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Historic Cheshire - Why we need to recognise Cheshire in its original boundaries

Cheshire is a county in north west England. But all is not as it seems. In 1974, government legislation created new so-called 'counties' which displaced and obscured the old ones. The map of Cheshire appeared to shrink. And since I first wrote this article, two new 'Cheshires' have appeared: Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester.

The most important message of my 'Campaign for Cheshire' is as follows:

The original, historic county of Cheshire has been obscured and distorted. We have: The original Cheshire: The ancient county of Cheshire whose boundaries were established before the Middle Ages. Its northern boundary stretches from the Wirral to deep into the Pennines.
A post-1974 Cheshire which existed from 1974 to 2009. The boundaries were redrawn to exclude a sizeable section the original or 'true' county, and there were further changes in later years. The southern boundary is unchanged from the ancient county. In 2009 this 'post 74' Cheshire was split into two

That's it. Any questions?

Why did they move the boundaries in 1974?

They didn't move the boundaries, they imposed new boundaries onto the old map, partially obscuring it. Changes were necessary for complex local government reasons.

Do you want to go back to the old Cheshire?

No, it's not about 'going back' it's about recognising that the original Cheshire has always existed and still exists. The local authorities that exist today are completely separate entities to the original county.

Why is this so important?

Because the counties are an essential part of local identity. You cannot rewrite a thousand years of history. You cannot in 1974 change the map of a county whose boundaries were already established well before the Middle Ages, just as you cannot move the site of the Battle of Hastings to another location for administrative convenience.

What is the goal of your campaign?

To make people aware of the original county, flagging up where its boundaries run. It's just a lesson in local history and geography, an information campaign aimed at informing people and making them curious. I want to put right the disinformation which has been spread since the 1970s. It's a very interesting topic that can give people the opportunity to learn the truth about their local geography.

How will you do this?

Through articles like this one, maybe leaflets, also maps - I would like to create animated maps which make it clear what happened in 1974, and the further changes since then. No maps like that exist at the moment. I'd also like to see new maps used in tourism and education, showing the old and new boundaries. And most importantly signs. I advocate new signs to mark the boundary of the ancient county from the Wirral to the Pennines and I'm producing visualisations of how the signs will look.

How will the signs look?

The new signs marking the ancient county will be tourist style signs on a brown background, with the Cheshire wheat sheaves symbol on one side, and a map of the county on the other. The wording will be 'Cheshire' with the words 'ancient county' in smaller writing underneath.

How will you do the visualisations?

I am going to design my standard sign and paste it into photographs taken at major roads along the northern boundary. For instance the A557 at Runcorn Bridge, the A49 in the centre of Warrington, the A56 in Sale, the A5103 at Princess Parkway in Manchester, the A5145 between East Didsbury and Cheadle, the A6 in the centre of Stockport, the bridges over the River Tame in Tameside, and on the A628 in the Pennines.

Do you think people feel strongly about this issue?

No, it's an invisible issue for most people. They are more interested in who is going to win the cup final, or whether there are one or two rubbish collections per week.However, if they discovered their house might be worth an extra 10,000 pounds if it were recognised to be in Cheshire, then they might take notice.

Do local councils need to do anything?

I'm not sure. But the most important thing is that they should understand that the original county exists as a historic geographical reality. They should get over their territorial thinking and realise the concept of overlapping spheres of influence. The ancient county has just as much a right to be recognised as the newer structures. After all, it has been there for over a thousand years, before William the Conqueror was on the throne.

Why do you feel so strongly about this?

I suppose because I was born in Stockport, Cheshire in 1958 and grew up there, and I am proud of that. Cheshire is my home county and means a lot to me. But from 1974 onwards people started telling me my birthplace was no longer in Cheshire. It had 'moved' into Greater Manchester'. And then Greater Manchester Council was abolished in 1986 and the county itself in 1993, leaving things in a state of limbo.

I would like to provide more information, maps and visualisations of signs.

For comprehensive information about the county issue, and why it is so important, visit the Association of British Counties website www.abcounties.co.uk. If you're not sure which town is in which county, their Gazeteer will help.

In the adjoining county of Lancashire, there is a campaign group Friends of Real Lancashire, who have been active for many years. For more information and to see some very informative maps, visit their website www.forl.co.uk.

Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs his Eyewitness photography walks in Manchester, Liverpool and other locations. He offers one-to-one tuition in Photography and Languages. He is a high-level speaker of German and can offer photography walks and tours through the medium of German. Visit www.aidan.co.uk

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