History of Local Government in Wales
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History of Local Government in Wales

The history of local government Wales in a recognisably modern form emerged during the late 19th century. Administrative counties and county boroughs were first established in Wales in 1889. Urban and rural districts were formed in 1894. These were replaced in 1974 by a two-tier authority system across the country comprising eight counties and, within them, thirty-seven districts. This system was itself replaced by the introduction of 22 single-tier authorities in 1996.

Local Government Act 1888

From 1889 to 1974, counties made up of administrative counties and county boroughs were used for local government purposes. The counties were created by the Local Government Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict, c. 41), which applied without distinction across Wales and England, and in Wales the administrative counties were based on the historic counties of Wales, but they were not entirely identical.

The 1888 Act did not create elected district councils, but anticipated their later creation, which came with the Local Government Act 1894. The 1894 Act created 'urban districts' and 'rural districts'.

Administrative counties

Wales Administration Map 1947.png

The table shows the area and population of administrative counties in Wales as recorded at the censuses of 1891 and 1961.[1][2]

Administrative county Area 1891
acres (km2)
Population 1891 Area 1961
acres (km2)
Population 1961
Anglesey 175,836 (712) 50,098 176,694 (715) 51,705
Brecknockshire 469,894 (1,902) 51,393 469,281 (1,899) 55,185
Cardiganshire 443,071 (1,793) 63,467 443,189 (1,794) 53,648
Carmarthenshire 587,816 (2,379) 130,566 588,271 (2,381) 168,008
Caernarfonshire(1) 360,138 (1,457) 117,233 364,108 (1,473) 121,767
Denbighshire 424,235 (1,717) 118,843 427,978 (1,732) 174,151
Flintshire 164,051 (664) 77,277 163,707 (662) 150,082
Glamorgan 505,815 (2,047) 467,954 468,808 (1,897) 523,253
Merionethshire 427,810 (1,731) 49,212 422,372 (1,709) 38,310
Monmouthshire 342,548 (1,386) 203,347 346,779 (1,403) 336,556
Montgomeryshire 510,111 (2,064) 58,003 510,110 (2,064) 41,165
Pembrokeshire 392,710 (1,589) 88,296 393,008 (1,590) 94,124
Radnorshire 301,164 (1,219) 21,791 301,165 (1,219) 18,471

(1)Renamed from Carnarvonshire, 1 July 1926[3]

County boroughs

There were also a number of administratively independent county boroughs:

  • Cardiff created in 1889 (associated with Glamorgan)
  • Swansea, created in 1889 (associated with Glamorgan)
  • Newport, separated from Monmouthshire in 1891
  • Merthyr Tydfil, separated from Glamorgan in 1908
County borough Area 1911
acres (km2)
Population 1911 Area 1961
acres (km2)
Population 1961
Cardiff 6,373 (26) 182,259 15,085 (61) 256,582
Merthyr Tydfil 17,761 (72) 80,990 17,760 (72) 59,039
Newport 4,504 (18) 83,691 7,691 (31) 112,298
Swansea 5,202 (21) 114,663 21,600 (87) 167,322

Local Government Act 1972: Counties and districts

Wales Administrative 1974.png

In 1974, the existing administrative counties and county boroughs were abolished and replaced by eight new two-tier authorities, instead called 'counties' by the Local Government Act 1972 (1972 c. 70). These counties were sub-divided into lower-tier districts.

The counties were all given names in Welsh only, apart from the three in Glamorgan, which had English names as well as Welsh. The creation of these new administrative areas effectively separated the administrative function from the traditional counties, although in reality this had occurred in 1889.

When these two-tier counties were abolished in 1996, their names and areas were retained with slight modifications for some purposes such as Lieutenancy, and became known as the preserved counties of Wales. These were further amended in 2003 by S.I. 2003/974 to ensure that each unitary area is wholly within one preserved county.


  1. Gwent
  2. South Glamorgan
    (De Morgannwg)
  3. Mid Glamorgan
    (Morgannwg Ganol)
  4. West Glamorgan
    (Gorllewin Morgannwg)
  5. Dyfed
  6. Powys
  7. Gwynedd
  8. Clwyd


The counties were sub-divided into districts, these were:


The redistribution of these districts into the current unitary authorities is as follows:

Unitary authority Previous districts
Blaenau Gwent most of Blaenau Gwent
Bridgend most of Ogwr
Caerphilly Islwyn, Rhymney Valley
Carmarthenshire Carmarthen, Llanelli, Dinefwr
Cardiff Cardiff, part of Taff–Ely
Ceredigion Ceredigion
Conwy Aberconwy, most of Colwyn
Denbighshire Rhuddlan, parts of Glyndwr and Colwyn
Flintshire Alyn and Deeside, Delyn
Gwynedd Arfon, Dwyfor, Meirionnydd
Isle of Anglesey Anglesey
Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr Tydfil
Monmouthshire Monmouth, part of Blaenau Gwent
Neath Port Talbot Neath, Port Talbot, parts of Lliw Valley
Newport Newport
Pembrokeshire Preseli Pembrokeshire, South Pembrokeshire
Powys Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, Brecknock, part of Glyndwr
Rhondda Cynon Taf Rhondda, Cynon Valley, most of Taff-Ely
Swansea Swansea, parts of Lliw Valley
Torfaen Torfaen
Vale of Glamorgan most of Vale of Glamorgan
Wrexham most of Wrexham, parts of Glyndwr

See also


  1. ^ Census of England and Wales 1891, Vol. I, Table III. Administrative Counties and County Boroughs; Area, and Houses and Population in 1891 (Historic GIS Project, Queen's University, Belfast)"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-07-03. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ 1961 Census England and Wales: County Reports (www.visionofbritain.org.uk) [1]
  3. ^ 1931 Census of England and Wales, county report for Caernarvonshire

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