Shire

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A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit.

Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far northeast of England, the word is pronounced /ˈʃaɪər/ (rhyming with "fire"). As a suffix in an English or Welsh place name, it is in most regions pronounced /-ʃə/ "shur", or sometimes /-ʃɪə/, a homophone of "sheer".

The first shires of Scotland were created in Anglian areas such as Lothian and the Borders, (Bernicia) in the ninth century. The word derives from the Old English, scir, and appears to be allied to shear,shore, "share" as it is a division of the land. King David I more consistently created shires and appointed sheriffs across lowland shores of Scotland. The system was spread to most of the rest of England in the tenth century, somehow losing its original meaning and becoming part of the establishment.

In the British Isles, "shire" is the original term for what is usually known as a county; the word county having been introduced at the Norman Conquest of England. The two are synonymous. Although in modern British usage counties are referred to as "shires" mainly in poetic contexts, terms such as Shire Hall remain common. Shire also remains a common part of many county names.

The shire in early days was governed by an Ealdorman and in the later Anglo-Saxon period by royal official known as a "shire reeve" or sheriff. The shires were divided into hundreds or wapentakes, although other less common sub-divisions existed. An alternative name for a shire was a "sheriffdom" until sheriff court reforms separated the two concepts. In Scotland the word "county" was not adopted for the shires. Although "county" appears in some texts, "shire" was the normal name until counties for statutory purposes were created in the nineteenth century.

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