Why Sunderland never 'left' County Durham after all

A few weeks ago this column suggested that the city of Sunderland should take steps to ensure its return to County Durham.

Saturday, 9th November 2019, 8:00 am
Durham Cathedral is in County Durham, obviously. So apparently is Sunderland, despite what you've heard.,

This is largely because it would be preferable to where it sits now.

When asked which county you live in while buying stuff you don’t need online, irritatingly you occasionally have to click something called Tyne and Wear.

You may as well click Cornwall as it at least exists. Or Narnia, which is no less extant than Tyne and Wear.

Postcodes, which weren’t introduced until 1968, have zilch to do with the county you live in. In fact they often aren’t even indicative of the town or city you live in.

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Why would any Wearsider not want to make the re-connection with Durham? As we pointed out, the county’s de facto slogan of “Durham: Land of the Prince Bishops” will never be matched for sexiness by “Sunderland: Land of the metropolitan district council”.

Sunderland could make a more public connection with two world heritage sites, Cuthbert and cricket. The rest of County Durham could scoop St Peter’s, Bede (a Mackem buried in Durham), over 600 years of shipbuilding history and the Stadium of Light.

We want back into Durham. Except …

Except it turns out that Sunderland may actually have never left the county in the first place. Or at least that’s the claim.

After that earlier column we were contacted by a reader called Dave Caslaw, who drew our attention to something called the Association of British Counties (ABC).

This was created by, of all people, the astrologer Russell Grant in 1989. He was incensed by the Local Government Act which came into force in 1974, which for some reason he never saw coming.

Nevertheless, the association has produced a gazetteer of which counties Britain's towns and cities belong to, irrespective of the act and subsequent changes to local government administrative areas and boundary changes.

The ABC doesn’t want even more local government reorganisation, rather an official distinction between current administrative units (fake counties) and proper counties.

But crucially they insist that the real counties were never actually abolished; it’s an incorrect assumption made by people like me.

Mr Caslaw said: “Our 92 historic and traditional counties are still in place and should be the standard popular geographical reference frame of Britain. Sporting, military and religious groupings still maintain these historic links.

“The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government actively encourage the display of registered county flags, historic county boundary road signs and county days.

“Unfortunately, successive central government legislation has further muddied the waters. The Lieutenancies Act 1997 defined the areas Lord Lieutenants are currently appointed to. We actually have a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff of the 'county' of Tyne and Wear. No wonder we're confused.”

I must say, I rather like the cut of Mr Caslaw’s jib and thank him for his correspondence.

There you have it then. Sunderland along with South Tyneside, Gateshead and others never really left County Durham after all.

So let’s send a bloke round with a brush and paint, amend the road signs to say “County Durham” again – then forget that the whole thing ever happened.