House numbering in the UK

We often receive questions about the history of the postal service via our Facebook page or Twitter. Yesterday @jamespurdon asked “anybody know when house numbering begins in UK?” We asked Archives Assistant Penny to find out, and as so often with these questions the answer is a bit complicated.

A postman delivers mail to cottages in North Street in Brighstone, Isle of Wight, 1937.

A postman delivers mail to cottages in North Street in Brighstone, Isle of Wight, 1937.

The first recorded instance of a street being numbered is Prescot Street in Goodmans Fields in 1708. By the end of the century, the numbering of houses had become well established, and seems to have been done on the consecutive rather than the odd and even principle which we have now become familiar.

None of this was regulated and numbering systems varied even in the same street. For example about 1780, Craven Street in the Strand had three sets of numbers. There were irregularities everywhere, and the naming of streets and parts of streets was left to the idiosyncrasy or whim of the owner.

Regulation did not take place until 1855 with the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act. For the first time the power to control and regulate the naming and numbering of streets and houses was provided for and given to the new Board of Works. Under pressure from the Post Office the Board started work in 1857 on the simplification of street names and numbering by working through a hit list of the most confusing streets given to the Board by the Post Office.

Do you have a question for us? Don’t forget to join us on Twitter on 24 August when you can tweet our Director.

10 responses to “House numbering in the UK

  1. Brightston? No such place. No wonder post office have problems

    Brighstone may be. I stayed there for a while.

  2. what do you make of Wikipedia explanation, anywhere between 1720 & 1765

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  6. In 1831 James Elmes published a ‘Topographical Dictionary of London’. The entry for ADAM AND EVE COURT reads, “Bishopsgate Street Without, is in Angel Alley, near Skinner Street, and received its name from the sign at its corner, before numbering was introduced by Act of Parliament.”
    This is 24 years before the Metropolis Local Management Act gave the Metropolitan Board of Works control over regulating the “nomenclature” (and numbering) of streets. There must be another Act that nobody has found.

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