancy.
  7. ^ Sui generis authority created 1890.
  8. ^ Shared with Cambridgeshire
  9. ^ a b The county borough of Great Yarmouth straddled Norfolk and Suffolk for judicial and lieutenancy purposes, with the part north of the River Yare in Norfolk and south of it in Suffolk, until 1891 when the whole borough was placed in Norfolk for those purposes.
  10. ^ Oxford was briefly included in the administrative county of Oxfordshire created in April 1889, but was made a county borough in November 1889.


  1. ^ Table 2 2011 Census: Usual resident population and population density, local authorities in the United Kingdom UK Census 2011 UK usual resident population Greater London excluding City of London
  2. ^ "Ceremonial Counties" (PDF). Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  3. ^ a b Text of the Lieutenancies Act 1997 – Schedule 1: Counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies in Great Britain as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  4. ^ "Document (01) The Lord-Lieutenant". council.lancashire.gov.uk. 29 November 2023. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  5. ^ "High Sheriff of Lancashire". www.highsheriffoflancashire.co.uk. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  6. ^ Anson, William R. (1892). The Law and Custom of the Constitution: Part 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 236. Retrieved 22 March 2024.
  7. ^ "Milita Act 1796 (37 Geo. 3 c. 3)". The Statutes at Large. 1798. p. 426. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  8. ^ Militia Act. 1882. p. 21. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  9. ^ "Local Government Act 1888", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 1888 c. 41 Section 59
  10. ^ a b Harley, John Brian (1975). Ordnance Survey Maps: A descriptive manual. Ordnance Survey. p. 82. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  11. ^ a b "Courts Act 1971", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 1971 c. 23, retrieved 18 March 2024
  12. ^ "No. 45941". The London Gazette. 30 March 1973. p. 4153.
  13. ^ "Local Government Act 1972", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 1972 c. 70
  14. ^ "No. 46116". The London Gazette. 30 October 1973. p. 12880.
  15. ^ "The Local Government Changes for England (Miscellaneous Provision) Regulations 1995", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 1995/1748, retrieved 6 March 2024
  16. ^ a b "Lieutenancies Act 1997", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 1997 c. 23, retrieved 20 March 2024
  17. ^ "The Hereford and Worcester (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 1996/1867, retrieved 20 March 2024
  18. ^ "The Leicestershire (City of Leicester and District of Rutland) (Structural Change) Order 1996", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 1996/507, retrieved 20 March 2024
  19. ^ "Leicestershire (City of Leicester and District of Rutland) (Structural Change) Order 1996: House of Lords debate 28 February 1996". Hansard. UK Parliament. Retrieved 21 March 2024.
  20. ^ Text of the Lord-Lieutenants – The Local Government Changes for England (Lord-Lieutenants and Sheriffs) Order 1997 as originally enacted or made within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  21. ^ Text of The Local Government (Structural Changes) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Other Provision) Order 2009 (SI 2009/837) as originally enacted or made within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  22. ^ a b "The Local Government (Structural and Boundary Changes) (Supplementary Provision and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019".
  23. ^ a b The Cumbria (Structural Changes) Order 2022
  24. ^ "Mid-2022 population estimates by Lieutenancy areas (as at 1997) for England and Wales". Office for National Statistics. 24 June 2024. Retrieved 26 June 2024.
  25. ^ Section 100
  26. ^ "1:10,000 map SE82SE, 1971". National Library of Scotland. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 24 March 2024. Note the distinction in the key and on the map between the boundaries of geographical counties and the administrative counties.
  27. ^ "Local Government Board's Provisional Orders Confirmation (No. 13) Act 1890" (PDF). legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. p. 13. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  28. ^ Criminal Justice Administration Act 1956. 30 October 2023. p. 168. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  29. ^ Militia Act. 1882. p. 21. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  30. ^ MacMorran, Alexander; Colquhoun Dill, T. R. (1898). The Local Government Act 1888 etc. with Notes and Index. London: Shaw and Sons. p. 68. Retrieved 24 March 2024.
  31. ^ Reports from Commissioners, Inspectors and Others. Local Government Commission. 1892. p. 164. Retrieved 24 March 2024.