Historic English counties return 49 years after renaming ‘travesty’

Antique map of Lake District - ilbusca/Digital Vision Vectors
Antique map of Lake District - ilbusca/Digital Vision Vectors

Cumberland and Westmorland - two of England’s historic counties - returned to the municipal map on Saturday after the “travesty” of their abolition half a century ago.

The county council of Cumbria - created as part of Edward Heath’s much-criticised local government reorganisation of 1974 - was on Friday night abolished, along with its six districts. It had replaced the historic Lakeland counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, which date back to at least the 12th-century, and part of Lancashire known as Furness.

From Saturday, Cumbria is replaced by two unitary authorities - Cumberland, and Westmorland and Furness.

The boundaries are not exactly the same - around a quarter of historic Cumberland around the town of Penrith is in the new Westmorland and Furness council.

'This is great news'

But campaigners welcomed the return of the names, although others are disappointed Cumbria still remains as a ceremonial county with a lord lieutenant.

Lord Eric Pickles, who championed traditional counties during his time as communities secretary, said: “This is great news. People live in Cumberland and Westmorland - they don’t live in Cumbria.

“Cumbria was a creation of the madness of the 1970s when politicians and bureaucrats decided people live in different places.

“I am a regular visitor to the Lakes and there is a difference between Cumberland and Westmorland; you can feel it. It’s a good thing that we recognise our roots.”

Henry Smith, Tory MP and co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Historic Counties, said: “I welcome the return of Westmorland and Cumberland. We should recognise our heritage across the UK.

“People identify with their historic local counties. What happened in 1974 was a travesty and it damaged the historic links stretching back centuries.

“As population patterns change, it’s important we have fixed reference points that hark back to our heritage and our sense of identity.”

Cumbria to remain name of police force

The name of Cumbria will remain in the names of various organisations such as the police force.

Gerard Dugdill, of the British Counties Campaign, said: “It’s nice to get Cumberland and Westmorland back; it’s a step in the right direction. But it’s still a complete mess and the ceremonial county will remain.

“There is a real county affiliation in the area. There’s still the local paper, the Westmorland Gazette. What we need is the media to stop using the word Cumbria.”

Steve Sherdley, from the Friends of Real Lancashire, said he was concerned people would start saying Barrow in Furness was in Westmorland - when it was historically in Lancashire - because of the new council name.

He said: “The only good thing is that the political tag ‘Cumbria’ will disappear from maps since by law they must show only administrative areas, not counties.

“Other than that and so far as counties go, the new authorities will present as big a dog’s breakfast as Cumbria ever did. We’ll have people saying that Barrow in Furness, Lancashire, is ‘in Westmorland’ because that is its council name. Another disaster for our real counties.”

'Small step forward'

Astrologer Russell Grant, founder of the Association of British Counties, welcomed the abolition of Cumbria.

He said: “Whilst I welcome the abolition of Cumbria County Council and the confusion, like so many other councils have caused over the last 50 years, we must remember that the two new councils taking over are just that — local government structures that can be created and abolished on the whim of politicians.

“We need to rediscover our historic counties that have remained unchanged throughout all the administrative chaos that began in 1888.

“If this change makes people think more about their true identity and the place where they truly belong and in so doing understand more about their ancient county roots, then it’s a small step forward.”