AskDefine | Define shire

Dictionary Definition



1 a former administrative district of England; equivalent to a county
2 British breed of large heavy draft horse [syn: shire horse]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Shire





  • a UK /ʃaɪə(ɹ)/ /SaI@(r)/


  1. Former administrative area of Britain; a county.
    Yorkshire is the largest shire in England.
  2. A rural or outer suburban local government area of Australia.


former administrative area of Britain; a county
rural or outer suburban local government area of Australia

Extensive Definition

A shire is an administrative division of Great Britain and Australia. The first shires were created by the Anglo-Saxons in what is now central and southern England. Shires were controlled by a royal official known as a "shire reeve" or sheriff. Historically shires were sub-divided into hundreds or wapentakes although other less common sub-divisions existed. In modern English usage shires are sub-divided into districts.
Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and the far northeast of England, the word is (to rhyme with "fire"). As a suffix in an English or Welsh place name it is pronounced /-ʃə/ or sometimes /-ʃɪə/, a homophone of "sheer".

Shires in Great Britain

It can also be used in a narrower sense, referring only to ancient counties ending in "shire". These counties are typically (though not always) named after their county town.
Of these, all but Huntingdonshire and Yorkshire are also administrative counties (but with different boundaries). Huntingdonshire is now administered as a district of Cambridgeshire, and Yorkshire is split between East Riding of Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. Other northern counties include Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cumbria and County Durham.
The counties of Devon, Dorset, Rutland and Somerset were occasionally referred to with the "shire" suffix. This usage is now considered archaic, although residents are known to refer to these counties as "the Shire".
In Wales, the counties of Merioneth and Glamorgan are occasionally referred to with the "shire" suffix. The only traditional Welsh county that never takes "shire" is Anglesey.

Non-county shires

The suffix –shire was a generalised term referring to a district. It did not acquire the strong association with county until later, though the former Hexhamshire and Winchcombeshire were considered counties. The area of Richmondshire in North Yorkshire is today a local government district. The term shire thus predates the creation of England's counties, referring originally to a more local jurisdiction.
Other than these, the term was used for several other districts. Bedlingtonshire, Craikshire, Norhamshire and Islandshire were exclaves of County Durham, which were incorporated into Northumberland or Yorkshire in 1844. The suffix was also was used for many hundreds, wapentakes and liberties such as Allertonshire, Blackburnshire, Halfshire, Howdenshire, Leylandshire, Powdershire, Pydarshire, Salfordshire, Triggshire, Tynemouthshire, West Derbyshire and Wivelshire, counties corporate such as Hullshire, and other districts such as Applebyshire, Bamburghshire, Bunkleshire, Carlisleshire, Coldinghamshire, Coxwoldshire, Cravenshire, Hallamshire, Leekshire , Mashamshire and Yetholmshire.

Shires in Scotland

Non-county shires were very common in Scotland. Kinross-shire and Clackmannanshire are probably survivals from such districts. In Scotland the term shire county is unknown, and the use of shire to refer to sheriffdoms or counties was intermittent, dating largely from the 19th century. It may be seen as an anglification or an example of the power of analogy. The traditional names, insofar as this is a reasonable term to employ, omit the suffix -shire.
In Scotland four counties have alternative names with the "shire" suffix: Angus (Forfarshire), East Lothian (Haddingtonshire), Midlothian (Edinburghshire) and West Lothian (Linlithgowshire). Sutherland is occasionally still referred to as Sutherlandshire, despite there being no town called Sutherland. Similarly, Argyllshire, Buteshire, Caithness-shire and Fifeshire are sometimes found. Also, Morayshire was previously called Elginshire.

Shires in Australia

Shire is the most common word in Australia for rural Local Government Areas (LGA). The states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia use Shire for this unit.
In contrast; South Australia uses district and region for its rural LGA units, while Tasmania uses municipality. Shires are generally functionally indistinguishable from towns, municipalities, or cities.

Urban 'City-Shires' in Sydney, NSW, Australia

Three LGAs in outer metropolitan Sydney with populations exceeding that of Towns or Municipalities, but retain significant bushlands and/or semi-rural areas, have continued to use the title of 'Shire', possibly due to community demand or popularity, or for financial and socio-political gain. These three 'City-Shires' are:
These three 'Shires' could be classified as 'Cities' (by population).

Shires in the United States (Virginia)

In 1634, eight shires were created in the Virginia Colony by order of Charles I, King of England. They were renamed as counties only a few years later. They were:
Of these, five are considered still extant in essentially their same political form in Virginia as of 2006, although most boundaries have changed in the intervening centuries.
shire in Tosk Albanian: Shire
shire in Catalan: Comarca
shire in German: Shire (Verwaltungseinheit)
shire in Spanish: Comarca
shire in French: Comtés au Royaume-Uni
shire in Italian: Comarca
shire in Japanese: シャイア
shire in Dutch: gouw

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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