England has c. 1,000 officially recognised towns (ref. RL – Terrific Towns) and a great many more villages (ref. RL – Valued Villages)
[ A town can be defined as a built-up area with a name, defined boundaries, and local government, that is larger than a village and generally smaller than a city ]
In history many of the most important towns in England became known as ‘shire towns’ and later, as ‘county towns’. Some of these towns later developed into cities.
SHIRE TOWNS (ref. RL – Shire Towns) ~ Sometime in the 5th century the Angle settlers introduced the shire system of governance to England; particularly in the ‘Angle kingdoms’ of Mercia and Northumbria. In this system, the name of the shire was taken from the most important town of the area ~ these towns are sometimes referred to as ‘shire towns’.
COUNTY TOWNS (ref. RL – County Towns) ~ Later, when England became organised into counties (following the Norman conquest from 1066), the name of the shire was often retained as the county name and the shire towns simply became known as county towns. England has 21 such (original) county towns – in alphabetical order these are: Bedford, Buckingham, Cambridge, Chester, Derby, Gloucester, Hereford, Hertford, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Leicester, Lincoln, Northampton, Nottingham, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Somerton, Stafford, Warwick, Wilton and Worcester
[ please note – In relation to Chester, Lancaster, Shrewsbury, Somerton and Wilton: The original names of their respective counties were probably Chestershire, Lancastershire, Shrewsburyshire, Somertonshire and Wiltonshire ]
Many present day traditional counties of England did not originate from the Angle shire system of governance and their county towns did not determine the name of the county. England has 17 such (original) county towns – in alphabetical order these are: Abingdon-on-Thames, Alnwick, Appleby-in-Westmorland, Bodmin, Brentford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Chichester, Dorchester, Durham, Exeter, Ipswich, Kingston-upon-Thames, Maidstone, Norwich, Oakham and Winchester
With regard to York & Yorkshire – York derives its name from Jorvik, the viking name for York. York was the centre of the Viking Kingdom of England’s North-east region. The Vikings replaced the Angle system of governance (ref. RL – Lost Shires of England) with the Viking system of governance, as illustrated by the 3 Ridings of Yorkshire
[ DID YOU KNOW? Some present day traditional counties of England have been historically subdivided into further discrete areas of governance which also have an accepted & recognised ‘county’ town of the area. These discrete areas of county subdivisions can be noted as: The Peninsula of Furness, The 3 Ridings of Yorkshire (North Riding, West Riding and East Riding), the 3 Parts of Lincolnshire (Lindsey Part, Kesteven Part and Holland Part), the Soke of Peterborough, West Suffolk and East Sussex. (ref. RL – North Riding of Yorkshire; RL – West Riding of Yorkshire; RL – East Riding of Yorkshire; RL – Lindsey Part; RL – Kesteven Part; RL – Holland Part; RL – Soke of Peterborough; RL – West Suffolk; RL – East Sussex) ]
Wild England teasers!
1. Name the ‘county’ towns of the Peninsula of Furness, the 3 Ridings of Yorkshire (North Riding, West Riding and East Riding), the 3 Parts of Lincolnshire (Lindsey Part, Kesteven Part and Holland Part), the Soke of Peterborough, West Suffolk and East Sussex.
2. Name the counties to which the following county towns belong: Abingdon-on-Thames, Alnwick, Appleby-in-Westmorland, Bodmin, Brentford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Chichester, Dorchester, Durham, Exeter, Ipswich, Kingston-upon-Thames, Maidstone, Norwich, Oakham and Winchester
3. How many original county towns have lost their county town status? Name each one and their county town successor.
1. Barrow-in-Furness (Peninsula of Furness), Northallerton (North Riding), (city of) Wakefield (West Riding), Beverley (East Riding), (city of) Lincoln (Lindsey Part), Sleaford (Kesteven Part), Boston (Holland Part), (city of) Peterborough (Soke of Peterborough), Bury St Edmunds (West Suffolk) and Lewes (East Sussex)
2. Berkshire (Abingdon-on-Thames), Northumberland (Alnwick), Westmorland (Appleby-in-Westmorland), Cornwall (Bodmin), Middlesex (Brentford), Cumberland (Carlisle), Essex (Chelmsford), West Sussex (Chichester), Dorset (Dorchester), County Durham (Durham), Devon (Exeter), Suffolk (Ipswich), Surrey (Kingston-upon-Thames), Kent (Maidstone), Norfolk (Norwich), Rutland(shire) (Oakham) and Hampshire (Winchester)
3. 6 – Abingdon-on-Thames – successor Reading, Bodmin – successor (city of) Truro, Buckingham – successor Aylesbury, Kingston-upon-Thames – successor Guildford, Somerton – successor Taunton and Wilton – successor Trowbridge