Tag Archives: ListedBuildingConsent

A new gate on an old theme

We have a new gate. We hope you like it.

New gate onto Bidston Hill

New gate onto Bidston Hill

The gate leads from the grounds of Bidston Lighthouse onto Bidston Hill, where it joins the path from Bidston Village to Bidston Windmill, alongside Penny-a-Day Dyke, the medieval wall. It replaces a derelict gate that had been disused for decades.

We have wanted to renew the gate for a long while. The derelict gate was an eyesore, and Bidston Hill deserved better. A functioning gate would benefit visitors to the lighthouse as well as the many thousands who walk past it every year. And wouldn’t it be nice if the gate could incorporate a motif reminiscent of the flag signals that used to run the length of Bidston Hill?

So we applied to the Burbo Bank Extension Community Fund for financial support, and we were awarded a small grant. See below for more information about DONG Energy and the Burbo Bank Extension, and Grantscape, who administer the Burbo Bank Extension Community Fund.

Next, we had to find a local blacksmith with the right skills for the project, and then work out the details of the design. When we found artist blacksmith Alex Price, we knew we had our man. What convinced me was some fine examples of his intricate metalwork, especially a fire-grate featuring a leaf motif – if anyone could work a flag motif into a bespoke gate, it was Alex.  I visited his forge at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port and briefed him on the project: the gate had to fit into the existing opening, had to feature a flag motif, and should incorporate a wooden panel (in keeping with the old gate as well as the nearby “lych gate” at Bidston Observatory), and be achievable within our limited budget. Alex came back with a series of designs, one of which stood out. There was no turning back. This gate just had to be made.

But before we could start work, we needed to obtain Listed Buildings Consent. You see, the wall in which the gate is located is a Grade-II listed building in its own right. The perimeter wall enclosing the site of Bidston Lighthouse and Bidston Observatory was remodelled in the 1860s by George Fosbery Lyster, Engineer-in-Chief to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, around the same time that the Observatory was built. The lower part of the wall is about a century older, probably dating back to when the Bidston Signals Station and Bidston Lighthouse were established. Apart from Listed Buildings Consent, we also had to obtain consent from everyone else who owned part of the building in question, namely Wirral Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the new owners of Bidston Observatory. We also discussed the project with the Friends of Bidston Hill. Needless to say, this process took several months, but finally the necessary consents were secured and we could give Alex the go-ahead.

Edward Clive agreed to fabricate the wooden panel.

The Friends of Bidston Hill helped out by clearing away some of the ivy which was encroaching on the wall.

At the forge. Gate ready to be galvanised.

At the forge. Gate ready to be galvanised.

The gate was installed on 15th September.

Blacksmith Alex Price by the newly installed gate to Bidston Lighthouse, on 15th September.

Blacksmith Alex Price by the newly installed gate to Bidston Lighthouse, on 15th September.

There were other complications along the way. At some point in the past, tarmac, about 8 inches deep, was laid on the inside of the gate. We had to excavate this, and remove the tree roots and soil that had built up underneath the old gate. Eventually I uncovered the original sandstone threshold beneath the gate. I also exposed a telephone cable, which does not appear on any utility survey, but probably serves the lighthouse cottages. So I still have some work to do: bury the telephone cable and make a step up from the threshold to the level of the tarmac – and paint the railings, of course.

Deciding on the colours for the flags and penants was a little tricky. We wanted to be historically accurate, only using flags that were known to be flown on Bidston Hill in the heyday of the flag signals. But there’s very little documentation on this subject. Salmon’s painting from 1825 shows a few flags in full colour; but in another painting by him of the same subject, he chose different colours for the same flagpoles. There is an 1807 engraving of the Bidston Signals in the collection of the Williamson Art Gallery, but the colours were added later, and may be fanciful. We don’t even know for sure whether the colours of flags shown on a flagpole were significant; the position of the flagpole was certainly important, and contemporary accounts describe people as counting the poles to determine if a certain shipowner’s flag is flying. There is some documentation on the house flags of shipping companies (such as Brown’s Book of Flags and Funnels) but this first appeared long after the Bidston Signals had ceased. So we compromised. We restricted the choice of colours to flags that were in one of several systems of flag codes for ships, viz. Marryat’s Flags, the Liverpool (or Watson’s) Code, the Commercial Code, and the International Code of Signals, even though these systems came along much later. If more information comes to light, we can always re-paint them!

More information

About DONG Energy

DONG Energy (NASDAQ OMX: DENERG) is one of Northern Europe’s leading energy groups and is headquartered in Denmark. Around 6,200 ambitious employees, including over 900 in the UK, develop, construct and operate offshore wind farms, generate power and heat from our power stations as well as supply and trade in energy to wholesale, business and residential customers. The continuing part of the Group has approximately 5,800 employees and generated a revenue in 2016 of DKK 61 billion (EUR 8.2 billion). For further information, see www.dongenergy.co.uk or follow @DONGEnergyUK on Twitter.

About GrantScape

GrantScape is a grant-making charity committed to enhancing the environment and strengthening local communities through its grant programmes. GrantScape’s experience stretches back to 1997 and it has awarded grants totalling over £80 million to deserving projects over this time.

GrantScape manages a range of community and environmental grant programmes on behalf of corporate and local authority clients. These are tailored to their individual requirements, which is the charity’s speciality. In addition, GrantScape offers a professional project management and grant process review service to groups requiring support with these activities.

For further information, please see www.grantscape.org.uk or follow @GrantScape1 on Twitter.

About Burbo Bank Extension

The Burbo Bank Extension offshore wind farm is located 7km off the coast of Liverpool Bay, at the entrance to the River Mersey. Onshore construction began in 2015, offshore construction started in 2016 and the project was officially opened in May 2017. The offshore wind farm has a total capacity of 258MW, enough to power over 230,000 homes. The project is owned by DONG Energy (50%), PKA (25%) and The Lego Group (KIRKBI A/S) (25%).

For further information, please see: www.burbobankextension.co.uk.

About Burbo Bank Extension Community Fund

The Fund supports community and environmental projects along the North Wales and English coast, off the Irish Sea, within a defined area. Approximately £225,000 is available each year. The Fund is split equally between two annual funding rounds. There are two levels of grants available:

  • Small grants between £500 and £5,000
  • Main grants between £5,001 and £25,000

Applications to the Fund are made using an online application system via the GrantScape website www.grantscape.org.uk.

Former Joseph Proudman Laboratory for sale

The site of the former “Joseph Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory” is for sale. The land – where the Joseph Proudman Building stood for a little while – is being marketed as a “development opportunity”.

If you are thinking about making a bid, read this first. It will help with your “due diligence”.

The vendor, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is only in a position to offer the leasehold. The freehold is retained by Wirral Council, who can veto a transfer of the lease. To do anything with the land, the purchaser will have to re-negotiate the lease or acquire the freehold.

The next few days will be critical for the future of Bidston Lighthouse, Bidston Observatory and Bidston Hill. It could go two ways.

In one possible future, the land is used for the amenity of visitors to Bidston Lighthouse, Observatory and Hill. Open-air events are held on the site. Bidston Observatory is re-invented as an artistic research centre, incorporating a permanent exhibition about its scientific heritage. Bidston Lighthouse becomes self-sustaining as a place to visit. This is the future we dream about. We have, of course, made our own bid to acquire the land for this very purpose.

In the other possible future,  a developer or property speculator succeeds in acquiring the land. A long, drawn-out battle with local pressure groups, including ourselves, ensues. The developer might eventually obtain planning permission and listed buildings consent for some kind of development on the site. Let’s say its a residential development (which would also require change-of-use). Wilding Way would probably need to be widened, creating a danger to wildlife and dog-walkers, who stop using the northern end of Bidston Hill. You can see where this leads: Bidston Hill is sacrificed to meet the government’s targets for new housing. The prospect of public-facing, sustainable uses for the Lighthouse and Observatory is compromised. Maybe the Lighthouse and Observatory struggle on, or maybe they don’t.

Of course, the developer might ultimately lose the battle for planning permission. Maybe they sit on the land for a few years, letting it go to seed. Fly-tippers take advantage. No-one visits the Lighthouse or Observatory. Everyone is out of pocket (except the lawyers). Everyone suffers.

More about the Proudman land

The land was once the kitchen gardens of Bidston Lighthouse. Its official postal address is 4 Lighthouse Cottages, CH43 7RA. An oceanographic research facility, latterly called the Joseph Proudman Building, stood on the site from the 1970s until its demolition in 2013.

Since the Joseph Proudman Building was demolished, the land has been used from time to time by picknickers, dog-walkers and mountain bike enthusiasts, as an exercise ground by local schools and fitness fanatics, not to mention fly-tippers. Hedgehogs, foxes, owls, kestrels, woodpeckers and other wildlife have been seen on the site.

Photograph of the Joseph Proudman Building, during its demolition

Demolition of the Joseph Proudman Building, 2013

The land is enclosed on two sides by a sandstone wall. The wall is a grade-II listed building in its own right, and the land is within its curtilage. The same wall encloses Bidston Lighthouse and Bidston Observatory, which are also grade-II listed. All three listed buildings were designed by George Fosbery Lyster, Engineer-in-Chief to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Every stone on the site was locally quarried, and every stone is exactly where Lyster placed it a century-and-a-half ago. There is no conceivable development that would not diminish the group value of the site.

The land was originally part of the title of Bidston Lighthouse when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board sold the Lighthouse to the Birkenhead Corporation in 1935. At the time, the minutes of the Corporation said: “By this purchase the land would be available for all future generations for recreational purposes”. This intention was reflected both in the price – a modest £1000 – and in a restrictive covenant prohibiting new buildings. This covenant still attaches to the freehold title of the land in question, but it is not mentioned in the leasehold title. The covenant has not been tested in the courts – yet.

The drains of Bidston Lighthouse and Cottages run beneath the Proudman land. The route of these drains is not known by Unitied Utilities.

The western boundary of the land is disputed. The owners of Bidston Lighthouse claim an easement over the land in order to access their outbuilding, originally a coal-store and toilet block, and later a hazardous waste store.

The single-track access road, Wilding Way, is owned by Wirral Council, but it is not adopted. It is not a public highway. It doubles as a public footpath for most of its length. It is crossed by dog-walkers, horse-riders and wildlife.

The land comes with no rights over that part of the access road that extends beyond its western boundary. So without the willing co-operation of the Lighthouse and Observatory, the developer’s vehicles would have to turn within the boundaries of the land being developed.

 

Bidston Observatory – buyers beware

Bidston Observatory – that iconic symbol of Liverpool’s scientific, industrial, and maritime heritage – should be celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Instead,  it is threatened yet again by unsympathetic, inappropriate development.

Bidston Observatory was built on the grounds of Bidston Lighthouse in 1866 by George Fosbery Lyster, Engineer-in-Chief to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. The same man re-built the lighthouse a few years later, and renewed the perimeter wall enclosing the site. The site today looks much as Lyster planned it, wanting only a little loving care to remedy a few years of neglect. But there is a real and present danger.

Bidston Observatory is back on the market again, as the Wirral Globe, Liverpool Echo and the Media Penguin have noticed.

Now that the news has broken, it is time for us at Bidston Lighthouse to explain our position, and do what we can to disabuse potential developers of the notion that a residential development at Bidston Observatory would be welcome.

Our position

We are committed to preserving Bidston Lighthouse and Telegraph Station, and operating the Lighthouse tower as an educational resource and visitor attraction. We see ourselves as temporary custodians of the building, with a duty to preserve the possibility of a future reversion to public ownership or at least a use sympathetic to its heritage with a significant public-facing component. We still hope that a sympathetic owner with compatible intentions can be found for the Observatory.

A residential development on car park of Bidston Observatory could force us to abandon our ambitions for the world’s most inland lighthouse. It is hard to see how we could continue to open the Lighthouse to the public if that were to happen. We would, of course, oppose any proposal for such a development with all the resources at our disposal.

We will happily support proposals for future use of the Observatory that are sympathetic to its heritage, sustainable and allow some form of public access.

We would support a proposal to convert the Observatory into a dedicated museum and visitor centre. We just don’t think it likely in these uncertain times. We would not look kindly on any alterations or subdivisions (such as conversion to flats) that would permanently preclude such a possibility.

We are aware of one proposal from a potential buyer that meets all our criteria: to operate the Observatory as an artists’ retreat, incorporating a museum and exhibition space that will be accessible to the general public. We would be delighted to see the Observatory used in this way.

Not an exciting development opportunity

The advertisement on the auctioneer’s website describes the property as “an exciting development opportunity” with potential for eight new dwellings in the Observatory grounds. It is probable that such a proposal would also require listed buildings consent, as these dwellings are within the curtilage not only of the Grade-II listed Observatory, but also the Grade-II listed perimeter wall that encloses the site.

No such plans have actually been submitted to Wirral Borough Council. This is not suprising, for such a proposal would outrage the local community. Only a developer totally lacking in fear and social conscience would start that battle.

The same advertisement also mentions an “expired planning consent for 4 mansion apartments app ref APP/12/00536, likely to be granted again”. The advertisement does not mention that the change of use was linked to a Listed Buildings Consent (LBC/12/00537), which was granted subject to an extensive list of conditions. Neither the current owner nor the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) who obtained the consent made a meaningful start on the works within three years.  So the listed buildings consent lapsed three years later on 5 July 2015, and the permission to change the use to residential expired with it.

It is not at all clear that this application would be approved on re-submission. In 2012, the community consultation exercise resulted both in letters of objection and letters of support. We have reason to believe that those who expressed support in 2012 have since reversed their position, and would likely be opposed to a fresh application to convert the Observatory to residential apartments.

Caveat Emptor

Any developer who is still considering making a bid for Bidston Observatory should also be aware of the following.

The Observatory and the site of the former Braehead Cottage were sold to Bidston Observatory Developments Limited (company number 09109510) for the stated price of £270,000 on 15 April 2015 (the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and the sinking of the Titanic). The two titles were amalgamated into title number MS621814. At the time of the sale, the directors and shareholders of Bidston Observatory Developments Limited were Craig Malcolm William Blackwell and  Jason Woltman. Craig Blackwell was the company secretary. On 16 June, 2015, Blackwell and Woltman ceased being directors and shareholders of the company, and Antwon Bonnick became the sole director and shareholder. On 5 August 2015, Cheryl Bernadette Galvin became a director of and the majority shareholder in the company. Company accounts made up to 31 July 2015 were due on 1 April 2016. On 28 July 2016, they were still overdue.

The Observatory is currently occupied by “guardians” who pay rent to Camelot. According to an advertisement on the Camelot website (retrieved 24 Jun 2016), rooms are available from £60 per week, and the amenities include two shared kitchens. Nine guardians live in the building, a further two rooms being uninhabitable because of water damage, which is believed to have occurred after Bidston Observatory Developments Limited took possession of the Observatory.

It is rumoured that internal alterations have been made to the building that should have required Listed Buildings Consent, including the installation of a new kitchen and shower cubicle.

The entire building is rated as a single band B for council tax purposes. This is anomalously low for a building of such size, and reflects the internal condition of the building. It is also anomalous that a building whose last lawful use was as offices should be subject to council tax instead of business rates.

The Observatory is approached by Wilding Way, which although owned by Wirral Council, is not adopted. Wilding Way is only wide enough to take a single vehicle. It is regularly crossed by dog walkers, horse riders and wildlife. To widen the road would compromise the amenity of visitors to Bidston Hill Recreation Ground and the wildlife that inhabit it.

Bidston Observatory – Heritage for Sale

Bidston Observatory is up for sale, again. Here is the listing on RightMove: http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-28459380.html

Prospective buyers have only until 30th November to make their “best and final offer”. This seems a little rushed, given that the advert appeared in Wirral News only last week.

I hope the new owners appreciate what an important piece of Merseyside heritage they are taking on.

Bidston Observatory and Lighthouse, postmarked 1907

Bidston Observatory and Lighthouse, postmarked 1907

The Observatory was built in 1866, when the expansion of Waterloo Dock forced Liverpool Observatory to re-locate to Bidston Hill. It was built alongside Bidston Lighthouse and Signals Station, on land owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.  John Hartnup, astronomer and Assistant Secretary to the Royal Astronomical Society, had been the Director of Liverpool Observatory since it was built in 1843. Amongst his achievements was the calculation of the longitude of Liverpool, which was important for navigation and the development of the port. He presided over the move to Bidston Hill, and continued as director of Bidston Observatory until his retirement in 1885, when he was succeeded by his son. The second director, John Hartnup Jr  died on 21 April 1892, when he fell from the roof of the Observatory while making meteorological observations.

The Observatory, Lighthouse and Braehead Cottage from Boundary Road, postmarked 1909.

The Observatory, Lighthouse and Braehead Cottage from Boundary Road, postmarked 1909.

Over the years, the emphasis of the Observatory’s work shifted from astronomy to other things, but always in the tradition of Time and Tide, so important to the port of Liverpool.

Of Time. The progression from observations of the stars, to the determination of longitude, to the calibration of chronometers was a natural one. The Observatory’s two levels of cellars and other features made it especially suited for calibrating chronometers under controlled conditions of temperature and seismic vibrations. Marine chronometers from all over the empire were calibrated at Bidston. The One-O-Clock gun at Morpeth Dock was signalled from the Observatory by electric cable.

Of Tide. Ever since Liverpool’s harbour-master William Hutchinson (the same fellow who pioneered the use of parabolic reflectors in lighthouses on Bidston Hill) took the first extended series of tidal measurements over a period of nearly thirty years, Liverpool had led the world in tidal studies. This work became centred at Bidston Observatory when the Liverpool Tidal Institute was set up there under Joseph Proudman’s direction after World War I. Arthur Doodson’s work with mechanical computers for tide prediction happened here. One of his machines was used to predict the tides for the D-Day landings.

Observatory staff by the one-o-clock gun

Observatory staff by the original one-o-clock gun, after its removal to Bidston Hill from Morpeth Dock.

In 1969, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) took over responsibility for the Observatory. Oceanographic research continued to expand under their auspices. During the 1970’s, the Joseph Proudman Building was constructed in the former kitchen gardens of Bidston Lighthouse.

In 1989, the Observatory, Lighthouse and the perimeter wall enclosing them became Grade-II listed buildings.

In 2004, the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory moved from Bidston Hill to a new building at the University of Liverpool. Their oceanographic research is still continuing today, but now in the guise of the National Oceanography Centre. NERC’s plans to sell the site to a developer aroused opposition from local pressure groups, and the spectre of an eleven-story high-rise residential development was averted.

Bidston Observatory has featured on TV on several occasions, including episodes of Coast (Series 7, Episode 5: “The Riddle of the Tides”), Inside Out, and Where’s Fred. Joyce Scoffield, who used to work in the Observatory, has written a book about it: “Bidston Observatory: The Place and the People”, 2006 (available on Amazon). J. Eric Jones wrote “From Astrononomy to Oceanography – A brief history of Bidston Observatory”, which you can download from the NOC web site.

View from Observatory roof, March 2013

View from Observatory roof, March 2013.

Antarctica, Floods and Bidston Hill

Last week, BBC news reported on a new measurement of the volume of ice in Antarctica, from the Bedmap2 project. The potential sea level equivalent of the Antarctic ice volume is 58 metres. What does this mean? The BBC article explains: “if this ice was all converted to liquid water, it would be sufficient to raise the height of the world’s oceans by 58m”.

I did my own “back of the envelope” calculation using the Bedmap2 numbers (and a few guesses and approximations), and came up with a figure of about 60 metres, close enough to convince me that the BBC explanation of “potential sea level equivalent” is correct. I suspect the actual sea rise would be slightly less, because some of the water would inundate coastal regions, making the oceans larger, not just deeper. Still, 58 metres is a lot.

Ordnance Survey cut benchmark on Bidston Lighthouse

Ordnance Survey cut benchmark on Bidston Lighthouse

Something about 58 metres rang a bell. Then I remembered the Ordnance Survey benchmark cut into the base of the Lighthouse, near the front door. (The first time I saw this, I mistook it for a mason’s mark. It was a surveyor who explained its significance to me.)

As I reported in an earlier post, the horizontal line at the top of the benchmark is 58.9727 metres (or thereabouts) above mean sea level at Newlyn, Cornwall. So if Antarctica melted, the sea would be lapping at the foot of the Lighthouse, and Bidston Hill would be an island.

We could buy a boat, and invest in a new dioptric lamp in case the Lighthouse is needed again. But surely it’s better to do our bit towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and invest instead in solar panels (assuming we can obtain planning permission and listed buildings consent).

There’s another connection between Antarctica and Bidston Hill. NERC, which used to own the Lighthouse and still owns the Observatory, is the research council that funds both the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre. It’s only a few months since the proposed merger of the British Antarctic Survey with the National Oceanography Centre was averted.

 

 

 

The case of the missing letterbox

Or  “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace”.

Our new cottage has no letterbox, and our mail is going astray.

One postman, trained by the previous occupant, delivers our letters to Mary, who lives in the cottage next door. He can do this because Mary’s front door is equipped with a functioning letterbox, fashioned from aluminium and faded, like Mary, from many seasons on the hill. This could be a satisfactory arrangement, were it not for Mary’s habit of filing her post, un-inspected, in a random drawer in whichever room she happens to be living in at the time.

Another postman, recently recruited and lacking the benefit of training from our predecessor, appears to have taken it upon himself to deliver our letters to the Observatory nearby. This is not a satisfactory arrangement, because we have no access to the Observatory, and no relationship to its denizens, nor they to each other.  There our letters will lie, on a table in the hallway, or the floor beneath the table, until such time as one denizen is taken by the urge to clear the common area, and our letters find their way to the re-cycling bin, the rubbish bin, or perhaps back to the Delivery Office marked “Not Known At This Address”.

On one occasion, an employee of Scottish Power hit upon the novel idea of sliding a we-came-to-read-the-meter-but-you-were-out card underneath our door. It is entirely possible that a future generation of postman might re-discover this ingenious solution.

We devised a cunning strategy to address the problem of missing mail. Let us call this Plan A. Plan A proceeds as follows:

  1. install a letterbox in the front door of the cottage
  2. lay in wait until a postman appears on his rounds
  3. greet the postman warmly, introduce him to the new letterbox, and instruct him in its operation
  4. repeat 2-3 until the estimated fraction of undelivered mail becomes acceptably small.

One technique for estimating the fraction of undelivered mail is to address a large number of letters to oneself, and to count those that arrive within say two weeks of despatch. Although the algorithm (2-4) is not guaranteed to converge monotonically or even in a finite number of iterations, it should be good enough for our purposes.

The real problem is step (1). You see, our cottage is a Grade II Listed Building.

It is a criminal offence to do works affecting the significance of a Listed Building without Listed Building Consent. Presumably, it is OK to do works on a Listed Building that don’t affect its significance. It is also legal to do works on a listed building and subsequently apply for Listed Building Consent. A PhD in Quantum Field Theory does not prepare the mind sufficiently to comprehend the implications of this convoluted logic. It seems to me that if you get the Consent everything’s fine and has been fine all along, but if you don’t, then not only have you committed a Criminal Act, you’ve also dobbed yourself in. Is this the legislative equivalent of quantum superposition?

Everything seems to turn on the interpretation of significance. The System is designed on the principle that the owner or developer of the listed building is not to be trusted. It vests the authority to determine the question of significance in public servants known as Local Planning Officers. These are busy people (our Borough has 1900 listed buildings managed by one Senior Conservation Officer and an assistant). Consequently the System places a heavy burden of preparing evidence on the owner or developer.

So, although our front door bears little resemblance to the original door, being clad in a metal (presumed steel) sheet, fitted recently and certainly some 100 years after the cottage was built, and although a front door to a Victorian cottage clearly deserves a letterbox, it is not for us to presume to install one without Listed Buildings Consent. Obtaining Listed Buildings Consent is not a trivial matter; the lengthy checklist involves a freshly-prepared Ordnance Survey Map of the site. a 1:200 scale plan of the building, 1:20 scale drawing(s) of the feature(s) affected, statements of impact and significance, and much more. At least it’s free, that is, if you don’t count the architect’s fees, map license fees, and your time. Once you’ve got your plans prepared, and your application lodged, you have only a minimum of 8 weeks to wait while the whole sad business is weighed and considered by the council, your neighbours, local pressure groups and the general public. You have to be on your best behaviour.

In the meantime, you still don’t have a letterbox, so any correspondence concerning the progress of the application is likely to go astray. But there’s a solution for this! You simply appoint an agent to act on your behalf, and all the correspondence goes to him or her.

But three months or more is a long time to be without mail. Perhaps that venerable institution Royal Mail can help? I decided to investigate.

It’s easy enough to find their web site – a level one wizard can do this. Level two skills are required to find descriptions of relevant services.

One could take a Post Office Box. These are not cheap, and there might be a waiting list, but the real problem is that you don’t have a letterbox, not that you don’t have an address. And sometimes a Post Office Box just won’t do.

What about mail redirection? As we won’t complete the move to the cottage until we sell our current house, we can consider redirecting mail from the new dwelling to the old one. Although the service is really designed to redirect mail from the old house to the new,  we might just be able to produce the documentation necessary to set it up. On the downside, the service is not free, and more importantly, the solution would only work until the old house is sold.

We could then redirect mail from the old house to the new, and let the mail circulate between the two addresses for a while. When the Listed Building Consent finally comes through, and the letterbox is installed, we simply cancel one of the redirections, and all our mail will suddenly appear at the cottage. Like that scene in Harry Potter.

Maybe Mail Redirection isn’t the perfect solution, after all.

What about Mail Collect (TM)? This service is has the virtue of being free. The idea is that your mail, instead of being delivered to your address, is held at the local Delivery Office, and you collect it from there at your leisure (but at least once a month). You need to be a Level 3 wizard to navigate the Royal Mail website to find the application form and guidance notes. But it can be done, with perseverance.

Level 4 expertise is required to locate your nearest delivery office. Here’s how I did it. Do not set out to locate the delivery office, Instead, prepare a list of completely different questions to which you want answers. This list should include:

  1. Does the Royal Mail have a recommended way of getting mail delivered when you don’t have a letter box?
  2. Does this work if you’re moving into the place instead of out of it?
  3. How should a person with two surnames, such as a married woman who gets mail addressed to both her married name and maiden name, complete the application form for Mail Collect (TM)?  Should she commit the minor fraud of submitting two applications as different people, each authorizing her alter ego to collect mail on her behalf?
  4. Why does an application for Mail Collect (TM) not require proof of residence at the address in question? Isn’t that opening a loophole for mail theft?
  5. Or is proof of identification really meant to include proof of residence at the address in question?
  6. If so, how should I obtain such proof? After all, my utilities bills are going astray, because I haven’t got a letter box…
  7. The guidance notes say that on receipt of my application, I should expect an acknowledgment, the return of the original documents evidencing my identification, and eventually a little white card that I should take with me when I go to collect my mail from my local Delivery Office. These items will be sent — you guessed it — by post to the address on the application. Yes, to the cottage with no letterbox. How is this supposed to work?

With these goals in mind, you set off on your quest. First you see a clue suggesting that there’s a way of contacting Royal Mail by email. Following this clue as far as it leads, you encounter a Sphinx who asks you a riddle about the nature of your question. It doesn’t matter how you reply, because all answers lead to the Labyrinth of Frequently Asked Questions, which you are required to search exhaustively. Only then will the angel Sarah, Your On-Line Digital Assistant, manifest herself to you. You may ask Sarah any question you like. Sarah will recognise any of the Frequently Asked Questions, and NO others.

At this point, you may like to add:

  • How do I ask a question that is not Frequently Asked?

to your list. Needless to say, this Question is not a Frequently Asked one.

Now it is necessary to re-trace your steps to the FAQ. This is not difficult, as all roads lead back there eventually. From here you can see a sign pointing towards Customer Service. Follow it. You should discover a Telephone Number beginning with the prefix 0845. Calls to 0845 numbers cost 10.22 New Pence per minute for Virgin customers. Dial this number. Again, you are challenged with a series of questions which you are expected to answer by typing numbers on the numeric keypad of your telephone. There are many possible sequences of questions and answers. If you chance upon a certain sequence, you will unlock a secret door which leads to the Find-Your-Local-Delivery-Office demon.

The demon FYLDO has the Power of Speech Recognition. She will ask you for your postcode, which you should recite aloud into the mouthpiece of your telephone. If you speak clearly, in a controlled accent, she may repeat it back to you correctly. This is good! You should say “Yes” when she asks you. I don’t know what happens if you can’t say “Yes” honestly. Perhaps she eats you.

Now, the demon asks “Road name”? My heart leaped into my mouth at this point, but your experience may be different to mine from here on.

You see, our cottage is on an un-named road. There is no road name in our address.

Trusting to a greater power, I replied, in a firm and steady voice. “None”, I said.

“I don’t understand that”, quoth the demon.

“None”, I replied, with false conviction.

The demon paused for a disconcertingly long time, then announced “You local Delivery Office is at …” ,  supplying address and opening hours.

Our next adventure will be to make a pilgrimage to our Local Delivery Office, in search of a Wise Man or Woman who can answer our questions.

I never did discover the mythical email address for Royal Mail.