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Association of British Counties facts for kids

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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 society formed in 1989 by television personality Russell Grant to promote the historic counties of the United Kingdom. It argues that the historic counties are an important part of Britain's cultural heritage and as such should be preserved and promoted. It also proposes that there be a clear official distinction between the historic counties and the administrative units known as counties—first described as a separate entity in the Local Government Act 1888.

Definitions and county boundaries recognised by the Association

The ABC recognises ninety-two historic counties of the United Kingdom; and provides a gazetteer of British place names to enable their identification. The gazetteer identifies the corresponding historic county with respect to the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844, in addition to cross-referencing other administrative areas.

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.

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".

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."

Aims and objectives

The ABC has declared that it does not want further local government reorganisation. Instead it would rather see an official distinction made between current administrative units known as counties, and those areas known as counties before the local government reforms of 1965 and 1974, which were not abolished.

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"), 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 1888. 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 historic county borders on their maps
  • lobbying for the erection of boundary signs at these boundaries
  • making the ceremonial counties match the boundaries of the historic counties 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"


Addresses and signage

Successes for the "traditional counties movement" include:

  • Successfully lobbying the Royal Mail to have historic, 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".
  • The erection of signs marking the historic boundary between Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire on the A59.
  • The erection of signs by Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council marking the historic boundary between Cheshire and Lancashire.
  • The erection of signs by Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and Saddleworth Parish Council marking the historic boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Parliamentary support

Some MPs overtly support recognition of the historic counties - notably the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, who was quoted on the departmental website as saying: "The historic English counties are one of the oldest forms of local government in Western Europe. Their roots run deep. And no amount of administrative reshuffling can delete these longstanding and cherished local identities."

A private member's bill, the Historic Counties (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill, was twice introduced into the 2001–05 Parliament, first by John Randall in 2003, and again in 2004 by Adrian Flook, who "[paid] tribute to the Association of British Counties for trailblazing the campaign". The Bill did not proceed to second reading in either year.

Another private member's bill, the Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill, was introduced to Parliament on 31 January 2007 by Andrew Rosindell under the Ten Minute Rule. It was ordered to be brought in by a group of 12 MPs. 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". The bill did not proceed beyond second reading but was supported by the Conservative opposition. It was opposed by the government.

John Butcher 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 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".


When the ABC first emerged it was stated to have been "formed by about 30 county 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. Of these only the first now appears to be active.

According to their websites, the following groups are affiliated as of September 2012:

  • Friends of Real Lancashire
  • The Huntingdonshire Society
  • The Monmouthshire Association
  • Yorkshire Ridings Society and their local group the Saddleworth White Rose Society
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