Locating Locations in the United Kingdom
by Denis Galvin
Incorrect Place Locations in the UK
The abode given in records of ceremonies and events can often
be misleading and, occasionally, there can be a reason for it.
Many places can be officially reported as if they were in
different counties or towns than those expected.
No irregularities between countries caused by Detachments, as
described below, are known but the simple act of going to a
church in a different part of the village which entailed
crossing a river bridge over a national boundary could throw up
anomalies. Their abode might not have been asked but entered as
that of the village of the church, which is in a different
At a County level, there were many detached areas. THE IMPERIAL
GAZETTEER by J. M. Wilson, 1870 onwards, states that Flintshire
had a detached part. This appears to be situated on the east
side of the river Dee and between Chirk and Whitchurch covering
about 160 square kilometers and being separated 15 km by
Denbighshire. The largest place appears to be the village of
Overton. An old WORLD HISTORICAL ATLAS FOR SCHOOLS published
1961 shows the above detachment as a tiny area on a 3,500,000:1
map of England reproducing conditions in the UK in 1399. To add
to the difficulty at parish level, part of one Denbighshire
parish was included in Flintshire and nine reciprocated the
other way. One parish and township came under Cheshire.
These detachment irregularities have now been cleared away at
some date unknown. The mechanism for creating such detachments
is not known but may be similar to that below for parishes.
Worcestershire had a detached portion, as mentioned below.
Another interesting one was part of the County of Durham and
situated 70 km northward. This ran southward from Berwick-on-
Tweed down the coast nearly to Bamburgh and inland nearly to
Wark covering about 450 square kilometers.
We also have to deal with many different types of County. Even
many UK family historians do not realise the subtle differences
that can occur. Some that are regularly dealt with are the
Administrative, Registration, and Electoral Counties. The
problem is caused by small changes in their respective
boundaries to suit the procedures of each service.
Taking Dudley, Worcestershire as an example, it is quoted in THE
IMPERIAL GAZETTEER, J. M. Wilson, Vol. 2 of c1870: "Dudley a
Parish, Town, Subdistrict Worcester[shire], Registration
District Stafford[shire]." Imagine the confusion this caused for
people filling in the 1841 Census. Were you born in this County,
yes or no? If they were born and had always lived in the same
town, say Dudley, they would naturally, and incorrectly, answer
"yes." That would put them in the incorrect County because the
forms were related to Staffordshire. Later Census would have
produced some anomalies, if the detachment was still in being.
Vol. 6 of the IMPERIAL GAZETTEER published 1872 states there was
an Act of 1844 consolidating the detached parts back into the
main county area. I think some of my work in the area on later
date material still showed Staffordshire to be the Registration
District. Nearby Tipton (old name: Tibbington) a parish in
Dudley District, Staffordshire, situated between Dudley and
Staffordshire, appears in its correct County of Staffordshire.
At a Parish level, there were many complications. Before the
Married Woman's Act, her property passed to her spouse on
marriage. A local example is that a woman from Goosnargh,
(northeast) Preston married a man from Kirkham, so her property
passed to him and became a detached part of the Parish of
Kirkham 15 km away. Whilst the abode for this area should still
have been Goosnargh, they could equally enter Kirkham thinking
parish was the same as village. This mechanism for the formation
of detachments might have applied at a County or even at
National level. During a historical trail of Lost Villages down
in Shropshire, many years ago, the guide pointed out a grassy
area which was a detached part of a distant parish specially
bought for sheltering animals during the cattle drive to summer
pastures on Clee Hill. This is another illustration of how
detached areas could be formed.
If the above sounds confusing, try this one. A local Blackpool,
Lancashire example concerns an area of Common Land which was
reorganised into distinct areas for each parent village. Only
one of these, Layton Hawes, was adjacent to its parent village,
Layton. Bispham Hawes was 8km hence and Marton Hawes 3km. The
residents on Marton Hawes were attached to the local church,
St. Paul's in Marton village, which, in itself, was a Chapelry
of St. Chad's of Poulton-le-Fylde some 8km away. Many people
from the Hawes gave their abode in Parish Registers as Marton
or Poulton. This is quite correct but very confusing. To add a
further complication, people living only a few metres to the
south of Marton Hawes were strictly in the Parish of St.
Anne's-on-Sea but might well have used the nearer church of
Marton and given that name, or even Poulton, as their abode.
People on the other two Hawes might have used St. Paul's
because their church was in Bispham 8km away. We had a case
recently of someone trying to find a house here in Bispham
instead of 8km away in South Blackpool where it was originally
called Bispham Hawes.
The term Detached may also be seen on maps in its abbreviated
form of Det. Sometimes this is also seen as the parish name
and Without, meaning outside. On old 1mile:25in maps, the areas
covered are so small that, often, whole parishes could not be
accommodated. The area containing the parish church, and which
is obviously the centre of the village/town will be marked only
with the parish name. The term Within appears after the parish
name over an area when it is a contiguous to the parish but
without the church or when it contains the church but not the
main centre of the village/town.
What can be done about improving an understanding of where the
true location is? Use the Family History Library Catalog
http://www.familysearch.org/ . As an example, suppose the
village of Warton, near Kirkham in Lancashire, was given or
thought to be the abode, enter that name and look for any other
connecting name, be it a Chapelry (a Chapel of Ease -- a
daughter Church easier to get to than the main church in bad
weather) or a church of a different religion. Look at the area
on a map to determine whether any boundaries ran nearby. The
above trial would show Warton to be a Chapelry of Kirkham and
list many other such Chapelries and especially Goosnargh,
Barton, and Whitechapel as a group some way out to the east.
Grid Reference Numbers in the UK
England, Wales, and Scotland are covered by one grid system
700km east/west and 1220km north/south. In practical terms,
this has been reduced to a 1000km north/south block and an
extension block to the north covering the Orkney and Shetland
Isles running from 1070 to 1220km north/south and 390 to 470km
east/west. This system reduces lots of blank grids on the Index
Using two separate blocks allows an eight-digit Grid Number to
describe a location to within a 100m area: the first four
giving eastings from a Reference Point to the south west of
Lands End, and the latter four the northings. A much longer
Reference Number can be used but it depends on what is practical
with the map scale being viewed. The eight-digit number fits
well to working with 50,000:1 maps or their Imperial scale
equivalents. A simpler version is sometimes used when the first
digit of each eastings and northings is omitted. The uniqueness
of the Grid Number is now reduced to a 100km block which is
sufficient for close ranging activities, such as fell walking.
It is possible to revert to the original uniqueness by prefixing
with two characters. Although this is quite acceptable for
country activities, I suggest staying with the eight digit
system. Here, it is possible to calculate separation distances
between abodes or, when built into a database containing family
records, it can be used to search for persons living within a
selected distance from a given position.
My system is to extract the Grid Number from OS Maps and prefix
them with E, S, W, or O indicating England, Scotland, Wales or
Orcadia (Orkneys or Shetland Isles). In the latter case, the
1000km is ignored and the remaining digits applied. Any
calculated distances are meaningless when a boat journey is
necessary because the port of connection has to be considered.
The upper-case prefix is used for a known location and a lower-
case prefix for an approximate location. If no abode is given,
the lower-case prefix is given with the location of the
applicable ceremony, e.g., the church. Other countries can be
added to this system and identified by their unique prefix.
Distances can still be calculated to include Orcadia by adding
an extra distance factor in to the computer programme.
Grid Numbers can only be taken from Ordnance Survey maps printed
after World War II, from around 1947. Locations from older maps
either have to be identified on a gridded map or a conversion
made from Longitude/Latitude.
My map preference is for the older 1mile:1inch series printed
from about 1947 up to 1974 which coincides with the
reorganisation of English Counties. After this date all maps
became metricated and the equivalent map becoming 50,000:1.
Those earlier maps also show the Parish Boundaries of the day.
The new system amalgamated all the parishes into one unit
within the new County and Metropolitan Areas. As an example,
most of the parishes in southeast Lancashire have vanished into
the one unit of Greater Manchester County. The older maps can
often be picked up for 25p/50p at car-boot sales. Book shops
hold some but at higher prices, say, 1.50 to 2.50 English
pounds. Tewksbury has a couple of well stocked shops holding
multi-copies of maps printed at different dates, but at very
high prices, 5 pounds. Larger scale maps are available but it
becomes an expensive task to buy on the off-chance.
There are various Internet sites where old large-scale maps
(10,000:1scale) can be viewed in small sections and printed at
low resolution. Better copies can be bought. Try
http://www.old-maps.co.uk/ and enter a grid-reference or a
place name. I found this now to be a new version and could not
quickly find a way to print out maps. It is still possible [as
of mid-March 2001] to opt for the old version where prints
could be made.
Also try Ordnance Survey on http://www.ordnancesurvey.gov.uk/
One of the options is to get a small section copy of a
present-day map: the /get-a-map option goes directly to that
facility. With the centre and zoom option selected, keep
clicking in the centre of interest until the maximum size,
around 38,000:1, is achieved. Printing can be activated at any
scale. Another option is to have their "Mapping Index" sent by
post. This is a two-sided map detailing the grid-pattern and
available maps. Scales range from 250,000 to 25,000:1. They do
sell copies of the old larger scale maps based on the County
Series but at a price!
Alan Godfrey publishes a very good quality 2,500:1 maps reduced
to 4,340:1 costing 1.95 pounds. These, unfortunately, only
cover areas of reasonable demand to make them financially
Written by Denis Galvin firstname.lastname@example.org. Previously published by RootsWeb.com, Inc., RootsWeb
Review: RootsWeb's Genealogy News, Vol. 4, No. 25, 20 June 2001.
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