It was the most unpopular reform of its day. A Government mandate, perhaps influenced by its new European partners, swept away centuries of tradition and consigned Britain’s evocative county names to history. Now, a campaign has been mounted to put them back on the map.
Yorkshire was among the casualties of the Local Government Act, ushered in during Edward Heath’s administration, in 1972.
The single county was split into three, with a fourth – the newly created Humberside – designed to “unify” the communities around the Humber estuary.
Ancient names like Cumberland, Westmorland, Huntingdonshire and Middlesex were removed from the administrative map, and the counties of Scotland rolled up into nine large “regions”, in the European style.
Successive governments have rolled back many of the changes, but the patchwork left behind has become a “dog’s breakfast” which only a new Act of Parliament can clean up, a campaign group says.
It has organised a meeting at Leeds Town Hall on Saturday to gauge support for its proposals.
“It was clear in 1972 that people didn’t want their county names being messed around with,” said Gerard Dugdill, who manages the British Counties Campaign
“The government changed the boundaries willy nilly, creating a new set of administrative counties that sat on top of the traditional ones.
“There are now six or seven different types of counties and it’s very confusing. Why can’t we just call counties counties.”
The complication, he said, arose from “ceremonial” county names used to define areas in which lords-lieutenant are appointed across Britain.
They were established two decades ago, some 25 years after the original legislation abolished administrative counties and county boroughs in England and Wales.
Other changes in the intervening years returned Humberside to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and did away with the short-lived counties of Cleveland in the north-east and Avon in the west country.
“It’s left a complete dog’s breakfast,” Mr Dugdill said. “Cleveland came and went, and bits of the West Riding are now administered by Lancashire. The Trough of Bowland is really in Yorkshire.”
He added: “The three Yorkshire Ridings seem to have disappeared completely but bizarrely the East Riding of Yorkshire is now a council area.”
The campaign, which has the support of 25 MPs, wants county names gradually realigned to their administrative districts.
Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley in Sussex, who chairs its presence at Westminster, said there remained “great affection” for the traditional names.
“It’s important that we recognise our heritage and respect boundaries that go back centuries,” he said. “We have seen traditional counties messed around with by boundary reviews and we now have people in counties that didn’t exist, or on the other side of boundaries – in Lancashire instead of Yorkshire.”
The movement was formed by Pamela Moorhouse, a retired factory worker originally from the West Riding but now living in Grimsby, who laid the confusion squarely at Mr Heath’s feet.
“In 1974 his officials told everyone that they would have to give up the historic county names, and any objections were ignored and still are,” she said. “They’ve done away with valuable history.
“People don’t know about the traditional areas anymore except for older folk, who are still full of resentment.”