Revival of old shires could redraw the map of Great Britain

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The Independent Online

Shires abolished years ago by bureaucratic edict, such as Huntingdonshire, Wigtownshire, Westmoreland and Middlesex, will reappear as postal addresses with their own emblems and ceremonials if a campaign backed by dozens of MPs is successful.

Shires abolished years ago by bureaucratic edict, such as Huntingdonshire, Wigtownshire, Westmoreland and Middlesex, will reappear as postal addresses with their own emblems and ceremonials if a campaign backed by dozens of MPs is successful.

The campaigners, drawn from five political parties, want to recreate the 86 historic counties of Great Britain as symbolic entities, each presided over by a lord lieutenant, with its boundaries clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps, and signs on all major roads telling drivers when they are crossing an old county border.

A drive down from west Scotland and along north Wales would take the motorist through Dumfriesshire, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Flintshire, Denbighshire and Caernarfonshire – with no mention of modern creations such as Merseyside or Conwy.

Middlesex was the first of the traditional county names to vanish, other than at the hospital, cricket club and university, when it was subsumed by the London County Council. Large chunks of what used to be Essex or Kent are now in London boroughs.

Other old counties vanished in the 1974 local government reorganisation, which created new urban entities such as Avon and Cleveland. They vanished in the most recent reorganisation which led to a huge increase in the number of towns or districts that have "unitary" authorities, not covered by any county council.

More county councils would be swallowed up in the proposed creation of regional assemblies.

The Association of British Counties is not asking for the county councils to be reinstated, but for each old county to have a ceremonial status, with a lord lieutenant at the head. The best known of the current 98 lords lieutenant is actress Penelope Keith, this year's High Sheriff of Surrey.

A Commons motion signed by 36 MPs has been organised by the Tory MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell. His constituency includes the ancient village of Havering-atte-Bower, which was in Essex for centuries, but is now in London. Other supporters include the Liberal Democrat Roger Williams, whose Brecon seat straddles old Brecknockshire and Radnorshire and the Tory MP Jonathan Djanogly, whose Huntingdon seat – once in Huntingdonshire – is now in Cambridgeshire.

Lord Durham, 41, whose family have lived at Lambton Castle, near Chester-le-Street, for more than 800 years, has watched County Durham shrink dramatically during his lifetime. "I think that if you asked most people where they'd rather live, they would want to change back," he said. "I think people like the idea of having a bit of historical identity."

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