Local Government in England and Wales

The whole of Great Britain is divided into counties, including 49 in England and 13 in Wales. Each is administered by an elected county council, which sits in the county town, the capital of the county. Three quarters of the council consists of councillors, elected by popular vote for three-year terms (with one third being elected every year), and the remaining quarter of aldermen, elected by the councillors themselves for six-year terms (with half being elected every three years), almost always from within their own ranks.

The counties in England (with the county town in brackets) are:

  • Bedfordshire [Bedford]
  • Berkshire [Reading]
  • Buckinghamshire [Aylesbury]
  • Cambridgeshire [Cambridge]
  • Cheshire [Chester]
  • Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly, which have their own council exercising some of the functions of a county council) [Truro]
  • Cumberland [Carlisle]
  • Derbyshire [Matlock]
  • Devon (or Devonshire) [Exeter]
  • Dorset (or Dorsetshire) [Dorchester]
  • County Durham [Durham]
  • East Riding of Yorkshire [Beverley]
  • East Suffolk [Ipswich]
  • East Sussex [Lewes]
  • Essex [Chelmsford]
  • Gloucestershire [Gloucester]
  • Hampshire [Winchester]
  • Herefordshire [Hereford]
  • Hertfordshire [Hertford]
  • Huntingdonshire [Huntingdon]
  • Isle of Ely [March]
  • Isle of Wight [Newport]
  • Kent [Maidstone]
  • Lancashire [Preston]
  • Leicestershire [Leicester]
  • London [Westminster until 1922, then Lambeth]
  • Middlesex [Westminster]
  • Norfolk [Norwich]
  • North Riding of Yorkshire [Northallerton]
  • Northamptonshire [Northampton]
  • Northumberland [Newcastle upon Tyne]
  • Nottinghamshire [Nottingham]
  • Oxfordshire [Oxford]
  • Parts of Holland (Lincolnshire) [Boston]
  • Parts of Kesteven (Lincolnshire) [Sleaford]
  • Parts of Lindsey (Lincolnshire) [Lincoln]
  • Rutland [Oakham]
  • Shropshire (or Salop) [Shrewsbury]
  • Soke of Peterborough [Peterborough]
  • Somerset (or Somersetshire) [Taunton]
  • Staffordshire [Stafford]
  • Surrey [Kingston upon Thames]
  • Warwickshire [Warwick]
  • West Riding of Yorkshire [Wakefield]
  • West Suffolk [Bury St Edmunds]
  • West Sussex [Chichester]
  • Westmorland [Kendal]
  • Wiltshire [Trowbridge]
  • Worcestershire [Worcester]

In Wales, the counties are:

  • Anglesey [Beaumaris]
  • Brecknockshire (or Breconshire) [Brecon]
  • Cardiganshire [Aberystwyth]
  • Carmarthenshire [Carmarthen]
  • Carnarvonshire [Carnarvon]
  • Denbighshire [Denbigh]
  • Flintshire [Mold]
  • Glamorganshire (or Glamorgan) [Cardiff]
  • Merionethshire [Dolgellau]
  • Monmouthshire (sometimes considered to be part of England) [Newport]
  • Montgomeryshire [Welshpool]
  • Pembrokeshire [Haverfordwest]
  • Radnorshire [Presteigne]

A number of the larger towns in England and Wales have the status of county borough and self-government similar to that of a county, with elected councils (often known as corporations, to reflect a borough’s ‘incorporated’ status). These county boroughs are:

  • Barnsley
  • Barrow-in-Furness
  • Bath*
  • Birkenhead
  • Birmingham*
  • Blackburn
  • Blackpool
  • Bolton
  • Bootle
  • Bournemouth
  • Bradford*
  • Brighton
  • Bristol*
  • Burnley
  • Burton upon Trent
  • Bury
  • Canterbury*
  • Cardiff*
  • Carlisle*
  • Chester*
  • Coventry*
  • Croydon
  • Darlington
  • Derby
  • Dewsbury
  • Doncaster (from 1927)
  • Dudley
  • Eastbourne
  • East Ham
  • Exeter*
  • Gateshead
  • Gloucester*
  • Great Yarmouth
  • Grimsby
  • Halifax
  • Hastings
  • Huddersfield
  • Hull*
  • Ipswich
  • Leeds*
  • Leicester*[from 1919]†[from 1928]
  • Lincoln*
  • Liverpool*
  • Manchester*
  • Merthyr Tydfil
  • Middlesbrough
  • Newcastle upon Tyne*
  • Newport, Monmouthshire
  • Northampton
  • Norwich*
  • Nottingham*†[from 1928]
  • Oldham
  • Oxford*
  • Plymouth*[from 1928]†[from 1935]
  • Portsmouth*[from 1926]†[from 1928]
  • Preston
  • Reading
  • Rochdale
  • Rotherham
  • St Helens
  • Salford*[from 1926]
  • Sheffield*
  • Smethwick
  • South Shields
  • Southampton
  • Southend-on-Sea
  • Southport
  • Stockport
  • Stoke-on-Trent*[from 1925]†[from 1928]
  • Sunderland
  • Swansea
  • Tynemouth
  • Wakefield*
  • Wallasey
  • Walsall
  • Warrington
  • West Bromwich
  • West Ham
  • West Hartlepool
  • Wigan
  • Wolverhampton
  • Worcester*
  • York*

Many other historic towns are municipal boroughs, which have limited self-government and elected councils/corporations with aldermen and councillors, but unlike county boroughs are subordinate to the county council. Outside these boroughs, counties are divided into urban districts (usually based around towns without borough status) and rural districts, also with their own councils (but without aldermen) and a certain amount of self-government. Districts are further subdivided into ‘civil’ parishes (as opposed to the Church of England’s ecclesiastical parishes, although they often have the same boundaries), which have elected councils with very limited local powers.

London is outside this structure. It has its own county council, the London County Council (LCC), and is subdivided into metropolitan boroughs, each with their own council. Unlike many of the world’s cities, London does not have an executive mayor.

The City of London, the historic square mile at the heart of London where the country’s main financial institutions are based (and where very few people actually live), has its own ancient and arcane system of government, headed by the Lord Mayor of London, which is independent of any other authority including the LCC.

All boroughs, including London’s metropolitan boroughs, have mayors (or lord mayors in some important cities, marked with a dagger () in the list above), but this is only an honorary post. The mayor is elected annually by the councillors or aldermen from their own ranks and his main job is to act as a figurehead for the town (wearing elaborate robes and a chain of office on civic occasions) and to chair council meetings. He has no executive authority. County, district and parish councils have chairmen, but not mayors. On formal occasions, a mayor is addressed as ‘Your Worship’ and a lord mayor as ‘Your Lordship’ or ‘My Lord’.

The professional head of administration of a county, borough or district is the clerk to the council (usually known as the town clerk in boroughs), who is usually a qualified lawyer. In counties and county and metropolitan boroughs, he is usually a salaried, full-time officer, but in many municipal boroughs and districts he is part-time and may only be paid expenses, continuing to conduct his own private legal practice as well. Parish councils also have parish clerks, but they are always unsalaried and are usually not lawyers.

The status of city is granted only to certain important towns, which may have the administrative status of a county borough, municipal borough or metropolitan borough. Traditionally it was a status only granted to cathedral towns, but since the 19th century it has been increasingly granted to major industrial towns. Those county boroughs that hold city status are marked with an asterisk (*) in the list above. City status is also held by the following municipal boroughs:

  • Bangor
  • Chichester
  • Durham
  • Ely
  • Hereford
  • Lancaster (from 1937)
  • Lichfield
  • Peterborough
  • Ripon
  • Rochester
  • St Albans
  • Salisbury
  • Truro
  • Wells
  • Winchester

In addition, both the City of London and the Metropolitan Borough of Westminster hold city status.


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