On 1st April 1974, when the Local Government Act 1972 came into effect, wholesale changes were made to the map of Local Government in Britain and many new councils were created, “Cumbria County Council” being amongst them. Apart from the fact that this council was inappropriately named because Cumbria has never actually been a county, its administrative boundary encompassed the Sedbergh & Dentdale region of the County of Yorkshire, the Furness region of the County of Lancashire and the whole Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland. An area that comprises even “regions” of more than one county, let alone “whole counties”, cannot be a county itself, it must be something else!
Unfortunately, since its imposition, Cumbria County Council removed the county boundary signs situated within its administrative area and created districts, such as “South Lakeland”. The boundaries of these districts gave no recognition to the traditional counties, or parts thereof, for whose culture the Council was supposed to be responsible. This lack of recognition and the misnaming of the Council has, over almost half a century, contributed to much confusion regarding the internal geography of the administrative area and regarding counties generally. YDM wrote to both Cumbria County Council and to South Lakeland District Council (whose area includes the Sedbergh and Dentdale region of Yorkshire) in this respect during our “Yorkshire Boundaries Campaign” of 2019, but the response from each was disappointing. However, with the news that both of these councils are to be abolished in just six months’ time, there is hope!
Cumbria County Council and all the district councils within its administrative area (shown above) are to be replaced by two Unitary Authorities on 1st April 2023. These will be, “Cumberland Council” (area to the left of the red line) and “Westmorland and Furness Council” (area to the right of the red line). Although the names are not ideal, YDM considers them an improvement in the following respects:
- Cumberland Council will only administer parts of the County of Cumberland;
- The whole County of Westmorland will be included within the administrative boundaries of Westmorland and Furness Council;
- Neither council will misuse the word “County” in their name;
- The names, “Cumberland” and “Westmorland” will return to common usage;
- And: The name, “Westmorland and Furness”, will acknowledge that the Furness region of Lancashire is not part of Westmorland.
But disappointing in these respects:
- Some parts of Cumberland will be administered by Westmorland and Furness Council, thereby causing county confusion;
- New usage of “Cumberland” and “Westmorland” will not be in terms representing the geography of the traditional counties by those names, thereby adding to county confusion;
- And, most importantly to YDM: The name, “Westmorland and Furness”, will not only fail to acknowledge that the Sedbergh and Dentdale region of Yorkshire is neither part of Westmorland nor part of Furness but cause people to erroneously think that it must be part of one of those places, thereby causing yet more county confusion.
So much for the names of these councils! But care over the name a Local Authority adopts is not the only way to help end the confusion over Britain’s counties and their boundaries. Our “Yorkshire Boundaries Campaign” highlighted to Councils other measures they could take to achieve this, such as celebrating County Days of the various counties within their administrative area, flying the flags of those counties on public buildings and, most importantly, installing signage to mark the traditional boundaries of each of those counties.
Whereas the councils we approached in our campaign were well established and therefore would need to implement policy change in order to give the required recognition to the Historic Counties within their administrative boundaries, Westmorland and Furness Council have an ideal opportunity to adopt such policies from inception. By doing so, Westmorland and Furness can become a model council by setting a standard in this respect to which all councils should refer. After all, Local Authorities are the custodians of the history, heritage and identity that the Traditional Counties within their administrative areas represent.
In view of the foregoing, YDM are delighted that, in similar vein to our “Yorkshire Boundaries Campaign”, the Association of British Counties (ABC) have compiled a set of proposals for councils, and for Westmorland and Furness Council in particular. We therefore direct you to the article on their website for further detail. This includes the excellent illustration shown above of the Traditional Counties involved and the extent to which each will be present within the administrative areas, including the Sedbergh and Dentdale region of Yorkshire.