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The Association of British Counties

Gazetteer of
British Place Names

The definitive reference source to Great Britain. Explore over 280,000 places.

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2. Detailed Contents of the Gazetteer

The gazetteer comprises the following entities.

A full explanation of the contents of each of these fields can be found below.

Place Name and Type

Over 280,000 place names are included in the gazetteer. Each place name has a category contained in the 'Type' field.

Settlement. Over 55,000 settlements are included. The intention is to include the name of every settlement (above isolated houses and farmsteads) which has a distinct name and identity. This includes hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Each district within an urban area which has a distinct name and identity has been included as a separate entry. Most settlements have additional notes included in their entry. These notes are intended at a minimum to describe whether the settlement is a hamlet, village, town, urban district or city. For many settlements further information is included concerning features of special interest etc. This feature of the gazetteer is subject to ongoing improvement.

A problem of modern popular geography is what is meant by names like "Birmingham", "Manchester", "London", "Liverpool", "Newcastle". There are no clear unambiguous bounds to any of these entities. Where does Birmingham stop and Sutton Coldfield begin ? Is Old Trafford in Manchester ? Is Pinner in London ? The solution we adopt within this gazetteer is to restrict the meaning of these terms to those areas close to the settlement centre. e.g. the entry for Birmingham only refers to the area close to Birmingham city centre. Each distinct locality within the larger urban area which is popularly known as "Birmingham" has its own entry within the gazetteer.

Traditional Area. This category includes larger areas which have a name and a commonly understood geographic and cultural identity but which are not individual settlements, do not necessarily have well defined boundaries and which cannot be fully defined in relation to landscape features (such as valleys, hills etc). Examples include the Wentloog area of Monmouthshire, the Fens coastal plain in eastern England and the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire. Sometimes their names have been used to describe local government areas (especially district councils). An example of this confusing practice is Copeland in Cumberland. The gazetteer entry always refers to the place rather than the administrative area.

Community. Each community of Wales has a separate entry in the gazetteer. A community is a division of land that forms the lowest tier of local government in Wales. Welsh communities are analogous to civil parishes in England. Most are direct successors to former civil parishes and have names and bounds unchanged for many centuries. Their antiquity means that they almost all fall entirely within one or other of the historic counties. In the sense of general purpose geography one can, therefore, view Wales as being comprised of 13 historic counties with about 870 communuties within them. Many communities share the name of a settlement. In such cases, there is a separate entry in the gazetteer for the community and for the settlement.

Civil Parish. Each civil parish of England has a separate entry in the gazetteer. The civil parishes of England can trace their origin to the ancient system of ecclesiastical parishes which, before the mid 19th century, played a role in both civil and ecclesiastical administration. These funtions were separated in the mid 19th century and the "civil parish" was created at that time. Nonetheless, most civil parishes have names and bounds unchanged for many centuries. Their antiquity means that they almost all fall entirely within one or other of the historic counties. However, unlike the communities of Wales, not all parts of England have a civil parish. Many civil parishes share the name of a settlement. In such cases, there is a separate entry in the gazetteer for the civil parish and for the settlement.

Island. Over 8,500 islands are included with the gazetteer. The vast majority are offshore islands, though named islands within freshwater lakes etc. are also included.

Island Group. Around 70 named groups of islands are included with the gazetteer.

Valley. Over 10,000 named valleys are included in the gazetteer.

Hill, Mountain. Over 37,000 hills and mountains are included in the gazetteer.

Corrie (Glacial Valley). There are over 2,000 entries for glacial valleys (aka cirques) in the gazetteer.

Range of Mountains, Range of Hills. This category includes well defined groups of hills and mountain ranges. There are around 300 such entries.

Cliff, Slope. The gazetteer lists over 1,400 cliffs or slopes.

Downs, Moorland. There are over 16,000 entries in the gazetteer for named moorlands or downs.

Lake, Pool, Pond, Freshwater Marsh. This category lists over 16,000 inland water features.

Waterfall. Over 600 waterfalls are included in the gazetteer.

Wood, Forest. This category lists over 97,00 areas of woodland and forest, from small copses to large forests.

Sea, Estuary, Creek. This category includes all tidal waters around the coast. There are over 4,700 entries.

Coastal Feature, Headland, Point. This category includes coastal headlands and points and many other landscape features from around the coast. There are over 14,000 entries.

Coastal Marsh, Saltings. This category lists over 2,700 areas of marshland or saltings from around the coast.

Bay.The gazetteer includes over 3,500 bays. Where these lie in more than one historic county then this fact is noted.

Beach. The gazetteer lists over 1,500 beaches.

Green Open Space. This category includes large areas of urban open space. The gazetteer lists over 130 entries.

Landscape Feature. This category includes various landscape features which do not fit easily into other categories. It contains over 900 entries.

Heritage Sites. This category includes historic properties, earthworks, prehistoric remains etc.

We do not attempt here to give a detailed discussion of the history and orthography of British place names. Several excellent books on this subject are available, the standard authoritative work generally being considered to be The Names of Towns and Cities in Britain by Gelling, Nicolaisen and Richards (Batsford 1970, 1986).

Alternative Name(s)

This field lists alternative versions of the place name. Each place has a separate entry in the gazetteer under each of these alternatives, with cross-referencing in all cases.

A feature of place names which cannot be ignored is that both their spellings and pronunciations have changed (often radically) with time. Indeed, the idea of a "standard" spelling of a place name is a relatively modern one. The three main factors which have led to a standardisation of the spellings of place names have been the recording of them on Ordnance Survey maps, the use of them as "postal localities" by the Post Office and the denoting of them by road signs erected by local authorities. However, even today one can find many place names spelt in two or more ways depending on which map, postal address book or road sign one looks at. Within the gazetteer, we have attempted to include all such variations of the spelling of a given place name by including a separate entry for each spelling. Our benchmark has been to include any spelling denoted on an O.S. map or used by the Post Office since the start of the twentieth century, although we also include any other locally accepted spelling which is known to us. Hence, the gazetteer does not provide an exhaustive list of the spellings of a particular place name throughout its entire history.

Many places within Wales have both a Welsh name and also an English or anglicised name. In such cases, each name is given a separate entry. We have taken a similar approach to those places in Scotland which have a commonly used Gaelic name as well as an English or anglicised name.

Those place names which have an affix of the type "The", "Old", "New", "North", "South", "East", "West", "Lower", "Upper" etc. are included twice, e.g. as "West Acre" and "Acre, West".

Historic County

The Historic County field of the gazetteer is based on the Historic Counties Standard, which provides a comprehensive definition of the names, areas and borders of the historic counties of the UK. The Standard also provides a detailed description of the orgins of the counties, the history of the mapping of their bounds and their former use as a basis for administration.

The vast majority of places in Britain can be unambiguously assigned to a particular historic county. Unlike modern administrative areas, the boundaries of the historic counties are not laid out in any single Act of Parliament. Many of them pre-date statutory law itself. Nonetheless, by the beginning of the nineteenth century their bounds had been fixed and known by repute to great accuracy for many centuries. A major task of the Ordnance Survey during the nineteenth century was to ascertain and mark out such "reputed boundaries" (not just of the counties but also of parishes, townships, hundreds, boroughs etc.). By the late 1880s the whole of Britain had been accurately surveyed on a scale of 1:2500 (25 inches to one mile). The resultant set of maps, known as the "1st edition", provided the first planimetrically accurate determination of the boundaries of the counties. It is worth noting that it is on such "reputed boundaries" that many modern administrative areas are still based. For example, the modern "administrative county" of "Norfolk" could not be defined if the O.S. had not accurately determined the "reputed boundaries" of the historic county of Norfolk. The Gazetteer has a large-scale map of the historic counties of Britain.

There are, however, several areas of potential ambiguity. A discussion of each of these and the way in which they are dealt with within the gazetteer is presented below. These issues are dealt with in more detail in the Historic Counties Standard.

(i) Detached Parts
A "detached part" of an historic county can be defined as a small enclave of that county which is entirely separated from the main body of that county and locally situate either entirely within the main body of another county or between the main bodies and/or detached parts of two or more other counties. Many of the historic counties have detached parts. Like the exterior boundaries, most are believed to date back to at least the time of the Conquest. It has long been the convention to associate a detached part with both its parent county and the county in which it is locally situate. The gazetteer continues this convention.

The Historic Counties Standard presents two defintions. In Definition A detached parts are not separately identified, but are associated with their host county. This is the defintion used by the Office for National Statistics in its Index of Place Names in Great Britain. Definition B identifies all detached parts and associates them with their parent county.

Within the gazetteer the historic county to which each place is primarily related is that of Definition A from the Historic Counties Standard, i.e. that of the host county. This, therefore, follows the same approach as the ONS' Index of Place Names in Great Britain. However, the fact that the place lies within a detached part and the full details of the parent county are also noted, ensuring that the gazetteer complies with both definitions from The Historic Counties Standard.

Many "detached parts" were deemed by the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 to form part of their surrounding county "for all purposes". Whether this was meant to be a real territorial change or an administrative convenience is a debatable point. Definition B of the Historic Counties Standard makes no distinction between those detached parts referred to in the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 and those not referred to. Within the gazetteer, we do note where a detached part was one of those referred to by this act.

(ii) Settlements in more than one County
There have since ancient times been settlements which lay across county borders (e.g. Lamberhurst in Kent/Sussex, Todmorden in Lancs/Yorks). Twentieth-century development has added considerably to their number. Cases where a significant part of a settlement lies in more than one county are dealt with by including reference to each of the relevant counties. In such cases the county listed first is that in which the "centre" of the settlement lies or with which the settlement has been traditionally associated.

(iii) The Counties Corporate
There are, within England and Wales, 18 towns or cities which have, at various times, been granted charters apparently making them "counties" in their own right. These areas are collectively known as the "counties corporate". Such charters were actually concerned with the judicial arrangements of these towns and cities rather than their geographical status. There has always been debate about whether these areas should be considered to be real counties, equivalent to, for example, Devon and Lincolnshire. The General Register Office, within its Census Reports, never considered them to be so and always dealt with them as being part of the county in which they geographically lay. Numerous legal judgments found that the "counties corporate" were not "Counties in the ordinary sense of the term". This convention is followed in this gazetteer. This is done without prejudice to the special status which many feel these places deserve.

(iv) Ross-shire and Cromartyshire
The county of Cromarty consists of several parts distributed within the county of Ross and between Ross-shire and Sutherland. In consequence, Ross-shire and Cromartyshire are often considered as a single geographical unit. Administrative areas based upon them have inevitably used their combined area and been given the label "Ross and Cromarty". However, the bounds of each county have been determined by O.S. to great accuracy. It, therefore, seems reasonable within this gazetteer to list places either "Ross-shire" or "Cromartyshire" as appropriate, not least to assist those using the gazetteer for historical or genealogical studies.

(v) Alternative County names
The county names used in the Gazetteer are those by which each county has been most commonly known throughout its history. Certain county names (e.g. Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Glamorgan, Merioneth) have occasionally had a "shire" suffixed to them but are here presented in their more common "shire-less" forms.

Several Scottish counties have alternative names by which they are also sometimes known. These are listed below.

Angus                 Forfarshire
East Lothian          Haddingtonshire
Midlothian            Edinburghshire
Morayshire            Elginshire
West Lothian          Linlithgowshire

The counties of Wales have, of course, commonly used Welsh names. The following versions are those recommended by The Language and Literature Committee of the Board of Celtic Studies of the University of Wales (which advises the Ordnance Survey on the orthography of Welsh place names).

Anglesey             Sir Fon
Brecknockshire       Sir Frycheiniog
Caernarfonshire      Sir Gaernarfon
Cardiganshire        Ceredigion
Carmarthenshire      Sir Gaerfyrddin
Denbighshire         Sir Ddinbych
Flintshire           Sir y Fflint
Glamorgan            Morgannwg
Merioneth            Meirionnydd
Monmouthshire        Sir Fynwy
Montgomeryshire      Sir Drefaldwyn
Pembrokeshire        Sir Benfro
Radnorshire          Sir Faesyfed


The gazetteer lists the traditional division for places in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

The Three Ridings of Yorkshire are the ancient division of the county, and the creation of the Norse period from which Yorkshire itself arose. The three ridings surround the City of York, their boundaries meeting at the walls of the city: thus York is the only part of Yorkshire outside any of the ridings. The three ridings are:

  • The East Riding, the smallest and least hilly, much of it in the plains extending from the north bank of the Humber;
  • The North Riding, extending from the Pennines to the North Sea;
  • The West Riding, the largest and most urbanised as its southern parts contain the great industrial cities of Yorkshire, though in its north encompassing some of the finest of the Yorkshire Dales.

The three Parts of Lincolnshire are ancient divisions of the county. They are similar in nature to the three Ridings of Yorkshire. The three Parts are:

  • Lindsey in the north;
  • Kesteven in the south-west;
  • Holland in the south-east.

The gazetteer also lists places in the Soke of Peterborough. The Soke is a part of Northamptonshire which was once a Liberty under the control of Peterborough Abbey and, after the dissolution of the Abbey, under a secular "Lord Paramount of Peterborough". Although no longer used for administrative purposes, it retains a geographical and cultural identity within Northamptonshire.

The gazetteer also lists places in the Isle of Ely. The Isle of Ely takes up the northern half of Cambridgeshire. From 1107 until 1837 the Isle was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ely, who appointed a Chief Justice of Ely and exercised temporal powers within the Liberty of Ely. Although no longer used for administrative purposes, the Isle retains a geographical and cultural identity within Cambridgeshire.

Each of these divisions has a specific 'Traditonal Area' entry.

Latitude and Longitude

These are the latitude and longitude of the "centre" of the settlement (see comments below about the problem of deriving this in certain cases).

National Grid Reference

These represent the 1km x 1km square in which the "centre" of the settlement concerned lies. While the "centre" of a village is easy to define, the area which one might call the centre of a large town or city can spread into more than one 1km x 1km square and a subjective decision has been taken here. A determination of the "centre" of districts within urban areas also presents problems since in many cases their bounds and centres are not unambiguously discernible. Our approach has generally been to base it on the site of the village or geographical feature from which the district took its name. However, many modern housing estates have no such "centre" and a subjective decision has had to be made in some cases.

Police Area

The areas of the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police are defined by Section 76 of the London Government Act 1963. The rest of England and Wales is divided into "police areas" by the Police Act 1996.

The legislation states that each "police area" must have both a "police force" and a "police authority". Police authorities are responsible for maintaining an effective and efficient police force in their areas.

The Police Service for Scotland is the national police force of Scotland, formed in 2013 by the merger of the previous 8 regional police forces. The country is divided into 3 regions – North, East and West, each headed by an Assistant Chief Constable. There are 13 Divisions, each covering one or more local authority areas and headed by a Chief Superintendent. The gazetteer presents the Division.

Council Area

In practical terms there are areas of England where local government service provision is split between a "county council" and several "district councils" and, throughout the rest of Great Britain, local government service provision is the responsibility of a single local authority. Sadly, statutory terminology does not reflect this simple situation. In England, a "district council" may share responsibility with a "county council" or it may be the sole council in its area. Similarly, a "county council" may share responsibility with several "districts" or it may be the sole council. In Wales, despite all local authorities having the same responsibilities, some are called, "county councils", some "county borough councils" and the rest just "councils". In Scotland all local authorities are just called "councils".

Our solution to this confusing situation is to use the term "Council Area" to refer to the local goverment area within which each place lies. In those remaining two-tier areas of England this is further qualified as "Council Area (Admin County/District)". In this way both the structure of local government and the name(s) of the relevant area(s) can be seen.

The structure of local government within "Greater London" is still principally governed by the London Government Act 1963. This Act created the "London boroughs" and their councils. It left the Corporation of the City of London in charge of administration within the City. The status of the "Inns of Court" (i.e. the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple) was also unaffected by the Act. Each of these continues to be administered by a "Master of the Bench". The Act also created "Greater London" itself, defining it to be the sum of the areas of the "London boroughs", the City of London and the Inner and Middle Temples. The Act as passed also created the "Greater London Council" (GLC).

Outside of "Greater London", the structure of local government within England and Wales is governed by the Local Government Act 1972 (LGA 1972). As originally passed, this Act divided both England and Wales into "local government areas" which were to "be known as counties" and within which there were to be "districts". The "counties" were further subdivided into the "metropolitan counties" (e.g. "Greater Manchester", "Tyne and Wear" etc.) and the "non-metropolitan counties". Originally each "county" had a "county council" and each "district" had a "district council". The only exception to this county/district structure were the "Isles of Scilly" which were deemed by the 1972 Act and Statutory Instrument SI 1978/1844 to be a "local government area" with a council known as the "Council of the Isles of Scilly".

The Local Government Act 1985 abolished both the GLC and the "county councils" of the "metropolitan counties" although "Greater London" and the "metropolitan counties" themselves were not abolished. All local authority functions in these areas were devolved to the "London boroughs" and the "metropolitan district councils". The Greater London Authority Act 1999 created the "Greater London Authority". However, the GLA is better considered as a regional assembly than a local authority. Whilst it has a strategic role in promoting the economic and social development and the environment of "Greater London", it is specifically not empowered to provide those services generally associated with local authorities (e.g. education, social services, housing). Hence, we do not consider "Greater London" to be a "Council Area" in this gazetteer.

The Local Government Act 1992 created a review process within England which, as of April 2023, has led to the creation of a further 61 local government areas which have only one council with responsibility for the provision of all local government services. There are three different ways in which this has been done:

(a) 45 "counties" have been created which have only a single district, this district having the same name and area as the "county" (e.g. "Milton Keynes", "Swindon", "Southend-on-Sea"). There are no "county councils" in these "counties". All local government functions are exercised by the "district councils".

(b)The LGA 1972 "county" of Berkshire still exists but it now has no "county council". All administrative functions have been devolved to the six "district councils".

(c) 10 of the LGA 1972 "counties" ("Buckinghamshire", "Cornwall", "Dorset", "County Durham", "Isle of Wight" "Northumberland", "Shropshire", "Somerset", "North Yorkshire" and "Wiltshire") now have no "district councils". The sole council is the "county council".

There still exist within England, 21 "counties" (within the meaning of the LGA 1972) which have a "county council" and several districts within them, each of which has an existing "district council".

Meanwhile the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 amended the LGA 1972 so as to abolish the "counties" and "districts" of Wales and, in their place, create 22 "new principal areas". These areas are subdivided into "counties" and "county boroughs" (although they are identical in every other respect). Local authorities can choose to call themselves "county council" or "county borough council" (as appropriate) or simply call themselves "council".

The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 divides Scotland into a single set of 22 "local government areas". All local authorities are simply known as "councils".

It should be understood that the "counties" of the LGA 1972 (or, indeed, any of the other local government areas described above) are not replacements for or amendments to the historic counties. Rather they are administrative areas created for certain specified administrative purposes. Parliament has never given them a wider geographical or cultural role. They are totally separate entities to the historic counties, as the Government has confirmed on many occasions.

Local authorities are responsible for numerous important administrative duties. The councils of the "administrative counties" of England are responsible for education, social services, economic development and transport. The "district councils" within these areas are responsible for housing, planning, paving and street lighting, public health, leisure and amenities and waste management. Elsewhere, the sole council is responsible for all of these services.


The Gazetteer lists whether a place is under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Senedd.

The Scottish Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998. It has the right to pass primary legislation on most matters relating to Scotland. The main areas of administration and law devolved to the Scottish Parlimanent include health, education, local government, social work, housing, planning, economic development, tourism, most aspects of the criminal and civil law, criminal justice and prosecutions, environment, agriculture, forestry, sports, fisheries, and the arts.

The Scottish Executive (whose members are collective known as the "Scottish Ministers") is the Government for Scotland on all devolved matters. It consists of the First Minster (elected by the Scottish Parliament), the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland and other Ministers appointed by the First Minister.

The Scottish Parliament has jurisdiction over the whole of Scotland (as referred to in Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707).

The National Assembly for Wales was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998. It was renamed 'Senedd' (cognate with 'Senate') in 2020. It has the power to develop and implement policy in a range of areas including agriculture, education, health, economic development, the environment, housing, local government, social services, tourism, transport and the Welsh Language. The sixty members of the Assembly delegate their executive powers to the First Minister, who is elected by the whole Assembly. The First Minister in turn delegates responsibility for delivering the executive functions to a number of Ministers. Together they form the executive committee, the Cabinet, which makes many of the Senedd's day to day decisions.

The "Wales" covered by the Senedd is that area deemed to be "Wales" by the Local Government Act 1972 for the purposes of local government. It differs slightly from the Wales referred to in the Laws in Wales Act 1535 (i.e. the act which united England and Wales into one jurisdiction) since this Act attached several small parts of Wales to Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. These areas are within "England" within its meaning in the Local Government Act 1972 and hence are not covered by the Senedd.

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