Ceremonial counties of England

Last updated

Counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies
  • Also known as:
  • ceremonial counties
    lieutenancy areas
Category Lieutenancy areas
Location England
Populations8,000 (City of London)–8,167,000 (Greater London) [1]
Areas3–8,611 km²

The counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies in England, [2] also referred to as the lieutenancy areas of England[ citation needed ] and informally known as ceremonial counties, [3] are areas of England to which lord-lieutenants are appointed. Legally, the areas in England, Wales, and Scotland are defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997 as "counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies in Great Britain" ("counties" in England and Wales, "areas" in Scotland), in contrast to the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England used for local government. They are also informally known as "geographic counties", [4] to distinguish them from other types of counties in England.



The predecessor geographic counties from 1889 to 1965, Yorkshire's ridings counted separately and exclaves difference these from the historic counties and the newly created administrative counties deviated from the boundaries in 1889 English geographical counties 1889 with ridings.svg
The predecessor geographic counties from 1889 to 1965, Yorkshire's ridings counted separately and exclaves difference these from the historic counties and the newly created administrative counties deviated from the boundaries in 1889

The distinction between a county for purposes of the lieutenancy and a county for administrative purposes is not a new one. In some cases, a county corporate that was part of a county appointed its own lieutenant, although the lieutenant of the containing county would often be appointed to this position, as well, and the three Ridings of Yorkshire had been treated as three counties for lieutenancy purposes since the 17th century.

The Local Government Act 1888 established county councils to assume the administrative functions of quarter sessions in the counties. It created new entities called "administrative counties". [5] An administrative county comprised all of the county apart from the county boroughs; also, some traditional subdivisions of counties were constituted administrative counties, for instance the Soke of Peterborough in Northamptonshire and the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire.

The act further stipulated that areas that were part of an administrative county would be part of the county for all purposes. The greatest change was the creation of the County of London, which was made both an administrative county and a "county"; it included parts of the historic counties of Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey. Other differences were small and resulted from the constraint that urban sanitary districts (and later urban districts and municipal boroughs) were not permitted to straddle county boundaries.

Apart from Yorkshire, counties that were subdivided continued to exist as ceremonial counties. For example, the administrative counties of East Suffolk and West Suffolk, along with the county borough of Ipswich, were considered to make up a single ceremonial county of Suffolk, and the administrative county of the Isle of Wight was part of the ceremonial county of Hampshire.

The term "ceremonial county" is an anachronism; at the time they were shown on Ordnance Survey maps as "counties" or "geographical counties", and were referred to in the Local Government Act 1888 simply as "counties".

Apart from minor boundary revisions (for example, Caversham, a town in Oxfordshire, becoming part of Reading county borough and thus of Berkshire, in 1911), these areas changed little until the 1965 creation of Greater London and of Huntingdon and Peterborough, which resulted in the abolition of the offices of Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, Lord Lieutenant of the County of London, and Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire and the creation of the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London and of the Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdon and Peterborough.

Ceremonial counties from 1974 to 1996 (City of London not shown) English counties 1974.svg
Ceremonial counties from 1974 to 1996 (City of London not shown)

In 1974, administrative counties and county boroughs were abolished, and a major reform was instituted. At this time, lieutenancy was redefined to use the new metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties directly.

Following a further rearrangement in 1996, Avon, Cleveland, Hereford and Worcester, and Humberside were abolished. This led to a resurrection of a distinction between the local government counties and the ceremonial or geographical counties used for lieutenancy, and also to the adoption of the term "ceremonial counties", which although not used in statute, was used in the House of Commons before the arrangements coming into effect. [6]

The County of Avon that had been formed in 1974 was mostly split between Gloucestershire and Somerset, but its city of Bristol regained the status of a county in itself, which it had lost upon the formation of Avon. Cleveland was partitioned between North Yorkshire and Durham. Hereford and Worcester was divided into the restored counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Humberside was split between Lincolnshire and a new ceremonial county of East Riding of Yorkshire. Rutland was restored as a ceremonial county. Many county boroughs were re-established as unitary authorities; this involved establishing the area as an administrative county, but usually not as a ceremonial county.

Most ceremonial counties are, therefore, entities comprising local authority areas, as they were from 1889 to 1974. The Association of British Counties, a traditional counties lobbying organisation, has suggested that ceremonial counties be restored to their ancient boundaries.

Shrieval counties

The shrieval counties are defined by the Sheriffs Act 1887 as amended, in a similar way to the lieutenancies defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997. Each has a high sheriff appointed (except the City of London, which has two sheriffs).


The Lieutenancies Act 1997 defines counties for the purposes of lieutenancies in terms of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties (created by the Local Government Act 1972, as amended) as well as Greater London and the Isles of Scilly (which lie outside the 1972 Act's new system). Although the term is not used in the act, these counties are sometimes known as "ceremonial counties". The counties are defined in Schedule 1, paragraphs 2–5 [2] as amended [7] (most recently in 2009, [8] 2019 [9] and 2023) [10] — these amendments have not altered the actual areas covered by the counties as set out in 1997, only their composition in terms of local government areas, as a result of structural changes in local government. [note 1]

Lieutenancy areas since 1997

These are the 48 counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies in England, as currently defined:

County for the purposes
of the lieutenancies
(2018) [11] [12]
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties
(including unitary authority areas)
No.Rank(km2)(sq mi)Rank(/km2)(/sq mi)Rank
Bedfordshire 669,33836th1,23547741st5421,40013th Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton
Berkshire 911,40324th1,26248740th7221,87010th Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham
Bristol 463,40543rd1104247th4,22410,9402nd City of Bristol
Buckinghamshire 808,66630th1,87472432nd4321,12022nd Buckinghamshire and City of Milton Keynes
Cambridgeshire 852,52328th3,3901,31015th25265034thCambridgeshire and City of Peterborough
Cheshire 1,059,27119th2,34390525th4521,17021st Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, and Warrington
City of London [note 2] 8,70648th2.901.1248th2,9987,7604thCity of London
Cornwall 568,21040th3,5621,37512th16041041st Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Cumbria 498,88841st6,7672,6133rd7419047th Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness [10]
Derbyshire 1,053,31621st2,6251,01421st4011,04025thDerbyshire and City of Derby
Devon 1,194,16611th6,7072,5904th17846039thDevon, City of Plymouth and Torbay
Dorset 772,26831st2,6531,02420th27471032nd Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole [9]
Durham 866,846 [note 3] 26th2,6761,03319th32484028th County Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool and part of Stockton-on-Tees north of the River Tees
East Riding of Yorkshire 600,25937th2,47795623rd24263035th East Riding of Yorkshire and City of Kingston upon Hull
East Sussex 844,98529th1,79169233rd4721,22020thEast Sussex and Brighton and Hove
Essex 1,832,7527th3,6701,42011th4991,29015thEssex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock
Gloucestershire 916,20223rd3,1501,22016th29175030thGloucestershire and South Gloucestershire
Greater London 8,899,3751st1,56960637th5,67114,6901stNone (see the London boroughs)
Greater Manchester 2,812,5693rd1,27649339th2,2045,7105thGreater Manchester
Hampshire 1,844,2456th3,7691,4559th4891,27017thHampshire, City of Portsmouth and City of Southampton
Herefordshire 192,10745th2,18084026th8823046thHerefordshire
Hertfordshire 1,184,36513th1,64363436th7211,87011thHertfordshire
Isle of Wight 141,53846th38015046th37296026thIsle of Wight
Kent 1,846,4785th3,7381,44310th4941,28016thKent and Medway
Lancashire 1,498,3008th3,0751,18717th4871,26019th Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire
Leicestershire 1,053,48620th2,15683228th4891,27018thLeicestershire and City of Leicester
Lincolnshire 1,087,65918th6,9752,6932nd15640042ndLincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire
Merseyside 1,423,0659th64725043rd2,2005,7006thMerseyside
Norfolk 903,68025th5,3802,0805th16844040thNorfolk
North Yorkshire 1,158,816 [note 3] 14th8,6543,3411st13435044th Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Redcar and Cleveland, City of York and part of Stockton-on-Tees south of the River Tees
Northamptonshire 747,62233rd2,36491324th31682029th North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire
Northumberland 320,27444th5,0141,9366th6417048thNorthumberland
Nottinghamshire 1,154,19515th2,15983427th5351,39014thNottinghamshire and City of Nottingham
Oxfordshire 687,52435th2,6051,00622nd26468033rdOxfordshire
Rutland 39,69747th38214745th10427045thRutland
Shropshire 498,07342nd3,4881,34713th14337043rd Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin
Somerset 965,42422nd4,1701,6107th23260036th Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and Somerset
South Yorkshire 1,402,91810th1,55259938th9042,3409thSouth Yorkshire
Staffordshire 1,131,05217th2,7141,04818th4171,08024thStaffordshire and City of Stoke-on-Trent
Suffolk 758,55632nd3,8011,4688th20052038thSuffolk
Surrey 1,189,93412th1,66364235th7161,85012thSurrey
Tyne and Wear 1,136,37116th54021044th2,1055,4507thTyne and Wear
Warwickshire 571,01039th1,97576331st28975031stWarwickshire
West Midlands 2,916,4582nd90234842nd3,2358,3803rdWest Midlands
West Sussex 858,85227th1,99176930th4311,12023rdWest Sussex
West Yorkshire 2,320,2144th2,02978329th1,1432,9608thWest Yorkshire
Wiltshire 720,06034th3,4851,34614th20754037th Swindon and Wiltshire
Worcestershire 592,05738th1,74167234th34088027thWorcestershire

Lieutenancy areas in 1890

See also


  1. For example, Cheshire was prior to the 2009 structural changes to local government defined as the non-metropolitan counties of Cheshire, Halton & Warrington; the non-metropolitan county of Cheshire on 1 April that year split into the non-metropolitan counties of Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, and Schedule 1 of the Lieutenancies Act 1997 was duly amended to take into account these changes to local government within the ceremonial county.
  2. Because the City of London has a Commission of Lieutenancy rather than a single lord-lieutenant, it is treated as a county for some purposes of the Lieutenancy Act. (Schedule 1 paragraph 4)
  3. 1 2 As the district of Stockton-on-Tess is in two counties, the population has been calculated by adding (for North Yorkshire) or subtracting (for County Durham) its relevant civil parishes.

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  1. Table 2 2011 Census: Usual resident population and population density, local authorities in the United Kingdom UK Census 2011 UK usual resident population Greater London excluding City of London
  2. 1 2 Text of the Lieutenancies Act 1997 – Schedule 1: Counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies in Great Britain as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk . Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  3. "Ceremonial and Historic county boundary data added to OS OpenData". www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk.
  4. "England - Geographic counties". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. "Local Government Act 1888 s.1" (PDF). Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  6. House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 29 Feb 1996 (pt 8) Archived March 3, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Text of the Lord-Lieutenants – The Local Government Changes for England (Lord-Lieutenants and Sheriffs) Order 1997 as originally enacted or made within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk . Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  8. Text of The Local Government (Structural Changes) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Other Provision) Order 2009 (SI 2009/837) as originally enacted or made within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk . Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  9. 1 2 "The Local Government (Structural and Boundary Changes) (Supplementary Provision and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019".
  10. 1 2 The Cumbria (Structural Changes) Order 2022
  11. "Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 2021". Office for National Statistics. 2 November 2022. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  12. "Standard Area Measurements (2016) for Administrative Areas in the United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.