Counties of England

Counties of England
Also known as:
English ceremonial counties 1998.svg
Ceremonial counties
English metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties 2009.svg
Metropolitan and non‑metropolitan counties
Category Counties
Location   England
Found in Regions
Created Established in Middle Ages
Possible status Ceremonial (48)
Metropolitan and non‑metropolitan (83)

The counties of England are areas used for the purposes of administrative, geographical, cultural or political demarcation. For administrative purposes, England outside Greater London and the Isles of Scilly is divided into 83 metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. These counties may consist of a single district or be divided into several districts. As of April 2009, 27 of these counties are divided into districts and have a county council. Six of the counties, covering the major conurbations, are known as metropolitan counties, which do not have county councils, although some functions are organised on a county-wide basis by their districts ( metropolitan boroughs) acting jointly.

All of England (including Greater London and the Isles of Scilly) is also divided into 48 ceremonial counties, which are also known as geographic counties. Most ceremonial counties correspond to a metropolitan or non-metropolitan county of the same name but often with reduced boundaries.

The current arrangement is the result of incremental reform. Many of the counties have their origins in the Middle Ages, [1] although the larger counties of Yorkshire and Sussex lost many or all of their administrative functions centuries ago. The geographic counties which existed before the local government reforms of 1965 and 1974 are referred to as ancient counties or historic counties. From 1889 to 1974 areas with county councils were known as administrative counties, which excluded larger towns and cities known as county boroughs and included divisions of some geographic counties. [2] From 1974 to 1996 the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, some of which were established only in 1974, [3] corresponded directly with the ceremonial counties.

Counties, usually either historic counties or current ceremonial counties, are used as the geographical basis for a number of institutions such as police and fire services, sports clubs and other non-government organisations. For the purpose of sorting and delivering mail, England was divided into 48 postal counties until 1996; these have been abandoned by Royal Mail in favour of postcodes.

Scope and structure

Local government

Cumbria, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Warwickshire, West Sussex and Worcestershire are non-metropolitan counties of multiple districts with a county council. In these counties most services are provided by the county council and the district councils have a more limited role. Their areas each correspond exactly to ceremonial counties.

There are six metropolitan counties which are based on the major English conurbations; and they also correspond exactly to a ceremonial county and have multiple districts, but do not have county councils. They are Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

In these counties the district councils provide the majority of services. Similarly, Berkshire is a non-metropolitan county with no county council and multiple districts and maps directly to a ceremonial county. Bristol, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Northumberland and Rutland are ceremonial counties consisting of a non-metropolitan county of a single district, and are known as unitary authorities. [4]

Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, East Sussex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset and Staffordshire are non-metropolitan counties with multiple districts and a county council, where one or more districts have been split off to form unitary authorities. The effect is that the corresponding ceremonial county is larger than the non-metropolitan county of the same name and the county council is responsible for providing services in only part of the county. In Cornwall, Durham, East Riding of Yorkshire, Shropshire and Wiltshire the bulk of the area is a unitary authority which shares the name of the ceremonial county and the rest of county is part of one or more other unitary authorities.

In total, there are 39 unitary authorities that do not share the names of any of the ceremonial counties. Bedfordshire and Cheshire are counties that consist of a number of unitary authorities, none of which has the same name as the ceremonial county. The City of London and Greater London are anomalous as ceremonial counties that do not correspond to any metropolitan or non-metropolitan counties, and pre-date their creation.


The metropolitan counties have passenger transport executives to manage public transport, a role undertaken by the local authorities of non-metropolitan counties and Transport for London in Greater London. Large ceremonial counties often correspond to a single police force. For example, the four unitary authorities which make up Cheshire correspond to the same area as the Cheshire Constabulary.

Some counties are grouped together for this purpose, such as Northumberland with Tyne and Wear to form the Northumbria Police area. In other areas a group of unitary authorities in several counties are grouped together to form police force areas, such as the Cleveland Police and Humberside Police.

Greater London and the City of London each have their own police forces, the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police. The fire service is operated on a similar basis, and the ambulance service is organised by the regions of England. Most ceremonial counties form part of a single region, although Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire are divided between regions. Economic development is delivered using the regions, as is strategic planning.

Comparative areas and populations

As of 2009, the largest county by area is North Yorkshire and the smallest is the City of London. The smallest county with multiple districts is Tyne and Wear and the smallest non-metropolitan county with a county council is Buckinghamshire. The county with the highest population is Greater London and the lowest is the City of London.

Greater London and the metropolitan counties are all in the 15 largest by population and the 15 smallest by area. Greater London has the highest population density, while the lowest is found in Northumberland. By area, the largest ceremonial county consisting of a single-district non-metropolitan county is Northumberland and the smallest is Bristol. By population the largest such county is Bristol and the smallest is Rutland.

Slough is the smallest unitary authority by area that is not also a ceremonial county and Cheshire East is the largest. Hartlepool is the smallest such unitary authority by population and Cheshire West and Chester is the largest. The sui generis Isles of Scilly is smaller both in terms of area and population. The highest population density of any metropolitan or non-metropolitan county is found in Portsmouth and the lowest is found in Northumberland.

Other Languages
Interlingue: Comtias de Anglia
norsk nynorsk: Grevskap i England
Simple English: Counties of England
slovenščina: Angleška grofija
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Engleski County
татарча/tatarça: Англия графлыклары
українська: Графства Англії
Tiếng Việt: Hạt (Anh)