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The Local Government Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict. c.41) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker, which established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales. It came into effect on 1 April 1889 except for the County of London which came into existence on 21 March at the request of the London County Council.

The Bill

Following the 1886 general election, a Conservative administration headed by Lord Salisbury was formed. However the Conservatives did not have a majority of seats and had to rely on the support of the Liberal Unionist Party. As part of the price for this support the Liberal Unionists demanded that a bill be introduced placing county government under the control of elected councils, modelled on the borough councils introduced by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

Accordingly, the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill was introduced to the House of Commonsmarker on 19 March 1888, by the President of the Local Government Board, Charles Ritchie. The Bill proposed the creation of elected county councils to take over the administrative functions of the magistrates of the Quarter Sessions courts, that ten large boroughs should be "counties of themselves" for the purposes of local government and that each county was to be divided into urban and rural districts, based on existing sanitary districts, governed by a district council. The county and district councils were to consist partly of directly elected "elective councillors" and partly of "selected councillors", chosen by the elective councillors in a similar manner to aldermen in municipal boroughs.

The counties to be used for local government were to be the historic counties of England and Wales. A county council was to be formed for each of the riding of Yorkshiremarker and the three divisions of Lincolnshiremarker (Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey), leading to the creation of fifty-six county councils. A new County of London was to be formed from the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The boundaries of the counties were to be those used for parliamentary purposes, adjusted to include urban sanitary districts on county borders within a single county.

The ten boroughs which were to be "dealt with as separate counties" were named as Liverpoolmarker, Birminghammarker, Manchestermarker, Leedsmarker, Sheffieldmarker, Bristolmarker, Bradfordmarker, Nottinghammarker, Kingston-on-Hullmarker, Newcastle-on-Tynemarker.

Existing urban and rural sanitary districts, created in 1872, were to be redesignated as urban and rural districts. Urban districts which lay across county boundaries were to be included in the county in which the greater part of the population lay in the 1881 census. Existing rural sanitary districts were to split on county lines to form rural districts.

Passage through parliament

There were a large number of changes to the Bill as it passed through parliament. The terms administrative county and county borough were introduced to designate the new areas of local government, while the "selected councillors" became "county aldermen". The government withdrew the sections relating to the creation of district councils, which were eventually brought into existence by the Local Government Act 1894.

Members of both houses made representations on behalf of counties and boroughs, and this led to an increase in the number of local authorities.
  • The eastern and western divisions of Sussex became administrative counties
  • The Isle of Elymarker was separated from Cambridgeshire
  • The easternmarker and western divisions of Suffolk were divided for local government purposes.
  • The Soke of Peterborough was separated from the remainder of Northamptonshire.

Attempts to create administrative counties for the Cinque Ports and Staffordshire Potteriesmarker were not successful.

The population limit for county boroughs was lowered twice, firstly to 100,000, then to 50,000. A number of smaller counties corporate were also given county borough status. Mr Ritchie conceded on on 8 June:

"Now that they had gone down so far in population as 50,000 there arose a question as to the admission of boroughs which had not so large a population as 50,000, but which had very peculiar claims. He referred to the counties of cities."...

"Two or three of these cities had so small a population that he did not propose to deal with them in this way. The best course was to give the names of the cities which he proposed to include. They were Exeter, Lincoln, Chester, Gloucester, Worcester, and Canterbury."

The effect of these changes was to increase the number of county boroughs from ten to fifty-nine. With a population of around 50,000 at the 1881 census, the City of Londonmarker was initially proposed for county borough status.

County councils

The councils were subject to triennial elections, the first taking place in January 1889. The county councils elected in 1889 were known as "provisional" councils until coming into their powers on 1 April. Every administrative county was divided into electoral divisions, each returning a single councillor. Following the election, the county councillors then elected county aldermen, there being one alderman for every six councillors. The councillors appointed a chairman and vice chairman, who had a one year term of office.


The powers and responsibilities transferred from the quarter sessions to the councils were enumerated in the Act. These included:
  • Making and levying of rates
  • Borrowing of money
  • Passing of county accounts
  • Maintenance and construction of county buildings such as shire halls, county halls, court houses and police stations
  • Licensing of places of entertainment and of race courses
  • Provisions of asylums for pauper lunatics
  • Establishment and maintenance of reformatory and industrial schools
  • Repair of county roads and bridges†
  • Appointment, dismissal and setting of salaries for county officers
  • Division of the county into polling places for parliamentary elections, and the provision of polling stations
  • Control of contagious diseases in animals, and of destructive insects
  • Fish conservancy and control of wild birds
  • Weights and measures

† The council could also declare a road a "main road" and take over its maintenance, and purchase existing bridges or build new ones.

County borough corporations also exercised these powers, in addition to those of a municipal borough.

Standing joint committees

Control of the county police was to be exercised jointly by the quarter sessions and the county council through a standing joint committee. The committees were replaced by police authorities by the Police Act 1964.

Counties for other purposes

The Act also altered what it calls the "counties", ensuring that the boundaries used for what it terms "non-administrative purposes" would be synchronised with the borders between the administrative counties.

The non-administrative purposes were stated to be "sheriff, lieutenant, custos rotulorum, justices, militia, coroner, or other", thus approximating to the functions of modern ceremonial counties.

County boroughs were included within their geographic county for such purposes and the counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex and Yorkshire were undivided so far as they were one county at the passing of the Act. The three ridings of Yorkshire and a number of boroughs thus retained their existing lieutenancies and shrievalties.

Other provisions

Under section 48 of the Act all liberties and franchises, with the exception of those which became separate administrative counties, were to be merged with the county of which they formed part for parliamentary elections. The Cinque Ports, which for some purposes (such as lieutenacy) were considered a distinct county, were to become part of the county in which they were situate. Section 49 allowed for the creation by provisional order of a council for the "Scilly Islandsmarker" to be established as a unitary authority outside the administrative county of Cornwall. This was duly formed in 1890 as the Isles of Scilly Rural District.

List of administrative counties and county boroughs created in 1889


Geographical county Administrative county County boroughs
Bedfordshire Bedfordshire
Berkshire Berkshire Readingmarker
Buckinghamshire Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire
Isle of Elymarker
Cheshiremarker Cheshiremarker Birkenheadmarker, Chestermarker, Stockportmarker (part)
Cornwallmarker Cornwallmarker
Cumberlandmarker Cumberlandmarker Carlisle
Derbyshiremarker Derbyshiremarker Derbymarker
Devonmarker Devonmarker Devonportmarker, Exetermarker, Plymouthmarker
Dorsetmarker Dorsetmarker
Durham Durhammarker Gatesheadmarker, South Shieldsmarker, Sunderlandmarker
Essex Essex West Ham
Gloucestershiremarker Gloucestershiremarker Bristolmarker (part), Gloucestermarker
Herefordshiremarker Herefordshiremarker
Hertfordshiremarker Hertfordshiremarker
Huntingdonshiremarker Huntingdonshiremarker
Kentmarker Kentmarker Canterburymarker
Lancashiremarker Lancashiremarker Barrowmarker, Blackburnmarker, Boltonmarker, Bootle cum Linacremarker, Burnleymarker, Burymarker, Liverpoolmarker, Manchestermarker, Oldhammarker, Prestonmarker, Rochdalemarker, St Helensmarker, Salfordmarker, Stockportmarker (part), Wiganmarker
Leicestershiremarker Leicestershiremarker Leicestermarker
Lincolnshiremarker Lincolnshire, Parts of Holland
Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven
Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey Lincolnmarker
London London City of Londonmarker: remained a separate county, but returned members to the London County Council, which exercised some powers within the City.
Middlesexmarker Middlesexmarker
Monmouthshiremarker Monmouthshiremarker Newportmarker
Norfolk Norfolk Norwichmarker, Great Yarmouthmarker (part)
Northamptonshiremarker Northamptonshiremarker Northamptonmarker
Soke of Peterborough
Northumberlandmarker Northumberlandmarker Newcastle upon Tynemarker
Nottinghamshiremarker Nottinghamshiremarker Nottinghammarker
Oxfordshire Oxfordshire Oxfordmarker
Rutlandmarker Rutlandmarker
Salopmarker (Shropshire) Salopmarker (Shropshire)
Somersetmarker Somersetmarker Bathmarker
Southampton (Hampshire) Southampton (Hampshire) † Portsmouthmarker, Southamptonmarker
Staffordshire Staffordshire Hanleymarker, Walsallmarker, West Bromwichmarker, Wolverhamptonmarker
Suffolk East Suffolkmarker Ipswichmarker, Great Yarmouthmarker (part)
West Suffolk
Surreymarker Surreymarker Croydon
Sussex East Sussexmarker Brightonmarker, Hastingsmarker
West Sussexmarker
Warwickshiremarker Warwickshiremarker Birminghammarker, Coventrymarker
Westmorlandmarker Westmorlandmarker
Wiltshiremarker Wiltshiremarker
Worcestershire Worcestershire Dudleymarker, Worcestermarker
Yorkshiremarker Yorkshire, East Riding Kingston-upon-Hullmarker, Yorkmarker (part)
Yorkshire, North Riding Middlesbroughmarker, Yorkmarker (part)
Yorkshire, West Riding Bradfordmarker, Halifaxmarker, Huddersfieldmarker, Leeds, Sheffieldmarker, Yorkmarker (part)

† From 1 April 1890 the Isle of Wightmarker was separated from the County of Southampton to form an Administrative County.

‡ Newport became a county borough in 1891


Geographic county Administrative county County boroughs
Angleseymarker Angleseymarker
Brecknockshiremarker Brecknockshiremarker
Carnarvonshire Carnarvonshire
Cardiganshire Cardiganshire
Carmarthenshiremarker Carmarthenshiremarker
Denbighshire Denbighshire
Flintshiremarker Flintshiremarker
Glamorganmarker Glamorganmarker Cardiffmarker, Swanseamarker
Merionethmarker Merionethmarker
Montgomeryshiremarker Montgomeryshiremarker
Pembrokeshiremarker Pembrokeshiremarker
Radnorshiremarker Radnorshiremarker

Towns on county boundaries

There were a number of urban sanitary districts which lay in more than one county. In each case, county boundaries were altered so that each town lay entirely within the administrative county which contained the largest part of the district's population at the 1881 census.

Counties until 1889 Urban Sanitary District Administrative County from 1889
Berkshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordmarker County borough (Oxfordshire)
Breconshire and Glamorgan Merthyr Tydfilmarker Glamorgan
Breconshire and Monmouthshire Ebbw Valemarker Monmouthshire
Tredegarmarker Monmouthshire
Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire Cardiganmarker Cardiganshire
Cambridgeshire and Suffolk Newmarketmarker West Suffolk
Cheshire and Derbyshire New Millsmarker Derbyshire
Cheshire and Lancashire Hydemarker Cheshire
Stalybridgemarker Cheshire
Stockportmarker County borough (Cheshire)
Warringtonmarker Lancashire
Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire West Riding Mossleymarker Lancashire
Derbyshire and Staffordshire Burton upon Trentmarker Staffordshire
Durham and Yorkshire North Riding Barnard Castlemarker Durham
South Stocktonmarker Yorkshire North Riding
Stockton-on-Teesmarker Durham
Essex and Suffolk Sudburymarker West Suffolk
Gloucestershire and Somerset Bristolmarker County borough (Gloucestershire)
Hertfordshire and Middlesex East Barnet Valleymarker Hertfordshire
Barnetmarker Hertfordshire
Kent and Sussex Tunbridge Wellsmarker Kent
Lancashire and Yorkshire West Riding Todmordenmarker Yorkshire West Riding
Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Market Harboroughmarker Leicestershire
Leicestershire and Warwickshire Hinckleymarker Leicestershire
Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire Stamfordmarker Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven
Lincolnshire and Yorkshire West Riding Crowlemarker Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey
Goolemarker Yorkshire West Riding
Norfolk and Suffolk Great Yarmouthmarker County borough (Norfolk)
Thetfordmarker Norfolk
Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire Banbury Oxfordshire
Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire Peterboroughmarker Soke of Peterborough
Staffordshire and Warwickshire Tamworthmarker Staffordshire
Warwickshire and Worcestershire Redditch Worcestershire
Yorkshire East Riding
and Yorkshire North Riding
Fileymarker Yorkshire East Riding
Maltonmarker Split in 1890 into two urban sanitary districts: Nortonmarker in Yorkshire East Riding and Malton in Yorkshire North Riding


  1. Order of the President of the Local Government Board, 19 March 1889 (Printed in The Times, 21 March 1889)
  2. B. Keith-Lucas, Government of the County in England, The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 1. (Mar., 1956), pp. 44-55.
  3. Amendment by Walter Barttelot, MP for Horsham, 13 July 1888 (The Times, 14 July 1888)
  4. Amendment by Captain Selwyn, 13 July 1888 (The Times, 14 July 1888)
  5. Amendment by Lord Bristol, 6 August 1888 (The Times, 7 August 1888)
  6. Amendment by Lord Exeter, 6 August 1888 (The Times, 7 August 1888)
  7. Davis, J., Reforming London, (1988)
  8. Local Government Board's Provisional Order Confirmation (No.2) Act 1889 (52 & 53 Vict. C.clxxvii)


  • The Local Government Act 1888, 51 & 52 Vict. c. 41

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