Posts Tagged ‘rutland’

How well do you know the counties of Britain? At one time every town and village in Britain was located in one of 92 counties, with many of the names of the counties ending in ‘shire’. Where was Banffshire, Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Montgomeryshire, Sutherland or Westmorland? And Middlesex? Well that used to include most of London north of the Thames including Westminster and the West End, apart from the City of London. And where are the counties of Barsetshire, Hallamshire, Midsomer, and Trumptonshire?

From 1888 to 1965, local government in England, Scotland and Wales was based quite closely on the boundaries of historic counties but as a consequence of the numerous reforms of local government since then, few local authorities now have an area anything like the historic county in which they were previously located.

britain, historic county, mediaeval, saxon, wessex, association of british counties

The division of Britain into 92 counties goes back to mediaeval and feudal times starting with the division of the Kingdom of West Saxons, now referred to as Wessex, in the 8th century. All the historic English and Scottish counties were established in one form or another by the 12th century, and the Welsh counties by the 16th century.
© The Association of British Counties

Although twenty-seven county councils still exist in England, most cities and many large towns are not governed by the county council for the area in which they lie. Portsmouth and Southampton once part of Hampshire are now unitary (all-purpose) councils in their own right. The same goes for Blackpool and Blackburn in Lancashire, Bristol in Gloucestershire, Maidstone in Kent, Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, Plymouth in Devon, and so on. The list is long. And in Scotland and Wales, historic counties were merged from 1974 onwards, so for example Powys County Council in Wales was formed from three historic counties, and Highland Council in Scotland was formed from the whole or part of seven historic counties.

Many public agencies, such as some police and emergency services, and voluntary bodies such as wildlife trusts, are still based on historic counties and are named after them. And so too are cricket teams and local radio stations. But in 2010, the Royal Mail deleted county names from its Postcode Address File database, which lists every address in the UK. There is an interesting article here on the BBC website about the confusion over historic and administrative counties.

The Association of British Counties (ABC) exists to promote ‘the use of the historic counties as a standard geography for the UK’, and you can find out more about its aims and the counties here. You can use the map above to find the historic counties mentioned at the start.

One notable exception to the diminution in the status of historic counties is Rutland. Once the smallest county in England, and first mentioned in 1159, Rutland (motto Multum in Parvo or ‘much in little’) was abolished in 1974 and it became part of Leicestershire as a district council. In 1997 however, Rutland became a separate county again, and the council has the name Rutland County Council.

There are lots of counties that you won’t find on the ABC map. Here are some of them, most coming from literature or TV, and a surprising number from the novels of Agatha Christie.

warden, anthony trollope, barsetshire, michael sadleir

The Warden, the first of Anthony Trollope’s novels set in Barsetshire, was published in 1855. This is Trollope’s drawing of Barsetshire first printed in Michael Sadleir’s Trollope: A Commentary in 1927. Sadleir was a British novelist, literary historian and book collector, who specialized in 19th century English fiction, notably the work of Anthony Trollope. Sadleir later re-drew the map so as to make it more consistent with the descriptions in the Barsetshire books

Barsetshire – the setting for the series of mid-19th century novels Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope, Also as the setting for the series of 29 romantic and satirical novels by Angela Thirkell, and as the supposed location of St Trinians School in the original comedy films

Borsetshire – a county in the Midlands, location of the village of Ambridge in the long-running BBC radio drama The Archers

Diddlesex – used in the satirical Punch magazine in the 1840s as the abode of an ex-servant who becomes rich, and in the 1890s to Parliamentary consideration of the ‘East-West Diddlesex Railway Bill’. Also the ‘North South East West Diddlesex junction’ song in the Gilbert & Sullivan opera Thespis, referring to a shadily run railway company

Downshire – the location of the village of St Mary Mead in The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Ffhâgdiwedd – a county borough of South East Wales, the setting for the science fiction and mythological novel Waliens – Close Encounters of The Welsh Kind by R W Finlan and Darren Bowker-Powis (more…)

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The lost counties of Britain

The lost counties of Britain

There was an interesting feature in The Independent on 24 April 2013. It said that ‘Eric Pickles, the MP, chose St George’s Day to encourage the return of Britain’s ancient, lost counties’. Headed ‘Geography’ the feature had an attractive map of the UK with fifteen ‘lost counties’ identified, such as Brecknockshire, Middlesex, Sutherland, Westmorland, with some facts, in circles, about each of them.

One ‘lost county’ shown was Rutland. Unfortunately county status was restored to Rutland in 1997, having been part of Leicestershire for the previous twenty years. Rutland is and always has been the smallest historic county in England – first mentioned as a separate county in 1159 – so its inhabitants will not take kindly to the idea of their county being ‘lost’.

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