County town

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In Great Britain and Ireland, a county town is the most important town or city in a county.[ dubious ] It is usually the location of administrative or judicial functions within a county, and the place where public representatives are elected to parliament. Following the establishment of county councils in England 1889, the headquarters of the new councils were usually established in the county town of each county; however, the concept of a county town pre-dates these councils.

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The concept of a county town is ill-defined and unofficial. Some counties in Great Britain have their administrative bodies housed elsewhere. For example, Lancaster is the county town of Lancashire, but the county council is in Preston. Due to the creation of unitary authorities, some county towns in Great Britain are administratively separate from the county. For example, Nottingham is separated from the rest of Nottinghamshire.

Great Britain, historic

England

This list shows towns or cities which held county functions at various points in time.

CountyNamed after or of same rootPlaces that held county functions
Bedfordshire County Flag.svg  Bedfordshire Bedford
Flag of Berkshire.svg  Berkshire N/A Reading or Abingdon [lower-alpha 1]
FlagOfBuckinghamshire.PNG  Buckinghamshire Buckingham Aylesbury [lower-alpha 2]
Cambridgeshire Flag.svg  Cambridgeshire Cambridge Ely
Flag of Cheshire.svg  Cheshire Chester
Flag of Cornwall.svg  Cornwall N/A Truro, Bodmin or Launceston [lower-alpha 3]
Flag of Cumberland, United Kingdom.svg  Cumberland Carlisle (county later renamed) Cockermouth or Penrith [lower-alpha 4]
Derbyshire flag.svg  Derbyshire Derby
Flag of Devon.svg  Devon N/A Exeter
Flag of Dorset.svg  Dorset Dorchester Poole
Flag of County Durham.svg  County Durham Durham Bishop Auckland or Sadberge
Flag of Essex.svg  Essex N/A Chelmsford
Severn Cross.svg  Gloucestershire Gloucester Bristol
County Flag of Hampshire.svg  Hampshire Southampton Winchester [3]
County Flag Of Herefordshire.svg  Herefordshire Hereford
FlagOfHertfordshire.PNG  Hertfordshire Hertford
Flag of Huntingdonshire.svg  Huntingdonshire Huntingdon
FlagOfKent.svg  Kent Canterbury (name of same origin) Maidstone [lower-alpha 5]
Flag of Lancashire.svg  Lancashire Lancaster Preston [lower-alpha 6]
Flag of Leicestershire.svg  Leicestershire Leicester
Lincolnshire flag.svg  Lincolnshire Lincoln
Flag of Middlesex.png  Middlesex N/A Brentford, Clerkenwell, London or Westminster [lower-alpha 7]
Flag of Norfolk.svg  Norfolk N/A Norwich
Flag of Northamptonshire.svg  Northamptonshire Northampton
Flag of Northumberland.svg  Northumberland N/A Alnwick, Newcastle upon Tyne, Morpeth or Berwick upon Tweed [lower-alpha 8]
County Flag of Nottinghamshire.svg  Nottinghamshire Nottingham [lower-alpha 9]
County Flag of Oxfordshire.svg  Oxfordshire Oxford
Rutland County Flag.svg  Rutland N/A Oakham
Flag of Shropshire.svg  Shropshire Shrewsbury (spellings diverged)
Somerset Flag.svg  Somerset Somerton Taunton, Ilchester, Bath or Wells [lower-alpha 10]
Staffordshire Flag.svg  Staffordshire Stafford Lichfield
County Flag of Suffolk.svg  Suffolk N/A Ipswich
Flag of Surrey.svg  Surrey N/A Guildford, Newington or Southwark [lower-alpha 11]
Flag of Sussex.svg  Sussex N/A Lewes, Chichester or Horsham [lower-alpha 12]
Flag of Warwickshire.svg  Warwickshire Warwick Coventry
Flag of Westmorland.svg  Westmorland N/A Appleby or Kendal
County Flag of Wiltshire.svg  Wiltshire Wilton Trowbridge, Salisbury or Devizes [lower-alpha 13]
Worcestershire flag.svg  Worcestershire Worcester
Yorkshire Flag.png  Yorkshire York Kingston upon Hull
  1. Lent assizes were held at Reading, where the county gaol and house of correction were situated; summer assizes were held at Abingdon, which was the site of the county bridewell. [1] Knights of the shire were nominated at Reading and elected at Abingdon. [1] [2]
  2. Sir John Baldwin, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, caused the county assizes to be moved to Aylesbury. Knights of the shire continued to be elected at Buckingham. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica considered Buckingham to be the county town.
  3. The county assize court sat at Bodmin, and the 1911 Britannica considered Bodmin to be the county town. Prior to 1835, it was Launceston.
  4. Knights of the shire were elected at Cockermouth; the assizes and quarter sessions courts were occasionally held at Penrith.
  5. East Kent and West Kent had separate administrations until 1814, with East Kent sessions meeting at Canterbury, and West Kent at Maidstone, the over-all county town.
  6. In 1787 the Lancashire Quarter Sessions decreed that in future the annual general sessions for transacting all business for the county at large should be held at Preston as it was "a central place in the county." The magistrates of Lonsdale Hundred refused to accept the decision, and would meet only at Lancaster. The matter was settled only when a local act of parliament (38 Geo. 3. c. 58) established that the principal administrative business of the county could be transacted only at Preston. [4]
  7. Knights of the shire were elected at Brentford; sessions presided over by Middlesex Justices of the Peace were held at Clerkenwell; trials for persons accused of the most serious crimes took place in the Old Bailey before the Aldermen of the City prior to the committing of the accused to Newgate Prison (which functioned as the county gaol for Middlesex) if found guilty; while the county council had its headquarters at the Middlesex Guildhall in Westminster from its establishment in 1889 until its abolition in 1965. [5]
  8. Alnwick's position as the county town seems to have been based largely on its castle being the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, although knights of the shire were elected at the town too. [6] Assizes for the county however were held mainly or exclusively in Newcastle upon Tyne. Morpeth Castle was used as the prison for Northumberland, and the county gaol was built there in 1824. [7] [8]
  9. Nottingham was constituted a county corporate separate from Nottinghamshire in 1449. The area containing the Shire Hall however remained an exclave of Nottinghamshire. [9]
  10. Knights of the shire were elected at Ilchester. Somerton temporarily became the county town in the late thirteenth century, when the shire courts and county gaol were moved from Ilchester. [10]
  11. Under the Surrey Gaol Act 1791 (31 Geo. 3. c. 22) the justices of the peace of the county of Surrey were empowered to build a new sessions house and county gaol at Newington adjacent to the borough of Southwark and in the suburbs of London. [11] By 1799 the buildings were completed and the county administration was based there until 1893. [12] Newington or Southwark (the ecclesiastical centre) were sometimes described as the county town thereafter, for instance in a school textbook of 1828. [13]
  12. Chichester was traditionally described as the capital city of Sussex and Lewes its county town. [14] [15] [16] Horsham was occasionally described as the county town of Sussex due to the presence of the county gaol and the periodic holding of the county assizes and quarter sessions in the town. The last assizes were held there in 1830, while the gaol was closed in 1845. [17]
  13. Wiltshire County Council note that Wiltshire "never had a well recognised county town". [18] An 1870s gazetteer describes "Salisbury and Devizes" as the "county towns". [19] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica names only Salisbury.

Scotland

CountyCounty town
Flag of Aberdeenshire.svg  Aberdeenshire Aberdeen [lower-alpha 1]
Angus (or Forfarshire) Forfar
Argyll Lochgilphead (formerly Inveraray) [lower-alpha 2]
Ayrshire Ayr
Flag of Banffshire.svg  Banffshire Banff
Flag of Berwickshire.svg  Berwickshire Duns, Scottish Borders (formerly Berwick-upon-Tweed, formerly Greenlaw)
Bute Rothesay
Flag of Caithness.svg  Caithness Wick
Clackmannanshire Alloa (formerly Clackmannan)
Cromartyshire Cromarty
Dumfriesshire Dumfries
Dunbartonshire Dumbarton
Flag of East Lothian.svg  East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire) Haddington
Fife Cupar
Inverness-shire Inverness
Kincardineshire Stonehaven (formerly Kincardine)
Kinross-shire Kinross
Flag of Kirkcudbrightshire.svg  Kirkcudbrightshire Kirkcudbright
Lanarkshire Lanark [lower-alpha 3]
Midlothian (or Edinburghshire) Edinburgh [lower-alpha 4]
Flag of Morayshire.svg  Morayshire (or Elginshire) Elgin
Nairnshire Nairn
2007 Flag of Orkney.svg  Orkney Kirkwall
Peeblesshire Peebles
Perthshire Perth
Renfrewshire Renfrew [lower-alpha 5]
Ross-shire Dingwall (also the county town of Ross and Cromarty)
Roxburghshire Jedburgh (formerly Roxburgh) [lower-alpha 6]
Selkirkshire Selkirk
Flag of Shetland.svg  Shetland Lerwick
Stirlingshire Stirling
Flag of Sutherland.svg  Sutherland Dornoch [lower-alpha 7]
West Lothian (or Linlithgowshire) Linlithgow
Wigtownshire Wigtown [lower-alpha 8]
  1. In 1900 Aberdeen became a county of a city and thus outside the remit of the county council.
  2. Inveraray (the seat of the Duke of Argyll) was regarded as the county town until 1890, when the Argyll County Council was created with headquarters in Lochgilphead.
  3. The headquarters of the Lanark County Council were established in 1890 in Glasgow. In 1893 Glasgow became a county of itself, and was therefore outside the council's area. The county council moved to Hamilton in 1964. [20]
  4. Edinburgh was a county of itself, and therefore lay outside the remit of the county council.
  5. The headquarters of Renfrew County Council were in Paisley from 1890.
  6. Newtown St Boswells was the administrative headquarters of the county council established in 1890.
  7. The headquarters of Sutherland County Council were at Golspie from 1890.
  8. Stranraer became the administrative headquarters of the Wigtown county council in 1890, and was sometimes described as the "county town" thereafter.

Wales

Following the Norman invasion of Wales, the Cambro-Normans created the historic shire system (also known as ancient counties). Many of these counties were named for the centre of Norman power within the new county (Caernarfonshire named for Caernarfon, Monmouthshire named for Monmouth) others were named after the previous medieval Welsh kingdoms (Ceredigon becomes Cardigan, Morgannwg becomes Glamorgan). The 1535 Laws in Wales Act established the historic counties in English law, but in Wales they were later replaced with eight preserved counties for ceremonial purposes and the twenty two principal areas are used for administrative purposes. Neither of these subdivisions use official county towns, although their administrative headquarters and ceremonial centres are often located in the historic county town. [21]

Name in EnglishName in WelshCounty town in EnglishCounty town in Welsh
Flag of Anglesey.svg  Anglesey Ynys Mon Beaumaris Biwmares
Flag of Brecknockshire.svg Brecknockshire Brycheiniog Brecon Aberhonddu
Flag of Caernarfonshire.svg  Caernarfonshire Sir Gaernarfon Caernarfon Caernarfon
Flag of Cardiganshire (proposal).svg  Cardiganshire Ceredigion Cardigan Aberteifi
Carmarthenshire Sir Gaerfyrddin Carmarthen Caerfyrddin
Denbighshire Sir Ddinbych Ruthin (formerly Denbigh)Rhuthun (formerly Dinbych)
Flag of Flintshire.svg  Flintshire Sir y Fflint Mold (formerly Flint)Yr Wyddgrug (formerly Y Fflint)
Glamorgan Flag.svg  Glamorgan Morgannwg Cardiff Caerdydd
Flag of Merionethshire.svg  Merioneth or MerionethshireMeirionnydd or Sir Feirionnydd Dolgellau Dolgellau
Montgomeryshire Sir Drefaldwyn Welshpool (formerly Montgomery)Y Trallwng (formerly Trefaldwyn)
Flag of Monmouthshire.svg  Monmouthshire Sir Fynwy Monmouth Trefynwy
Flag of Pembrokeshire.svg  Pembrokeshire Sir Benfro Haverfordwest (formerly Pembroke)Hwlffordd (formerly Penfro)
Radnorshire Sir Faesyfed Presteigne (formerly New Radnor)Llanandras (former Maesyfed)

    Great Britain, post 19th-century reforms

    With the creation of elected county councils in 1889, the administrative headquarters in some cases moved away from the traditional county town. Furthermore, in 1965 and 1974 there were major boundary changes in England and Wales and administrative counties were replaced with new metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. The boundaries underwent further alterations between 1995 and 1998 to create unitary authorities, and some of the ancient counties and county towns were restored. (Note: not all headquarters are or were called County Halls or Shire Halls e.g.: Cumbria County Council's HQ up until 2016 was called The Courts and has since moved to Cumbria House.) Before 1974, many of the county halls were in towns and cities that had the status of a county borough i.e. a borough outside the county council's jurisdiction.

    England, from 1889

    County councilDateHeadquarters
    Bedfordshire 1889 to 2009 Bedford
    Berkshire 1889 to 1998 Reading (county borough until 1974)
    Buckinghamshire 1889 onwards Aylesbury
    Cambridgeshire 1889 to 1965 and
    1974 onwards
    Cambridge (until 2021)
    Alconbury Weald (after 2021)
    Cheshire 1889 to 2009 Chester
    Cornwall 1889 onwards Truro
    Cumberland 1889 to 1974 Carlisle (county borough from 1914)
    Derbyshire 1889 onwards Matlock (moved from Derby, county borough 1958) [22]
    Devon 1889 onwards Exeter (county borough until 1974). In 1963 the Devon County Buildings Area was transferred from the county borough of Exeter to the administrative county of Devon, of which it formed an exclave until 1974. [23]
    Dorset 1889 onwards Dorchester
    Durham 1889 onwards Durham
    Essex 1889 onwards Chelmsford
    Gloucestershire 1889 onwards Gloucester (county borough until 1974)
    Hampshire 1889 onwards Winchester
    Herefordshire 1889 to 1974 and
    1998 onwards
    Hereford
    Hertfordshire 1889 onwards Hertford
    Huntingdonshire 1889 to 1965 Huntingdon
    Isle of Ely 1889 to 1965 March
    Isle of Wight 1890 onwards Newport
    Kent 1889 onwards Maidstone
    Lancashire 1889 onwards Preston (county borough until 1974)
    Leicestershire 1889 onwards Leicester
    Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey 1889 to 1974 Lincoln (county borough)
    Lincolnshire, Parts of Holland 1889 to 1974 Boston
    Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven 1889 to 1974 Sleaford
    London 1889 to 1965Spring Gardens, Westminster until 1922, County Hall at Lambeth thereafter
    Middlesex 1889 to 1965 Middlesex Guildhall at Westminster in County of London
    Norfolk 1889 onwards Norwich (county borough until 1974)
    Northamptonshire 1889 onwards Northampton (county borough until 1974)
    Northumberland 1889 onwards County Hall Newcastle upon Tyne 1889 – 1981 [24]
    County Hall Morpeth since 1981 [25]
    Nottinghamshire 1889 onwards West Bridgford (moved from county borough of Nottingham in 1959)
    Oxfordshire 1889 onwards Oxford (county borough until 1974)
    Soke of Peterborough 1889 to 1965 Peterborough
    Rutland 1889 to 1974 and
    1997 onwards
    Oakham
    Shropshire 1889 onwards Shrewsbury
    Somerset 1889 onwards Taunton
    Staffordshire 1889 onwards Stafford
    East Suffolk 1889 to 1974 Ipswich (county borough)
    West Suffolk 1889 to 1974 Bury St Edmunds
    Surrey 1889 onwards Inner London Sessions House, Newington (until 1893)
    County Hall, Kingston upon Thames (18932020)
    Woodhatch Place, Reigate (2021 onwards) [26]
    East Sussex 1889 onwards Lewes
    West Sussex 1889 onwards Chichester (originally jointly with Horsham) [17]
    Warwickshire 1889 onwards Warwick
    Westmorland 1889 to 1974 Kendal
    Wiltshire 1889 onwards Trowbridge
    Worcestershire 1889 to 1974 and
    1998 onwards
    Worcester (county borough until 1974)
    Yorkshire, East Riding 1889 to 1974 and
    1996 onwards
    Beverley (later HQ of Humberside)
    Yorkshire, North Riding 1889 to 1974 Northallerton
    Yorkshire, West Riding 1889 to 1974 Wakefield (county borough from 1915)

    England, from 1965

    County councilDateHeadquarters
    Avon 1974 to 1996 Bristol
    Bristol 1996 onwards Bristol
    Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely 1965 to 1974 Cambridge
    Cleveland 1974 to 1996 Middlesbrough
    Cumbria 1974 to 2023 Carlisle
    Greater London 1965 to 1986 and
    2002 onwards
    County Hall, Lambeth (Greater London Council) (19651986)
    City Hall, Southwark (Greater London Authority) (20022021)
    City Hall, Newham (Greater London Authority) (2021 onwards)
    Greater Manchester 1974 to 1986 Manchester
    Hereford and Worcester 1974 to 1998 Worcester
    Humberside 1974 to 1996 Beverley
    Huntingdon and Peterborough 1965 to 1974 Huntingdon
    Lincolnshire 1974 onwards Lincoln
    Merseyside 1974 to 1986 Liverpool
    Suffolk 1974 onwards Ipswich
    Tyne and Wear 1974 to 1986 Newcastle upon Tyne
    West Midlands 1974 to 1986 Birmingham
    North Yorkshire 1974 onwards Northallerton
    South Yorkshire 1974 to 1986 Barnsley
    West Yorkshire 1974 to 1986 Wakefield

    Wales

    County councilDateHeadquarters
    Anglesey 1889 to 1974 Beaumaris 1
    Brecknockshire 1889 to 1974 Brecon
    Caernarvonshire 1889 to 1974 Caernarfon
    Carmarthenshire 1889 to 1974
    1996 onwards
    Carmarthen
    Cardiganshire 1889 to 1974 Aberystwyth 2
    Ceredigion 1996 onwards Aberaeron
    Clwyd 1974 to 1996 Mold
    Denbighshire 1889 to 1974 Denbigh
    Dyfed 1974 to 1996 Carmarthen
    Flintshire 1889 to 1974 Mold
    Glamorgan 1889 to 1974 Cardiff (county borough)
    Gwent 1974 to 1996 Newport (1974–78), Cwmbran (1978–96)
    Gwynedd 1974 onwards Caernarfon
    Mid Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Cardiff (extraterritorial)
    Merionethshire 1889 to 1974 Dolgellau
    Montgomeryshire 1889 to 1974 Welshpool
    Monmouthshire 1889 to 1974 Newport (county borough from 1891)
    Radnorshire 1889 to 1974 Presteigne 3
    Pembrokeshire 1889 to 1974
    1996 onwards
    Haverfordwest
    Powys 1974 onwards Llandrindod Wells
    South Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Cardiff
    West Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Swansea
    Isle of Anglesey 1996 onwards Llangefni
    1. Due to its better transport links and more central location, some administrative functions were moved to Llangefni.
    2. Cardigan was often still referred to as 'the county town' due to the name link. However, assizes were held at Lampeter while Aberystwyth housed the administration of the county council. Aberystwyth was therefore the de facto county town.
    3. Due to its better transport links and more central location, some administrative functions were moved to Llandrindod Wells.

    Ireland

    Republic of Ireland

    The follow lists the location of the administration of each of the 31 local authorities in the Republic of Ireland, with 26 of the traditional counties.

    CountyCouncilsCounty townNotes
    County Carlow Carlow County Council Carlow
    County Cavan Cavan County Council Cavan
    County Clare Clare County Council Ennis
    County Cork Cork County Council Cork city
    Cork City Council Cork city
    County Donegal Donegal County Council Lifford
    County Dublin Dublin City Council Dublin city
    Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council Dún Laoghaire Until 1994, formed Dublin County Council, with its administrative offices in Dublin city
    Fingal County Council Swords
    South Dublin County Council Tallaght
    County Galway Galway City Council Galway city
    Galway County Council Galway city
    County Kerry Kerry County Council Tralee
    County Kildare Kildare County Council Naas
    County Kilkenny Kilkenny County Council Kilkenny
    County Laois Laois County Council Portlaoise Called Maryborough until 1929
    County Leitrim Leitrim County Council Carrick-on-Shannon
    County Limerick Limerick City and County Council Limerick
    County Longford Longford County Council Longford
    County Louth Louth County Council Dundalk
    County Mayo Mayo County Council Castlebar
    County Meath Meath County Council Navan previously Trim was the administrative town
    County Monaghan Monaghan County Council Monaghan
    County Offaly Offaly County Council Tullamore Prior to 1883, the county town was Daingean, then known as Philipstown
    County Roscommon Roscommon County Council Roscommon
    County Sligo Sligo County Council Sligo
    County Tipperary Tipperary County Council Clonmel/Nenagh Until the Local Government Reform Act 2014, these were respectively the administrative towns of South Tipperary County Council and North Tipperary County Council
    County Waterford Waterford City and County Council Waterford
    County Westmeath Westmeath County Council Mullingar
    County Wexford Wexford County Council Wexford
    County Wicklow Wicklow County Council Wicklow

    Northern Ireland

    CountyCounty town
    County Antrim Antrim
    County Armagh Armagh
    County Down Downpatrick
    County Fermanagh Enniskillen
    County Londonderry Coleraine
    County Tyrone Omagh

    Note – Despite the fact that Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, it is not the county town of any county. Greater Belfast straddles two counties – Antrim and Down.

    Jamaica

    Jamaica's three counties were established in 1758 to facilitate the holding of courts along the lines of the British county court system, with each county having a county town. [27] The counties have no current administrative relevance.

    CountyCounty town
    Cornwall Savanna-la-Mar
    Middlesex Spanish Town
    Surrey Kingston

    See also

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    References

    1. 1 2 Lewis, Samuel (1831). "Berkshire". A Topographical Dictionary of England. Vol. I (1st ed.). p. 130.
    2. "Berkshire Quarter Sessions". Jackson's Oxford Journal. 4 July 1868.
    3. "Hampshire Placenames and their Meanings". Hampshire County Council. 17 February 2009. Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
    4. Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb (1906). English Local Government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations Act: The Parish and the County. London: Longmans Green and Co. pp.  432–433.
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