County borough

County borough
County borough
Category Borough
Location England and Wales and Ireland
Found in Counties
Created by Local Government Act 1888
Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898
Local Government (Wales) Act 1994
Created England 1889
Wales 1889/1994
Ireland 1899
Abolished by Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971
Local Government Act 1972
Local Government Act 2001
Abolished Northern Ireland 1973 (local government)
England and Wales 1974
Ireland 2002
Number 11 (as of 2008)
Possible types Lieutenancy area (2)
Principal area (9)

County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (excluding Scotland), to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control. 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 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, which were responsible for all services apart from police, education and fire.


England and Wales


Initial creation

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. 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, Lincoln, 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

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, Teesside county borough was formed from the merger of the existing county borough of Middlesbrough, and the non-county boroughs of Stockton-on-Tees and Redcar; 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 GLC were abolished, returning the boroughs to a county borough status, sharing some powers (police and transport for example). In the 1990s most of the old county boroughs were reformed again as unitary authorities — essentially the same as a county borough. In England, most of those former county boroughs that did not gain unitary authority status — Barrow-in-Furness, Burnley, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chester, Eastbourne, Exeter, Gloucester, Hastings, Ipswich, Lincoln, Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Preston, Worcester, and Yarmouth — 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).

County boroughs in 1973

Map of County Boroughs Prior to Abolition in 1974

The map depicts the county boroughs in England (excluding Monmouthshire) 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 (most) 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 426,653 Bristol Avon
Burnley 1889 Lancashire 76,489 Burnley (part) Lancashire
Burton upon Trent 1901 Staffordshire 50,211 East Staffordshire (part) † Staffordshire
Bury 1889 Lancashire 67,870 Bury MB (part) Greater Manchester
Canterbury 1889 Kent 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 62,923 Chester (part) Cheshire
Coventry 1889 Warwickshire 335,260 Coventry MB 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 95,711 Exeter Devon
Gateshead 1889 Durham 94,464 Gateshead MB Tyne and Wear
Gloucester 1889 Gloucestershire 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
Hull 1889 Yorkshire, East Riding 285,965 Hull Humberside
Ipswich 1889 Suffolk 123,297 Ipswich Suffolk
Leeds 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 496,036 Leeds MB (part) West Yorkshire
Leicester 1889 Leicestershire 284,208 Leicester Leicestershire
Lincoln 1889 Lincolnshire 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 (most) Greater Manchester
Merthyr Tydfil 1908 Glamorgan 55,283 Merthyr Tydfil Mid Glamorgan
Newcastle upon Tyne 1889 Northumberland 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 300,675 Nottingham Nottinghamshire
Norwich 1889 Norfolk 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 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 Tyne and Wear
Swansea 1889 Glamorgan 173,355 Swansea (part) West Glamorgan
Teesside 1968 Yorkshire, North Riding 396,233 Middlesbrough
Stockton (part)
Langbaurgh (part)
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 73,454 Worcester (most) Hereford and Worcester
Yarmouth 1889 Norfolk 50,236 Great Yarmouth (part) Norfolk
York 1889 Yorkshire, West Riding 104,783 York North Yorkshire

† had Charter Trustees

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

County boroughs to be abolished prior to 1974 were:

County borough County Created Abolished Successor
Croydon Surrey 1889 1965 Greater London: London Borough of Croydon
Devonport Devon 1889 1914 County Borough of Plymouth
East Ham Essex 1915 1965 Greater London: London Borough of Newham
Hanley Staffordshire 1889 1910 County Borough of Stoke on Trent
Middlesbrough Yorkshire, North Riding 1889 1968 County Borough of Teesside
Smethwick Staffordshire 1907 1966 County Borough of Warley
West Ham Essex 1889 1965 Greater London: London Borough of Newham
West Hartlepool Durham 1902 1967 County Borough of Hartlepool

Northern Ireland

The county boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry 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 Derry).

Republic of Ireland

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 city, is instead administered as a town (and part of the county council area) for local government purposes. It is allowed to use the title "Borough Council" instead of "Town Council" however.


  1. ^ Local Government Act, 2001, with particular reference to section 10 (2) and 10 (4) (b).,1963,en.pdf
  2. ^ Local Government Act 1888, s.31
  3. ^ Census data on population of Merthyr Tydfil
  4. ^ London Gazette, 1 May 1935
  5. ^ Report of the Royal Commission on the status of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil (Cmd.5039)
  6. ^ Local government in England and Wales during the period of reconstruction (Cmd.6579)
  7. ^ London Gazette, 26 October 1945
  8. ^ Report of the Local Government Boundary Commission for the year 1947
  9. ^ Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, Schedule 1

See also

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