County Definitions.

This site only acknowledges the country’s real counties, which have never been abolished and describes the flags that they bear. The terms “shire” and “county”, sometimes used in conjunction with such adjectives as “historic”, “ancient”, “traditional” or “geographical”, refer  to the 86 areas of ancient origin which for centuries have formed, and continue to form, a commonly agreed way of referring to the different parts of the country; our basic geography and reference, used for many personal, social and cultural purposes and in spheres like business and trade, tourism, sport and the delivery of mail. In England, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Somerset and Yorkshire are examples; in Scotland, Fife, Clackmannanshire and Argyll; in Wales, Glamorgan, Caernarfonshire and Pembrokeshire.

Many of these ceased to be administrative units in 1974 when the 1972 local government act came into effect, as reported by the Times in April of that year


however, as a government official, quoted in this report, stated at the time,

 “They are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change.”

People are often unaware of this distinction; media, mapmakers and councils are some of the most unaware!  Cumbria is not a county: it is an administrative area. Middlesbrough is still in Yorkshire, so is Redcar, so is Sedbergh; Peterborough is still in Northamptonshire; Didcot and Abingdon are in Berkshire, they never left, even if it was more practical to organise the removal of rubbish from their streets from an office in Oxfordshire. Dorset Council proudly proclaims its financing of the construction of a fine shopping centre in Bournemouth with a bold sign announcing the fact but the town lay in Hampshire at the time and continues to be there still. Sunderland has never ceased to be part of County Durham, Newcastle is in Northumberland. 

Our counties existed for a thousand years before the advent of local government in 1889, they are not and never have been defined by the presence or absence of a council – councils do not, a county make!

The councils in Westmorland, Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Radnorshire, Peebles-shire and Banffshire (to name but a few) might well have disappeared in 1974 but these counties most certainly did not. The border between Lancashire and Yorkshire runs right down the middle of Todmorden high street; that between Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, through Royston; Middlesex was never abolished, it simply ceased being a local government area. 

Government quotes through the years regarding the nation’s real counties, confirming their continued existence.

“The new county boundaries are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties.”                   Government statement issued 1st April 1974 and printed in the Times newspaper

“I can confirm that the government still stand by this statement, that the local authority areas and boundaries introduced in 1974 do not alter the boundaries of traditional boundaries of counties. The 1974 arrangements are entirely administrative, and need not affect long-standing loyalties and affinities.”                                                                             Michael Portillo MP – Minister of State for Local Government – 11th July 1990

“The Local Government Act 1972 did not abolish traditional counties, only administrative ones. Although for local government purposes some of the historic counties have ceased to be administrative areas, they continue to exist for other purposes, organisations and local groups.”                                                                                                                                             Department of the Environment – 3rd September 1991

“I can confirm that these Acts (1933, 1972) did not specifically abolish traditional counties so traditional counties still exist but no longer for the administration of local government.” Department for Communities and Local Government – 22nd August 2006

“The legislation that currently defines counties for the purposes of the administration of local government is the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended by various Orders in the 1990s). This legislation abolished the previous administrative counties, which were established by the Local Government Act 1933. However, these Acts did not specifically abolish traditional counties, so traditional counties still exist, but no longer for the purpose of the administration of local government.”                                                                   Parjit Dhanda MP, PUSS at the Department for Communities & Local Government – 16th April 2008

“The historic English counties are one of the oldest forms of local government in Western Europe. Their roots run deep. And no amount of administrative reshuffling can delete these longstanding and cherished local identities.”
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, 11th July 2011

“The background to the legislation relating to local government administrative areas and traditional counties is as follows:The Local Government Act 1972 defines counties for the purpose of the administration of local government. The above Act abolished the previous administrative counties, i.e. those established by the Local Government Act 1933.Neither Act specifically abolished traditional counties – these still exist but not for the purpose of the administration of local government.’
M. Duggleby, Department For Transport, Leeds. Tuesday 9 October 2012

“The tapestry of England’s counties binds our nation together. This government has binned the arbitrary Government Office euro-regions, and instead, we are championing England’s traditional local identities which continue to run deep. Administrative restructuring by previous governments has sought to suppress and undermine such local identities. Today, on St George’s Day, we commemorate our patron saint and formally acknowledge the continuing role of our traditional counties in England’s public and cultural life.”.                                                                                                                                             Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. April 23rd 2013

“England’s traditional counties date back over a thousand years of English history but many of the counties have been sidelined by Whitehall and municipal bureaucrats in recent decades, including the municipal restructuring by Edward Heath’s government in 1972. By contrast, this government is championing local communities continuing to cherish and celebrate such traditional ties and community spirit.”.                                             Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. April 23rd 2014

More information on Britain’s real counties can be found in the book: “The Real Counties Of Britain” by Russell Grant.


The Real Counties of Britain is available from Amazon and Abe Books

Quadhurst provides a map of our real counties


also available here , where you’ll find the following description

“Quadhurst Maps proudly presents its best-selling UK counties map. These are our real counties. Local government boundaries may appear on our maps purporting to be “counties”; but they are not.”

Other terms which you may encounter are;

Ceremonial County

One of the administrative areas defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997 solely “for the purposes of the lieutenancies”. An area in which Lords Lieutenants exercise their functions. In England and Wales these are labelled by the 1997 Act as “counties”, in Scotland as “areas”. In England, Greater Manchester and West Midlands are examples; in Scotland, Tweeddale and Dundee; in Wales, Clwyd and Mid Glamorgan.

Administrative County

In England and Wales, one of the administrative areas created by the local Government Act 1972 solely “for the administration of local government” and deemed by the Act “to be known as counties”. There have been many changes to the names and areas of these since the 1972 Act. In England, Stockton-on Tees, Blackburn-with-Darwen and Rutland are current examples and in Wales, Swansea and Gwynedd. (In Scotland principal local government areas are not called counties. Example (two) are: “Dumfries and Galloway” and “Stirling and Falkirk”.)

The “County Wise” pages provided by the Association of British Counties include an expanded explanation detailing how our counties have never been abolished, a more detailed definition of the types of county and some answers to frequently asked questions  .