‘And who could forget the Soke of Peterborough?” wrote Paul Hornby, of Oxford, on the letters page of the Daily Telegraph last Friday. Who indeed? Certainly not the present writer who was born and brought up in this quaintly named area of eastern England. Confusingly, it was an administrative county, largely composed of the cathedral city of Peterborough, within the geographical county of Northamptonshire. The Soke disappeared in 1965 (though ‘the Soak of Peterborough’ remained, as a title applied to anyone with a preternatural appetite for alcohol). Its domain became part of the short-lived county of Huntingdon and Peterborough. In 1974, this was absorbed into an enlarged county of Cambridgeshire in the reforms of Edward Heath’s government under his Environment Secretary Peter Walker. So I can say that without having moved, I lived as a child and young man in three different counties, four if Northamptonshire is included. Unusual, eh?

Mr Hornby’s letter was part of a correspondence prompted by the comment of the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles about his wish to see the old county names of Middlesex, Westmorland, Cumberland and, yes, Huntingdon, being used once again. He spoke, rather hazily, of “the continuing role of England’s traditional counties in the political and cultural life of the nation”.

Among the first to congratulate him for this was Count Nikolai Tolstoy, the Patron of the organisation CountyWatch. As this column has noted before, he appears to have enlisted the editor of the Telegraph’s letters page to support his absurd conceit that his home in Southmoor still has a Berkshire address. This was again used below his letter urging Pickles to restore “all historic county boundaries”. He wrote: “The Royal County of Berkshire was particularly savagely truncated, losing the whole of the Vale of the White Horse — together with a substantial section of the Berkshire Downs. Prior to this act of cultural vandalism, the Thames had constituted the county boundary since Saxon times.”

The idea of turning back the clock is not dismissed entirely out of hand. I learned this from the local MP Ed Vaizey, with whom I had dinner last Friday at a Downland pub, The Star at Sparsholt. This excellent establishment will be featured on our restaurant page soon.

“Some of my older constituents around here refer to living in ‘occupied North Berkshire’,” he said. “The Romantic in me sometimes yearns for a return to the pre-1974 counties. But after 40 years I think the new boundaries are here to stay.”

One reason for this is that the restoration of the lands lost by Berkshire would mean the handing over by Oxfordshire of a large chunk of what is palpably part of the conurbation of Oxford. The city in its expanded form straddles the old county boundary, which west of the city was formed by the Seacourt Stream.

The George, “the first pub in Berkshire”, dates from the 1720s, so was clearly not one of the out-of-Oxford pubs that the 17th-century diarist Anthony Wood described undergraduates as patronising in order to escape the proctors’ rule.

In later times, a difference of half an hour in licensing hours meant the George was popular with drinkers who were prepared to make a dash up the Botley Road for a last pint at the end of a session.

A return to the old order would also necessitate Reading handing over some of its suburbs to Oxfordshire. Almost my first reporting duty for The Oxford Times was covering a Boundary Commission inquiry at which residents of Caversham and its vicinity pleaded, unsuccessfully, to stick with Oxfordshire.

The need to send dustcarts all the way from Wallingford to Reading was one bit of nonsense highlighted at the hearing. Some wag joked that one could usefully be dispatched to pick up my ageing Morris Traveller after I backed it into a tree stump in the car park of the Caversham Bridge Hotel, shattering the timber framework of its body.