Guide to the Home Counties

Surrounding London, the Home Counties are found in the South East and East of England. Although there is no legal or official definition, the term has been used for several centuries to describe the counties that are nearest to London. Generally, the Home Counties include Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire are also sometimes considered to be among the Home Counties, as well as Sussex.

Defining the Home Counties

No official definition exists for the Home Counties. Over time, the counties that have been included have evolved as borders have shifted and as London has expanded. Generally, the Home Counties refer to the counties that surround London although it does not include the capital. The term was first used in 1695 to refer to Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Southwark and Suffolk. In 1889, the historic counties of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Essex, Middlesex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex surrounded London. Today, parts of these counties are now considered within the boundaries of London, including Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Surrey. The 2010 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary considers Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire as the 'Home Counties'.

Characteristics of the Home Counties

Due to their proximity to London, the counties that surround the capital are typically some of the most prosperous in England. Many workers commute from these counties to London, and the region is home to many commuter towns. As a result, communities in the Home Counties are well connected by rail and road to London. In addition to regular rail connections and some communities being served by the London Underground, most counties are within the M25 Motorway corridor.

The Home Counties is one of the most populous regions in the United Kingdom. According to the Office of National Statistics, the population of Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire was 5,715,900 in 2011. If a broader definition of the Home Counties is accepted, the population of the region would be over 9.5 million when Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Sussex are included.

Communities in the Home Counties

London has grown to include communities that were once historically part of the Home Counties. Kingston upon Thames is now a borough of London but was once a market town and considered part of Surrey until 1965 when the community became part of Greater London. Similarly, Richmond in the south-west of London and Croydon in South London were historically part of Surrey until amalgamating with Greater London in 1965. A market town during the Middle Ages, Croydon is now one of the largest commercial centres outside of Central London. Richmond is home to major historic and tourist attractions, including Hampton Court Palace, Twickenham Stadium and the WWT London Wetlands Centre. Formerly part of Essex, Ilford in the northeast of London is now the administrative centre for the London Borough of Redbridge.

Outside of London, the Home Counties remain home to a range of cities, towns and villages. Recognised as a city since 2012, Chelmsford in Essex lies within London's commuter belt. With a short commute into Central London, many residents work in the City and London's Docklands. Also in Essex is the historic town of Colchester. One of the oldest towns in Britain, Colchester once served as the capital of Roman Britain and is home to Colchester Castle. Communities in Kent include Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and the historic cathedral city of Canterbury. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canterbury is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.

The Home Counties also consist of Hertford and St. Albans in Hertfordshire, as well as Woking and Guildford in Surrey. The historic cathedral city of St. Albans is home to Roman ruins, the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban, and the 15th century Clock Tower. The small city of Hertford is the birthplace of Samuel Stone, founder of the city of Hartford, Connecticut, and site of a castle that dates back to the 10th century. Both Woking and Guildford sit on the edge of sprawling Greater London Area and are thriving commercial centres of their own right.