By their very nature, towns and villages projected a public identity. Here residence created an immediate sense of belonging, while political and social hierarchies were persistent and generally visible. Such communities were animated by a public and political life which, intentionally or incidentally, gave substance to parochial and civic identities. The English counties, by contrast, commanded no real presence. Everyone lived in a county, but this was sensed, if at all, through processes of incomplete revelation. Some counties might have reached their frontiers naturelles, with the Tamar marking off Devon from Cornwall and the Thames elegantly defining the boundary between Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Other county boundaries were altogether more ambiguous. Lancashire and Yorkshire met on Pennine uplands; and the vigorous walker might move from Hampshire, to Wiltshire, and into Devon without the physical landscape so much as hinting that important boundaries were being traversed. Writers who entertained the public with accounts of their travels rarely commented on the passage from one county to another, but almost always remarked on the towns and even the villages through which they passed.
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