Thought Leadership

House numbers

By Colin Walls

Last week I wrote about how one can have a life-long perception about something and then find that it is wrong, or, rather, that there are other ways of seeing the world. It sounds like I am thinking about profound, life-influencing matters, but today I am pondering something much more prosaic: house numbers …

I have lived all my life in the UK, even though I have been lucky enough to visit many other countries. So, my first assumption is that houses are always numbered the way that we do. Here the most common system is that the numbers start from 1 at one end of the road [I have no idea how they choose which end] and continue sequentially, with odd numbers on one side of the road and even on the other. So, one side is number 1, 3, 5 etc. and the other is 2, 4, 6 and so on. If an additional property is built or a house split into two or more, an alphabetic suffix is added. So the numbers might go 12, 14, 14A, 14B, 16 …

Occasionally I have encountered streets where the numbers simply go sequentially up one side of the street and back down the other, but this is rare and would only be used for a street with a few houses.

In the past, and still in many small villages, houses do not have numbers at all. Each house has a name. Nowadays this can be considered chic – suggesting that the house is up-market if it has no number. The result is some people give their houses names anyway and insist on using them [which I feel is rather pretentious]. My house is called “Four Corners”. It was given this name in the 1920s when the road structure was changed such that we are now on a crossroads, which has 4 corners. It had had previous names, but clearly the then owners wanted to be up to date. It was called “Winstone” initially, then “Green Gates”; in both cases the address was in the road at right angles [we are on a corner] to the current one. It is quite possible that the house number [3] was assigned later. Unlike the previous owner, we do not use the house name, as it is redundant. Interestingly however, we sometimes call our home “Number Three”, so maybe we are pretentious too. 🙂

I have never quite understood the house numbering the the US. The numbers always seem to run to 4 or 5 digits, even if the road is not so long. It has something to do with blocks and I guess, if you understand it, it might help you locate a property easily. Also, they commonly paint the house number right on the curb, which makes finding a house from a car very easy. We could learn from this, as, in the UK, house numbers can be very hard to see, even though there can be a large fine for not having it clearly displayed. [Apparently this is to enable the Fire Service to find a house, but I would have thought that the smoke and flames would be a giveaway.]

In Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, there are many old houses. Historically they were simply numbered as they were built, not sequentially down a street. So the numbers are scattered randomly around a district. This makes them a bit like named houses in the UK, but less memorable. For the aid of the mail delivery, the houses nowadays have two numbers [a blue one and a red one]; the new numbers are sequential and make life a little easier.

Maybe in the 21st Century we could do better. Perhaps WhatThreeWords is the answer …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at