Posted by: secretperson | September 3, 2008

The English Counties

Country Life magazine is producing the England County Guide which lists the peculiarities of England’s various counties. It contains gems such as Cheshire cheese being recorded as far back as the Domesday book and that cricket originated in Hampshire.

The guide uses 40 counties, but with the many local government rearranmgements, and the existence of unitary authorities and metropolitan areas what counties mean changes over time. There exist or have existed many forms: administrative counties of which there were 49, which were replaced by metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties (i.e. separating off cities) of which there were 82, ceremonial counties which appoint a lord-lieutenant (48) and the historic or tradtional counties, of which there are 39. There even exists an Association of British Counties which aims to protect the traditional counties of England, Scotland and Wales.

Many of the counties originated from Saxon shires, and that word is still widely used in county names. The word county is from the Anglo-Norman meaning juristiction of a count, when the system was formalised. Though there were changes over time, not one fixed set of counties, the historic counties are considered to be:

Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Westmoreland, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire.

Although Westmoreland and Cumberland are now known as Cumbria, Middlesex is absorbed into London and Huntingdonshire is no more, most of these historic counties are still retained today. People may say a city first, but most people recognise a county identity. They form the basis for the County cricket competitions, both first class and minor counties.

In this time of attempted regionalisation, and the growth of cities, changes for administration must be made. It would make no sense to split control of Manchester between Lancashire and Cheshire for example. But a love of tradition is one of the things I love about England. Let us keep the traditional counties as best we can, and not let them get so historic they get forgotten.


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