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County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker (excluding Scotlandmarker), to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control. The Local Government Act 1972 abolished them in England and Wales, but they are still used in the Republic of Irelandmarker and Northern Irelandmarker. The Local Government Act 1994 re-introduced the term for certain "principal areas" in Wales. Scotland did not have county boroughs but instead counties of cities. These were abolished on 16 May 1975. All four Scottish cities of the time — Aberdeenmarker, Dundeemarker, Edinburghmarker, and Glasgowmarker — were included in this category. There was an additional category of large burgh in the Scottish system, which were responsible for all services apart from police, education and fire.

England and Wales



When county councils were first created in 1889, it was decided that to let them have authority over large towns or cities would be impractical, and so any large incorporated place would have the right to be a county borough, and thus independent from the administrative county it would otherwise come under. Originally 10 county boroughs were proposed, but the Local Government Act 1888 as eventually passed created 61 in England, and two in Wales. (The ten in question were Birminghammarker, Bradfordmarker, Bristolmarker, Hullmarker, Leedsmarker, Liverpoolmarker, Manchestermarker, Newcastle upon Tynemarker, Nottinghammarker and Sheffieldmarker.)

Initially, a town had to have a population of over 50,000 to apply to be made a county borough. The granting of county borough status was a subject of much argument between the large municipal boroughs and the county councils. Additionally, county borough borders were tightly constrained because of county council reluctance to give up their tax base. Several exceptions were allowed, mainly for historic county towns: Bathmarker, Canterburymarker, Chestermarker, Dudleymarker, Gloucestermarker, Oxfordmarker and Worcestermarker were all under the 50,000 limit in the 1901 census (Canterbury even under 25,000). Various new county boroughs were constituted in the following decades as more boroughs reached the 50,000 minimum and then promoted Acts to constitute them county boroughs. County boroughs to be constituted in this era were a mixed bag, including some towns that would continue to expand such as Bournemouthmarker and Southend-on-Seamarker. Other towns such as Burton upon Trentmarker and Dewsburymarker were not to increase in population much past 50,000.

1913 saw the attempts of Lutonmarker and Cambridgemarker to gain county borough status defeated in the House of Commonsmarker, despite the approval of the Local Government Board — the removal of Cambridge from Cambridgeshire would have reduced the income of Cambridgeshire County Council by over half.


Upon recommendation of a commission chaired by the Earl of Onslow, the population threshold was raised to 75,000 in 1926, by the Local Government Act 1926, which also made it much harder to expand boundaries. The threshold was raised to 100,000 by the Local Government Act 1958.

The viability of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil came into question in the 1930s. Due to a decline in the heavy industries of the town, by 1932 more than half the male population was unemployed, resulting in very high municipal rates in order to make public assistance payments. At the same time the population of the borough was lower than when it had been created in 1908. A royal commission was appointed in May 1935 to "investigate whether the existing status of Merthyr Tydfil as a county borough should be continued, and if not, what other arrangements should be made". The commission reported the following November, and recommended that Merthyr should revert to the status of a non-county borough, and that public assistance should be taken over by central government. In the event county borough status was retained by the town, with the chairman of the Welsh Board of Health appointed as administrative adviser in 1936.

After the Second World War the creation of new county boroughs in England and Wales was effectively suspended, pending a local government review. A government white paper published in 1945 stated that "it is expected that there will be a number of Bills for extending or creating county boroughs" and proposed the creation of a boundary commission to bring coordination to local government reform. The policy in the paper also ruled out the creation of new county boroughs in Middlesexmarker "owing to its special problems". The Local Government Boundary Commission was appointed on 26 October 1945, under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, delivering its report in 1947. The Commission recommended that towns with a population of 200,000 or more should become one-tier "new counties", with "new county boroughs" having a population of 60,000 - 200,000 being "most-purpose authorities", with the county council of the administrative county providing certain limited services. The report envisaged the creation of 47 two-tiered "new counties", 21 one-tiered "new counties" and 63 "new county boroughs". The recommendations of the Commission extended to a review of the division of functions between different tiers of local government, and thus fell outside its terms of reference, and its report was not acted upon.

Partial reform

The next attempt at reform was by the Local Government Act 1958, which established the Local Government Commission for England and the Local Government Commission for Wales to carry out reviews of existing local government structures and recommend reforms. Although the Commissions did not complete their work before being dissolved, a handful of new county boroughs were constituted between 1964 and 1968. Lutonmarker, Torbaymarker, and Solihullmarker gained county borough status. Additionally, Teessidemarker county borough was formed from the merger of the existing county borough of Middlesbroughmarker, and the non-county boroughs of Stockton-on-Teesmarker and Redcarmarker; Warleymarker was formed from the county borough of Smethwickmarker and the non-county boroughs of Oldburymarker and Rowley Regismarker; and West Hartlepoolmarker was merged with Hartlepoolmarker. Following these changes, there was a total of 79 county boroughs in England. The Commission also recommended the downgrading of Barnsleymarker to be a non-county borough, but this was not carried out.


The county boroughs of East Hammarker, West Ham and Croydon were abolished in 1965 with the creation of Greater Londonmarker and went on to form parts of London boroughs. The remaining county boroughs were abolished in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, and replaced with non-metropolitan districts and metropolitan districts, all beneath county councils in a two-tier structure. In Greater London and the metropolitan counties the lower tier districts retained a wider range of powers than in the non-metropolitan counties.


This situation did not persist long. In 1986 the metropolitan county councils and the GLC were abolished, returning the boroughs to a county borough status, sharing some powers (police and transport for example). In the 1990s most of the old county boroughs were reformed again as unitary authorities — essentially the same as a county borough. In England, most of those former county boroughs that did not gain unitary authority status — Barrow-in-Furness, Burnleymarker, Canterburymarker, Carlislemarker, Chester, Eastbournemarker, Exetermarker, Gloucestermarker, Hastingsmarker, Ipswichmarker, Lincolnmarker, Northamptonmarker, Norwichmarker, Oxfordmarker, Prestonmarker, Worcestermarker, and Yarmouth — have given their names to non-unitary local government districts (in some cases coterminous with the old county borough, in other cases much larger). Burton upon Trentmarker became an unparished area in the East Staffordshiremarker borough, and has now been divided into several parishes.

In Wales, several Principal Areas are called county boroughs:

(Newportmarker was a made a county borough again in 1996. In 2002 it acquired city status.)

For all practical purposes, county boroughs are exactly the same as the other principal areas of Wales called "counties" or "cities" as all these areas are run by unitary authorities (i.e.: have the functions of both boroughs and counties).

County boroughs in 1973

The map depicts the county boroughs in England immediately prior to their abolition in 1974. County boroughs in Wales and Monmouthshire are not shown.

This table shows those county boroughs that existed in England and Wales between the Local Government Acts of 1888 (that created them) and 1972 (that abolished them from 1974).
County borough From Associated county 1971 census pop Successors in 1974
Barrow-in-Furnessmarker (10) 1889 Lancashiremarker 64,039 Barrow (part) Cumbriamarker
Barnsleymarker (36) 1913 Yorkshire, West Riding 75,439 Barnsley MB (part) South Yorkshiremarker
Bathmarker (68) 1889 Somersetmarker 84,686 Bath Avon
Birkenheadmarker (28) 1889 Cheshiremarker 137,889 Wirral MB (part) Merseyside
Birminghammarker (55) 1889 Warwickshiremarker 1,014,773 Birmingham MD (most) West Midlands
Blackburnmarker (13) 1889 Lancashire 101,802 Blackburn (part) Lancashiremarker
Blackpoolmarker (11) 1904 Lancashire 151,871 Blackpool Lancashiremarker
Boltonmarker (19) 1889 Lancashire 154,223 Bolton MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Bootlemarker (16) 1889 Lancashire 74,304 Sefton MB (part) Merseyside
Bournemouthmarker (73) 1900 Hampshire 153,861 Bournemouth Dorsetmarker
Bradfordmarker (31) 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 294,164 Bradford MBmarker (part) West Yorkshire
Brightonmarker (77) 1889 Sussex 161,350 Brighton East Sussexmarker
Bristolmarker (67) 1889 Gloucestershiremarker 426,653 Bristol Avon
Burnleymarker (14) 1889 Lancashire 76,489 Burnleymarker (part) Lancashiremarker
Burton upon Trentmarker (49) 1901 Staffordshire 50,211 East Staffordshiremarker (part) † Staffordshire
Burymarker (20) 1889 Lancashire 67,870 Bury MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Canterburymarker (72) 1889 Kent 33,155 Canterburymarker (part) Kentmarker
Cardiffmarker 1889 Glamorganmarker 279,046 Cardiff (part) South Glamorgan
Carlislemarker (9) 1915 Cumberlandmarker 71,580 Carlislemarker (part) Cumbriamarker
Chestermarker (43) 1889 Cheshire 62,923 Chester (part) Cheshiremarker
Coventrymarker (57) 1889 Warwickshire 335,260 Coventry MB West Midlands
Darlingtonmarker (8) 1915 Durham 85,916 Darlington (part) Durham
Derbymarker (45) 1889 Derbyshire 219,578 Derby Derbyshiremarker
Dewsburymarker (34) 1913 Yorkshire, West Riding 51,354 Kirklees MBmarker (part) West Yorkshire
Doncastermarker (37) 1927 Yorkshire, West Riding 82,671 Doncaster MBmarker (part) South Yorkshiremarker
Dudleymarker (52) 1889 Worcestershire to 1966
then Staffordshire
185,592 Dudley MB (part) West Midlands
Eastbournemarker (78) 1911 Sussex 70,949 Eastbourne East Sussexmarker
Exetermarker (69) 1889 Devon 95,711 Exeter Devonmarker
Gatesheadmarker (3) 1889 Durham 94,464 Gateshead MB Tyne and Wear
Gloucestermarker (65) 1889 Gloucestershiremarker 90,223 Gloucester Gloucestershiremarker
Grimsbymarker (42) 1891 Lincolnshiremarker 95,502 Grimsby Humberside
Halifaxmarker (30) 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 91,263 Calderdale MBmarker (part) West Yorkshire
Hartlepoolmarker (6) 1967 Durham 97,082 Hartlepoolmarker (part) Clevelandmarker
Hastingsmarker (79) 1889 Sussex 72,414 Hastings East Sussexmarker
Huddersfieldmarker (33) 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 131,188 Kirklees MBmarker (part) West Yorkshire
Hullmarker (41) 1889 Yorkshire, East Riding 285,965 Hull Humberside
Ipswichmarker (61) 1889 Suffolk 123,297 Ipswich Suffolk
Leedsmarker (32) 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 496,036 Leeds MBmarker (part) West Yorkshire
Leicestermarker (48) 1889 Leicestershiremarker 284,208 Leicester Leicestershiremarker
Lincolnmarker (47) 1889 Lincolnshire 77,077 (1961) Lincoln Lincolnshiremarker
Liverpoolmarker (27) 1889 Lancashire 610,114 Liverpool Merseyside
Lutonmarker (63) 1964 Bedfordshire 161,400 Luton Bedfordshire
Manchestermarker (25) 1889 Lancashire 543,741 Manchester MB (most) Greater Manchestermarker
Merthyr Tydfilmarker 1908 Glamorgan 55,283 Merthyr Tydfil Mid Glamorgan
Newcastle-upon-Tynemarker (1) 1889 Northumberlandmarker 222,172 Newcastle upon Tyne MB (part) Tyne and Wear
Newportmarker 1891 Monmouthshiremarker 112,298 Newport Gwent
Northamptonmarker (58) 1889 Northamptonshiremarker 126,597 Northampton (part) Northamptonshiremarker
Nottinghammarker (46) 1889 Nottinghamshiremarker 300,675 Nottingham Nottinghamshiremarker
Norwichmarker (59) 1889 Norfolk 122,093 Norwich Norfolk
Oldhammarker (22) 1889 Lancashire 105,922 Oldham MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Oxfordmarker (64) 1889 Oxfordshire 108,834 Oxford Oxfordshire
Plymouthmarker (70) 1889 Devon 239,467 Plymouth Devonmarker
Portsmouthmarker (75) 1889 Hampshire 197,453 Portsmouth Hampshire
Prestonmarker (12) 1889 Lancashire 98,091 Preston (part) Lancashiremarker
Readingmarker (76) 1889 Berkshire 132,978 Reading Berkshire
Rochdalemarker (21) 1889 Lancashire 91,461 Rochdale MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Rotherhammarker (38) 1902 Yorkshire, West Riding 84,800 Rotherham MBmarker (part) South Yorkshiremarker
St Helensmarker (17) 1889 Lancashire 104,326 St Helens MBmarker (part) Merseyside
Salfordmarker (24) 1889 Lancashire 131,006 Salford MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Sheffieldmarker (39) 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 520,308 Sheffield MBmarker (part) South Yorkshiremarker
Solihullmarker (56) 1964 Warwickshire 107,086 Solihull MBmarker (part) West Midlands
Southamptonmarker (74) 1889 Hampshire 215,131 Southampton Hampshire
Southend-on-Seamarker (62) 1914 Essex 162,735 Southend-on-Sea Essex
Southportmarker (15) 1905 Lancashire 84,524 Sefton MB (part) Merseyside
South Shieldsmarker (4) 1889 Durham 100,676 South Tyneside MB (part) Tyne and Wear
Stockportmarker (26) 1889 Cheshire 139,598 Stockport MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Stoke-on-Trentmarker (44) 1910 Staffordshire 265,258 Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire
Sunderlandmarker (5) 1889 Durham 217,075 Sunderland MBmarker (part) Tyne and Wear
Swanseamarker 1889 Glamorgan 173,355 Swanseamarker (part) West Glamorgan
Teessidemarker (7) 1968 Yorkshire, North Riding 396,233 Middlesbroughmarker
Stocktonmarker (part)
Langbaurghmarker (part)

Torbaymarker (71) 1968 Devon 109,260 Torbay Devonmarker
Tynemouthmarker (2) 1904 Northumberland 69,339 North Tyneside MB (part) Tyne and Wear
Wakefieldmarker (35) 1915 Yorkshire, West Riding 59,591 Wakefield MBmarker (part) West Yorkshire
Wallaseymarker (29) 1913 Cheshire 97,216 Wirral MB (part) Merseyside
Walsallmarker (50) 1889 Staffordshire 184,734 Walsall MBmarker (part) West Midlands
Warley CBmarker (54) 1966 Worcestershire 163,567 Sandwell MB (part) West Midlands
Warringtonmarker (23) 1900 Lancashire 68,322 Warrington (part) Cheshiremarker
West Bromwichmarker (53) 1889 Staffordshire 166,592 Sandwell MB (part) West Midlands
Wiganmarker (18) 1889 Lancashire 81,144 Wigan MBmarker (part) Greater Manchestermarker
Wolverhamptonmarker (51) 1889 Staffordshire 269,112 Wolverhampton MB West Midlands
Worcestermarker (66) 1889 Worcestershire 73,454 Worcestermarker (most) Hereford and Worcester
Yarmouthmarker (60) 1889 Norfolk 50,236 Great Yarmouth (part) Norfolk
Yorkmarker (40) 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 104,783 York North Yorkshire

† had Charter Trustees

Only four districts with more than one county borough were formed: Wirral, Sandwell, Sefton and Kirkleesmarker. Elsewhere, county boroughs usually formed the core or all of a district named after the county borough - with the exceptions of Halifax, whose metropolitan district was named Calderdalemarker, Burton upon Trent, which became part of the East Staffordshire district, and Teesside, which was split up between three non-metropolitan districts.

Previous county boroughs

County boroughs to be abolished prior to 1974 were:

County borough County Created Abolished Successor
Croydonmarker Surreymarker 1889 1965 London Borough of Croydonmarker, Greater Londonmarker
Devonportmarker Devonmarker 1889 1914 County Borough of Plymouthmarker
East Hammarker Essex 1915 1965 London Borough of Newhammarker, Greater London
Hanleymarker Staffordshire 1889 1910 County Borough of Stoke on Trentmarker
Middlesbroughmarker Yorkshire, North Riding 1889 1968 County Borough of Teessidemarker
Smethwickmarker Staffordshire 1907 1966 County Borough of Warleymarker
West Hammarker Essex 1889 1965 London Borough of Newham, Greater London
West Hartlepoolmarker Durham 1902 1967 County Borough of Hartlepoolmarker

Northern Ireland

In Northern Irelandmarker, local government has not used them since 1973, but the county boroughs remain in use for Lieutenancy.

The two county boroughs in Northern Ireland were replaced with two larger districts (Belfastmarker and Derrymarker), are only in use for Lieutenancy.

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Irelandmarker, county boroughs have been renamed 'cities', and their corporations become 'city councils'.

In the Republic of Ireland, the relevant legislation remained still in force (although amended), and county boroughs on the original model existed until 2001. Under the Local Government Act 2001 (which replaced most existing local government legislation in Ireland), the term "County Borough" was abolished and replaced with "City" (and hence, "Corporation" with "City Council"). However Kilkennymarker, while a city, is instead administered as a town (and part of the county council area) for local government purposes. It is allowed to use the title "Borough Council" instead of "Town Council" however.


  1. Census data on population of Merthyr Tydfil
  2. London Gazette, 1 May 1935
  3. Report of the Royal Commission on the status of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil (Cmd.5039)
  4. Local government in England and Wales during the period of reconstruction (Cmd.6579)
  5. London Gazette, 26 October 1945
  6. Report of the Local Government Boundary Commission for the year 1947

See also

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