- What is administrative geography
- Administrative geography vs postcode geography
- Working with administrative geography
- A brief history of admin geography
What is administrative geography?
“Administrative geography is concerned with the hierarchy of areas relating to national and local government in the UK, and this multi-layered hierarchy is complicated by the differing structure in each constituent country of the UK. In addition, the boundaries of many of the layers in the hierarchy are subject to either periodic or occasional change.”
A Beginner’s Guide to UK Geography, Office for National Statistics
Our mapping solutions:
Administrative geography is a way of dividing the country into smaller sub-divisions or areas that correspond with the area of responsibility of local authorities and government bodies. These administrative sub-divisions and their associated geography have several important uses, including:
- Judicial: defining jurisdiction of county courts, magistrates courts and assizes
- Electoral: splitting the areas up into constituencies for local, national and international government
- Administrative: mapping boundaries of local councils and administrative bodies
- Demographic: national census data is recorded by individuals. Census reporting is at the Output Area level (circa 120 households)
- Public health: helps in the planning of service provision in healthcare
Administrative areas ensure that each public body has a clearly defined area of responsibility, which can be measured and budgeted for appropriately. Three separate offices oversee the control of the geographies and publication of data that use them:
- ONS (Office for National Statistics) for England and Wales
- NRS (National Records Scotland) in Scotland
- NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) in Northern Ireland.
Administrative geography vs postcode geography
In a similar way to postcode areas, administrative geography has evolved organically, just over a much longer period. As such, a lot of the borders seem almost arbitrary as they have been defined over hundreds of years according to priorities at the time. Additionally, there are multiple layers to the geography to accommodate local, regional and national areas of responsibility and each sub-division has been built up in different ways for different purposes, during different periods.
To make the system workable, borders are often reviewed, either as a rationalising measure or to take account of population, social, or governmental changes. This brings its own uncertainty as areas change and make old maps obsolete.
Any resemblance to postcode geography is fleeting. Postcodes are a much more recent development and were developed for a single reason - to administer postal deliveries (see our postcode blog for more on this). Although some boundaries and areas may have similarities, administrative boundaries rarely, if ever, align with other postcode boundaries. With the private sector tending to use postcode geography as a - slightly more logical - benchmark, and the public sector looking more to the private sector for solutions, having two entirely different frames of reference can prove difficult.
Working with administrative geography
Converting data between the postcode and administrative geography is the main challenge to working in this area.
- Data collection and business intelligence:
For example, census data is central to most demographic profiling and is collected in administrative areas. However, to complement census data, commercial and transactional data, such as credit scores and purchase trends, is often added to the mix and this is collected in postcode areas. The biggest audience for demographic profiling is the private sector so it is often created with postcode geography in mind, which presents a challenge when a public sector body wishes to use it. For example one of our local authority clients uses our P2 People & Places geodemographic data to efficiently target service provision. One reason they came to us is that our product is available in both postcode and administrative areas and offers maximum discrimination of data for less affluent groups.
- Targeting and service provision:
Private companies pitching for public sector contracts can also struggle to tailor their services to fit administrative geography. For example, a lot of our customers come to us to work out which customer postcodes fall into a particular administrative area. You will also need a geographic information system that is able to work with both postcode and administrative geography, such as our own Prospex GIS.
- Ongoing comparisons:
Both the postcode system and administrative boundaries are regularly changing, so whichever mapping solution you use will also need to be regularly updated to ensure that both datasets remain up to date and provide accurate comparisons. Talk to us to see how we can help you with this.
A brief history of admin geography
The shire or county is an administrative unit used to manage tax collection, the raising of military forces, administration and enforcement of justice, local government and parliamentary representation. The nature of shires and how they were setup has been complicated by hundreds of years of change, different legal and government systems and several wars of conquest and rebellion.
The Romans were the first to take constantly changing tribal territories and create administrative areas - usually defined by topographical and geographical features. After the Romans left, their administrative divisions fell into disuse and it was not until the 5th century that the areas that would become the English counties started to take shape.
As smaller kingdoms rose and fell, and Saxon and Danish raiders put down roots, the 7 kingdoms of England of the 7th century became a single English kingdom in 927 AD. The resulting kingdom was subdivided into a number of shires by the middle of the 11th century. The feudal system, introduced by the Normans, changed local government, taxation and justice. The shires (administered by a Sheriff) became counties (areas under the control of a count).
Counties were subdivided to ease administration burdens, for example Yorkshire has the North, East and West Ridings. These larger areas were further split into smaller elements known as Hundreds in most counties, Wapontakes here in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, and Wards in Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland. A Hundred (or its equivalent) was divided into tithings and parishes. Which were in turn divided into townships and manors.
The first Scottish shires were created in the 11th century as previous forms of government were replaced with Norman feudal structures and the process was complete by the middle of the 12th century. By the middle of the 17th century, the remaining shires were formed by territorial expansion or subdivision of existing shires, and they started to be used for local administration and judicial purposes. The 1707 Act of Union started a process of bringing Scottish local governance into line with the rest of Great Britain. By the end of the 18th century the Scottish county system matched that of England, Wales and Ireland.
To further complicate things in Scotland, the burgh, an autonomous municipal corporation, was used for local administration. A burgh was typically a settlement with a castle and a marketplace. By 1516 there were over a hundred burghs used for administration as well as local and international trade and commerce. Burghs had rights of representation in the Parliament of Scotland and after the Act of Union many became Parliamentary burghs represented in the Parliament of Great Britain. Burghs sat alongside, but were not part of, the county system.
The Normans began the move towards rational administrative areas with the creation of marcher lordships, such as Glamorgan, which served as semi-autonomous administrative divisions. However, counties in the strict sense first appeared in Wales in the 13th century and were only completed under the Act of Union 1536. Many of these counties were created from existing marcher lordships.
George Carrington Gray's 1824 map of the counties of England.
Public domain, via Wikipedia.
Creating modern administrative geography
The end of the 19th century saw changes to establish local government through counties. Historical counties were reformed as “administrative counties” and larger towns and cities became “county boroughs”. At the start of the 20th century the systems of local government and associated geographies were very similar across the United Kingdom. However, changes continue into the 21st century with a modern trend for consolidation from the two tier county/district model into “unitary authorities” - or “super districts” in Northern Ireland.
You might also like:
- Postcodes: what can they do for us?
How postcodes work and how they came about.
- The power of postcode sectors
Grouping postcodes into meaningful areas isn't as straightforward as you might think.
- What is GIS software?
Geographical Information System is an impressive sounding term, but what does a GIS actually do?
Our other blogs
All you need to know about postcodes but were afraid to ask
The humble postcode has been around for years. We look at how postcodes are used and what led to their introduction.
Who spends most on Fruit and Veg
National Vegetarian Week (#NationalVegetarianWeek) this year runs from 11th to 17th May. What better opportunity to highlight how GIS mapping can be used to create marketing campaigns and raise awareness of the benefits of eating more fruit and veg.
Google Fusion Tables
After almost 10 years of service, Google retired their Fusion Tables product at the end of 2019. This tool was very useful at visualising and sharing large amounts of tabular data - particularly amongst small and mid-sized businesses. So what can we do to fill the gap left by this tool?
As a Yorkshire-based company, we wanted to help celebrate Yorkshire Day, which takes place on 1st August. Naturally, we wanted to put a geographic spin on the celebration, so we took a look at drinking preferences within God’s own county.
Meet the team: Toby
Toby, our Sales Executive, gives a retrospective of his time teaching, and learning about Beacon Dodsworth's GIS solutions.
Mapping GP prescription data
An article by Allan Brimicombe (Head of Centre for Geo-Information Studies at the University of East London) & Pat Mungroo on using GP prescription data to understand health needs.
Cycle to work day
Each year for #cycletoworkday we take a look at cycling statistics across the country and try to map that data and find interesting trends. This is mainly because we at Beacon Dodsworth are either a little bit obsessed about cycling, or we tend to worry about the environment.
Administrative geography is a way of dividing the country into smaller sub-divisions or areas that correspond with the area of responsibility of local authorities and government bodies. It provides an alternative to postcode geography but because it tends not to be used by consumers, it is often overlooked. We take a look at administrative geography, what it is and how to use it.
Mapping for local projects
Recently, we were contacted by a company responsible for organising charity door knockers. They needed more than 9,000 postcode sectors mapped at A4 size to pass to ground staff showing street level detail. This would enable them to use maps at a local level to plan fundraising routes and clearly define territories for each agent.
The foundations of geographical analysis
Displaying data on maps makes it easier to understand as well as giving a new perspective on a problem. Using a GIS to prepare and present data has become increasingly popular over the last 20 years, but graphical displays of data on maps were around long before computers came along.
Social change over 10 years
The next census isn’t due to take place until 2021 so we thought it was a good time to take stock of some of the changes and trends we noticed between the 2001 and the 2011 census. What difference does 10 years make to our society and the people that live within it?
What is geodemographic profiling?
More than 64 million people live in the UK, each with their own outlook, priorities, needs and way of life. Geodemographic profiling offers a way to group these individuals to try and identify the right audience for your product or service.
How to back up your Prospex data
Keep your GIS projects safe by using the in-built Prospex back up process. Here is how.
Using geographic intelligence to grow the UK’s broadband network
Using geographic intelligence to sustainably grow the UK’s broadband network.
The power of postcode sectors
Postcode sectors are aggregations of individual postcodes and they provide meaningful geographical reporting areas in any GIS. However, they aren't as easy to map as you might think. Here is how we do it.
Living Costs and Food Survey
The Living Costs and Food survey (LCF) is compiled every year and is used by the UK and European governments, Department for Transport (DfT), and Her Majesty’s Revenue and the Customs (HMRC). But what is it, and why should we care?
How far is it to the beach
Using Beacon Dodsworth's scripting technology to showcase demographic and geographic trends.
Where is the North
We've used the territory manager tool in Prospex GIS to split the UK into north, south and east and west with equal population counts.
What is GIS software?
A Geographical Information System (GIS), is a tool for analysing, visualising, managing and presenting data that is related to a physical, geographical location. That link to geography is the key difference between GIS and other data visualisation techniques.
Geodemographics and the University of East London
The University of East London explain how they have been using our P² People & Places geodemographic classification.
Postcode to postcode drive time and distance
What happens if we want a postcode to postcode drive time lookup table?
What has the census ever done for us?
How Census 2011 can be used to help organisations with demographic analysis.
Your continued use of this site is taken as implied consent to receive cookies from us and our analytics partners.