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Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties are one of the four levels of subdivisions of England used for the purposes of local government outside Greater Londonmarker. As originally constituted, the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties each consisted of multiple districts, had a county council and were also the counties for the purposes of Lieutenancies. Later changes in legislation during the 1980s and 1990s have allowed counties without county councils and 'unitary authority' counties of a single district. Counties for the purposes of Lieutenancies are now defined separately, based on the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. In 2009 there were further structural changes in some areas.

Current metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England

Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England
  1. Northumberlandmarker *
  2. Tyne and Wear
  3. Durham *
  4. Cumbriamarker
  5. Lancashiremarker
  6. Blackpoolmarker *
  7. Blackburn with Darwen *
  8. West Yorkshire
  9. North Yorkshire
  10. Darlington *
  11. Stockton-on-Teesmarker *
  12. Middlesbroughmarker *
  13. Hartlepoolmarker *
  14. Redcar and Clevelandmarker *
  15. Yorkmarker *
  16. East Riding of Yorkshire *
  17. Hullmarker *
  18. North Lincolnshiremarker *
  19. North East Lincolnshiremarker *
  20. Lincolnshiremarker
  21. Nottinghamshiremarker
  22. Nottinghammarker *
  23. South Yorkshiremarker
  24. Derbyshiremarker
  25. Derbymarker *
  26. Greater Manchestermarker
  27. Merseyside
  28. Haltonmarker *
  1. Warringtonmarker *
  2. Cheshire West and Chestermarker * ; Cheshire East *
  3. Shropshiremarker *
  4. Telford and Wrekin *
  5. Staffordshire
  6. Stoke-on-Trentmarker *
  7. West Midlands
  8. Warwickshiremarker
  9. Leicestershiremarker
  10. Leicestermarker *
  11. Rutlandmarker *
  12. Northamptonshiremarker
  13. Peterboroughmarker *
  14. Cambridgeshire
  15. Norfolk
  16. Suffolk
  17. Essex
  18. Southend-on-Seamarker *
  19. Thurrockmarker *
  20. Hertfordshiremarker
  21. Central Bedfordshire * ; Bedfordmarker *
  22. Lutonmarker *
  23. Milton Keynesmarker *
  24. Buckinghamshire
  25. Oxfordshire
  26. Gloucestershiremarker
  1. Worcestershire
  2. Herefordshiremarker *
  3. South Gloucestershire *
  4. Bristolmarker *
  5. North Somerset *
  6. Bath and North East Somerset *
  7. Wiltshiremarker *
  8. Swindon *
  9. Berkshire
  10. Greater Londonmarker ¹
  11. Medway *
  12. Kentmarker
  13. East Sussexmarker
  14. Brighton & Hovemarker *
  15. West Sussexmarker
  16. Surreymarker
  17. Hampshire
  18. Southamptonmarker *
  19. Portsmouthmarker *
  20. Isle of Wightmarker *
  21. Dorsetmarker
  22. Poolemarker *
  23. Bournemouthmarker *
  24. Somersetmarker
  25. Devonmarker
  26. Torbaymarker *
  27. Plymouthmarker *
  28. Cornwallmarker *

* unitary authority

metropolitan county (no county council)
‡ non-metropolitan county with no county council
¹ 'administrative area' and region (not a county).

Metropolitan counties

The metropolitan counties are Greater Manchestermarker, Merseyside, South Yorkshiremarker, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. The counties typically have populations of 1.2 to 2.8 million.

The county councils of these were abolished in 1986 by the Thatcher government for largely political rather than practical reasons, but the counties themselves still exist legally. They are used for some administrative and geographic purposes, and are still ceremonial counties. Most of the powers that the former county councils had were devolved to their metropolitan boroughs, which are now in effect unitary authorities; however, some functions (such as emergency services, civil defence and public transport) are still run jointly on a metropolitan-county-wide basis.

Greater London

The Greater London administrative area and the Greater London Council were created in 1965 by the London Government Act 1963. The Greater London Council was abolished in 1986 at the same time as the metropolitan county councils. Since 2000 Greater London has had an elected Assembly and Mayor, and forms the London region of England.

Non-metropolitan counties

Shire counties

A 'shire county' is a non-metropolitan county that has multiple districts. Its name need not have 'shire' in it. The term shire county is however unofficial.

There are 28 such counties:

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cumbriamarker, Derbyshiremarker, Devonmarker, Dorsetmarker, East Sussexmarker, Essex, Gloucestershiremarker, Hampshire, Hertfordshiremarker, Kentmarker, Lancashiremarker, Leicestershiremarker, Lincolnshiremarker, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Northamptonshiremarker, Nottinghamshiremarker, Oxfordshire, Somersetmarker, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surreymarker, Warwickshiremarker, West Sussexmarker, Worcestershire.

All, apart from Berkshire, have county councils. Sometimes 'shire county' is used to exclude Berkshire, because it has no county council. The counties have populations of 109,000 to 1.4 million. Under local government reforms coming into effect in 2009, the number of such counties was reduced. The non-metropolitan counties of Bedfordshire and Cheshiremarker were split into two separate non-metropolitan counties respectively, while Cornwall, County Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire became unitary authorities each of a single district.

Unitary authorities

Unitary authorities are areas with only one council. 49 of these are coterminous with a non-metropolitan county:

Bath and North East Somerset, Bedfordmarker, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpoolmarker, Bournemouthmarker, Brighton and Hovemarker, Bristolmarker, Central Bedfordshire, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chestermarker, Cornwallmarker, Darlington, Derbymarker, Durham, East Riding of Yorkshire, Haltonmarker, Hartlepoolmarker, Herefordshiremarker, Isle of Wightmarker, Kingston upon Hullmarker, Leicestermarker, Lutonmarker, Medway, Middlesbroughmarker, Borough of Milton Keynesmarker, North East Lincolnshiremarker, North Lincolnshiremarker, North Somerset, Northumberlandmarker, Nottinghammarker, Peterboroughmarker, Plymouthmarker, Poolemarker, Portsmouthmarker, Redcar and Clevelandmarker, Rutlandmarker, Shropshiremarker, South Gloucestershire, Southamptonmarker, Southend-on-Seamarker, Stockton-on-Teesmarker, Stoke-on-Trentmarker, Swindon, Telford and Wrekin, Thurrockmarker, Torbaymarker, Warringtonmarker, Wiltshiremarker, Yorkmarker

Forty-eight of these are defined as counties with a single district council, and no county council. The Isle of Wightmarker is technically a county with a county council and no district councils, but the effect is the same.

The districts of Berkshire are unitary authorities, but are not granted county status.

The Isles of Scillymarker are not part of Cornwallmarker for administrative purposes, but neither do they constitute a county.


The current system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties came into effect on 1 April 1974 and replaced the administrative counties and county boroughs, which were abolished at that time. Greater London was created in 1965 under separate legislation.

In the 1990s a new type of non-metropolitan county was created: the unitary authority, which combines the functions and powers of county and district. The existing non-metropolitan counties became known as shire counties to distinguish them from the unitary authorities.

Local Government Act 1972

By the late 1960s, it had become obvious that the structure of local government in England and Wales needed reforming. Harold Wilson's Labour government set up the Redcliffe-Maud Commission to produce proposals for wholesale reform.

The report proposed that for most of England the two-tier structure be abolished, and replaced with a system of 58 unitary authorities, which would generally ignore the previous administrative boundaries in favour of changes that made geographic sense - a total redrawing of the map. In the metropolitan areas of Merseyside, South East Lancashire and North East Cheshiremarker, and the Birmingham area, there would be 3 metropolitan areas, with 20 district authorities.

These proposals were opposed by the Conservative Party opposition led by Edward Heath. They won the 1970 general election, and set to work defining their own scheme. This scrapped the concept of unitary authorities (even for existing county boroughs) – the entire area of England and Wales was to be divided into uniform counties and districts. In England the new divisions were to be largely modelled on the existing counties with quite radical reforms put forward, even in some non-metropolitan areas.

Despite reassurances from the government that nobody's loyalties were expected to change as a result of the local government reform, many changes did incur significant local opposition. Most of the radical changes were withdrawn. One aspect the government stood firm on was the mergers of small counties. Campaigns for the continuation of Rutlandmarker and Herefordshiremarker were unsuccessful, although due to its special geographic circumstances, the Isle of Wightmarker was permitted to retain a separate county council, as opposed to being reunified with its historic county of Hampshire.

The Local Government Act was passed in 1972, and defined the English counties and metropolitan districts, but not the non-metropolitan districts. These were set by a Boundary Commission that had already begun work.

The metropolitan counties were composed as follows:

Other significant changes were:

The changes were adopted by the Royal Mail for the purposes of postal addresses wherever they were able, with the notable exceptions of Hereford and Worcester and Greater Manchestermarker. Humberside was divided for this purpose into North Humbersidemarker and South Humbersidemarker.

Map 1974-1996

Counties of England from 1974 to 1996
  1. Northumberlandmarker
  2. Tyne and Wear
  3. Durham
  4. Clevelandmarker
  5. North Yorkshire
  6. Cumbriamarker
  7. Lancashiremarker
  8. Merseyside
  9. Greater Manchestermarker
  10. West Yorkshire
  11. South Yorkshiremarker
  12. Humberside
  13. Lincolnshiremarker
  14. Nottinghamshiremarker
  15. Derbyshiremarker
  16. Cheshiremarker
  17. Shropshiremarker
  18. Staffordshire
  19. West Midlands
  20. Warwickshiremarker
  21. Leicestershiremarker
  22. Northamptonshiremarker
  23. Cambridgeshire
  1. Norfolk
  2. Suffolk
  3. Essex
  4. Hertfordshiremarker
  5. Bedfordshire
  6. Buckinghamshire
  7. Oxfordshire
  8. Gloucestershiremarker
  9. Hereford and Worcester
  10. Avon
  11. Wiltshiremarker
  12. Berkshire
  13. Greater Londonmarker
  14. Kentmarker
  15. East Sussexmarker
  16. West Sussexmarker
  17. Surreymarker
  18. Hampshire
  19. Isle of Wightmarker
  20. Dorsetmarker
  21. Somersetmarker
  22. Devonmarker
  23. Cornwallmarker

Abolition of metropolitan county councils

In 1986 the county councils of the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council were abolished by Margaret Thatcher's government following disputes with central government, but the counties themselves remained legally in existence.

Local Government Act 1992

1 April 1996 to 1 April 1997

1 April 1997 to 1 April 1998

1 April 1998 onwards

The 1990s led to the restoration of county boroughs under a new name, unitary authorities, which radically changed the administrative map of England. The changes were carried out in several waves.

On 1 April 1995, the Isle of Wightmarker became a single unitary authority. It had previously had a two-tier structure with an Isle of Wight County Council, Medinamarker Borough Council and South Wightmarker Borough Council. Also on this day, two small areas were ceded from Surreymarker and Buckinghamshire to Berkshire, giving it a border with Greater Londonmarker.

On 1 April 1996, the unpopular counties of Avon, Humberside and Clevelandmarker were abolished and their former area divided into unitary districts. Also at this time, the city of Yorkmarker was expanded and separated from North Yorkshire.

On 1 April 1997, the districts of Bournemouthmarker, Darlingtonmarker, Derbymarker, Leicestermarker, Lutonmarker, Milton Keynesmarker, Poolemarker, Portsmouthmarker, Rutlandmarker, Southamptonmarker, Stoke-on-Trentmarker and Swindon (based on the former Thamesdown district) became unitary authorities. Also, the districts of Brightonmarker and Hovemarker were merged to form the new unitary authority of Brighton and Hovemarker.

On 1 April 1998, Blackburn with Darwen (based on the former Blackburn district), Blackpoolmarker, Haltonmarker, Nottinghammarker, Peterboroughmarker, Plymouthmarker, Southend-on-Seamarker, Telford and Wrekin (based on the former Wrekin district), Torbaymarker, Thurrockmarker and Warringtonmarker became unitary authorities. Also, the districts of Rochester-upon-Medwaymarker and Gillinghammarker were merged to form the new unitary authority of Medway, and the county of Hereford and Worcester was abolished and replaced by the unitary authority of Herefordshiremarker and the shire county of Worcestershire. Berkshire was split into six unitary authorities, but not formally abolished.

2009 structural changes

In April 2009 the following changes were made to the non-metropolitan counties:

Non-metropolitan county Action
Bedford marker Also became a non-metropolitan county
Bedfordshire Abolished
Central Bedfordshire New non-metropolitan county
Cheshiremarker Abolished
Cheshire East New non-metropolitan county
Cheshire West and Chestermarker New non-metropolitan county

The effect was that Bedfordshire and Cheshire became ceremonial counties that do not correspond to a non-metropolitan county of the same name.

See also


External links

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