After about 500 AD, England comprised seven Anglo-Saxon territories – Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex – often referred to as the heptarchy. The boundaries of some of these, which later unified as the Kingdom of England, roughly coincide with those of modern regions. During Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate in the 1650s, the rule of the Major-Generals created 10 regions in England and Wales of similar size to the modern regions.
Proposals for administrative regions within England were mooted by the British government prior to the First World War. In 1912 the Third Home Rule Bill was passing through parliament. The Bill was expected to introduce a devolved parliament for Ireland, and as a consequence calls were made for similar structures to be introduced in Great Britain or "Home Rule All Round". On 12 September the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, gave a speech in which he proposed 10 or 12 regional parliaments for the United Kingdom. Within England, he suggested that London, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands would make natural regions. While the creation of regional parliaments never became official policy, it was for a while widely anticipated and various schemes for dividing England devised. By the 1930s, several competing systems of regions were adopted by central government for such purposes as census of population, agriculture, electricity supply, civil defence and the regulation of road traffic. In 1946 nine "standard regions" were set up, in which central government bodies, statutory undertakings and regional bodies were expected to cooperate. However, these had declined in importance by the late 1950s.
Creation of some form of provinces or regions for England was an intermittent theme of post-Second World War British governments. The Redcliffe-Maud Report proposed the creation of eight provinces in England, which would see power devolved from central government. Edward Heath's administration in the 1970s did not create a regional structure in the Local Government Act 1972, waiting for the Royal Commission on the Constitution, after which government efforts were concentrated on a constitutional settlement in Scotland and Wales for the rest of the decade. In England, the majority of the Commission "suggested regional coordinating and advisory councils for England, consisting largely of indirectly elected representatives of local authorities and operating along the lines of the Welsh advisory council". One-fifth of the advisory councils would be nominees from central government. The boundaries suggested were the "eight now [in 1973] existing for economic planning purposes, modified to make boundaries to conform with the new county structure". A minority report by Lord Crowther-Hunt and Alan T. Peacock suggested instead seven regional assemblies and governments within Great Britain (five within England), which would take over substantial amounts of the central government.
Some elements of regional development and economic planning began to be established in England from the mid-1960s onwards. In most of the standard regions, Economic Planning Councils and Boards were set up, comprising appointed members from local authorities, business, trade unions and universities, and in the early 1970s these produced a number of regional and sub-regional planning studies. These institutions continued to operate until they were abolished by the incoming Conservative government in 1979. However, by the mid-1980s local authorities in most regions had jointly established standing conferences to consider regional planning issues. Regional initiatives were bolstered by the 1986 Government Green Paper and 1989 White Paper on The Future of Development Plans, which proposed the introduction of strong regional guidance within the planning system, and by the Government's issuing of Strategic Guidance at a regional level, from 1986 onwards.