Flintshire detached: remembering our old counties

Flintshire detached county

Flintshire detached: our old blurred county lines

Forty years ago today, many of Britain’s most cherished counties disappeared under local government reorganisation. The changes also ended a curious historic anomaly: ‘Flintshire detached’: the area of Flintshire, Maelor Saesneg, which was detached from the rest of the county of Flint and surrounded by the Welsh county of Denbigh and the English counties of Shropshire and Chester.

Maelor Saesneg (‘English Maelor’) was one of the very last ‘exclaves‘: detached county territory. Most of these exclaves were tidied up in the 19th century. For example, much of Minety, Wiltshire, was part of neighbouring Gloucestershire until 1844, the year parliament started the tidying process.

I remember being curious about ‘Flintshire detached’ on childhood maps of Wales. I had a reminder of those long-gone days last Sunday on a bike ride in Buckinghamshire. Near Amersham, I passed a handsome property called Hertfordshire House. Its name reveals that it was once in an exclave of Hertfordshire in neighbouring Bucks, centred on the village of Coleshill. Centuries ago, the house was owned by Thomas Ellwood, who held illegal Quaker meetings there, safe in the knowledge that it was too remote for Herts justices of the peace to interfere. (It was Ellwood who rented a cottage for John Milton in Chalfont St Giles, where the great poet lived during London’s great plague of 1665 and completed Paradise Lost.)

Back to 1974. An even greater historical anomaly was Monmouthshire. Until 40 years ago, that border county was regarded by many as technically part of England rather than Wales, having been annexed as an English county following the forced acts of union in the 16th century. The 1974 local government reorganisation in Wales put an end to such nonsense. Never again would acts of parliament refer to South Wales and Monmouthshire.

6 thoughts on “Flintshire detached: remembering our old counties

  1. I forgot to mention yesterday that, as you said, South Glamorgan was established 40 years ago on 1 April 1974. I started work in the new London Borough of Hounslow on its first day 1 April 1965.


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  3. The situation with the exclaves of Flintshire was considerably more bizarre than you’d detected from your school map. There were several other small areas, surrounded by Denbighshire known collectively as ‘parts of Flintshire, detached’. The anomaly showed up when following referenda about Sunday drinking, Flintshire went wet and Denbighshire stayed dry. Thirsty men suddenly discovered an urge to stroll, catch buses and supervise driving lessons. I’ve heard accounts of the border running though a pub in Marford with the result that they could open the lounge but not the bar. Not sure this is true as it’s too close to a story in the Spike Milligan novel ‘Puckoon’ about a pub straddling the Ulster border and because surely a pub has to be licensed with one county or the other? I’d love to know how they emptied the bins.


    For all that enclaves are quaint historical survivals, you don’t have to think too hard to realise that they’re generally indicative of tension, strife or historical bloodshed. Gunter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum talks about the first day of World War Two as having occured in Gdansk, aka ‘The Free City of Danzig’, essentially a little bit of Germany left behind in Poland that turned out to be bridgehead.

    This book by a Russian author was amusing but also recalled the troubles that lead to the creation of such exclaves:


    For all the nostalgia that ‘historic counties’ can evoke, I’m a local government officer myself and am much in favour of sensibly shaped and constituted counties that can do the stuff that makes life easier for the citizen body.

    • Thanks for the really interesting comment. Much appreciated. The reference to Danzig reminds me of my history lessons at school! By coincidence, at the time of those lessons it was in the news as Poland’s Solidarity movement started in Gdansk.

  4. Pingback: Cardiff, Wales, Monmouthshire and England | Ertblog

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