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Ceremonial counties of England

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The ceremonial counties,[2] also referred to as the lieutenancy areas of England,[3] are areas of England to which a lord-lieutenant is 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] as often representing more permanent features of English geography, and to distinguish them from counties of England, which have a present-day administrative function.

Counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies
Also known as:
ceremonial counties
lieutenancy areas
CategoryLieutenancy areas
Areas3–8,611 km²



Ceremonial counties before the creation of Greater London in 1965 (showing counties corporate as part of the main counties)

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)

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 countiesEdit

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.[N 1]

Ceremonial counties since 1997Edit

These are the 48 ceremonial counties of England, as currently defined:

County Population
(in km²)
(sq. mi.)
Bedfordshire 664,600 36th 1,235 477 41st 537 13th
Berkshire 905,800 24th 1,262 487 40th 717 11th
Bristol 459,300 43rd 110 42 47th 4,186 2nd
Buckinghamshire 803,400 30th 1,874 724 32nd 428 23rd
Cambridgeshire 847,200 28th 3,390 1,310 15th 249 34th
Cheshire 1,054,100 19th 2,343 905 25th 449 21st
City of London 7,700 48th 2.90 1.12 48th 2,635 4th
Cornwall 563,600 40th 3,562 1,375 12th 158 41st
County Durham 862,600 26th 2,676 1,033 19th 322 28th
Cumbria 498,400 41st 6,767 2,613 3rd 73 47th
Derbyshire 1,049,000 20th 2,625 1,014 21st 399 25th
Devon 1,185,500 11th 6,707 2,590 4th 176 39th
Dorset 770,700 31st 2,653 1,024 20th 290 30th
East Riding of Yorkshire 598,700 37th 2,477 956 23rd 241 35th
East Sussex 840,400 29th 1,791 692 33rd 469 20th
Essex 1,820,400 7th 3,670 1,420 11th 496 15th
Gloucestershire 907,200 23rd 3,150 1,220 16th 287 31st
Greater London 8,817,300 1st 1,569 606 37th 5,618 1st
Greater Manchester 2,798,800 3rd 1,276 493 39th 2,193 5th
Hampshire 1,837,800 5th 3,769 1,455 9th 487 17th
Herefordshire 191,000 45th 2,180 840 26th 87 46th
Hertfordshire 1,180,900 13th 1,643 634 36th 718 10th
Isle of Wight 141,000 46th 380 150 46th 370 26th
Kent 1,832,300 6th 3,738 1,443 10th 490 16th
Lancashire 1,490,500 8th 3,075 1,187 17th 484 18th
Leicestershire 1,043,800 21st 2,156 832 28th 484 19th
Lincolnshire 1,082,300 18th 6,975 2,693 2nd 155 42nd
Merseyside 1,416,800 9th 647 250 43rd 2,190 6th
Norfolk 898,400 25th 5,380 2,080 5th 166 40th
North Yorkshire 1,153,400 14th 8,654 3,341 1st 133 44th
Northamptonshire 741,200 33rd 2,364 913 24th 313 29th
Northumberland 319,000 44th 5,014 1,936 6th 63 48th
Nottinghamshire 1,147,100 15th 2,159 834 27th 531 14th
Oxfordshire 682,400 35th 2,605 1,006 22nd 261 33rd
Rutland 39,500 47th 382 147 45th 103 45th
Shropshire 493,200 42nd 3,488 1,347 13th 141 43rd
Somerset 956,700 22nd 4,170 1,610 7th 229 36th
South Yorkshire 1,393,400 10th 1,552 599 38th 898 9th
Staffordshire 1,126,200 17th 2,714 1,048 18th 415 24th
Suffolk 757,000 32nd 3,801 1,468 8th 199 38th
Surrey 1,185,300 12th 1,663 642 35th 712 12th
Tyne and Wear 1,129,500 16th 540 210 44th 2,091 7th
Warwickshire 564,600 39th 1,975 763 31st 285 32nd
West Midlands 2,897,300 2nd 902 348 42nd 3,213 3rd
West Sussex 852,400 27th 1,991 769 30th 428 22nd
West Yorkshire 2,307,000 4th 2,029 783 29th 1,136 8th
Wiltshire 716,400 34th 3,485 1,346 14th 205 37th
Worcestershire 588,400 38th 1,741 672 34th 338 27th

Lieutenancy areas in 1890Edit

See alsoEdit


  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.


  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. ^ "Ceremonial and Historic county boundary data added to OS OpenData".
  3. ^ "Lieutenancies Act 1997".
  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 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 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 Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  10. ^ 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-2018". Office for National Statistics. 28 June 2019. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  12. ^ "Standard Area Measurements (2016) for Administrative Areas in the United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.

External linksEdit