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County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control, similar to the unitary authorities created since the 1990s. An equivalent term used in Scotland was a county of city. They were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in England and Wales, but continue in use for lieutenancy and shrievalty in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland they remain in existence but have been renamed cities under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2001.[1] The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 re-introduced the term for certain "principal areas" in Wales. Scotland did not have county boroughs but instead had counties of cities. These were abolished on 16 May 1975. All four Scottish cities of the time—Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow—were included in this category. There was an additional category of large burgh in the Scottish system (similar to a municipal borough in England and Wales), which were responsible for all services apart from police, education and fire.

England and Wales[edit]


Initial creation[edit]

When county councils were first created in 1889, it was decided that to let them have authority over large towns or cities would be impractical, and so any large incorporated place would have the right to be a county borough, and thus independent from the administrative county it would otherwise come under. Some cities and towns were already independent counties corporate, and most were to become county boroughs. Originally ten county boroughs were proposed; Bristol, Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne and Nottingham, which were already counties, and Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Sheffield, which were not. The Local Government Act 1888 as eventually passed required a population of over 50,000 except in the case of existing counties corporate.[2] This resulted in 61 county boroughs in England and two in Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). Several exceptions were allowed, mainly for historic towns: Bath, Dudley and Oxford were all under the 50,000 limit in the 1901 census. Some of the smaller counties corporate—Berwick upon Tweed, Lichfield, Poole, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest—did not become county boroughs, although Canterbury, with a population under 25,000, did.


Various new county boroughs were constituted in the following decades as more boroughs reached the 50,000 minimum and then promoted Acts to constitute them county boroughs. The granting of county borough status was the subject of much disagreement between the large municipal boroughs and the county councils. The population limit provided county councils with a disincentive to allow mergers or boundary amendments to districts that would create authorities with large populations, as this would allow them to seek county borough status and remove the tax base from the administrative county.

County boroughs to be constituted in this era were a mixed bag, including some towns that would continue to expand such as Bournemouth and Southend-on-Sea. Other towns such as Burton upon Trent and Dewsbury were not to increase in population much past 50,000. 1913 saw the attempts of Luton and Cambridge to gain county borough status defeated in the House of Commons, despite the approval of the Local Government Board - the removal of Cambridge from Cambridgeshire would have reduced the income of Cambridgeshire County Council by over half.


Street nameplate on Rutland Road, Smethwick in April 2007, showing painted out "County Borough" lettering.

Upon recommendation of a commission chaired by the Earl of Onslow, the population threshold was raised to 75,000 in 1926, by the Local Government (County Boroughs and Adjustments) Act 1926, which also made it much harder to expand boundaries. The threshold was raised to 100,000 by the Local Government Act 1958.

The viability of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil came into question in the 1930s. Due to a decline in the heavy industries of the town, by 1932 more than half the male population was unemployed, resulting in very high municipal rates in order to make public assistance payments. At the same time the population of the borough was lower than when it had been created in 1908.[3] A royal commission was appointed in May 1935 to "investigate whether the existing status of Merthyr Tydfil as a county borough should be continued, and if not, what other arrangements should be made".[4] The commission reported the following November, and recommended that Merthyr should revert to the status of a non-county borough, and that public assistance should be taken over by central government. In the event county borough status was retained by the town, with the chairman of the Welsh Board of Health appointed as administrative adviser in 1936.[5]

After the Second World War the creation of new county boroughs in England and Wales was effectively suspended, pending a local government review. A government white paper published in 1945 stated that "it is expected that there will be a number of Bills for extending or creating county boroughs" and proposed the creation of a boundary commission to bring coordination to local government reform. The policy in the paper also ruled out the creation of new county boroughs in Middlesex "owing to its special problems".[6] The Local Government Boundary Commission was appointed on 26 October 1945, under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve,[7] delivering its report in 1947.[8] The commission recommended that towns with a population of 200,000 or more should become one-tier "new counties", with "new county boroughs" having a population of 60,000 - 200,000 being "most-purpose authorities", with the county council of the administrative county providing certain limited services. The report envisaged the creation of 47 two-tiered "new counties", 21 one-tiered "new counties" and 63 "new county boroughs". The recommendations of the commission extended to a review of the division of functions between different tiers of local government, and thus fell outside its terms of reference, and its report was not acted upon.

Partial reform[edit]

The next attempt at reform was by the Local Government Act 1958, which established the Local Government Commission for England and the Local Government Commission for Wales to carry out reviews of existing local government structures and recommend reforms. Although the Commissions did not complete their work before being dissolved, a handful of new county boroughs were constituted between 1964 and 1968. Luton, Torbay, and Solihull gained county borough status. Additionally, the County Borough of Teesside was formed from a merger of the existing county borough of Middlesbrough, and the municipal boroughs of Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar and Thornaby; Warley was formed from the county borough of Smethwick and the non-county boroughs of Oldbury and Rowley Regis; and West Hartlepool was merged with Hartlepool. Following these changes, there was a total of 79 county boroughs in England. The Commission also recommended the downgrading of Barnsley to be a non-county borough, but this was not carried out.


The county boroughs of East Ham, West Ham and Croydon were abolished in 1965 with the creation of Greater London and went on to form parts of London boroughs. The remaining county boroughs were abolished in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, and replaced with non-metropolitan districts and metropolitan districts, all beneath county councils in a two-tier structure. In Greater London and the metropolitan counties the lower tier districts retained a wider range of powers than in the non-metropolitan counties.


This situation did not persist long. In 1986 the metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council were abolished, returning the metropolitan boroughs to a status equivalent to the former county boroughs, but sharing some powers (police and transport for example). In the 1990s, many of the nonmetropolitan former county boroughs were reformed again as unitary authorities - essentially the same as a county borough. As a result, by 2015, most former county boroughs were either metropolitan boroughs or unitary authorities with a status similar to the old county boroughs. In England, most of those former county boroughs that did not gain unitary authority status—Barrow-in-Furness, Burnley, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chester, Eastbourne, Gloucester, Great Yarmouth, Hastings, Ipswich, Lincoln, Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Preston, and Worcester—have given their names to non-unitary local government districts (in some cases coterminous with the old county borough, in other cases much larger). Burton upon Trent became an unparished area in the East Staffordshire borough, and has now been divided into several parishes.

In Wales, several principal areas are county boroughs:[9]

For all practical purposes, county boroughs are exactly the same as the other principal areas of Wales called "counties" (including "cities and counties") as all these areas are run by unitary authorities (i.e.: have the functions of both boroughs and counties). Although unitary authorities are functionally equivalent to county boroughs, only in Wales is the title given official recognition by Act of Parliament.[9]

English county boroughs in 1973[edit]

The map depicts the county boroughs in England immediately prior to their abolition in 1974. County boroughs in Wales and Northern Ireland are not shown.

This table shows those county boroughs that existed in England and Wales between the Local Government Acts of 1888 (that created them) and 1972 (that abolished them from 1974).

County borough From Associated county 1971 census pop Successors in 1974 Barnsley 1913 Yorkshire, West Riding 75,439 Barnsley MB (part) South Yorkshire Barrow-in-Furness 1889 Lancashire 64,039 Barrow (part) Cumbria Bath 1889 Somerset 84,686 Bath Avon Birkenhead 1889 Cheshire 137,889 Wirral MB (part) Merseyside Birmingham 1889 Warwickshire 1,014,773 Birmingham MD (part) West Midlands Blackburn 1889 Lancashire 101,802 Blackburn (part) Lancashire Blackpool 1904 Lancashire 151,871 Blackpool Lancashire Bolton 1889 Lancashire 154,223 Bolton MB (part) Greater Manchester Bootle 1889 Lancashire 74,304 Sefton MB (part) Merseyside Bournemouth 1900 Hampshire 153,861 Bournemouth Dorset Bradford 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 294,164 Bradford MB (part) West Yorkshire Brighton 1889 Sussex 161,350 Brighton East Sussex Bristol 1889 Gloucestershire[a] 426,653 Bristol Avon Burnley 1889 Lancashire 76,489 Burnley (part) Lancashire Burton upon Trent 1901 Staffordshire 50,211 East Staffordshire (part)[b] Staffordshire Bury 1889 Lancashire 67,870 Bury MB (part) Greater Manchester Canterbury 1889 Kent[a] 33,155 Canterbury (part) Kent Cardiff 1889 Glamorgan 279,046 Cardiff (part) South Glamorgan Carlisle 1915 Cumberland 71,580 Carlisle (part) Cumbria Chester 1889 Cheshire[a] 62,923 Chester (part) Cheshire Coventry 1889 Warwickshire 335,260 Coventry MB (part) West Midlands Darlington 1915 Durham 85,916 Darlington (part) Durham Derby 1889 Derbyshire 219,578 Derby Derbyshire Dewsbury 1913 Yorkshire, West Riding 51,354 Kirklees MB (part) West Yorkshire Doncaster 1927 Yorkshire, West Riding 82,671 Doncaster MB (part) South Yorkshire Dudley 1889 Worcestershire to 1966

then Staffordshire 185,592 Dudley MB (part) West Midlands Eastbourne 1911 Sussex 70,949 Eastbourne East Sussex Exeter 1889 Devon[a] 95,711 Exeter Devon Gateshead 1889 Durham 94,464 Gateshead MB (part) Tyne and Wear Gloucester 1889 Gloucestershire[a] 90,223 Gloucester Gloucestershire Grimsby 1891 Lincolnshire 95,502 Grimsby Humberside Halifax 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 91,263 Calderdale MB (part) West Yorkshire Hartlepool 1967 Durham 97,082 Hartlepool (part) Cleveland Hastings 1889 Sussex 72,414 Hastings East Sussex Huddersfield 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 131,188 Kirklees MB (part) West Yorkshire Ipswich 1889 Suffolk 123,297 Ipswich Suffolk Kingston upon Hull 1889 Yorkshire, East Riding[a] 285,965 Kingston upon Hull Humberside Leeds 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 496,036 Leeds MB (part) West Yorkshire Leicester 1889 Leicestershire 284,208 Leicester Leicestershire Lincoln 1889 Lincolnshire[a] 77,077 (1961) Lincoln Lincolnshire Liverpool 1889 Lancashire 610,114 Liverpool Merseyside Luton 1964 Bedfordshire 161,400 Luton Bedfordshire Manchester 1889 Lancashire 543,741 Manchester MB (part) Greater Manchester Merthyr Tydfil 1908 Glamorgan 55,283 Merthyr Tydfil Mid Glamorgan Newcastle upon Tyne 1889 Northumberland[a] 222,172 Newcastle upon Tyne MB (part) Tyne and Wear Newport 1891 Monmouthshire 112,298 Newport Gwent Northampton 1889 Northamptonshire 126,597 Northampton (part) Northamptonshire Nottingham 1889 Nottinghamshire[a] 300,675 Nottingham Nottinghamshire Norwich 1889 Norfolk[a] 122,093 Norwich Norfolk Oldham 1889 Lancashire 105,922 Oldham MB (part) Greater Manchester Oxford 1889 Oxfordshire 108,834 Oxford Oxfordshire Plymouth 1889 Devon 239,467 Plymouth Devon Portsmouth 1889 Hampshire 197,453 Portsmouth Hampshire Preston 1889 Lancashire 98,091 Preston (part) Lancashire Reading 1889 Berkshire 132,978 Reading Berkshire Rochdale 1889 Lancashire 91,461 Rochdale MB (part) Greater Manchester Rotherham 1902 Yorkshire, West Riding 84,800 Rotherham MB (part) South Yorkshire St Helens 1889 Lancashire 104,326 St Helens MB (part) Merseyside Salford 1889 Lancashire 131,006 Salford MB (part) Greater Manchester Sheffield 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 520,308 Sheffield MB (part) South Yorkshire Solihull 1964 Warwickshire 107,086 Solihull MB (part) West Midlands Southampton 1889 Hampshire[a] 215,131 Southampton Hampshire Southend-on-Sea 1914 Essex 162,735 Southend-on-Sea Essex Southport 1905 Lancashire 84,524 Sefton MB (part) Merseyside South Shields 1889 Durham 100,676 South Tyneside MB (part) Tyne and Wear Stockport 1889 Cheshire 139,598 Stockport MB (part) Greater Manchester Stoke on Trent 1910 Staffordshire 265,258 Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire Sunderland 1889 Durham 217,075 Sunderland MB (part) Tyne and Wear Swansea 1889 Glamorgan 173,355 Swansea (part) West Glamorgan Teesside 1968 Yorkshire, North Riding 396,233 Middlesbrough (part)

Stockton (part)

Langbaurgh (part) Cleveland Torbay 1968 Devon 109,260 Torbay Devon Tynemouth 1904 Northumberland 69,339 North Tyneside MB (part) Tyne and Wear Wakefield 1915 Yorkshire, West Riding 59,591 Wakefield MB (part) West Yorkshire Wallasey 1913 Cheshire 97,216 Wirral MB (part) Merseyside Walsall 1889 Staffordshire 184,734 Walsall MB (part) West Midlands Warley 1966 Worcestershire 163,567 Sandwell MB (part) West Midlands Warrington 1900 Lancashire 68,322 Warrington (part) Cheshire West Bromwich 1889 Staffordshire 166,592 Sandwell MB (part) West Midlands Wigan 1889 Lancashire 81,144 Wigan MB (part) Greater Manchester Wolverhampton 1889 Staffordshire 269,112 Wolverhampton MB West Midlands Worcester 1889 Worcestershire[a] 73,454 Worcester (part) Hereford and Worcester Yarmouth 1889 Norfolk 50,236 Great Yarmouth (part) Norfolk York 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding[a] 104,783 York North Yorkshire

Only four districts with more than one county borough were formed: Wirral, Sandwell, Sefton and Kirklees. Elsewhere, county boroughs usually formed the core or all of a district named after the county borough - with the exceptions of Halifax, whose metropolitan district was named Calderdale, Burton upon Trent, which became part of the East Staffordshire district, and Teesside, which was split up between three non-metropolitan districts.

Previous county boroughs[edit]

County boroughs to be abolished prior to 1974 were:

Northern Ireland[edit]

The county boroughs of Belfast and Derry were created by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898.

In Northern Ireland, local government has not used county boroughs since 1973, but they remain in use for lieutenancy.

For administrative purposes the two county boroughs in Northern Ireland were replaced with two larger districts (Belfast and Londonderry).

Republic of Ireland[edit]

The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 created county boroughs in Ireland. Under the Act, four former counties corporate (Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford) became county boroughs.

Galway became a county borough in 1986.

In the Republic of Ireland, the relevant legislation remained in force (although amended), and county boroughs on the original model existed until 2001. Under the Local Government Act 2001 (which replaced most existing local government legislation in Ireland), the term "County Borough" was abolished and replaced with "City" (and hence, "Corporation" with "City Council"). However Kilkenny, while a traditional city, was never a county borough. Under the Local Government Reform Act 2014, the borough of Kilkenny was abolished, but the municipal district containing the administrative area of the former borough of Kilkenny would be known as the Municipal District of Kilkenny City.

See also[edit]