17 March 2008

Mutiny on the county

I live somewhere which doesn't exist.

This is according to the BBC, the local emergency services, the Post Office, numerous industries and utility companies, not to mention ignorant citizens of elsewhere in the UK.

My MP, Graham Stuart, has heroically taken the Post Office to task over its supposed insistence on using the name of Humberside on mailing addresses. The Post Office has denied it has an issue with it, mind.

The abomination that was Humberside was formed thanks to that messy Local Government Act in 1972, and officially began its existence in 1974. It was the same one that shook up parts of London and the west Midlands and got rid of Cumberland.

And everybody round here hated it.

There is something of a rivalry, if not a particularly intense one, between the Yorkshire folk north of the Humber, and the Lincolnshire folk south of it. Even in retrospect, pairing two disgruntled factions into one authority was a foolhardy thing to do.

To us they are "yellow bellies"; to them we are "yorkies" (though I suspect there are considerably more uncomplimentary names for either side).

As a consequence, we had Humberside County Council, Humberside Fire and Rescue, Humberside NHS (before the Trusts re-localised it), Humberside Police, Humberside Airport and BBC Radio Humberside. To this day, the name still exists with the emergency services, the airport and the radio station, even though Humberside finally got its deserved comeuppance in 1996.

The few years before Humberside was killed off were interesting. The Council were raging but the residents delighted when John Major, as PM, told the Conservative Party Conference one year that he was going to do away with the newfangled counties and refer back to old names, because it was hard to "imagine Len Hutton going out to bat for Humberside".

Good one.

The campaign picked up, and the Welcome to Humberside road sign on the M62 between Selby and Goole was whitewashed by protestors (those scampishly militant unitarianist loonies, eh?) and the words East Yorkshire were daubed over the top.

This happened on equivalent signs on the M180 between Scunthorpe and Doncaster, and on the A1079 from York into Hull. Basically, these artists were finding all the signs on the major roads into the unpopular county and doing a spot of uncostly rebranding.

Two areas with nothing but a large bridge in common (and even that didn't open until seven years after the boundary changes) rejoiced when the old counties were restored.

On the north bank, the old Humberside now has two authorities - Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire - and the south bank got its North and North East Lincolnshire unitary authorities back. Humberside has been but a bad memory for a dozen years now.

Sadly, the nation doesn't seem to know this. I'm sick of people saying to me that Hull is in Humberside when I tell them where I'm from. The recent match between Hull City and Scunthorpe United was described in national newspapers as "the Humberside derby". The BBC referred to last summer's flooding as being "on Humberside".

The airport could certainly change its name. It's strange that the local BBC station maintains the name but doesn't, for obvious reasons, use the word 'Humberside' in any other context whatsoever except for its own branding. For as long as Ofcom tell it to serve the places which Humberside used to encase, it has no choice. It would be hard to produce a jingle package which said "BBC Hull, East Yorkshire and North and North East Lincolnshire!" Like the police and fire services, it was created for Humberside's purposes and borders, and therefore cannot change its name because there is nothing to change it to.

I get letters from utility companies, big business and the HM Revenue, Customs and Excise all with 'North Humberside' on the addresses. Whether this is down to these companies to correct this anomaly or the Post Office themselves to insist upon it, I don't know. But you can count on one hand the number of people who live within its old boundaries who recognise and approve of the name.


Callum said...

What about the Smiths?

Anyway: the official post office list of addresses doesn't include any counties any more; just post towns. The post towns in the HU postcode area are

Beverley, Brough, Cottingham, Hessle, Hornsea, Hull, North Ferriby, Withernsea.

Matthew Rudd said...

Ah yes, I did mean to mention Panic but then forgot. "Dublin, Dundee, Humberside..." - I doubt Morrissey thought he was doing the modernists a favour when he wrote it though.

Chris Hughes said...

Try living in Wales, where in the space of 22 years, my hometown went from Denbighshire to Clwyd to Conwy which is, of course, also the name of a town, causing no end of confusion.

Thinking about it now, I actually miss the old Clwyd County Council logo.

Is there anything more typically John Major than a 1950s cricket reference?