The history of local government in 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.
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'.
The table shows the area and population of administrative counties in Wales as recorded at the censuses of 1891 and 1961.
|Administrative county||Area 1891
|Population 1891||Area 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
There were also a number of administratively independent county boroughs:
|County borough||Area 1911
|Population 1911||Area 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|
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.
Main article: Districts of Wales
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|
|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|
|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|
|Vale of Glamorgan||most of Vale of Glamorgan|
|Wrexham||most of Wrexham, parts of Glyndwr|
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