skip to main content

A society dedicated to promoting awareness of the continuing importance of the 92 historic (or traditional) Counties of the United Kingdom.

Search for:

Definition of the Counties

The Association of British Counties (ABC) asserts that:

2.1 the Counties were created in a variety of ways over a long period of history. While each County may have originally been set up for some public purpose or other, long before the beginning of the nineteenth century it was their geographical and cultural identities that were paramount. No single administrative function defined them. Rather, the Counties were considered to be territorial divisions whose names and areas had been fixed and universally accepted for centuries.

2.2 the counties have a separate existence from the administrative areas created by the Local Government Act 1888, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889, the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 and by subsequent local government legislation. These acts created statutorily defined administrative areas which, although initially based on the Counties, have always been understood to be legally distinct from them.

2.3 the most authoritative definition of the boundaries of the Counties of Great Britain is that obtained by the Ordnance Survey during its first national survey of Great Britain, commenced in 1841, and presented on the resultant First Edition 1:2500 and 1:10560 maps; the most authoritative definition of the boundaries of the Counties of Ireland is that obtained by the OS during its survey of Ireland commenced in 1824, and presented on the resultant 1:10560 maps.

2.4 there have been few (reliably documented) changes to County boundaries during recorded history: any such changes have not been such as to undermine the historical continuity of the Counties as geographical and cultural entities. Of particular note are:

  • The Laws In Wales Act 1535: this established the present areas of the Counties in Wales and added several small areas to Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire.
  • The Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1843: whilst it cannot be firmly asserted that this Act effected a territorial change in the Counties, it is reasonable to treat it as having done so for most practical purposes.

2.5 following historical precedent, detached parts of Counties should be considered to be associated with both their parent County (from which they are detached) and the County in which they locally lie.

2.6 the “county corporate” status granted to some towns and cities has always been considered to be an extra civic dignity bestowed on the town/city and not to imply that these towns/cities are the equivalent of the Counties or no longer lie in their parent County.

2.7 the unqualified term “County” should be understood to refer to one of the Counties described here: if qualification is needed then the adjective “historic”, i.e. having a long history, is the most appropriate term.