Ceremonial counties of England

The Counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies, informally known as 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] to distinguish them from other types of counties of England.

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


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.

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 counties

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.[note 1]

Ceremonial counties since 1997

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

(in km²)
(sq. mi.)
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties or unitary authority areas
Bedfordshire669,33836th1,235 47741st54213thBedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton
Berkshire911,40324th1,262 48740th72210thBerkshire
Bristol463,40543rd110 4247th4,2242ndBristol
Buckinghamshire808,66630th1,874 72432nd43222ndBuckinghamshire and Milton Keynes
Cambridgeshire852,52328th3,390 1,31015th25234thCambridgeshire and Peterborough
Cheshire1,059,27119th2,343 90525th45221stCheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, and Warrington
City of London[note 2]8,70648th2.90 1.1248th2,9984thCity of London
Cornwall568,21040th3,562 1,37512th16041stCornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Cumbria498,88841st6,767 2,6133rd7447thCumbria
Derbyshire1,053,31621st2,625 1,01421st40125thDerbyshire and Derby
Devon1,194,16611th6,707 2,5904th17839thDevon, Plymouth and Torbay
Dorset772,26831st2,653 1,02420th27432ndDorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole[10]
Durham866,84626th2,676 1,03319th32428thCounty Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool and part of Stockton-on-Tees (north of the River Tees)
East Riding of Yorkshire600,25937th2,477 95623rd24235thEast Riding of Yorkshire and Kingston-upon-Hull
East Sussex844,98529th1,791 69233rd47220thEast Sussex and Brighton and Hove
Essex1,832,7527th3,670 1,42011th49915thEssex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock
Gloucestershire916,20223rd3,150 1,22016th29130thGloucestershire and South Gloucestershire
Greater London8,899,3751st1,569 60637th5,6711stThe London boroughs
Greater Manchester2,812,5693rd1,276 49339th2,2045thGreater Manchester
Hampshire1,844,2456th3,769 1,4559th48917thHampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton
Herefordshire192,10745th2,180 84026th8846thHerefordshire
Hertfordshire1,184,36513th1,643 63436th72111thHertfordshire
Isle of Wight141,53846th380 15046th37226thIsle of Wight
Kent1,846,4785th3,738 1,44310th49416thKent and Medway
Lancashire1,498,3008th3,075 1,18717th48719thBlackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire
Leicestershire1,053,48620th2,156 83228th48918thLeicestershire and Leicester
Lincolnshire1,087,65918th6,975 2,6932nd15642ndLincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire
Merseyside1,423,0659th647 25043rd2,2006thMerseyside
Norfolk903,68025th5,380 2,0805th16840thNorfolk
North Yorkshire1,158,81614th8,654 3,3411st13444thMiddlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Redcar and Cleveland, York and part of Stockton-on-Tees (south of the River Tees)
Northamptonshire747,62233rd2,364 91324th31629thNorthamptonshire
Northumberland320,27444th5,014 1,9366th6448thNorthumberland
Nottinghamshire1,154,19515th2,159 83427th53514thNottinghamshire and Nottingham
Oxfordshire687,52435th2,605 1,00622nd26433rdOxfordshire
Rutland39,69747th382 14745th10445thRutland
Shropshire498,07342nd3,488 1,34713th14343rdShropshire and Telford and Wrekin
Somerset965,42422nd4,170 1,6107th23236thBath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and Somerset
South Yorkshire1,402,91810th1,552 59938th9049thSouth Yorkshire
Staffordshire1,131,05217th2,714 1,04818th41724thStaffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
Suffolk758,55632nd3,801 1,4688th20038thSuffolk
Surrey1,189,93412th1,663 64235th71612thSurrey
Tyne and Wear1,136,37116th540 21044th2,1057thTyne and Wear
Warwickshire571,01039th1,975 76331st28931stWarwickshire
West Midlands2,916,4582nd902 34842nd3,2353rdWest Midlands
West Sussex858,85227th1,991 76930th43123rdWest Sussex
West Yorkshire2,320,2144th2,029 78329th1,1438thWest Yorkshire
Wiltshire720,06034th3,485 1,34614th20737thSwindon and Wiltshire
Worcestershire592,05738th1,741 67234th34027thWorcestershire

Lieutenancy areas in 1890

See also


  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.
  2. Because the City of London has a Commission of Lieutenancy rather than a single lord-lieutenant, it is treated as a county for some purposes of the Lieutenancy Act. (Schedule 1 paragraph 4)


  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". www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk.
  3. "Lieutenancies Act 1997". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  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 legislation.gov.uk. 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 legislation.gov.uk. 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 legislation.gov.uk. 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.
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