What is a “Traditional County”? In the United Kingdom the Traditional County is a term that is used to refer to the ancient and historical divisions of the country that were used for administrative and geographical purposes until the 1970s. At that time they were superceded by new administrative divisions, many of which were similar to the traditional counties, with some minor adjustments. Others used the county names but covered areas that were substantially different from the historical areas. And finally, there were many new areas that aggregated or divided the previous counties. Many counties also disappeared under this system.
This has caused a problem in that there is now a lot of confusion over what county a place is in, due to the use of county names or similar names to the original counties. Administrtive areas also need to be appropriate for the places that they represent, e.g. by adapting to expanding cities, in order to operate efficiently, which has caused many of the areas that formerly coincided with historic counties to begin to differ from them more dramatically, but still keeping the original names.
In addition, there are also different types of counties that are used for different purposes. There are postal counties, which largely follow postcode areas and not the traditional boundaries, and which sometimes pay cognisance to the traditional county, e.g. “Bolton, Lanacashire”, and sometimes do not, e.g. “Birmingham, West Midlands”.
In England, there are administrative counties and ceremonial counties. The latter pay cognisance to the traditional counties, but their boundaries rarely coincide with the original ones and many of the original counties are still not represented by the ceremonial county system.
In Wales, the “counties” represent areas that are completely different from the traditional counties, and therefore the latter have largley disappeared from popular use there. Similarly, in Scotland the traditional counties, whilst remaining in popular use to some extent, have become mixed up with many of the new administrative areas, for example Aberdeenshire, which subsumes the traditional counties of Kincardineshire and part of Banffshire, both of which have disappeared from the modern map entirely.
The solution to this confusion is simple: we stop using counties for administrative purposes, and return to the use of the traditional counties as a stable and unchanging system of reference to places for geographical, historical and ceremonial purposes. The traditional counties should be shown on maps and used for things like tourism, which would provide more of a connection with the history and traditions of the areas that they cover.
This page was created to act as a portal to some of my projects to catalogue the historical and traditional geographical divisions in Great Britain. The maps linked to below were, for the most part, created by myself and show details such as the ancient hundreds and civil or ecclesiastical parishes in each county. It is, and probably always will be, unfinished, as creating these maps alone took a lot of research and time, but I have put them here as they may be of interest to others and also as some somewhere to store them until I have time to add to them.
Meanwhile, below are some links to other sites dedicated to our historic and traditional counties.
- Wikishire (includes an interactive map of Britain and Ireland showing the true historical counties)
- Association of British Counties
As mentioned above, these maps are a “work in progress” and will be added to periodically (although I appreciate that I have not added to them for a while, but if I get the time and inclination, I shall do so). In creating these maps I intended to create a record of some the old county areas with some historic detail such as the ancent hundreds or parishes.
The time period chosen for the boundaries and parishes is the mid 1800s, between the 1844 Act of Parliament that ironed out many of the smaller detached parts of counties, and the 1888-89 Acts that established the county councils. Hundred boundaries are based on historical guides such as the Victoria County History, which guided me as to which parishes comprised each hundred, and the Historic Parishes of England and Wales, a resource of maps showing parish boundaries overlaid on a modern map. The hundreds varied over time and so the ones depicted in these maps may represent different periods of history, but generally they are as they were in around the 13th and 14th Centuries.
These are the counties that I have covered so far: