Number's up for Captain Cook's village

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The Independent Online
A storm of protest has erupted in a celebrated North Yorkshire fishing village over a plan to number houses and cottages which currently have historic names, so that postmen can find their way around more easily.

Royal Mail argues that the move is necessary because, although it accepts that the regular postmen, "could do his rounds blindfolded", Staithes, near Whitby, is "a nightmare" for relief postmen who often get lost in the maze of tightly packed cottages which spill down the steep cliffside to the seafront, unsure whether to climb Slippery Hill or negotiate Dog Loop (an alley so narrow most people have to turn sideways to pass through (in search of Venus Cottage or True Love).

Royal Mail's regional headquarters in Leeds has suggested to Scarborough council that the numbering of homes in seven streets in Staithes - a conservation area within the North York Moors National Park - would make life considerably easier for postmen and at the same time facilitate the computerised sorting of mail.

But residents of the village - made famous by Captain James Cook who in his teenage years worked in a local grocery shop before moving to Whitby to study maritime navigation - have greeted the proposal with derision.

Angela Ellis, clerk to the parish council, said: "We've had a meeting and we think the idea's daft. Royal Mail say it would make the computer sorting of mail easier but we think it would only clause confusion and a lot of upheaval.

"People would have to change their insurance, building society and banking details, and a lot of the romance of the village would be lost."

Jean Ecclestone, the village sub-postmistress and a legal historian, was similarly hostile. "Everyone is against it," she said. "The names of the houses and cottages of Staithes are part of our history in that they were named after fishing boats - cobles and yawls - which sailed from here. My cottage is called Star of Hope, for instance. But there's also Rose of England, Confidence Cottage, Blue Jacket House and True Love. How they can suggest substituting these names with numbers just so their computers will operate more efficiently is beyond me.

"Anyway," she added. "The relief postman only has to ask if he gets lost. The fishermen are up at four in the morning so there's plenty of people to ask."

"The proposal is silly," weighed in David Freeman, landlord of the Cod and Lobster pub. "Everybody who lives here and a lot of people who don't know the cottages by their quaint, romantic names. There would be chaos if all of a sudden they had numbers instead - and I know for a fact there'd be dissenters who'd refuse to use them."

A Royal Mail spokeswoman responded: "We've made this proposal to Scarborough council simply to make the delivery of local mail more efficient.

"There's no problem when the regular postman is on but relief staff have found it difficult to find houses in the maze of harbourside yards and alleyways.

"The truth is, there aren't many places in the country where houses only have names and Scarborough council has done something similar elsewhere to modernise things a bit. We just want to improve efficiency, avoid delays and provide a better service."

Michael Clements, director of technical services at Scarborough council, said: "I can see Royal Mail's point. The computerised sorting of mail is a system which obviously lends itself to numbers but I don't personally think it would work in Staithes.

"The layout of the village is such that it would be difficult to compile a logical numbering sequence and over the passage of time the numbers might well replace the names for good, and an important part of the village's history would be lost."

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