Counties and local government areas – a cartographic comparison.

Many people understand counties as administrative units, defined by a local authority or council. In reality plenty of our actual counties have existed for well over a thousand years, whilst local government is barely more than a century old and cannot be defined by which administration oversees rubbish collection or issues parking permits! More on this can be found at the County Definitions page but the series of maps below, graphically illustrate the tremendous differences between the real counties and the territories administered by local authorities which either inappropriately make use of county names or obscure real counties.

County Durham

The true County Durham boundary is shown in red. The purple area is the territory administered by Durham County Council which does not include such famous county towns as Sunderland and Gateshead in the north nor Hartlepool, Darlington and Stockton-On-Tees in the south but does cover a great swathe of the North Riding of Yorkshire! Northern County Durham and southern Northumberland are administered separately from the rest of their respective counties as shown in green on the below map

but this administrative convenience has no impact on the two actual counties as entities.

Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire

Cambridgeshire County council’s administrative remit is depicted in the light beige colour and as can be seen, covers two counties, both Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, although not all of either! To compound matters and even more absurdly, the ‘Cambridgeshire’ lieutenancy area differs again from that of the council

reflecting the fact that Peterborough was once administered by the Cambridgeshire council but is no longer. How much more sensible it would be to assign Lord Lieutenants to real counties as a ceremonial post best suited to promoting their heritage and culture. Administrative areas need no protection of heritage as they have none and are ever-changing.


Use of the name Denbighshire, by the local authority running civic matters in the area coloured green, is strikingly absurd and wholly inappropriate. Denbighshire County Council barely covers a third of actual Denbighshire but does include areas of Flintshire to the north and Merioneth (Meirionnydd) to the south. People who comprehend “Denbighshire” from this administrative remit are completely misled.


Perhaps the most glaringly inaccurate use of a county name by a local authority is that of East Dumbartonshire Council, most of whose territory sits in Stirlingshire. Dumbartonshire actually comprises two non contiguous territories as can be seen.


In 1889 a south eastern chunk of Middlesex was administratively hived off and combined with a north eastern part of Surrey and a north western part of Kent, to form an administrative London council (the London County council or LCC), whose remit is depicted in the above map. This surrounded the original square mile of the City of London, shown in grey at the centre of the map but at no time did any of the three territories formally cease to be part of their respective counties. This measure was a purely administrative convenience and did not affect the territorial integrity of the counties concerned.

In 1965 the London authority remit was replaced by an expanded version (Greater London Council or GLC, later, Greater London Assembly or GLA) that embraced virtually the entirety of Middlesex and added parts of south west Essex and additional territory from Surrey, Kent and Hertfordshire.

This move also placed some parts of Middlesex within the administrative remits of Hertfordshire and Surrey county councils. Again, however, these administrative changes were purely that, they at no time affected the territorial integrity of the counties concerned, all the respective areas affected, remain to this day, as part of their original counties, no legislation has ever affected them. People sometimes ask what then is London? As these maps and the one below

clearly demonstrate, London is a city which straddles several counties at the point where they meet. This is demonstrated further by the extended county map of south east of England shown below.

Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire

South eastern Lancashire is administered by a local authority area named Greater Manchester, shown in grey, which also oversees civic matters in adjacent parts of Cheshire, Yorkshire and even a portion of Derbyshire! All the respective counties covered, remain as distinct entities however, unchanged in shape or size.

Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset

The administration of these counties has altered considerably and often, in the past decades but nothing has ever legally changed the fundamental arrangement of the counties. Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight are both self-administering but remain part of Hampshire.

Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland

Swathes of Lancashire in the south are administered by other authorities than Lancashire County Council, whose remit is depicted in grey. The Furness portion of the county also sits outside its territorial remit although it does administer part of Yorkshire. None of this has any bearing at all on the actual county of Lancashire whose true boundary is clearly marked on the above map. Westmorland and Cumberland are distinct counties albeit jointly administered by one local authority which also administers the Sedbergh portion of Yorkshire and the Furness territory of Lancashire. All four counties are entirely unaffected by these local government arrangements, which can and do, frequently change are thus ill-suited as the basis for any sense of local identity.


Oxfordshire County Council’s administrative remit includes a large section of Berkshire but its administration does not define Oxfordshire, whose southern boundary is and always has been the Thames. Abingdon and Farringdon are in Berkshire.


Sussex is one county, administered by three councils. The territory of none of these councils constitutes a county in itself. There is only one Sussex. As can be seen some territory across the county boundary is administered by Sussex based administrations and vice versa but the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex are unaffected by these administrative practicalities.