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Administrative counties were a level of subnational division of England used for the purposes of local government from 1889 to 1974. They were created by the Local Government Act 1888 and abolished by the Local Government Act 1972. They were replaced by the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England which are often referred to, somewhat incorrectly, as administrative counties.


The administrative counties didn't exist prior to 1889, see historic counties of England for the history of the English counties before then.

Introduction of county councils

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. Excluded from administrative counties were the county boroughs, which were what today are known as unitary authorities.

Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshiremarker, Northamptonshiremarker, Suffolk, Sussex, and Yorkshiremarker 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 Wightmarker was originally included under the administrative county of Hampshire but obtained its own county council in 1890.

In 1894 a uniform two-tier system was established, 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 s in 1900.

Some exclaves had been left untouched by the 1844 Act, but in 1894 county councils were given the power to adjust county boundaries, and most anomalies were removed in the next few years. For example the Meashammarker area of Derbyshiremarker was placed under the control of Leicestershiremarker County Council in 1897.

Map 1890-1965

This map follows the usual practice of not showing county boroughs. Instead, they were included in their 'host' county. When a county borough expanded into territory of a county that was not the one it came from, maps often showed this as an increase in size of the county the county borough was associated with. So, for example, Bristolmarker south of the River Avon would be shown as part of Gloucestershiremarker rather than Somersetmarker.

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

The 1889 Act did not contain a list of the 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. In official legislation the suffix "shire" was generally not used: references being to (for example) "the administrative county of Bedford" or 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 April 1, 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).

Administrative counties of England from 1890 to 1965
  1. Northumberlandmarker
  2. Durham
  3. Westmorlandmarker
  4. Cumberlandmarker
  5. Lancashiremarker
  6. Yorkshire, West Riding
  7. Yorkshire, North Riding
  8. Yorkshire, East Riding
  9. Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey
  10. Lincolnshire, Parts of Holland
  11. Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven
  12. Nottinghamshiremarker
  13. Derbyshiremarker
  14. Cheshiremarker
  15. Salopmarker (Shropshire)
  16. Staffordshire
  17. Warwickshiremarker
  18. Leicestershiremarker
  19. Rutlandmarker
  20. Northamptonshiremarker
  21. Soke of Peterborough
  22. Huntingdonshiremarker
  23. Cambridgeshire
  24. Isle of Elymarker
  1. Norfolk
  2. East Suffolkmarker
  3. West Suffolk
  4. Essex
  5. Hertfordshiremarker
  6. Bedfordshire
  7. Buckinghamshire
  8. Oxfordshire
  9. Gloucestershiremarker
  10. Worcestershire
  11. Herefordshiremarker
  12. Wiltshiremarker
  13. Berkshire
  14. Middlesexmarker
  15. London
  16. Kentmarker
  17. East Sussexmarker
  18. West Sussexmarker
  19. Surreymarker
  20. Southamptonshire (Hampshire)
  21. Isle of Wightmarker
  22. Dorsetmarker
  23. Somersetmarker
  24. Devonmarker
  25. Cornwallmarker

Area and population

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

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 298,494 160,704 302,940 380,837 Bedfordmarker
Berkshire 455,864 176,109 454,726 385,017 Readingmarker
Buckinghamshire 475,694 185,284 479,405 488,233 Aylesburymarker
Cambridgeshire 310,306 121,961 315,166 190,384 Cambridgemarker
Cheshiremarker 646,627 536,644 621,884 475,313 Chestermarker (1)
Cornwallmarker 868,208 322,571 868,260 342,301 Truromarker
Cumberlandmarker 970,161 266,549 967,054 223,202 Carlislemarker(2)
Derbyshiremarker 654,100 426,768 635,459 745,212 Derbymarker† until 1958, Matlockmarker thereafter
Devonmarker 1,661,914 455,353 1,649,434 539,021 Exetermarker(3)
Dorsetmarker 632,272 194,517 633,745 313,460 Dorchestermarker
Durham 639,436 721,461 620,278 951,956 Durhammarker
Essex 980,839 579,355 959,755 1,859,916 Chelmsfordmarker
Gloucestershiremarker 790,833 384,552 773,295 494,885 Gloucestermarker
Hampshire 938,098 386,849 929,951 762,599 Winchestermarker
Herefordshiremarker 537,363 115,949 538,924 130,928 Herefordmarker
Hertfordshiremarker 406,932 224,550 404,525 832,901 Hertfordmarker
Huntingdonshiremarker 233,928 54,969 233,985 79,924 Huntingdonmarker
Isle of Elymarker 239,259 63,861 239,951 89,180 Marchmarker
Isle of Wightmarker 93,342 78,672 94,142 95,752 Newportmarker
Kentmarker 971,849 785,674 971,125 1,671,436 Maidstonemarker
Lancashiremarker 1,124,450 1,768,278 1,060,804 2,280,359 Prestonmarker
Leicestershiremarker 520,400 200,468 515,404 409,098 Leicestermarker† until 1967, Glenfieldmarker thereafter
Lincolnshire - Parts of Holland 255,252 75,522 267,847 103,327 Bostonmarker
Lincolnshire - Parts of Kesteven 471,749 105,910 462,100 134,842 Sleafordmarker
Lincolnshire - Parts of Lindsey 961,327 199,095 961,038 505,427 Lincolnmarker
London 75,442 4,232,118 74,903 3,200,484 Spring Gardensmarker until 1933, Lambethmarker thereafter
Middlesexmarker 149,046 560,012 148,691 2,234,543 Westminstermarker
Monmouthshiremarker 342,548 203,347 339,008 336,566 Newportmarker(4)
Norfolk 1,303,967 317,983 1,302,505 388,005 Norwichmarker
Northamptonshiremarker 584,759 203,247 578,947 292,584 Northamptonmarker
Northumberlandmarker 1,284,385 319,730 1,276,266 481,474 Newcastle-upon-Tynemarker(5)
Nottinghamshiremarker 528,817 231,946 521,647 591,089 Nottinghammarker† until 1959, West Bridgfordmarker thereafter
Oxfordshire 480,608 145,149 470,390 203,161 Oxfordmarker
Rutlandmarker 97,273 20,659 97,273 23,504 Oakhammarker
Shropshiremarker 859,516 236,339 861,800 297,466 Shrewsburymarker
Soke of Peterborough 53,471 35,249 53,465 74,758 Peterboroughmarker
Somersetmarker 1,039,106 386,866 1,026,043 518,145 Tauntonmarker
Staffordshire 731,089 818,290 685,250 983,758 Staffordmarker
East Suffolkmarker 549,744 183,478 547,397 219,759 Ipswichmarker
West Suffolk 389,870 120,952 390,915 128,918 Bury St Edmundsmarker
Surreymarker 452,218 418,856 449,160 1,478,841 Newingtonmarker‡, moved to Kingston upon Thamesmarker in 1893 (6)
East Sussexmarker 525,904 240,264 494,580 375,349 Lewesmarker
West Sussexmarker 389,870 120,952 405,351 411,613 Chichestermarker
Warwickshiremarker 562,797 307,193 558,684 612,768 Warwickmarker
Westmorlandmarker 500,906 66,098 504,917 67,180 Kendalmarker
Wiltshiremarker 880,248 264,997 860,607 422,985 Trowbridgemarker
Worcestershire 473,542 296,661 514,341 441,069 Worcestermarker
Yorkshire - East Riding 741,827 141,516 735,963 224,031 Beverleymarker
Yorkshire - North Riding 1,358,101 284,837 1,376,607 396,707 Northallertonmarker
Yorkshire - West Riding 1,701,386 1,351,570 1,606,921 1,678,010 Wakefieldmarker(7)
† County borough, outside the administrative county

‡ In the administrative county of London

(1)Chester Castlemarker, in which County Hall is situated, was a civil parish within the Chester Rural Districtmarker and thus within the administrative county not 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 April 15, 1890, and the new county hall opened November 14, 1893. Kingston was removed from the administrative county of Surrey in 1965, becoming part of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thamesmarker in Greater Londonmarker

(7)County borough from 1915

Alterations in boundaries

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 Banburymarker, Mossleymarker, Tamworthmarker, Todmordenmarker.

Urban districts to annex 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 Act 1926. By June 1970 25% of the population were within the county boroughs.

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

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 expanded and renamed Greater Londonmarker, taking three of the county boroughs, more of Surreymarker and Kentmarker, parts of Essex and Hertfordshiremarker and consuming nearly all of Middlesexmarker - the remaining parts being ceded to Surrey and Hertfordshire. Some other changes took place, such as the Soke of Peterborough and Huntingdonshiremarker being merged into Huntingdon and Peterborough, and the merger of the original Cambridgeshire county council and the Isle of Elymarker county council.

Map 1965-1974

The map below is shown with the county boroughs immediately prior to 1974.

Administrative counties of England from 1965 to 1974
  1. Northumberlandmarker
  2. Durham
  3. Westmorlandmarker
  4. Cumberlandmarker
  5. Lancashiremarker
  6. West Riding of Yorkshire
  7. North Riding of Yorkshire
  8. East Riding of Yorkshire
  9. Lindsey
  10. Holland
  11. Kesteven
  12. Nottinghamshiremarker
  13. Derbyshiremarker
  14. Cheshiremarker
  15. Salopmarker (Shropshire)
  16. Staffordshire
  17. Warwickshiremarker
  18. Leicestershiremarker
  19. Rutlandmarker
  20. Northamptonshiremarker
  21. Huntingdon and Peterborough
  1. Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely
  2. Norfolk
  3. East Suffolkmarker
  4. West Suffolk
  5. Essex
  6. Hertfordshiremarker
  7. Bedfordshire
  8. Buckinghamshire
  9. Oxfordshire
  10. Gloucestershiremarker
  11. Worcestershire
  12. Herefordshiremarker
  13. Wiltshiremarker
  14. Berkshire
  15. Greater Londonmarker
  16. Kentmarker
  17. East Sussexmarker
  18. West Sussexmarker
  19. Surreymarker
  20. Hampshire
  21. Isle of Wightmarker
  22. Dorsetmarker
  23. Somersetmarker
  24. Devonmarker
  25. Cornwallmarker


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


External links

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