Cheshire County Boundary

This 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:
  - Introduction.
  - 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.


Cheshire was a county in England. The county lay between the Irish Sea and the Pennine Hills. Its main geographic feature is the fertile Cheshire plain.

The development of the county boundary can be viewed in four phases:

  • In Ancient history, the county boundary formed, ebbed and flowed over many centuries, as tribes (Cornovii, Ordovices, Brigantes), civilisations (Celts, Romans, Vikings), kingdoms (Mercia, Gwynedd, Northumbria, Wessex), and countries (England, Wales) jostled for position, fought, conquered, and were conquered. I make no attempt to describe these here, although there is some information in the Cheshire Timeline.
  • In 1284 a county boundary was fixed. It remained for 550 years. It defines what is now known as the historic county of Cheshire. During those centuries Cheshire had several forms of government, but it remained a single unit. I attempt to describe this boundary in detail.
  • In 1835 a period of change began. Since then, the boundary and form of local government has been revised many times. I describe these as best I can.
  • In 2009 the county was abolished. I list the eight units of local government that have taken its place.

The Historic County (1284 to 1835).

In the days before maps, county boundaries tended to follow geographical features such as rivers and hill-crests. In the absence of a geographical feature, the a ditch was dug to mark the boundary.

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 Period Of Change (1835 to date).

By the 19th century the county boundary was chafing at the seams. The problems lay in the north and east of the county where the boundary followed rivers. During the industrial revolution large communities had grown up astride these rivers. A boundary that originally reflected a natural divide between communities now passed through their centres. This caused problems for those who lived there. Someone who lived only 100 yards north of Stockport town centre, would probably have worked, shopped and socialised in Stockport, but was unable to use many public facilities there because he lived in another county. He had to travel some distance to the nearest Lancashire town for these.

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.

1835 Heaton Norris, a small town in Lancashire, is incorporated into the Borough of Stockport. (Stockport expands. The county boundary is not re-drawn, so from this time Stockport, originally entirely within Cheshire, is partly in Lancashire.)

Note: Heaton Norris town should not be confused with Heaton Norris district (i.e. the surrounding area) which remained fully within Lancashire until 1913.

1857 Swanwick Clough and Mountpleasant gained from Lancashire (Stalybridge is created).

1881 Ridge Hill and Heyrod gained from Lancashire (Stalybridge expands).

1889 Micklehurst lost to Mossley, Lancashire.

1894 Newtown and Furness Vale lost to Derbyshire (presumably to allow New Mills to expand).

1895 Tittenley lost to Shropshire.

1901 Reddish (Lancashire) incorporated into Stockport (Stockport expands again).

1913 Heaton Mersey, Heaton Moor, and Heaton Chapel (i.e. most of Heaton Norris district) (Lancashire) incorporated into Stockport (Stockport expands yet again).

1931 Northenden, Baguley and Northern Etchells lost to Manchester, Lancashire. (Manchester expands southwards, builds housing at Wythenshawe.)

1933 Latchford area lost to Lancashire. (The county boundary moved from the river Mersey to the Manchester Ship Canal transferring a long irregularly shaped strip of land south of Warrington into Lancashire.)

1936 Taxal lost to Derbyshire (Whaley Bridge expands).

Goyt Valley lost to Derbyshire (boundary moved uphill from river to ridge, where it followed Taxal Edge and Shining Tor).

Ludworth and Mellor gained from Derbyshire (presumably in exchange for Taxal).

1965 Wrinehill lost to Staffordshire.

1974 Most of the Wirral peninsular lost to the new county of Merseyside. (Including Heswall, Hoylake, Wallasey, Birkenhead, Bebington.)

Warrington and Widnes area gained from Lancashire.

Altrincham and Sale area lost to Trafford, Greater Manchester.

Stockport area lost to the new county of Greater Manchester. (Including Cheadle, Bramhall, Hazel Grove, Bredbury, Romiley and Marple.)

Hyde, Dukinfield, and Stalybridge area lost to Tameside, Greater Manchester. (Including Mottram-in-Longdendale and Hollingworth.)

The remainder of Longdendale lost to Derbyshire where it is included in High Peak Borough. (Including Tintwistle and Woodhead.)


In 1986 the two County Councils created in 1974 (Greater Manchester, and Merseyside) were abolished. The boroughs within them (in Cheshire that is the Wirral, Trafford, Stockport, and Tameside) were made unitary authorities.

2009 Cheshire ceased to exist as an administrative county. What remained of the county after the 1974 re-organisation was divided into two unitary authorities: Cheshire East and the rather inelegantly named Cheshire West and Chester.


The changes between 1835 and 1913 brought local government into line with existing communities, and made life easier for their inhabitants.

The 1931 change was in preparation for a planned expansion of Manchester.

The 1974 changes were part of a radical redesign of local government. Two new counties were created (only to be abolished twelve years later). The new counties (Merseyside, centred on Liverpool, and Greater Manchester) reflected the town-centric lives of their inhabitants, whereas Cheshire had a rural heart.

Changes since 1986 are part of a move towards "unitary authorities" where local services are provided by "local" councils covering very large areas. Other services are controlled by national government. There is no intermediate level of government akin to the old county. The result is that power has been taken away from local communities, and national government exercises more direct control.

The Current Situation

What was once Cheshire is now split for local government purposes into eight parts (some of which also incorporate parts of other historic counties). From west to east these are.
  - The Wirral   (a metropolitan borough),
  - Cheshire West and Chester   (a unitary authority),
  - Warrington   (a borough),
  - Cheshire East   (a unitary authority),
  - Trafford   (a metropolitan borough),
  - Stockport   (a metropolitan borough),
  - Tameside   (a metropolitan borough).
  - High Peak   (a borough in Derbyshire).

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.

The History of Local Government in Cheshire..

In its earlier days as a county, Cheshire was governed directly by Kings, Princes, and Earls.

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)
    1506   Chester
    1625   Congleton
    1648   Macclesfield
    1835   Stockport
    1857   Stalybridge
    1877   Birkenhead
    1877   Crewe
    1881   Hyde
    1913   Wallasey

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.

Boundary Conundrums and Family History.

When the goverment of boroughs was reformed in 1835, one problem had been to decide which towns were already boroughs and which weren't. That Stockport fell on one side of the divide (it was felt to be a borough because it already had a Mayor) and the much larger nearby town of Manchester didn't (instead of a Mayor it had a Borough Reeve, but apparently that didn't qualify it as a borough) was largely down to political horse-trading of the time rather than to logic. With all the political commotion and, at a national level, the large number of boroughs being traded between political opponents, it was hardly noticed that the new Borough of Stockport, larger than the old town of Stockport, now spanned two counties. This was to cause much confusion, then and now.

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.

Carl's Cam