While there is no official definition of the term, these can be best be thought of as the counties surrounding London Town- indeed much of Greater London was formerly in some of these counties. Much of this area is also considered part of the South East of England. Whether or not the Home Counties are synonymous with the South East is a matter of debate although the South East usually includes London whilst the Home Counties doesn't.
Popularly conceived as a suburban and/or rural commuter land, with conservative (and Conservative) attitudes, as well as a general prosperity.
In the early seventies, (or was it the earlyEighties?) this area got invaded by aliens. A lot.
The area includes the following counties:
Bedfordshire: North of Hertfordshire, and therefore fairly far north of London. One of England's smallest counties. Over half the county's population lives in the two large towns of Bedford and Luton. It is split into three unitary authorities for local government:
Luton: A large multicultural town (it's only 55% White) it has a bit of a reputation for terrorism (the stockholm bomber lived in the town) and for support for the far right (the town was the birthplace of the EDL). The town also has an airport, which is allowed to be marketed as "London Luton Airport" thanks to pressure from low-fare airlines (as part of their practice of advertising dirt-cheap fares to airports far from the city centre).
Bedford: This area consists of a sizeable rural area along with the large town of Bedford. The town of Bedford can be split into three main parts Bedford proper note which can be further divided into a number of suburbs most notably Queen's Park and Brick'ill, Kempston and the new town of Wixams (which is still being built). Outside Bedford's conurbation there is little of note in the borough except for farmland, a couple of business parks and a few small villages.
Central Bedfordshire: This area is largely rural but also home to a number of small towns including Flitwick, Ampthill, Sandy, Biggleswade and Leighton Buzzard. The area also contains the town of Dunstable which is physically part of Luton but administratively in Central Bedfordshire. The area's main attraction is Woburn Abbey and its Safari Park.
Berkshire (pronounced like "bark") Directly west of London, along but mostly south of the Thames. It's BBC Local radio transmitter is so powerful that it has been known to be picked up from as far away as Cornwall. Or Belgium. Berkshire is split into six unitary authorities for local government purposes. These are:
West Berkshire: A large rural area with two medium sized towns Newbury and Thatcham.
Reading (pronounced "redding"): A large town desperate to become a real city.note Oddly, the settlement in America named after it has the same problem.... It is also the seat of Pennsylvania's Berks County—named after Berkshire.
Wokingham: Contains the posh eastern suburbs of Reading (Woodley, Earley, Winnersh and Wokingham) as well as a small rural area. One of England's most prosperous areas and has been named the best place in the country to live a number of times.
Bracknell Forest: Home to the new town of Bracknell, the military town of Sandhurst, Broadmoor (a high security psychiatric hospital) and Swinley Forest.
The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead: The borough includes the town of Windsor, home of Windsor castle and Legoland. It is also home to Eton Britain's most famous and most posh public school. The Borough also contains Ascot racecourse, the town of Maidenhead, and the large village of Bray (home to the Vicar of Bray and, for no apparent reason, two world-class restaurants).
Slough: A large multicultural town that sits on the edge of London (about halfway between Central London and Reading),note About 20 miles from Westminster; just over 17 from Reading it is the only town in England outside London where whites do not form a majority. Formerly a part of Buckinghamshire, but was moved in local government reforms in the 1970s although some of Slough's suburbs such as Burnham still lie in Buckinghamshire. Famously a symbol of everything awful about British urban sprawl: John Betjeman famously wrote a poem inviting "friendly bombs" to fall on Slough when it was first turned from a countryside settlement to an industrial park in the late 1930s, and The Office, that utterly dreary depiction of office life in London's exurbs, is set in Slough.note Oddly, the American version of The Office is set in Scranton, PA, about halfway between the aforementioned Reading, PA and Manhattan.
Buckinghamshire: Northwest of London. Mostly green and hilly, but with three large towns (Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and High Wycombe) and a good education system. Most of the countryside now belongs to the National Trust.
Essex: East of London, but north of the River Thames, the county is known for Boudica and a stereotype of dumb peroxide blondes, known as "Essex girls" (the British equivalent of valley girls or Jersey girls). The south of the county is mostly urban with a large number of London commuter towns such as Brentwood, Basildon and Billericay which stretch from London's eastern boundary to the seaside town of Southend. The north of the county, near the border with Suffolk is much more rural with the largest towns being Colchester and Clacton (with Jaywick a village near Clacton being notable for being the poorest place in England ). It is also the home of Stansted airport.
Southend-on-sea (Unitary Authority): Best known for the world's longest amusement pier, amusement arcades and the Cliffs Pavilion theatre.
Thurrock (Unitary Authority): Home to Tilbury, the port of London and one of the largest shopping centres in Europe, Lakeside.
Hampshire - Southwest of London, bordering Berkshire to the north and Surrey to the northeast. South Hampshire (Portsmouth and Southampton) is one of the most urbanized areas of the country. The north east of the county along the M3 (the location of the towns of Aldershot, Farnborough, Fleet and Basingstoke) is also quite urbanized especially around the Berkshire/Surrey/Hampshire border. The rest of the county is mainly rural with large parts in the New Forest and South Downs national parks.
Isle Of Wight - Was once part of this county but now is its own separate county.
Hertfordshire (pronounced like "heart") - Directly north of London. Quite an affluent county with parts of the south of the county (near the London border and inside the M25) being notable for having a large Jewish population (with Hertsmere district being the second most Jewish district in England after Barnet in London). This county contains a large number of small towns usually considered satellite towns of London including St Albans, Stevenage, Harpenden, Hemel Hempstead, Watford, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Borehamwood, Potter's Bar, Ware, Cheshunt, Hoddesdon and Hertford.
Kent- Directly southeast of London. Widely known in tourist literature as "The Garden of England" due to its orchards and hops fields ('hopfields'), though an unfortunate/ignorant EU regulation change has almost entirely destroyed the orchards, and only real beer still uses real hops. Landscape of chalk downs (see Terry Pratchett's 'The Chalk'), the Weald, many small woods, lots of motorways. Nearest county to France and attracts immigrants as a result. Also has the very large Bluewater shopping centre. Dover castle, Rochester castle, Ightham Mote (seen the 'Musgrave Ritual' episode of the Jermemy Brett Sherlock Holmes series) are just three places worth visiting.
Quite a bit of The Battle of Britain happened overhead Kent and similar.
Medway (Unitary Authority) The Former City of Rochester (recently lost status of city due to failure to renew a Royal Warrant), plus Chatham (once a major Naval dockyard and urban legend says it is where the word Chav started), Gillingham, and sundry villages in surrounding area (Hoo, Allhallows, Isle of Grain and many more). Basically the region bordering the Medway estuary (part of the Thames estuary), often linked with wider areas such as Swale, Isle of Sheppey.
Oxfordshire - Northwest of London, cradled by Berkshire to the south and Buckinghamshire to the east. Home of Oxford and its attendant university, which pretty much runs the show in the city proper. Also notable for the Cotswold Hills and Blenheim Palace; the home of Winston Churchill and a number of other rich-and-important types.
Surrey: Directly south of London. Definitely a place with a reputation for being snobbish and pretentious, the county town is Guildford although the county council's headquarters are in London (the north of Surrey is mostly parts of London's urban sprawl which aren't in Greater London).
Has featured in fiction a lot- The War of the Worlds has the aliens start by attacking Woking, Harry Potter's uncle and aunt live in a fictional Surrey Town called Little Whinging and Ford Prefect claimed to be from Guildford. Ali G is from the real Surrey town of Staines which pretentiously changed its name to Staines-upon-Thames to try and become disassociated with the character.
Also a common filming location.
It is surprisingly the most wooded of all English counties as well as being the most densely populated non-metropolitan county (metropolitan counties are counties created in the mid 20th century based around large metropolitan areas eg Greater Manchester, Greater London, Merseyside and West Yorkshire).