Explain English geography to me

Of course there’s New York City, which comprises five counties, one for each borough. And note that Connecticut (and I think Rhode Island) have geographic counties but no government at the county level.

Weird. I don’t think of it that way at all. Sure, if someone were to name their county, certain impressions would be formed. But the same is true of the city, and I think people are much more likely to state their city. Or–even more likely if they come from a smaller city–you’ll be from “East Bay”, “South Bay”, “Upper Peninsula”, etc.

London is really complicated as a geographical entity. There’s the aforementioned City of London. Then there are the 32 London boroughs that make up the political entity of Greater London. The City of London isn’t a London borough, it’s historically it’s own county, but for almost all purposes is considered part of Greater London. Then there’s the old County of London, which many people still use to define whether they live in London. For example, the “town” of Richmond-upon-Thames is in a London borough, but many people consider it within the county of Surrey.

There’s also a postcode definition. Many people believe that you live in London only if you have a London postcode (starting with E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W, or WC; basically the 8 compass directions, minus S and NE, plus East City and West City).

Another argument is that you live in London if you’re in a neighbourhood that has a London underground station. Or alternatively, if you live in Transport for London zones 1-6, or within the boundary of the TFL map. There’s even an argument that London’s boundary is the M25, the circular motorway around the outskirts of London.

It’s even inconsistent when you’re filling out online forms. Some forms have county as a mandatory field, and have either London of Greater London (and occasionally both) in their dropdown list. Others have county as an optional field, and don’t list either.

This is sort of similar to the US. In the US, the counties are creations of the states, and wholly subservient to them. Counties (and cities) can make their own laws and regulations only to the extent that the state allows it.

The closest British analogy to the states of the US would be the nations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Though I don’t know how much individual power those have in the UK.

Similarly, the Beltway is often considered to be the metaphorical boundary of Washington, DC, even though that has a definite and precisely-defined boundary. Or strictly speaking, the District of Columbia and the city of Washington both have precisely-defined boundaries, which precisely coincide.

And half the time I suspect they don’t have much practical use for the information anyway: not for a postal address, what with the postcode system.

Which had consequences far beyond the simple objectives of the Post Office.

East Central and West Central, not City. EC is in the City of London, but WC is in the City of Westminster. Those are the two cities that are inside London, which is also a city.

But yes, it’s definitely difficult to define where London actually ends. One of those other ways is if you have a London phone number, though that’s not really relevant now when so many people don’t have a home landline.

Some of the official areas of the post-1963 (? might be 66 - 60s anyway) act are really not very much like any of the rest of London in any way. Croydon, for example, is thoroughly a town in its own right, despite officially being part of London. And some people there and in some other outer areas like Romford and Richmond are adamant they’re not really in London (only technically, not “really”), while others who live there are adamant that they definitely are in London.

In the context of this thread about counties, what is now London was for hundreds of years until 1889 part of the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Surrey and Kent. Middlesex and Essex were north of the Thames with the boundary between them being the River Lea. The boundary between Surrey and Kent was slightly further west, going roughly south from Rotherhithe. You still hear about the boundary between Middlesex and Surrey in west London in the Oxford - Cambridge boat race.

Then the County of London was founded in 1889. This was much smaller than Greater London is now - Middlesex continued to exist as a county council and included places as close to the centre of London as Acton. As far as I can tell, Essex was unaffected - everything east of the Lea, including West Ham, Stratford, Romford and Leyton were still in Essex. Richmond, Croydon and parts of Barnes were still in Surrey and Bexley was still in Kent. Until the last 20 years, postal addresses (which have little or nothing to do with modern local authority boundaries) still reflected this, and postcodes still do to some extent.

The County of London was abolished in 1965. The new Greater London took in the whole of Middlesex, which had its county council also abolished, and big parts of the other 3 counties. The role and existence of Greater London as a corporate entity has since then changed radically a few times.

It may be worth noting how tiny London was in the past compared with today.

In the 17th and 18th century, from anywhere in London you could walk for perhaps 15-20 min, and be out in open fields.

(Click for large image)

For my generation, it’s probably Cary Elwes.

Don’t forget Middlesex, where the original inhabitants were (as I pointed out before on this board) genderqueer Saxons.

That’s just another way of saying they get Nossex…

I’d bet that back then the residents of the villages of Kensington and Chelsea were having the same argument over whether they lived in London or not. Or just a bit further west, the status of the estate of the Bishop of London in Fulham. Same with Greenwich to the east.

I have noticed that in a somewhat similar manner, nobody at all lives in Manchester.

All Sussex is relevant here, the division into East and West Sussex came much later. And Suffolk is obviously related to Norfolfk.

I think you mean Northern Ireland there; the country of Ireland is not part of the UK.

As to how much individual power they have, well, it’s complicated. There’s not a one-size-fits all model- NI, Wales and Scotland have their own parliament or assembly, which have varying levels of authority, but Westminster still basically holds the power to veto anything they decide- or even dissolve the parliament.

Hence independence movements.

In terms of population, there are more people in the Greater London area (by far the highest population county) than in the entireity of Scotland, NI and Wales put together- and around 84% of the UK population is in England- some of which also thoroughly resent being ruled by London. So yeah, the balance of power is bleedin’ complicated.

Bristol is a ‘City and County’ where half the people who would say they live in Bristol actually live in a neighbouring county.

Just don’t get me started on Avon…

I said “nation”, not “country”. The UK is a country composed of three entire nations and a portion of a fourth. The Republic of Ireland is a country composed of the rest of that nation. And yes, it’s confusing to have a situation where “nation” and “country” are not synonymous, but then, to most of the world, it’s confusing to have a situation where those two are not synonymous with “state”.

Yes, I was going to mention that there are people and organisations who see the counties and other local authorities that were formed in the 1970s as abominations.


Samuel Pepys certainly regarded Greenwich as a completely different town some distance outside London.   

Further explanation of English geography: I think it’s time for a certified pedant to point out that the English Lake District has only one lake: Bassenthwaite Lake.
The other fifteen larger bodies of water are all ‘waters’ (eg Ullswater) or ‘meres’ (eg Windermere).
There are also an estimated 197 smaller ‘tarns’, of which one of the smallest is the unnamed tarn called ‘Innominate Tarn’. Here’s a picture of it:

In his writings, having requested that his ashes were scattered there, the famous guidebook writer A Wainwright advised future walkers ‘should you get a bit of grit in your boot as you cross Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect, it might be me’.