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A non-metropolitan county, or shire county, is a county-level entity in Englandmarker that is not a metropolitan county. The counties typically have populations of 300,000 to 1.4 million. The term shire county is, however, an unofficial usage. Many of the non-metropolitan counties bear historic names and most end in the suffix "-shire" such as Wiltshiremarker or Staffordshire. Of the remainder, some counties had the -shire ending and have lost it over time; such as Devonmarker. "Shire county" is, strictly, a dual-language tautology, the French-derived "county" being identical in meaning to the older Anglo-Saxon word "shire".


Previous to 1974 local government had been divided between single-tier county boroughs (the largest towns and cities) and two-tier administrative counties which were subdivided into municipal boroughs and urban and rural districts. The Local Government Act 1972, which came into effect on April 1, 1974, divided England outside Greater Londonmarker and the six largest conurbations into thirty-nine non-metropolitan counties. Each county was divided into between two and fourteen non-metropolitan districts. There was a uniform two-tier system of local government with county councils dealing with "wide-area" services such as education, fire services and the police, and district councils exercising more local powers over areas such as planning, housing and refuse collection.

As originally constituted, the non-metropolitan counties were largely based on existing counties, although they did include a number of innovations. Some counties were based on areas surrounding large county boroughs or were formed by the mergers of smaller counties. Examples of the first category are Avon (based on Bath and Bristol) and Cleveland (based on Teessidemarker). Examples of the second category are Hereford and Worcester and Cumbria. The counties were adopted for all statutory purposes: a lord-lieutenant and high sheriff was appointed to each county, and they were also used for judicial administration, and definition of police force areas. The Royal Mail adopted the counties for postal purposes in most areas.



A Local Government Commission was appointed in 1992 to review the administrative structure of the non-metropolitan counties. It was anticipated that a system of unitary authorities would replace the two-tier system. The Commission faced competing claims from former county boroughs wishing to regain unitary status and advocates for the restoration of such small counties as Herefordshire and Rutland. The review led to the introduction of unitary local government in some areas but not in others. In the majority of unitary authorities an existing district council took over powers from the county council. The 1972 Act required that all areas outside Greater London form part of a non-metropolitan county, and that all such counties should contain at least one district. Accordingly the statutory instruments that effected the reorganisation separated the unitary districts from the county in which they were situated and constituted them as counties. The orders also provided that the provisions of the 1972 Act that every county should have a county council should not apply in the new counties, with the district council exercising the powers of the county council.

An exception was made in the case of Berkshire, which was retained with its existing boundaries in spite of the abolition of its county council and the creation of six unitary authorities. This was done in order to preserve its status as a royal county.

With the creation of numerous new non-metropolitan counties, the areas used for lieutenancy and shrievalty began to diverge from local government areas. This led to the development of ceremonial counties for these purposes, a fact recognised by the Lieutenancies Act 1997.


A further wave of unitary authorities were created in 2009 under the terms of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. While a number of new county counties were created, several of the new authorities (such as Cornwall or Northumberland) continued to have the boundaries set in 1974.

List of non-metropolitan counties

The following list shows the original thirty-nine counties formed in 1974, subsequent changes in the 1990s and further changes in 2009. Current non-metropolitan counties in bold.

Non-metropolitan county 1974 Changes 1995–1998 Changes 2009
Avon (6 districts) 1996: North West Somerset (unitary)

2005: renamed North Somerset
1996: Bath and North East Somerset (unitary) None
1996: South Gloucestershire (unitary) None
1996: City of Bristolmarker (unitary) None
Bedfordshire (4 districts) 1997: Bedfordshire (3 districts) Bedfordmarker (unitary)
Central Bedfordshire (unitary)
1997: Lutonmarker (unitary) None
Berkshire (Royal County)
(6 districts)
1998: The county council was abolished,
with each of the six district councils in the county becoming unitary authorities.

The Royal County of Berkshire was not abolished.
Buckinghamshire (5 districts) 1997: Buckinghamshire (4 districts) None
1997: Milton Keynesmarker (unitary) None
Cambridgeshire (6 districts) 1998: Cambridgeshire (5 districts) None
1998: Peterboroughmarker (unitary) None
Cheshiremarker (8 districts) 1998: Cheshire (6 districts) Cheshire East (unitary)
Cheshire West and Chestermarker (unitary)
1998: Haltonmarker (unitary) None
1998: Warringtonmarker (unitary) None
Clevelandmarker (4 districts) 1996: Hartlepoolmarker (unitary) None
1996: Middlesbroughmarker (unitary) None
1996: Redcar and Clevelandmarker (unitary) None
1996: Stockton-on-Teesmarker (unitary) None
Cornwallmarker (6 districts) None Becomes unitary
Cumbriamarker (6 districts) None None
Derbyshiremarker (9 districts) 1997: Derbymarker (unitary) None
1997: Derbyshire (8 districts) None
Devonmarker (10 districts) 1998: Devon (8 districts) Under review
1998: Torbaymarker (unitary) None
1998: Plymouthmarker (unitary) None
Dorsetmarker (8 districts) 1997: Dorset (6 districts) None
1997: Bournemouthmarker (unitary) None
1997: Poolemarker (unitary) None
Durham (8 districts) 1997: Darlington (unitary) None
1997: Durham (7 districts) County Durham (unitary)
East Sussexmarker (7 districts) 1997: East Sussex (5 districts) None
1997: Brighton and Hovemarker (unitary) None
Essex (14 districts) 1998: Essex (12 districts) None
1998: Southend-on-Seamarker (unitary) None
1998: Thurrockmarker (unitary) None
Gloucestershiremarker (6 districts) None None
Hampshire (13 districts) 1997: Hampshire (11 districts) None
1997: Portsmouthmarker (unitary) None
1997: Southamptonmarker (unitary) None
Hereford and Worcester (9 districts) 1998: Herefordshiremarker (unitary) None
1998: Worcestershire (6 districts) None
Hertfordshiremarker (10 districts) None None
Humberside (9 districts) 1996: East Riding of Yorkshire (unitary) None
1996: City of Kingston upon Hullmarker (unitary) None
1996: North Lincolnshiremarker (unitary) None
1996: North East Lincolnshiremarker (unitary) None
Isle of Wightmarker (2 districts) 1995: Became unitary None
Kentmarker (14 districts) 1998: Kent (12 districts) None
1998: The Medway Towns (unitary)

1998: renamed Medway
Lancashiremarker (14 districts) 1998: Lancashire (12 districts) None
1998: Blackburn with Darwen (unitary) None
1998: Blackpoolmarker (unitary) None
Leicestershiremarker (9 districts) 1997: Leicestershire (7 districts) None
1997: Leicestermarker (unitary) None
1997: Rutlandmarker (unitary) None
Lincolnshiremarker (7 districts) None None
Norfolk (7 districts) None Under review
North Yorkshire (8 districts) 1996: North Yorkshire (7 districts) None
1996: Yorkmarker (unitary) None
Northamptonshiremarker (7 districts) None None
Northumberlandmarker (6 districts) None Becomes unitary
Nottinghamshiremarker (8 districts) 1998: Nottinghamshire (7 districts) None
1998: Nottinghammarker (unitary) None
Oxfordshire (5 districts) None None
Salop (6 districts)

1980: renamed Shropshiremarker
1998: Shropshire (5 districts) Becomes unitary
1998: The Wrekin (unitary)

1998: Renamed Telford and Wrekin
Somersetmarker (5 districts) None None
Staffordshire (9 districts) 1997: Staffordshire (8 districts) None
1997: Stoke-on-Trentmarker (unitary) None
Suffolk (7 districts) None None
Surreymarker (11 districts) None None
Warwickshiremarker (5 districts) None None
West Sussexmarker (7 districts) None None
Wiltshiremarker (5 districts) 1997: Wiltshire (4 districts) Becomes unitary
1997: Thamesdown (unitary)

1997: renamed Swindon

The name of the non-metropolitan district and district council was changed to "North Somerset" by resolution of the council July 11, 1995. However this did not change the name of the county which had the same area. The Local Government Changes for England (Miscellaneous Provision) Regulations 1995 gave district councils in a "county for which there is no county council and in which there is not more than one district" the additional power to change the name of the county. This was, however, not done until 2005.


In Wales there was not a distinction between metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, with all upper tier areas designated "counties". The Local Government Act 1994 amended the 1972 Act, abolishing the Welsh counties and creating instead new Welsh principal areas, some of which are also designated "counties". For the purposes of lieutenancy the counties constituted in 1974 were preserved.

See also


  1. Jones, B. et al., Politics UK, (2004)
  2. Davis, Howard (1997) 'Reviewing the review', Local Government Studies, 23:3, 5 - 17
  3. Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), S.1(1)
  4. Hansard, Written Answers, March 31, 1995, col.830
  5. Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), Schedule I, Part II
  6. The Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  7. The Bedfordshire (Borough of Luton) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  8. The Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  9. Non-metropolitan county of Berkshire was granted royal status by letters patent in 1974
  10. The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  11. The Buckinghamshire (Borough of Milton Keynes) (Structural Changes) Order 1995
  12. The Cambridgeshire (City of Peterborough) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  13. The Cheshire (Boroughs of Halton and Warrington) (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  14. The Cheshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  15. The Cleveland Further (Provision Order) 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  16. The Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  17. The Derbyshire (City of Derby) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  18. The Devon (City of Plymouth and Borough of Torbay) (Structural Change) Order 1996
  19. The Dorset (Boroughs of Poole and Bournemouth) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  20. The Durham (Borough of Darlington) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  21. The County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  22. The East Sussex (Boroughs of Brighton and Hove) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  23. The Essex (Boroughs of Colchester, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock and District of Tendring) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  24. The Hampshire (Cities of Portsmouth and Southampton) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  25. The Hereford and Worcester (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  26. The Humberside (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  27. The Isle of Wight (Structural Change) Order 1994 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  28. The Kent (Borough of Gillingham and City of Rochester upon Medway) (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  29. The Lancashire (Boroughs of Blackburn and Blackpool) (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  30. The Leicestershire (City of Leicester and District of Rutland) (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  31. The North Yorkshire (District of York) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  32. The Northumberland (Structural Change) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  33. The Nottinghamshire (City of Nottingham) (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  34. The Shropshire (District of The Wrekin) (Structural Change) Order 1996 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  35. The Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  36. The Staffordshire (City of Stoke-on-Trent) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  37. The Wiltshire (Borough of Thamesdown) (Structural Change) Order 1995 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  38. The Wiltshire (Structural Change) Order 2008 (OPSI website), accessed 2008-05-12
  39. Minutes of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Council, Tuesday 28th June 2005, (North Somerset Council), accessed 2008-05-12
  40. Arnold-Baker, C., Local Government Act 1972, (1973)

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