Cheshire County BoundaryThis web page is an attempt to define the county of Cheshire by describing its boundary, and the changes to that boundary over the centuries. There are five headings:
- The Historic County (1284 to 1835).
- The Period Of Change (1835 to date).
- The Current Situation.
- The History of Local Government in Cheshire.
- Boundary Conundrums and Family History.
The development of the county boundary can be viewed in four phases:
To the north Cheshire's long boundary with Lancashire followed rivers, the river Mersey from the sea to Stockport then the river Tame up into the Pennine Hills.
To the north-east the short boundary with Yorkshire followed crests on the inhospitable Pennine moors.
To the east the boundary with Derbyshire followed rivers. Down the river Etherow to Marple, then up the river Goyt via Whaley Bridge, following the river as far as Goyt's Clough, then up into the hills passing just to the rear of the Cat and Fiddle Inn, then on to Three Shire Heads.
To the south-east the boundary with Staffordshire follows the river Dane down from Three Shire heads via Dane Bridge to Bosley, then the crest of a ridge of pink sandstone going south-west via Mow Cop to Church Lawton. The boundary then continues more or less in the same direction across country to Checkley Wood.
To the south the boundary with Shropshire follows the watershed between the rivers Trent and Mersey, although there is no very obvious geographical feature on the ground. From Checkley Wood it takes an erratic path through good farming country following a stream here, the edge of a wood there, to Grindley Brook, just north of Whitchurch in Shropshire.
To the south-west the boundary with the detached part of Flintshire (Wales) follows Grindley Brook and Wych Brook. It cuts through Threapwood then follows Flenrens Brook and Worthenbury Brook to the River Dee.
To the west the boundary with Denbighshire (Wales) goes down the River Dee to Pulford Brook then up that brook to the west as far as Lower Kinnerton. From here the boundary, now with the main part of Flintshire, heads east towards Chester then follows the ancient course of the River Dee (more than a mile north of the present river) to the sea.
To the north-west the Wirral peninsular is bounded by sea (the Dee and Mersey estuaries and the Irish Sea).
The description below is from a Cheshire point of view, i.e. a lost or gain of territory for Cheshire or Boroughs based in Cheshire.
The Wirral, Cheshire West, and Cheshire East are entirely within the historic county of Cheshire, the others straddle the historic counties of Cheshire and Lancashire, except High Peak which is mainly in Derbyshire.
Although Cheshire no-longer exists as a single unit of local govenment, in another sense the county continues to exist, both as an historic county for various ceremonial purposes, and in the hearts and minds of the people who were born in and continue to live there. For example, most inhabitants still use "Cheshire" as part of their postal address.
By the nineteenth century local government was in the hands of The Justices, members of the local gentry who were appointed not elected.
Some of the larger towns in the county were created Boroughs. This gave them local self-government and a degree of independence from the county administration. Despite this independence they were still considered to be within the county for some statistical, ceremonial, and postal address purposes. The Boroughs and the year each gained that status are as follows:
1290 Altrincham (which lost its borough status in 1886)
The earlier boroughs had various forms of local government. Many were far from democratic, with power being held by a local oligarchy. Eventually the government of boroughs became a national scandal. Reform was achieved in 1835 after a great deal of political struggle and compromise. This reform increased local democracy and put the government of all boroughs onto a similar footing.
In 1875 the county (excluding boroughs) was divided into Districts. At first these were named Sanitary Districts because their original purpose had been to organise the sanitation (sewage and water supply) of the district. As time went by more tasks were given to the District Councils (maintenance of the roads, etc), so in 1894 the word Sanitary was dropped from their name. There were two types of district council, Rural and Urban, reflecting the nature of the district. The Rural District Councils (RDC) and Urban District Councils (UDC) survived until the local government re-orgaisation of 1974.
In 1888 government at county level was democratised. The first Cheshire County Council was elected. This gave the county a two-tier form of local government. District councils provided services that were best organised locally (local roads, refuse disposal, etc). The county council provided services that were best organised over a wider area (main roads, police, etc). This two tier system contrasted with the boroughs where all these services were provided by the borough council.
The re-organisation of 1974 made big changes to local government but it retained the two-tier model. For example, the two new county councils, (Greater Manchester and Merseyside), provided some services, and were sub-divided into Boroughs (Trafford, Stockport, Tameside, etc.) which provided other services.
The two new counties lasted until 1986, when they were abolished, and the boroughs within them became unitary authorities.
In 2009, the local government authority for what remained of Cheshire was itself abolished, together with all the districts still within the county. All these were replaced by two unitary authorities.
The county of Cheshire is no longer relevant to local govenment. The result has been to take power away from local communities and allow national government to excercise more direct control.
That the county boundary was not re-drawn in 1835 when Stockport expanded for the first time into Lancashire to a certain extent did not matter. The local government of a Borough is independent of any County. However, Stockport was for ceremonial, statistical, and postal address purposes still included in Cheshire. More importantly it appears that most of Stockport's inhabitants still thought of it as being a Cheshire town. The same can be said of Stalybridge when it expanded into Lancashire in 1857. Despite that, it was possible to be born in the northern part of one of those towns and be born in Lancashire.
The status of Heaton Norris is cause for much confusion. Heaton Norris was a small town in Lancashire, facing Stockport across the river Mersey. It was incorporated into Stockport in 1835 when it became the Heaton Norris Ward of Stockport Borough. Unfortunately the Heaton Norris name was also used by the district that surrounded Heaton Norris, which as Heaton Norris Urban District remained outside Stockport until 1913. Between 1835 and 1913 the town of Heaton Norris was in Stockport, not within Heaton Norris District. A local who said he came from Heaton Norris was almost certainly referring to that part of Stockport. Someone who came from Heaton Norris District may have used that full name, emphasising the "District", but is more likely to have said he came from Heaton Chapel, Heaton Moor, or Heaton Mersey, places still within Heaton Norris District. Those not familiar with the area may not use that convention, so a non-local referring to Heaton Norris may be referring to the Heaton Norris Ward of Stockport, or to Heaton Norris District.
Civil Registration in 1837 muddied the waters still further. Stockport Registration District covered much more than the Borough of Stockport. It included nearby places in both Lancashire and Cheshire. Thus it was possible to be born in Lancashire, but be registered in Stockport, Cheshire. This may lead to incorrect location descriptions such as "Reddish, Cheshire". However, "Stockport, Lancashire" is a valid location description for someone born in the Heaton Norris Ward of Stockport.
Similarly, the Registration District based on Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire covered several Cheshire towns. This may lead to incorrect descriptions such as "Ashton-under-Lyne, Cheshire", or "Dukinfield, Lancashire". Ashton-under-Lyne is in Lancashire, however someone born in Dukinfield, Cheshire, would have been registered in Ashton-under-Lyne registration district.