Most of us take our address for granted. We buy or rent a property and there it is. Usually a number, a street name and a place to act as an identifier for our home so that our friends can find it and we can receive our electricity bill promptly. However an address is also a legal requirement on a property covering everything from ownership documentation to insurance and ease of locating it by the emergency services. 

Before 1765 all properties were known by name alone but in that year an act of parliament decreed that all new properties in towns and cities should be numbered to their road starting from 1 e.g.42 Shrewsbury Gardens. Generally odd numbers are on the left of the street and even numbers on the right, facing out of town. Some towns (notably London) however employ an out and back arrangement with 1 – 10 up one side then 11 – 20 returning down the other. New properties subsequently created on a street will probably employ a suffix e.g. 42B. If a house is divided into flats the suffixes will generally be applied upwards so that 42A is at a lower level than 42B; however a basement may have a higher suffix such as 42C if it was converted at a later date. The ground floor will have the lowest number but whether this is 42 or 42A depends on local policy towards property sub-division. Sometimes the number 13 is missed out from a road for superstitious reasons. It may be absent altogether from new, or replaced at a later date with 11A or 12A. Where there are uneven numbers of houses on each side of the road the odd or even numbered side will just continue e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10. 

Once a property has had a number it must always officially have a number, though it’s possible a number may change in exceptional circumstances. It is generally accepted for a householder to apply a name of their choice on an unofficial basis providing the number remains on official documentation; but again local policy may vary. If several small buildings are removed and replaced with a larger one a series number may appear such as 271-275 as frequently seen on city centre office blocks. 

If your property is given a name from new these days, odds are it’s a block of flats. Blocks are generally given names on new developments, but also on established streets where there isn’t sufficient space in the existing number series for all the flats, however in this case it will also have a property number. So if a large house such as 67 Manchester Road is pulled down and replaced by a block of flats, the new block will be called something like Priory Court, 67 Manchester Road and its individual units in series thus: 5 Priory Court, 67 Manchester Road. It’s unlikely that the word “Flat” will be in the official address so it is just “5” rather than “Flat 5”. However if the block does not have a name which is rare, but does happen, then the word “Flat” is used e.g. Flat 5, 67 Manchester Road. When a new block of flats is built on a major estate development it is less likely to have a street number. The address will be as flat then block then street e.g.84 Vulcan House, Lockwood Way; alternatively the flats may just be numbered to the street without reference to the block at all but this only happens in the case of fairly small blocks.  

The only other occasions a new property is given just a name is when it is being built or converted on a street with no history of numbering; usually in a small village or on an old industrial estate. 

Historic street naming can be problematic. Modern data management demands consistency and for that reason punctuation marks, such as apostrophes for example, are no longer widely used and tend to be removed from official documentation, frequently incurring the wrath of a grammatically correct resident. They were however used in the past and this sometimes creates problems when searching for an address in a database; not least because if the field isn’t configured correctly it will remove everything following it. Ambiguous spellings are also an occasional problem; it is not unknown for a street name to be spelt differently at either end. 

So who thinks of street names and block names? This varies from place to place; sometimes the local councillors will choose names, other times it is down to an individual council officer. Frequently the developer will request a name of their choice or it may be opened up to local consultation as often happens on major new social housing developments. In all cases the council officer responsible will have to consult various bodies; notably the emergency services, who may veto a chosen name if they deem it unclear or liable to cause confusion.  

Usually in the UK, the names of living people are not used unless they are royalty. This is to avoid honouring somebody who is later disgraced, and to avoid controversy. Beyond that there may be a specified theme such as trees: Oak; Ash; Hazel etc. If it is an individual road or block that needs a name then local history will invariably be consulted to acknowledge a former factory or historic personality. If an estate is built on a disused airfield, its blocks or roads may be named after aircraft types; a development on a paddock may choose horse breeds. Look out for streets called The Meadows or Orchard Way for a clue as to what was there before; or The Beechings (after Dr Beeching) which will usually be built on former railway land.  

Writing this I can think of an exception to every rule I have given but for the most part these rules are followed making our streets and towns easier to navigate however sometimes addresses that look official aren’t actually legally recognised. If nobody can ever find you on their “system” then it might be worth checking with your local authority street naming and numbering officer to make sure everything is in order. It usually costs a few pounds to register an address but it’ll save you a lot of bother at a later date if you need a quick sale or to make an insurance claim.