A Title Number is essentially the unique reference used by us to identify a specific registered piece of land or property or title as we call it. We are required by law to have these but the format is left largely up to us.
We will create new title numbers when property/land is registered for the first time and again when part of a title is sold. We now have over 23 million registered titles covering England & Wales.
Start from the very beginning
In 1862 Land Registry had no prefixes to title numbers, we started at 1 and went from there.
Experiments in the 1920s
The first steps to the modern system of title numbers began in the 1920s when a new series of provincial titles were created by placing Z at the beginning and end (Z1Z etc.). This short lived series only ran from 1920 to 1922 when it was replaced by P (for Provincial).
The 1920s saw the first steps towards county prefixes, when the county boroughs of Eastbourne and Hastings became compulsory registration areas with prefixes EB and HT.
In February 1934, county prefixes were introduced for Essex (EX), Kent (K), Middlesex (MX) and Surrey (SY). The fact that these counties had higher proportions of registered land and were early areas where registration became compulsory probably influenced the choice. Another tranche of 11 counties followed in 1937, but it would not be until the 1960s that the process was completed.
As each area acquired a county prefix, the area of P titles declined. When Lincolnshire was given its LL prefix in May 1962, all that was left to P titles was the old and very small county of Rutland. But even this was to come to an end in October 1963.
In general county boroughs were not given separate title prefixes. The only exceptions were Bristol (BL), Oldham (OL) and York (YCT). Even great cities such as Liverpool and Manchester had to make do with the Lancashire (LA) prefix. For unknown reasons, Welsh counties were never given separate prefixes but the whole country was allocated the WA prefix in 1961.
Local Government Reorganisations
No sooner than the county series had been completed, all was shattered by the post war local government reorganisations.
In 1965 the new county of Greater London was created, but Land Registry had already anticipated this by creating title series for north, south and east Greater London (NGL, SGL and EGL). This meant the demise of the old London (LN) series, and while the Post Office retained Middlesex as a county, Land Registry did not, as the MX prefix came to an end in 1965.
A bigger upheaval occurred in 1974, which meant we needed to create new prefixes for the new counties, for example Greater Manchester (GM), and Avon (AV). Counties like Huntingdonshire (HN) and Teeside (TES) which disappeared under the changes, also lost their prefixes.
The 1990s saw a new phase of local government reorganisation as unitary authorities were created. The response of Land Registry to this has been varied. Some county prefixes such as Herefordshire (HD) have been revived, but not all, for example a first registration in Rutland will still be given a Leicestershire (LT) prefix. Where a unitary authority has been carved out of an existing county, we have tended to keep the county prefix. Thus Torbay and Plymouth are still part of the Devon (DN) title series. In some cases the old counties have reclaimed their own, for example South Gloucestershire, once part of Avon, has returned to the GL prefix.
The numbers start to run out
Our systems only allow up to 999,999 titles per prefix, which has meant that some areas have needed new prefixes. The first was Wales, where WA was replaced with its Welsh equivalent CYM on 6 November 2000. This was followed by Manchester, where GM was replaced by MAN in 2004.
We have tried to create meaningful prefixes for those replaced, but some eyebrows have been raised by the changes we brought in on 23 January 2012, in particular the use of the prefix TT for Kent. Our IT department found that use of title prefixes which were already programmed into the system would be considerably cheaper. Not wanting to pass unnecessary costs onto our customers we agreed to use them, which meant we had to drop plans to use KT as the replacement prefix for Kent. The available prefixes were a selection of 18 double letters (AA etc). This allowed us to choose MM for West Midlands and YY for West Yorkshire. Unfortunately when it came to Kent, our next choice KK was unavailable, so we had to choose one of the other available prefixes.
And that is a potted history of our Title Number prefixes – good to know how and why choices and then changes have been made and whilst the prefix may help you recognise where the property/land is geographically it may not always be the case. But remember the property/land is where it is no matter what title number it is given.