British Genealogy - Articles

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 country.

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 . 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 Maps.

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 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 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 viable.

Written by Denis Galvin Previously published by, Inc., RootsWeb Review: RootsWeb's Genealogy News, Vol. 4, No. 25, 20 June 2001. RootsWeb:

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