England has been organised into 40 traditional counties (ref. RL – Traditional Counties). In alphabetical order these are: 1. Bedfordshire 2. Berkshire 3. Buckinghamshire 4. Cambridgeshire 5. Cheshire 6. Cornwall 7. Cumberland 8. Derbyshire 9. Devon(shire) 10. Dorset(shire) 11. (County) Durham(shire?) 12. Essex 13. Gloucestershire 14. Hampshire 15. Herefordshire 16. Hertfordshire 17. Hexhamshire 18. Huntingdonshire 19. Kent 20. Lancashire 21. Leicestershire 22. Lincolnshire 23. Middlesex 24. Norfolk 25. Northamptonshire 26. Northumberland 27. Nottinghamshire 28. Oxfordshire 29. Rutland(shire) 30. Shropshire 31. Somerset(shire) 32. Staffordshire 33. Suffolk 34. Surrey 35. Sussex 36. Warwickshire 37. Westmorland 38. Wiltshire 39. Worcestershire 40. Yorkshire
England’s present day county system is broadly based on the historical Anglo-saxon shire system of local governance and 28 traditional counties have retained the word shire as part of their name.
Systems of local governance often change when national or regional sovereignty changes. This is particularly relevant in England’s north-east region: Vikings (mostly Danish in origin) aggressively settled in great numbers in the area (793 – 1066) and the shire system was replaced by the Danelaw system. In this change several areas in England’s North-east region lost their shire status (ref. RL – Lost Shires of England) and they are referred to as lost shires ~ from north to south these lost shires are: Norhamshire, Islandshire and Bedlingtonshire (all 3 in present day Northumberland) :: Allertonshire, Richmondshire, Gillingshire, Hallamshire, Howdenshire and Hullshire (all 7 in present day Yorkshire). Salfordshire (in present day Lancashire) and Winchcombeshire (in present day Gloucestershire) are also lost shires which became ‘lost’ for reasons not directly related to Danelaw.
In relation to the traditional English county of Yorkshire ~ Yorkshire takes its name from the city of York and York derives its name from the Viking word “Jorvik”. For some reason the Anglo-saxon word “shire” has survived the ages and is still part of the present day county name.
Some traditional English counties have neither a strong Anglo-saxon nor strong Viking influence on their current name:
- Cumberland & Westmorland ~ now collectively known as Cumbria (since 1974) have retained their Cumbric heritage in the collective name
- Cornwall has retained its early ‘Briton’ name ~ in legend Cornwall derived its name from Corineus, a mythical warrior associated with Brutus (of Troy), the legendary leader of the early Britons
- Kent has retained its iron-age tribal heritage ~ Kent derives its name from “Cantii”, the name of a powerful iron-age tribe that probably settled in the area sometime after 1,000 BC
Wild England teasers!
1. Which traditional English counties, collectively, are referred to as “The Shires”?
2. Which traditional English counties, collectively, are commonly referred to as “The Home Counties”?
3. Which present day county of Wales was considered a traditional county of England from 1542 – 1974?
4. Does the City of London have county status?
5. Which traditional English county has been given royal status?
6. Why is Durham(shire?) more commonly called (County) Durham?
1. The 16 counties of England’s historical region of Mercia – Shropshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire … Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland(shire) … Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire … Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire
2. The Home Counties are those 5 counties around London which are within the metropolitan police area (either wholly or in part) – Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire
4. Yes. Its correct title is the ‘County of the City of London’. It gained county status in 1170
5. Berkshire – becoming Royal Berkshire in 1957
6. Probably because of the connection between the city of Durham and Saint Aiden [Saint Aiden was originally from Ireland and the traditional Irish way to denote county status is to put the word county first]