Friday, June 15, 2007

Darlington, County Durham?

All councillors received an email from local resident Adrian Jackson today regarding the "County Durham" tag at the end of our addresses.

Adrian is a proud Darlingtonian, and resents having to give "County Durham" as part of his address - he prefers to put "Borough of Darlington" when asked to state 'County' when he completes official forms. He wonders whether the former Cleveland authorities (Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland) have similar problems? After 10 years of "independence" from the County, he believes that the Council should use the Town Crier to take the campaign forward.

This is, of course, a fraught issue. I was an active campaigner in the battle to win unitary status for Darlington in the mid 90's. It galled me that our town received so little from County Durham (just 4% of the highways spend, for example, when we had 16% of the population). I have to confess that as a result, I still tend to give my address as Darlington and the postcode, and leave the county off.

The debate has become muddied, however, because County Durham is both a ceremonial and an administrative area. The latter is a shrivelled ghost of its historical past - in the early twentieth century County Durham included Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Stockton as well as Darlington. Successive local government reorganisations have left an administrative rump covering Teesdale, Wear Valley, Sedgefield, Chester-le-Street, Derwentside, Easington and Durham City. Now, whilst Stockton, Darlington and Hartlepool remain part of the historic county (with a Lord Lieutenant appointed by the Crown), Sunderland, Gatehead and South Shields have been removed to Tyne and Wear.

In the 1960's, national government sought reforms which re-created local government in units which apparently made economic sense. Cleveland, Avon and Humberside and the like all seemed beaurocratically sensible, but suffered because they didn't chime with people's sense of local identity.

The County system itself is a mess. Created by the Anglo-Saxons, it was originally dynamic, with counties formed and reformed to reflect local realities. It ended up being pickled in aspic as a result of the Norman Conquest - faced with a significant language problem, the invaders found that they had to rely on existing structures through which to rule, and they became set. One of the ironies of the County system is that Rutland was due to be absorbed into Leicestershire immediately before 1066, as a unviable administrative unit. The Conquest saved it, and it lingers on today (pop. 33,000)

County Boroughs have further complicated the picture. Bristol became a City and County in 1373 following a charter from Edward III. County Boroughs, however, retain their existing county allegiances - so Bristol comes under the Lord Lieutenancy of Gloucestershire and Darlington, even after its "independence" in 1997, that of Durham.

On one level, this is a lot of flummery, and the old distictions should be swept away - it's fair to say that counties like Middlesex really only exist now because of the cricket team. However, a sense of place is important. It irritates me that the administrative Durham County Council calls itself "The Land of the Prince Bishops" when the original capital of County Durham was Sadberge, which is of course in Darlington. After all, it is the Mayor of Darlington, and not the Chairman of the County Council who receives each new Bishop of Durham into the bishopric on Croft Bridge.

For all they're scorned, road side boundaries are important. Darlington in economic terms looks to the Tees Valley (indeed working with our Tees Valley colleagues was a prerequisite of gaining unitary status). There are plenty of people in Darlington who still think of themselves as residents of County Durham, however.

At the end of the day, successive local government acts have allowed the likes of Middlesex and Cleveland to linger on, if poeple want to adhere to them. How can we square the circle of the administrative and historic Durham Counties? Answers on a postcard...


miketually said...

A mature student on my course at uni was from Yarm. He refused to pay any bills which did not use North Yorkshire in the address, despite Yarm now being in Cleveland. He also refused to give his wife red roses, insisting on white.

I generally don't give County Durham on my address, although I don't feel particularly strongly about it. When I did one put the county, someone selling me some bike parts online thought he would need to charge extra postage to get the bits to Nortern Ireland!

Paul Leake said...

In terms of ceremonial counties Stockton Borough is split into two along the River Tees, part in North Yorkshire, part in Durham. The old Startforth RDC in Teesdale used to be part of the North Riding of Yorkshire but is now part of the ceremonial and administrative counties of Durham. At least we've done away with extra-territorial county enclaves now (Crake in the Vale of York used to be part of County Durham).

Wouldn't Darlington's administrative county actually be the County of Darlington?

What the Royal Mail decides is the 'correct' address for an area bears even less resemlance to local government configuration. If you believe the Royal Mail, Croft on Tees and Stapleton are in County Durham too! (And the Yorkshire Dales town of Bentham is down as Lancaster)

'The new county boundaries are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change, despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties.'
(Government statement 1974.)

In the end it's probably not of too great consequences what people use as their address (especially as Darlington is a posttown in its own right), although refusing to pay bills addressed to a County Durham resident probably would cause a few problems

ianwhit, said...

Im glad you all have so little do arguing about county this and that, you just need to look at the fiasco with Teeside airport everyone still calls it that, including the flight booking forms etc, thousands of pounds wasted on signage (Nick knows all about that at present)what ever next? counting bin bags, recycling to go in land fills in India?
Come on fellas lets at least moan about something important!Hospital closures mass illegal imigration but not about a few lines on a map.
OFF the soap box now!!!lol

Martin said...


Your practice of omitting any reference to a county from your postal address is correct. Royal Mail have not used counties in postal addresses for years.

The only time I quote a county in mine is when forced to do so by an e-commerce website designer who has erroneously made the "County" field of their online order form a mandatory field!

Regarding the status of Darlington: as you are probably aware the 1995 Statutory Instrument that created the new unitary authority explicitly refers to the creation of the "county of Darlington". It makes it crystal clear that Darlington ceased to be part of County Durham on 1st April 1997.

The thought strikes me - should not someone be campaigning for a Lord Lieutenant of the county of Darlington, never mind an elected mayor?! :-)


Darlington Councillor said...

I have to disagree with Ian - this does matter to a lot of people because a sense of place is central to our lives - it helps define our community and who we are.

A few years ago I got into an unwise exchange (after a couple of glasses too many) on the old Electric Review political website about the status of County Boroughs. Usefully, we now have Wikipedia, which sets the matter straight (I think).

As far as Darlington and the Lord Lieutenancy is concerned, Martin, the key page is - Darlington is clearly part of the Lord Lieutenancy of Durham.

There's also a section which deals with the twists and turns of the old County Borough system (Darlington became a County Borough in 1915) at

Let's face it, the whole county stucture in England is a mess, because rump counties (like Durham and Gloucestershire) put up entry/exit signs when in fact their historic boundaries are far broader.

Nationwide, each of the historic county boundaries should be acknowledged, but so too separately should the individual districts or unitary Boroughs. So crossing the Tees at Blackwell, one should have a sign for the historic County of Durham, followed by the Darlington Borough sign with its Tees Valley logo. Leaving Darlington at Coatham Mundeville on the A167, one should have simply the Sedgefield District sign, noting that it is also governed by Durham County Council.

Simple. Just don't ask me about the airport...

ian holme said...

Sorry Nick, have to agree with the other Ian on this one.
This subject is utterly irrelevent and £0 should be wasted examining the subject.

rather more importantly, perhaps we should be looking at WARD boundaries to discover how we can have a party with an OVERALL majority of 5 in council despite coming second in the popular vote.
Think that subject may generate rather more interest.

Darlington Councillor said...

Well, I'll have to disagree with you too, Ian. And if a national agreement could be worked out via the Local Government Association, I think it would be worth bunging a few quid to invest in signs that are clear, accurate, and which I'm sure would command local respect.

As for the outcome of May's election, I would comment as follows;

(1) Parties gaining a majority of seats but fewer votes than another party has happened before in Darlington. Indeed it often occurs elsewhere in the country, and has happened in national elections too (1951 is a case in point).

(2) The rules rather dictate the possible outcomes of elections. In 1st-past-the-post systems, as we have in local and westminster elections, much of the activity takes place in the key marginal wards. Not exclusively - canvassing still takes place and leaflets are put out elsewhere, dependant on the individual party's resources - but by and large, work is targetted.

So in Haughton West, for example, I canvassed around the ward and put out leaflets, but as election day approached, together with my colleagues, I spent almost all of my time in Haughton North, supporting Tom and Veronica in what was a key Tory target.

The point I'm making is that if you had changed the rules and had a proportional system, I would have worked very differently in such a way as to try and ensure that Labour got more votes than any other party - the rules dictated I worked otherwise.

There are powerful arguments for and against PR in all forms of government - I was an advocate 20 years ago, although I'm rather lukewarm on the idea now. It'll be interesting to see how the introduction of PR into Scottish local government works, and I'll be listening with interest to the experiences of party colleagues north of the border.

ianwhite, said...


Is it anti Ian week?

Martin said...

Thanks for those links Nick. I hadn't come across the 1997 Lieutenacies Act. Most interesting!


Paul Leake said...

Ian - the Tories with some extremely minor boundary changes in Haughton supported these boundaries.

The discrepancies mostly come from the Tories piling up majorities in the villages / safe seats while Labour got more councillors elected but more narrowly. That those extra Tory votes are effectively wasted (they make no difference to the result, along with third party votes in each seat) is one of the reasons I want electoral reform.

Darlington Councillor said...

Paul - what is your email address? - I can't find it on your site.

Paul Leake said...

paul [at sign] durge [dot] org