These are the counties of the United Kingdom as they existed up to the 19th century. They are also known as ancient counties.
WHY AND HOW ARE MODERN COUNTIES DIFFERENT?
Successive local government reforms from the late 19th century onwards have led to modern administrative areas which are no longer exactly the same as the historic counties. The most significant change took place in 1974.
Modern areas of local government include counties, unitary authorities and metropolitan boroughs. To a greater or lesser degree these areas are based on the historic counties, but with some changes, such as:
- A large amount of divergence in urban areas, e.g. London, Birmingham etc
- Counties have been split into smaller areas, e.g. East and West Sussex
- Counties have been combined, e.g. Cumberland, Westmorland and part of Lancashire merged to form Cumbria
- Borders have changed, e.g. a large amount of Berkshire became part of Oxfordshire
To further complicate matters, these areas of local government are distinct from the “ceremonial counties”, which are closer to the historic counties but not identical.
WHY DOES THE MILLS ARCHIVE USE HISTORIC COUNTIES?
- Modern counties are likely to undergo further change, so that keeping up to date would require constant revision of our catalogues and databases. This is the main advantage of using historic counties.
- Much of the material in the Archive predates the major change in 1974, and therefore refers to the older counties, making it easier to index this material by historic county.
- Mills are historic buildings, most dating to the 19th century or earlier, making the use of historic boundaries appropriate.
WHAT ARE THE BORDERS OF THE HISTORIC COUNTIES?
The historic counties were of course themselves subject to change, but to a much smaller degree. The Mills Archive uses the historic counties as defined in the Historic Counties Standard, which defines the counties using the borders existing immediately before the passing of the Counties (Detached Parts) Act of 1843. For a useful map of the counties of England and Wales according to this definition see here.