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House Numbers – Pictures of a Forgotten History

Houses were not always numbered which may surprise some, but were recognised in various areas by differing methods; Some were located by the glass patterning over doorways, others by the name of the owner or house. Countries far and wide have, and still have, in many instances, their own unique way of establishing where each house is located. In House Numbers we are offered an insight into how the numbering of houses was conceived and then applied.

The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ saw numbering introduced as a result of someone decreeing that things needed to change and so numbering started life somewhere between the military, taxes and policing, in order to give a more precise idea of who lived where and their financial status in the town or area. Actually, it was all about accountability to some body or other and then about the collection of taxes, based on the number of people living in the said dwelling.

In ancient times various methods were used such as the naming of the houses in the name of the person who owned or built the house. Romans also used the method of placing the name of the house on slave’s collars so they could be returned to the correct owner, should they have decided to run away.

Street names where created for military use and also taxes, nothing to do with ‘postal addresses’ but were far more prosaic! Numbers to denote how many in the street and where they were located also mattered.

The early forms of Census relied on the information given by the local Lord or land owner, and were often very different to the reality. The naming of houses served a purpose but it was not uncommon to find in any given area or town a number of houses with the same name, which certainly did not suit the authorities.

As the system became more far more refined house numbers were introduced but in certain cultures some of the numbers came with superstitions attached, such as the number 13. It was not uncommon to have a row of houses with 12a instead of 13. 666 is considered in biblical terms the number of the beast and is not considered a good omen.

The Chinese consider the number 4 as bad Feng Shui while Europeans consider 13 in the same light and therefor, seldom used if there is an alternative.

So therefore, the humble house number has a somewhat chequered history, has a story to tell which involves a lot more than just being a number in a row of houses, in a street named by someone, in a place somewhere in the world.

The further you look into the humble house number the more fascinating information is revealed right up to the modern usage of addresses by such as Google and other marketing groups.

A wonderful insight into our numbering of houses is presented in the pictures of ornate and beautiful plates and tiles at the rear of the book, with designs used for hundreds of years to denote the various styles of the numbering.

Each plate is spectacular in its own right as it gives some small insight into the person, the country, the culture, the wealth of the residents and the particular time in history when the number was created.


AuthorAnton Tantner
PublisherReaktion Books
DistributorNew South Books
ReleasedJanuary 2016