ABC map of counties, based approximately on "reputed boundaries" from first edition Ordnance Survey maps

The Association of British Counties (ABC) is a non-party-political outsider pressure group formed in 1989 that promotes what they assert to be the traditional counties of the United Kingdom. It claims that the traditional counties are an important part of Britain's cultural heritage and as such should be preserved and promoted. It proposes that there be a clear official distinction between those current administrative units known as counties, and those counties which existed before local government reforms were introduced, beginning in the late 19th century, and which, it claims, still have an informal existence as cultural entities.


The ABC claims that the traditional counties are an important part of Britain's cultural heritage and as such should be preserved and promoted. To this end it has produced a postal directory putting British place names in the corresponding traditional county with respect to the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844, in addition to cross-referencing this with various other administrative areas, noting alternatives where the correct county is debatable and providing detailed discussion of these instances where they occur.

County boundariesEdit

The ABC recognises eighty-six counties. The association does not believe that counties corporate enjoy county status "in the ordinary sense of the term" and includes them within the historic county or counties in which they lie geographically.[1]

The association declares that the "most authoritative definition of the boundaries of the Counties of Great Britain is that obtained by the Ordnance Survey during its first national survey of Great Britain".[2]

Areas transferred from one county to another by the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 are "considered to be associated with both their parent County (from which they are detached) and the County in which they locally lie.".[2]

Aims and objectivesEdit

The ABC has declared that it does not want further local government reorganisation.[3] Instead it would rather see an official distinction made between current administrative units known as counties, and those areas known as counties prior to the local government reforms of 1965 and 1974, which it claims still have an informal, non-administrative existence.[4]

It seeks to bring about an official change in government terminology to bring it in line with its interpretation of the Local Government Act 1888 — the original piece of legislation which created the county councils in England and Wales, though there have since been several further changes. The Act specifically called the areas it created "administrative counties" (although it also amended what it called the "counties"[5]), and the ABC wishes to see this terminology consistently used to describe them. Also it wishes to see the term "county" stripped from the unitary authorities that use it, a measure which it claims will remove what it sees as confusion resulted from the status of various entities termed counties since 1889. In particular, ABC uses scare quotes around the word "county" when not referring to the counties as defined by them.

Other policies include:

  • compelling the Ordnance Survey to mark the county borders it espouses on their maps
  • lobbying for the erection of boundary signs at these boundaries
  • making the ceremonial counties match the boundaries they promote
  • that the English regions should be redefined in order to ensure that the counties as they describe them should "be brought wholly within one region or another"


Local governmentEdit

The ABC was founded in 1989, holding its inaugural conference on April 1 in historic Monmouthshire.[6] This was at the beginning of a period of review of local government areas: in March 1989 the Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas Ridley had ordered an urgent review of the future of Humberside.[7] Later in April the MP Nicholas Bennett unsuccessfully introduced a bill into the Commons to introduce a system of unitary authorities in Wales based on historic counties.[8][9] Following the establishment of the Local Government Commission for England in 1992, the ABC became active in the review process, advocating the restoration of historic county boundaries. The LGCE's review resulted in the restoration of Herefordshire and Rutland to local government and ceremonial status, and the abolition of the unpopular counties of Avon, Cleveland and Humberside.[10][11][12][13][14] Attempts to resurrect Cumberland and Westmorland failed to gain the support of either the LGCE or the public.[15][16] The creation of a Huntingdonshire unitary authority was also eventually rejected in spite of strong support locally.[17]

In 2007 it was announced that a number of unitary authorities would be formed in 2009.[18] Among the councils that were to gain unitary status were the county councils of Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire, which were to absorb all of the district councils in each county. The ABC launched a campaign in November 2007 for the new unitary councils to be renamed to reflect what they asserted to be "real counties":[19][20][21][22]

  • They suggested that the new authority for County Durham should be named either "Central Durham and Teesdale" or "Mid Durham and Teesdale". The leader of Durham County Council rejected this suggestion, noting that residents of the area were proud of their county name, and that the "only redeeming feature is that it would give us one of the longest council names in the country".[23] "Given our proud heritage and all that our area has to offer, I would hope that our county would be known for much more than that." Another member of the council suggested that if these "unelected people...want to change the name, then they should pay for it", a cost he estimated at £4 million.[24]
  • The group suggested naming the new authority for Northumberland "Northumberland Heartlands Council", "North and West Northumberland Council", "Rural Northumberland Council" or "Northumberland Moors and Coast Council". However, when the people of the county were asked to choose whether they wanted the name of the council to remain as 'Northumberland County Council' or to change to 'Northumberland Council' the outcome was to retain the old county council name.[25]
  • Suggested renamings of Shropshire were "Shropshire Heartlands Council", "Heart of Shropshire Council" and "Shrewsbury and Rural Shropshire Council".[26]
  • ABC suggest naming the new authority for Wiltshire "Heart of Wiltshire Council", "Wiltshire Heartlands Council", "Wiltshire Plains and Downs Council" or "Salisbury and Rural Wiltshire Council". However, the name "Wiltshire Council" had already been chosen in September 2007.[27]

Addresses and signageEdit

Successes for the "traditional counties movement" include:

  • Successfully lobbying the Royal Mail to have traditional, in addition to administrative and former postal, counties included in the Postcode Address File's Alias record, which is used to "find the correct postal addresses from ‘postally-not-required’ data".[28]
  • The erection of signs marking the traditional boundary between Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire on the A59.[29]

Party political supportEdit

None of the three main political parties has a commitment to support the group or adopt the ABC's cause.

The Green Party of England and Wales, in its "manifesto for a sustainable society" states: "Our preference will be to abolish the County Councils after the transfer of their present functions to District Councils and to confederations of Districts. Where there is public dissatisfaction with boundaries, consultation and (where necessary) referendums will establish the most popular arrangement. This process will be overseen by the Constitutional Commission".

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the English Democrats Party have in the past included measures apparently supportive of the traditional counties movement in their local or national manifestos, but neither party had a manifesto commitment as of March 2006.

UKIP has said it would "dismantle regional government and return powers to traditional county and borough councils" in its local-issues manifesto,[31] but the national manifesto does not mention the word "traditional" so this might be a reference to administrative, not geographic, counties.

The English Democrats statement of principles states "We favour recognition for traditional counties, which would include the reunification of Yorkshire".[32]

The British National Party's manifesto for the 2005 general election denounced the removal of power from the "traditional counties" and proposed their restoration for local government purposes.

A fourth party, the Popular Alliance, does have current manifesto commitments supportive of the movement.

Parliamentary supportEdit

A Private Members Bill, the Historic Counties (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill, was twice introduced into the 2001–2005 Parliament, first by John Randall (Conservative, Uxbridge) in 2003, and again in 2004 by Adrian Flook (Conservative, Taunton), who "[paid] tribute to the Association of British Counties for trailblazing the campaign".[33] The Bill did not proceed to second reading in either year.

Another Private Members Bill, the Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 31 January 2007 by Andrew Rosindell (Conservative, Romford) under the Ten Minute Rule. It was ordered to be brought in by a group of 12 MPs. Mr Rosindell "[thanks] the Association of British Counties, a society dedicated to promoting awareness of the 86 historic counties of Great Britain, which has campaigned tirelessly for their recognition through proper signage denoting historic county boundaries".[34] The Bill did not proceed beyond second reading[35] but was supported by the Conservative opposition.[36] It was opposed by the government.[37]

John Butcher, Conservative MP for Coventry South West until 1997, was an active member of the group, campaigning in Parliament during the 1990s UK local government reform. In 1991, he suggested to the Secretary of State for Wales the use of the traditional county names Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Monmouthshire for unitary authorities in Wales[38] In a 1996 debate, declaring he was honorary president of the ABC, he noted his approval of the abolition of the postal counties, meaning that "people who live in places like "Birmingham, Walsall and Coventry can now use in their addresses the ancient pre-1974 counties".[39]


The following statements have been made regarding the status of the historic counties (though they are not Government policy statements):

Quoted in The Times of 1 April 1974:

According to a Department of the Environment official, the new county boundaries are solely for the purpose of defining areas of first-level government of the future: "They are administrative areas and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change."

Citing Middlesex as an example, he said that although that county had been swallowed up in Greater London in 1965 and disappeared for governmental purposes, the name still exists for postal and other reasons. "Similarly the broad acres known as Yorkshire will remain unaltered despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties."[40]

Paul Beresford, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, on 4 December 1995.[41]

local government boundaries are concerned essentially with administration, and changes, whether arising from the 1974 reorganisation or as part of the current review, need not affect ancient loyalties and affinities.

I need hardly name some of these. Lancashire county cricket club was mentioned, and continues to have Old Trafford as its main ground and headquarters, and has managed to do quite well on it in the last season, despite being within Greater Manchester.


When the ABC first emerged it was stated to have been "formed by about 30 county pressure groups". Among those listed at the time were the Friends of Real Lancashire, the Voice of Rutland, the Back to Somerset Campaign and the County of Middlesex Trust.[42] Of these only the first now appears to be active.

According to their websites, the following groups are affiliated as of June 2011:

The Middlesex Federation has similar aims for Middlesex but is not affiliated to the Association of British Counties.

The direct action group CountyWatch shares some of the aims of the ABC, but is not affiliated to the Association.


  • The Counties - quarterly to members
  • The Gazetteer of British Place Names[45]
  • Be Properly Addressed: A Traditional County Postal Directory
  • Numerous consultation responses


  1. ^ ABC FAQ
  2. ^ a b Association of British Counties - Aims and Objectives
  3. ^ ABC FAQ
  4. ^ "Sections 2.2, 3.2 & 4.4 of ABC's Aims and Objectives". Association of British Counties. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  5. ^ Local Government Act 1888
  6. ^ Diary, The Times, March 28, 1989, p.16
  7. ^ County review ordered, The Times, March 18, 1989
  8. ^ Diary, The Times, April 11, 1989
  9. ^ Welsh councils Bill rejected: Parliament The Times, April 13, 1989
  10. ^ LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Leicestershire. December 1994.
  11. ^ LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Hereford and Worcester. December 1994.
  12. ^ LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset. December 1993
  13. ^ LGCE. Final recommendations on the future local government of Cleveland and Durham. November 1993
  14. ^ LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire. January 1994.
  15. ^ Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Cumbria. October 1994.
  16. ^ LGCE. Final Recommendations on the Future Local Government of: Basildon & Thurrock, Blackburn & Blackpool, Broxtowe, Gedling & Rushcliffe, Dartford & Gravesham, Gillingham & Rochester Upon Medway, Exeter, Gloucester, Halton & Warrington, Huntingdonshire & Peterborough, Northampton, Norwich, Spelthorne and the Wrekin. December 1995.
  17. ^ The Future Local Government of Cambridgeshire (LGC, June 1994), p10: "Options which included a unitary Huntingdonshire authority were supported by 57 per cent of respondents, or 63 per cent if those submissions not expressing a structural preference are excluded. By contrast, only 24 percent of respondents in the district supported the retention of the two tier system."
  18. ^ Green light for five flagship Unitary Councils, Communities and Local Government, accessed December 16, 2007
  19. ^ (7 Nov 2007) "Group demands county name switch". Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  20. ^ Northumberland Unitary Council - call for new name ABC, accessed December 16, 2007
  21. ^ Shropshire Unitary Council - call for new name ABC, accessed December 16, 2007
  22. ^ Wiltshire Unitary Council - call for new name ABC, accessed December 16, 2007
  23. ^ Group demands county name switch, BBC News, accessed December 16 2007
  24. ^ Group calls for dale to be included in county name, Northern Echo, accessed December 16, 2007
  25. ^ One Future - One Council, The Northumberland council - Submission for unitary status, accessed December 16, 2007
  26. ^ Frequently asked questions on One Council for Shropshire, Shropshire County Council, accessed December 16, 2007
  27. ^ Go ahead given for new council's names and dates, Wiltshire County Council, accessed December 16, 2007
  28. ^ Royal Mail - Alias Data. Retrieved 12 January 2007.
  29. ^ Friends of Real Lancashire newsletter
  30. ^ a b The Counties, ABC newsletter, Spring 2009
  31. ^ UKIP Local Issues Manifesto
  32. ^ English Democrats Party — Principles
  33. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 20 October 2004, column 895.
  34. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 31 January 2007, column 236.
  35. ^ House of Commons Hansard Debates for 29 Jun 2007 (pt 0003)
  36. ^ House of Commons Hansard Debates for 29 Jun 2007 (pt 0007)
  37. ^ House of Commons Hansard Debates for 29 Jun 2007 (pt 0008)
  38. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 17 June 1991, column 30.
  39. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 4 July 1996, column 1073.
  40. ^ White Rose ties hold fast despite amputation and shake-up of boundaries, by Raymond Gledhill, The Times, April 1, 1974
  41. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 4 December 1995, columns 119–120.. Retrieved 19 October 2006.
  42. ^ Battle to revive Rutland joined by lobbyists, The Times, July 20, 1991
  43. ^ Huntingdonshire Society website
  44. ^ Yorkshire Ridings Society website
  45. ^
  • Russell Grant (1996). The Real Counties of Britain. Virgin Books. ISBN 1-85227-479-4. 

External linksEdit

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Association of British Counties. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.