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Local Stockport brewery Robinson’s have recently, as part of their rebranding exercise, adopted the identity of Cheshire Family Brewers. Some have jibbed at this, saying it is living in the past, and that Stockport was moved from Cheshire to Greater Manchester in 1974.
However, Greater Manchester as an administrative area with its own council was abolished in 1986, and only lives on in the form of police and fire authorities covering ten separate unitary councils. Indeed, it was never the intention of the 1974 local government reforms to change geography. As a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said at the time:
"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."
Since then, we have seen a whole raft of piecemeal reforms to the 1974 structure, including abolishing the unloved and spurious “counties” of Cleveland, Humberside and Avon, and making many places such as Nottingham and Blackburn unitary authorities outside the control of the relevant County Council. Recently, the administrative county of Cheshire has been split into the two unitary districts of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Cheshire.
It would be interesting to ask the proponents of “new counties” exactly which counties Middlesbrough, Grimsby and Bristol are in nowadays, or whether Macclesfield is actually no longer in Cheshire. This has even led to the nonsense of road signs appearing where you exit the boundaries of Blackpool and Blackburn saying “Welcome to Lancashire”.
As argued by the Association of British Counties, what we need is a fixed frame of popular geographical reference that is independent of the successive whims of local government reorganisation. This works in Northern Ireland, which has been divided into 26 unitary districts, but where people still continue to identify themselves with Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, (London)Derry and Tyrone. So why can’t the same work in England?
It continues to baffle me how many people who supposedly are enthusiasts for “traditional beer” at the same time reject “traditional counties” and insist on using the fake, modern, keg equivalent. Rather like the pillocks who write directions in the Good Beer Guide using foreign metres rather than British yards.
Stockport, in geographical terms, is undisputably within the county of Cheshire, and long may it remain so!