Saddleworth White Rose Society


in the county of York





White Rose or Red?

Early History

Although entirely on the western side of the Pennine watershed, Saddleworth’s links with the County of York can be traced back in history to Norman times.  Saddleworth, or Quick as it was alternatively known, was throughout the Middle Ages a Township in the West Riding of Yorkshire and had from the twelfth century been part of the Honour of Pontefract, the Yorkshire fiefdom of the de Lacy family, granted to them by the Conqueror.



By the beginning of the twentieth century the greater part of the ancient Township of Saddleworth had administratively become an Urban District within the West Riding of Yorkshire, as also had Springhead, with the responsibility for highways, education, health and policing being controlled by the West Riding County Council.

Saddleworth joins Oldham and Greater Manchester

This was the situation that pertained until 1974 when the Local Government Act of 1972 abolished the Urban District of Saddleworth and the West Riding County Council and created the new Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, and a new administrative County of Greater Manchester.  Saddleworth became a constituent part of both of these new local government entities.  The boundaries of the new administrative county of West Yorkshire ended at Stanedge.  Despite strong local protest this new arrangement came in force on the 1 April 1974.

County Confusion?

However, despite the fact that a number of new local authorities had been created nationally which the Act called Counties, the Government of the day made it clear that the changes were only for administrative purposes and that the ancient or geographic counties had not been abolished.

“The new county boundaries are solely for the purpose of defining areas of ....local government.  They 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”. [Government statement made on 1 April 1974 at the time of implementation of the LGA 1972].

Nevertheless, not surprisingly, confusion has followed in the minds of the media and general public.  Can someone living in Oldham MB be living in Yorkshire when they are in the County of Greater Manchester?.  Is Oldham still in Lancashire, and if Saddleworth is in Oldham MB is it not, therefore, also now in Lancashire?  Calling the Metropolitan Borough Oldham after one of its seven constituent parts has only exacerbated this problem in people’s' minds.

The problem was compounded further when the County Council of Greater Manchester was abolished in 1985, and a number of residual bodies covering health, buses, and emergency services were continued.  Popular usage of the regional description Greater Manchester and the creation of a Lord Lieutenancy of Greater Manchester since this date has also perpetuated the concept of a Greater Manchester County.

Setting the Record Straight

Since 1974 governments and local politicians have tried to allay the confusion in many people’s minds and to stress the continuity of the Ancient and Geographic Counties and their affiliations.

Michael Portillo, then Minister of Local Government and Inner Cities, in a reply of 11 July 1990 to a letter about the status of the County of Avon wrote “I can confirm that the government still stands by the statement ..... that the local authority areas and boundaries introduced in April 1974 do not alter the traditional boundaries of counties.  The 1974 arrangements are entirely administrative, and need not affect long-standing loyalties and affinities.”

More recently, Phil Woollas, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, in a written reply of 8th October 1999 to a question on County boundary signs around Saddleworth stated: “...I am aware of the fact that Saddleworth is in Yorkshire.  Indeed, I was instrumental in securing the signs that display this, which are situated on the Lancashire/Yorkshire boundary.”   

councillor John B. Battye, Mayor and Leader of the Council, Oldham MB in a written reply of 27th September 1999 to a question on the geographic location of Saddleworth replied: “...As far as I am aware the county boundaries of Yorkshire and Lancashire have not been abolished but they have no relevance for local authority services.  The county boundary of Yorkshire is indicated at County End, Springhead.  .....geographically, [Saddleworth is in the] County of York (part of the West Riding of Yorkshire) but local government services are provided by Oldham MBC and Greater Manchester Countywide Authorities”.

And finally, at the official opening of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal on 3 September 2001 HRH Prince Charles also confirmed “The fact that Saddleworth is still part of the historic West Riding of Yorkshire is extremely important”.

The message is therefore clear. 

     The boundaries of the Ancient and Geographic Counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire continued unchanged in 1974.

     Saddleworth is therefore still in the County of Yorkshire, although administered by Oldham MBC.

     Oldham similarly is in the County of Lancashire, and shares with Saddleworth its administration by Oldham MBC.

     53% of Oldham MB geographically is in the County of Yorkshire and 47% in the County of Lancashire

Do the Ancient and Geographic Counties matter?

An Association of British Counties (ABC) pamphlet summarises why the Ancient and Geographic Counties still matter:

“Whilst each County was probably created with some kind of administrative purpose in mind, the Counties have long since come to represent something much more than this.  They have become bedrocks of the history, culture and geography of Britain.  They provide an instant means of reference to different parts of the country, to a set of cities, towns and villages, to distinctive scenery, architecture and wildlife, to particular industries and pastimes, accents and dialects, tourist attractions, weather ....  A large literature focuses on each of the Counties, they give their names to clubs and societies, to teams people play for.  Above all else they are places – places where people live and “come from”, where they “belong”

© Saddleworth White Rose Society