County town

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In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a county town is the most important town or city in a county. It is usually the location of administrative or judicial functions within a county and the place where the county's members of Parliament are elected. Following the establishment of the English county councils in 1889, the headquarters of the new councils were usually located in the county town of each county. However, the concept of a county town pre-dates the establishment of these councils.


The concept of a county town is ill-defined and unofficial. Some counties have their administrative bodies located elsewhere. For example, Lancaster is the county town of Lancashire, but the county council is located in Preston. Some county towns are no longer situated within the administrative county because of changes in the county's boundaries. For example, Nottingham is administered by a unitary authority separate from the rest of Nottinghamshire.

UK county towns, pre-19th-century reforms

Historic counties of England

This list shows county towns prior to the reforms of 1889.

CountyCounty town
Bedfordshire County Flag.svg  Bedfordshire Bedford
Flag of Berkshire.svg  Berkshire Reading, [lower-alpha 1] previously also Abingdon [2]
Flag of Buckinghamshire.svg  Buckinghamshire Aylesbury, [lower-alpha 2] although the county is named after Buckingham
Cambridgeshire Flag.svg  Cambridgeshire Cambridge
Flag of Cheshire.svg  Cheshire Chester
Flag of Cornwall.svg  Cornwall Truro [lower-alpha 3]
Flag of Cumberland, United Kingdom.svg  Cumberland Carlisle [lower-alpha 4]
Derbyshire flag.svg  Derbyshire Derby
Flag of Devon.svg  Devon Exeter
Flag of Dorset.svg  Dorset Dorchester
Flag of County Durham.svg  County Durham Durham
Flag of Essex.svg  Essex Chelmsford
Severn Cross.svg  Gloucestershire Gloucester
County Flag of Hampshire.svg  Hampshire Winchester, although the county is named after Southampton [3]
County Flag Of Herefordshire.svg  Herefordshire Hereford
FlagOfHertfordshire.PNG  Hertfordshire Hertford
Flag of Huntingdonshire.svg  Huntingdonshire Huntingdon
FlagOfKent.svg  Kent Maidstone [lower-alpha 5]
FlagOfLancashire.PNG  Lancashire Lancaster [lower-alpha 6]
Flag of Leicestershire.svg  Leicestershire Leicester
Flag of Lincolnshire.svg  Lincolnshire Lincoln
Flag of Middlesex.png  Middlesex Brentford, Clerkenwell, the City of London or Westminster for different functions. [lower-alpha 7]
Flag of Norfolk.svg  Norfolk Norwich
Flag of Northamptonshire.svg  Northamptonshire Northampton
Flag of Northumberland.svg  Northumberland Alnwick [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 Oakham
Flag of Shropshire.svg  Shropshire Shrewsbury
Somerset Flag.svg  Somerset Taunton, [lower-alpha 10] although the county is named after Somerton
Staffordshire Flag.svg  Staffordshire Stafford
County Flag of Suffolk.svg  Suffolk Ipswich
Flag of Surrey.svg  Surrey Guildford [lower-alpha 11]
Flag of Sussex.svg  Sussex Lewes [lower-alpha 12]
Flag of Warwickshire.svg  Warwickshire Warwick
Flag of Westmorland.svg  Westmorland Appleby
County Flag of Wiltshire.svg  Wiltshire Trowbridge although the county is named after Wilton [lower-alpha 13]
Worcestershire flag.svg  Worcestershire Worcester
Flag of Yorkshire.svg  Yorkshire York
  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. 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.III 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 an act of 1791, 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 more inaccurately Southwark 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". Wilton had served as the seat of quarter sessions and for election of knights of the shire until 1832. Knights had been nominated at Devizes. [18] [ failed verification ] An 1870s gazetteer describes "Salisbury and Devizes" as the "county towns". [19] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica names only Salisbury.

Historic counties of Scotland

CountyCounty town
Aberdeenshire Aberdeen [lower-alpha 1]
Angus (or Forfarshire) Forfar
Argyll Lochgilphead (formerly Inveraray) [lower-alpha 2]
Ayrshire Ayr
Banffshire Banff
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]
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 2018.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 Aberdeenshire.
  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 county of Midlothian.
  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.

Historic counties of Wales

This list shows county towns prior to the reforms of 1889.

CountyCounty town
Flag of Anglesey.svg  Anglesey Beaumaris
Brecknockshire Brecon
Flag of Caernarfonshire.svg  Caernarfonshire Caernarfon
Cardiganshire Cardigan
Carmarthenshire Carmarthen
Denbighshire Ruthin (formerly Denbigh)
Flag of Flintshire.svg  Flintshire Mold (formerly Flint)
Proposed flag of Glamorgan.svg  Glamorgan Cardiff
Flag of Merionethshire.svg  Merioneth Dolgellau
Montgomeryshire Welshpool (formerly Montgomery)
Flag of Monmouthshire.svg  Monmouthshire [lower-alpha 1] Monmouth [lower-alpha 1]
Flag of Pembrokeshire.svg  Pembrokeshire Haverfordwest (formerly Pembroke)
Radnorshire Presteigne (formerly New Radnor)
  1. 1 2 Between 1536 and 1974, Monmouthshire was included by successive English and later, British, governments within England for some administrative and legal purposes. Always regarded culturally and ecclesiastically as part of Wales, particularly by the Welsh, since 1974 when new local government legislation was introduced it has unequivocally been within that country. The county is named after Monmouth, but the Sheriff's county court was held alternately in Monmouth and Newport.

Historic counties of 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).

UK county towns post 19th-century reforms

With the creation of elected county councils in 1889 the location of 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 have since moved to Cumbria House.) Before 1974 many of the county halls were located in towns and cities that had the status of a county borough i.e.: a borough outside of the county council's jurisdiction.


County councilDateHeadquarters
Avon 1974 to 1996 Bristol
Bedfordshire 1889 to 2009 Bedford
Berkshire 1889 to 1998 Reading (county borough until 1974)
Bristol 1996 onwards Bristol
Buckinghamshire 1889 onwards Aylesbury
Cambridgeshire 1889 to 1965
1974 onwards
Cambridge (until 2021)
Alconbury Weald (after 2021)
Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely 1965 to 1974 Cambridge
Cheshire 1889 to 2009 Chester
Cleveland 1974 to 1996 Middlesbrough
Cornwall 1889 onwards Truro
Cumberland 1889 to 1974 Carlisle (county borough from 1914)
Cumbria 1974 onwards Carlisle
Derbyshire 1889 onwards Matlock (moved from Derby, county borough 1958) [21]
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. [22]
Dorset 1889 onwards Dorchester
Durham 1889 onwards Durham
Essex 1889 onwards Chelmsford
Gloucestershire 1889 onwards Gloucester (county borough until 1974)
Greater London 1965 to 1986
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
Hampshire 1889 onwards Winchester
Herefordshire 1889 to 1974
1998 onwards
Hereford and Worcester 1974 to 1998 Worcester
Hertfordshire 1889 onwards Hertford
Humberside 1974 to 1996 Beverley
Huntingdonshire 1889 to 1965 Huntingdon
Huntingdon and Peterborough 1965 to 1974 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
Lincolnshire 1974 onwards Lincoln
London 1889 to 1965Spring Gardens, Westminster until 1922, County Hall at Lambeth thereafter
Merseyside 1974 to 1986 Liverpool
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 [23]
County Hall Morpeth since 1981 [24]
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
1997 onwards
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
Suffolk 1974 onwards Ipswich
Surrey 1889 onwards Inner London Sessions House, Newington (until 1893)
County Hall, Kingston upon Thames (18932020)
Woodhatch Place, Reigate (2021 onwards) [25]
East Sussex 1889 onwards Lewes
West Sussex 1889 onwards Chichester (originally jointly with Horsham) [17]
Tyne and Wear 1974 to 1986 Newcastle upon Tyne
Warwickshire 1889 onwards Warwick
West Midlands 1974 to 1986 Birmingham
Westmorland 1889 to 1974 Kendal
Wiltshire 1889 onwards Trowbridge
Worcestershire 1889 to 1974
1998 onwards
Worcester (county borough until 1974)
Yorkshire, East Riding 1889 to 1974
1996 onwards
Beverley (later HQ of Humberside)
Yorkshire, North Riding 1889 to 1974 Northallerton
North Yorkshire 1974 onwards Northallerton
South Yorkshire 1974 to 1986 Barnsley
Yorkshire, West Riding 1889 to 1974 Wakefield (county borough from 1915)
West Yorkshire 1974 to 1986 Wakefield


County councilDateHeadquarters
Anglesey 1889 to 1974 Beaumaris 1
Brecknockshire 1889 to 1974 Brecon
Caernarvonshire 1889 to 1974 Caernarfon
Carmarthenshire 1889 to 1974
1996 onwards
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
Powys 1974 onwards Llandrindod Wells
South Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Cardiff
West Glamorgan 1974 to 1996 Swansea
Ynys Môn (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.


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


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. [26] The counties have no current administrative relevance.

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

See also

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  20. Notice in Edinburgh Gazette, 28 February 1964 that county council's address changed from Lanarkshire House, 191 Ingram Street, Glasgow C1 to County Buildings, Hamilton from 6 April 1964
  21. Removal of County Headquarters, The Times, 28 January 1958
  22. Frederic A. Youngs, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol.1: Southern England, London, 1979, p.83
  23. Northumberland County Hall was situated within an exclave of Northumberland (Moot Hall Precincts) within the county borough of Newcastle 1889 – 1974; the area became part of the county of Tyne and Wear in 1974 and was thus extraterritorial
  24. County Hall moved to Morpeth on 21 April 1981 (see notice in London Gazette issue 48579, dated 10 April 1981)
  25. "127 year chapter of history comes to an end as Surrey County Council moves home". Get Surrey. 23 December 2020. Archived from the original on 3 May 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  26. Higman, B. W.; Hudson, B. J. (2009). Jamaican Place Names. Mona, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. p. 31. ISBN   978-976-640-306-5. Archived from the original on 13 December 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2017.