Wednesday, 18 February 2009

How many Counties?

Bridge 26 at High Onn on the ? Counties Ring
Granny Buttons has mentioned Mike Spence who is undertaking a 110 mile charity walk around the Four Counties Ring. This is from his website:
Four Counties Ring [through Stratfordshire] as a sponsored walk - with nightly accommodation
110-mile walk for heart charity – Goole Times

Mike Spence, of Park Road, is hoping to complete the walk, which sees him pass through four counties including Cheshire, Shropshire, Stafordshire and Worcestershire, in seven days to raise as much money as possible......

The "Four Counties Ring" is a circular water route that consists of the Shropshire Union, Trent & Mersey and Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canals and I wonder just how many other people assume that the "four counties" are those quoted by Mike. In fact, despite traversing part of the "Staffordshire & Worcestershire" Canal the "ring" does not enter Worcestershire at any stage. The ring's name is a bit of a misnomer as the fourth "county" was the "West Midlands Metropolitan County" - one of the eccentricities created by local government reorganisation in 1974 which included such locally-unloved entities as "Humberside" "Avon" and "Hereford and Worcester"

The metropolitan counties were abolished in 1986 when one Tory government undid the work of its predecessor and it was presumably during this brief period that the "ring" got its name. (It certainly wasn't known as such in the early 70s when I was hire-boating from Willow Wren Kearns at Middlewich. We just called it "Down the Trent & Mersey and back up the Shroppie!")

What the ring should be called depends on whether you think of "counties" as administrative units of local government, as they have been only since 1888, or as historic and geographical entities which came into being many hundreds of years earlier. Taking the former approach the "Four Counties Ring" should nowadays be the "Three Counties and Two Unitary Authorities Ring" (Shropshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire plus the Cities of Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent). Even this name will not be sufficient from 1st April, when "Cheshire County Council" is abolished and replaced by separate East and West Cheshire Unitary Authorities!

Here is a map of the historic counties of Great BritainIts produced by the Association of British Counties who dedicate themselves to "saving our shires". No mention of "West Midlands" or "Hereford and Worcester" here! (You can get a better image of the map on their website via the above link).
Perhaps we should stick to the old county names - in which case, as the "City of Wolverhampton" was always geographically part of Staffordshire and the "correct" name is therefore the Three Counties Ring.

Whatever he calls it I wish Mike all the best and hope his venture is a success.

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