Ceremonial counties of England

Last updated
Counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies
Also known as:
ceremonial counties
lieutenancy areas
Category Lieutenancy areas
Location England
Populations8,000–8,167,000 [1]
Areas3–8,611 km²

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



Ceremonial counties before the creation of Greater London in 1965 (depicting each county corporate as part of its main county) English geographical counties 1889 with ridings.svg
Ceremonial counties before the creation of Greater London in 1965 (depicting each county corporate as part of its main county)

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 was 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 nevertheless 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

In present-day England, the ceremonial counties correspond to the shrieval counties, each with a high sheriff appointed (except the City of London, which has its 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 [7] as amended [8] (most recently in 2009 [9] and 2019 [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 Population
(2018) [11] [12]
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties or unitary authority areas
No.Rank(km²)(sq. mi.)Rank(people
Bedfordshire 669,33836th1,23547741st54213th Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton
Berkshire 911,40324th1,26248740th72210thBerkshire
Bristol 463,40543rd1104247th4,2242ndBristol
Buckinghamshire 808,66630th1,87472432nd43222ndBuckinghamshire and Milton Keynes
Cambridgeshire 852,52328th3,3901,31015th25234thCambridgeshire and Peterborough
Cheshire 1,059,27119th2,34390525th45221st Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, and Warrington
City of London [note 2] 8,70648th2.901.1248th2,9984thCity of London
Cornwall 568,21040th3,5621,37512th16041stCornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Cumbria 498,88841st6,7672,6133rd7447thCumbria
Derbyshire 1,053,31621st2,6251,01421st40125thDerbyshire and Derby
Devon 1,194,16611th6,7072,5904th17839thDevon, Plymouth and Torbay
Dorset 772,26831st2,6531,02420th27432nd Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole [10]
Durham 866,84626th2,6761,03319th32428thCounty Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool and that part of Stockton-on-Tees north of the centre line of the River Tees
East Riding of Yorkshire 600,25937th2,47795623rd24235thEast Riding of Yorkshire and Kingston-upon-Hull
East Sussex 844,98529th1,79169233rd47220thEast Sussex and Brighton and Hove
Essex 1,832,7527th3,6701,42011th49915thEssex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock
Gloucestershire 916,20223rd3,1501,22016th29130thGloucestershire and South Gloucestershire
Greater London 8,899,3751st1,56960637th5,6711stThe London boroughs
Greater Manchester 2,812,5693rd1,27649339th2,2045thGreater Manchester
Hampshire 1,844,2456th3,7691,4559th48917thHampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton
Herefordshire 192,10745th2,18084026th8846thHerefordshire
Hertfordshire 1,184,36513th1,64363436th72111thHertfordshire
Isle of Wight 141,53846th38015046th37226thIsle of Wight
Kent 1,846,4785th3,7381,44310th49416thKent and Medway
Lancashire 1,498,3008th3,0751,18717th48719th Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire
Leicestershire 1,053,48620th2,15683228th48918thLeicestershire and Leicester
Lincolnshire 1,087,65918th6,9752,6932nd15642ndLincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire
Merseyside 1,423,0659th64725043rd2,2006thMerseyside
Norfolk 903,68025th5,3802,0805th16840thNorfolk
North Yorkshire 1,158,81614th8,6543,3411st13444th Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Redcar and Cleveland, York and that part of Stockton-on-Tees south of the centre line of the River Tees
Northamptonshire 747,62233rd2,36491324th31629thNorthamptonshire
Northumberland 320,27444th5,0141,9366th6448thNorthumberland
Nottinghamshire 1,154,19515th2,15983427th53514thNottinghamshire and Nottingham
Oxfordshire 687,52435th2,6051,00622nd26433rdOxfordshire
Rutland 39,69747th38214745th10445thRutland
Shropshire 498,07342nd3,4881,34713th14343rdShropshire and Telford and Wrekin
Somerset 965,42422nd4,1701,6107th23236th Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and Somerset
South Yorkshire 1,402,91810th1,55259938th9049thSouth Yorkshire
Staffordshire 1,131,05217th2,7141,04818th41724thStaffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
Suffolk 758,55632nd3,8011,4688th20038thSuffolk
Surrey 1,189,93412th1,66364235th71612thSurrey
Tyne and Wear 1,136,37116th54021044th2,1057thTyne and Wear
Warwickshire 571,01039th1,97576331st28931stWarwickshire
West Midlands 2,916,4582nd90234842nd3,2353rdWest Midlands
West Sussex 858,85227th1,99176930th43123rdWest Sussex
West Yorkshire 2,320,2144th2,02978329th1,1438thWest Yorkshire
Wiltshire 720,06034th3,4851,34614th20737th Swindon and Wiltshire
Worcestershire 592,05738th1,74167234th34027thWorcestershire

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)

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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. "Lieutenancies Act 1997". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  3. "Ceremonial and Historic county boundary data added to OS OpenData". www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk.
  4. e.g. 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 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 1 2 The Local Government (Structural and Boundary Changes) (Supplementary Provision and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019
  11. "Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2019". Office for National Statistics. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  12. "Standard Area Measurements (2016) for Administrative Areas in the United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.