diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 15, 2022

Some English county towns are central within their counties.
Leicester, for example is bang in the middle of Leicestershire.
You might expect this, given that shire counties historically grew up around a specific town or city.

But some county towns are way off beam, tucked over to one side rather than centrally placed.
So my question today is Which are England's least central county towns?

n.b. I'm not going to be forensically precise about this.
n.b. I'm using ceremonial counties rather than current administrative reality.
n.b. I'm defining centres by area, not by population.
n.b. Finding the exact centre of a region is a complex task, and interpretable in several ways, so I've resorted to judging the approximate centre by eye.
n.b. Yes, historic decisions have often been blurred by boundary changes.
n.b. Administrative centres and county towns aren't always the same thing.
n.b. County towns themselves are not entirely well-defined.
n.b. If you would have done it differently, you are welcome to go away and do it differently.

n.b. click on a county for a boundary in OpenStreetMap.

I reckon there are four nigh-perfectly located county towns.

• Leicester, Leicestershire
• Reading, Berkshire
• Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
• Winchester, Hampshire

These are almost as good, but not quite.

• Hereford, Herefordshire
• Newport, Isle of Wight
• Oxford, Oxfordshire
• Worcester, Worcestershire

These are a bit off-centre but still pretty good.

• Bedford, Bedfordshire (a bit too far north)
• Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire (a bit too far east)
• Chelmsford, Essex (a bit too far southwest)
• Northampton, Northamptonshire (a bit too far southwest)
• Oakham, Rutland (the exact centre is within Rutland Water)
• Shrewsbury, Shropshire (a bit too far north)
• Stafford, Staffordshire (a bit too far west)
• Warwick, Warwickshire (made more sense before they amputated Coventry)

These are less central, but not awful.

• Cambridge, Cambridgeshire (too far south, St Ives would be a bit closer)
• Gloucester, Gloucestershire (OK for the current county, but ceremonially Stroud's better)
• Maidstone, Kent (too far northwest, but Ashford's no better)
• Guildford, Surrey (too far west, Dorking would be a bit closer)

These are well off-centre, although there's nothing in the centre.

• Truro, Cornwall (too far west, but St Austell is too far east)
• Exeter, Devon (too far east, the centre's between Okehampton and Crediton)
• Dorchester, Dorset (too far southwest, the centre's on the way to Blandford Forum)
• Lincoln, Lincolnshire (too far west, and Horncastle's too far the other way)
• Northallerton, North Yorkshire (too far north, the centre's between Ripon and Thirsk)
• Taunton, Somerset (too far southwest, the centre's between Bridgewater and Glastonbury)

These are definitely off-centre and another town is much better placed.

• Durham, County Durham (too far east, Crook would be a lot more central)
• Hertford, Hertfordshire (too far east, Welwyn Garden City would be spot on)
• Norwich, Norfolk (too far east, Dereham would be much better placed)
• Barnsley, South Yorkshire (too far northwest, Mexborough would be a lot better)
• Ipswich, Suffolk (too far southeast, it really should be Stowmarket)
• Wakefield, West Yorkshire (too far east, Cleckheaton would be a lot better)
• Trowbridge, Wiltshire (too far west, Devizes would be nigh perfect)

These are badly off-centre.

• Derby, Derbyshire (should be Matlock (and arguably since Derby went unitary it is))
• Nottingham, Nottinghamshire (much too far south, and Southwell would be a lot better)
• Lewes, East Sussex (over in the southwest corner, and really ought to be Heathfield)
• Chichester, West Sussex (also in the southwest corner, and really ought to be Pulborough)
• Alnwick, Northumberland (too coastal, the centre's in the town-free void between Rothbury and Hexham)

And these three are the most off-centre of all.

• Chester, Cheshire (way over on the Welsh border whereas it should be around Winsford)
• Carlisle, Cumbria (much too far north and should be Ullswater, but that's a lake so Penrith would do)
• Lancaster, Lancashire (much too far north, and technically it should be Longridge but any sane geographer would pick Preston)

n.b. I'm now wondering why the three worst-placed county towns are all in the North West...
n.b. ...and why the best-placed county towns were mostly in the south Midlands.
n.b. If you would have done it differently, you are welcome to go away and do it differently.

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