What's in a number?

Lincoln street numbers in the 19th century

by Beryl George, 27/11/2020

When looking at the 1828 Valuation it is crucial to bear two things in mind: Lincoln did not have any house numbers at that time and the recorded order of the Valuation is unknown. It may follow the order of houses along a street, but it is unwise to assume this in all cases.

So, when did house numbering (as it was initially called) come about in Lincoln? What system was used? What happened as more houses were built? Was there widespread re-numbering at some stage? How can a particular property be traced, given the possible renumbering of a street?

Numbering the houses

Numbering houses was clearly in discussion from the early days of the 1828 Lighting and Paving Commission. As early as September 1830, it was suggested in the press that the Commissioners should concentrate on ‘cheap measures’ such as ‘numbering the houses’, but it was only in 1837 that some moves were made, in response to a letter from E B Drury who:

‘suggested the great importance to the town, if the names of the streets, alleys, and lanes, were placed up, and also the houses numbered. The new rate-book had been numbered, and the streets defined as a preparatory step. A committee was formed to ascertain the expense, and the best mode of doing it.’

Stamford Mercury, 8 Dec 1837, p 3 col 4

The matter came up again in May 1839, but it was only in July of the same year that ‘a committee of three was appointed to survey the city and report, that the long-talked-of project of naming the streets and numbering the houses may be effected.’

The committee were at work at the end of July 1839 into early August. The Lincolnshire Chronicle reported that there were about 2800 houses in the ‘city, bail and close’ and ‘about 240 streets, lanes, courts and passages’. The whole cost was estimated at about £60.

Naming Streets

While the main subject of this article is the numbering of streets, looking at it in complete isolation to naming would be rather perverse. The report of the committee to the Lighting and Paving Commission in August 1839 was covered slightly differently in the two newspapers covering Lincoln. The Lincolnshire Chronicle stated that the report

‘…recommends that the streets and lanes shall continue the names which by antiquity or otherwise they may have acquired; and that where no name has previously existed, a name having reference to the property, or builder or owner shall be given.’ Lincolnshire Chronicle, 9 Aug 1839 p 3 col 5

The Stamford Mercury, however says that

Numerous suggestions were brought forward relative to the names to be given to the streets. As the various streets, lanes, allies, etc have mostly names established by custom, it would be mere folly to attempt to change them, and would produce confusion: if changed, people would be long before they got initiated in the new vocabulary, and some would pertinaciously stick to the old one. Whoever became sponsor at the baptismal font, would find the unregenerate streets very backward in renouncing their vulgar cognomina [nickname].’

Stamford Mercury, 9 Aug 1839 p 3 col 4

The Stamford Mercury indicates a more pragmatic approach to regularizing street names: regardless of what the Commissioners thought, many old names would persist. Nevertheless, some were changed and, once the nameplates were put up, were probably fixed. Trying to list these changes here would divert the purpose of this investigation. Suffice to say that it is always worth checking with various sources if a name change is suspected.


Street numbering appeared as an issue again in the late 1850s, with the Lighting and Paving Commission admitting in 1857 that it was difficult to read the numbers on many houses. They added, however, that

A man is now going round numbering the streets and charging only 1d a figure, so we hope we may have our streets eventually accurately numbered.’ Lincolnshire Chronicle, 6 Feb 1857, p 6 col 2

In March 1859, a complaint was made by Matthew Goy, builder, about the numbering of the houses in Grantham Street where there were ‘eight double numbers and one treble’. Looking at Grantham Street in Akrill’s 1857 directory, you can appreciate the problem. Matthew Goy lived at no. 8 of a run of houses numbered 1-18. There were then numbers 4½, 5-7, Wesley Court (1-4), 8-12.

Since it was ‘16 years’ since the numbering of houses took place, the Chairman recommended a committee be set up to report on the matter. The Committee duly reported the following month, recommending that Grantham Street be renumbered, ‘commencing from the High Street on the north side thereof with odd numbers and on the south side thereof with even numbers’.

This is the first time that the odd/even system of street numbering seems to have been used in Lincoln. In Akrill’s street directory of 1857, every road is shown as being numbered consecutively (although many also included separately numbered terraces or courts). The odd/even system was gaining popularity in various towns and cities – there were reports in 1863 that the Metropolitan Board of Works was renumbering many London streets in this fashion and in August of the same year, Boston Local Board agreed to renumber the entire town.

There does not appear to have been a comprehensive renumbering of Lincoln, although it was addressed on several occasions. Lincoln Local Board (Lincoln Corporation sitting under the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1858) was created in 1866 and almost immediately took over the functions of the Lighting and Paving Commission. The Local Board also had powers under the Local Government Act to control house numbering and street naming. In June 1869 it was reported that a committee had been appointed to look into the renumbering of houses in Lincoln.

This task may have taken some time. Although it was reported that Alfred Street had been renumbered by late August 1869, it was clearly still going on ‘throughout the city’ in August 1871. Not everyone was enamoured with the scheme, with the Stamford Mercury commenting:

In re-numbering the houses the plan has been adopted of putting all even numbers on one side of a street, and all odd numbers on the opposite side. The advantages of this method are not so apparent as the disadvantages, as it has caused an alteration in the number of almost every house, which to persons in business will be productive of considerable inconvenience.’ Stamford Mercury, 8 Sep 1871 p 5 col 1

Three years later, however, the Lincolnshire Chronicle argued that the odd/even system was superior and should prevail throughout the town:

Much inconvenience must be experienced by letter carriers, strangers, and others doing business in the city, owing to the defective state of the present mode of number the respective tenements in a street. In most cities and towns in the kingdom the plan adopted has been that of having the even numbers on one side and the odd numbers on the other, and compelling parties to have the numbers placed so that they can be seen at a glance. Here, however, no such custom prevails, and the consequence is that a stranger, and even residents in the city are put into a state of most bewildering confusion. In High-street and other thoroughfares numbers only appear on the doors at irregular intervals, and in many cases they are so placed that such a minute scrutiny has to be made an observant policeman would conclude that an innocent stranger had an inten[sion of] committing a burglary. It is to be hoped that the authorities will take such measures as will put an end to the well-founded grievances of the citizens upon this point.’ Lincolnshire Chronicle, 14 Aug 1874, p 5 col 3

By the early 1880s, the Corporation’s Lighting and Improvement Committee was very active, spending some £16,400 between March 1880-3 (according to a newspaper correspondent) on various street improvements. These were very likely to involve renumbering in some form. For example, St Mary’s Street was widened in 1883 and as part of the scheme Portland Place (previously a terrace) was incorporated into the new numbering system. Work was also carried out during those years in Rudgard’s Lane, Chapel Lane, Church Lane, Northgate, Brickyard Lane, Pottergate, Wordsworth Street, Bank Street, Westgate, Butchery Street [Clasketgate], Yarborough New Road, Carline Road, Motherby Lane and Newark Road. Whether any of these roads were renumbered has not been checked.

Where the numbering system changed from consecutive to odd/even, it is clear that thorough renumbering had taken place. The following roads in the 1857 Akrill’s directory had undergone this process by 1894 when compared to Ruddock’s directory of that year:

Roads where properties were systematically renumbered after 1857 and before 1894:

Beaumont Fee

Burton Road

Canwick Road

Carholme Road


Danes Terrace


Free School Lane

Gas Street

Grantham Street

Langworth Gate

Melville Street


Monks Road (was Monks Lane) [see below]

Motherby Hill


Newland Street West


Newton Street


St Rumbold Street (was St Rumbold’s Lane)

Park Street (was Park Lane)

(above) Ruddock’s 1894 directory - old numbering on left, new numbering on right

Interestingly, the renumbering of Monks Road took place while the directory was being prepared (according to the note, after the original pages had been printed), so it is possible to compare the numbers exactly.

Case Studies:

Study One: Confirming George Boole’s birthplace in Silver Street

Sometimes it is necessary to check that a particular building can be identified today.

The starting information was that George Boole’s sister said he was born at no. 34 Silver Street. Mary Ann Boole is said to have left Lincoln in 1854, so it is reasonable to assume that the building she knew to be no. 34 at that date was the one in which George was born. The evidence used to prove that the current no. 34 is, indeed, the same building is detailed below. George’s father was John Boole, boot and shoemaker.

In this example, it was very fortunate that Precentorial Leases for 1814, 1828, 1842 and 1856 still exist and can be viewed at Lincolnshire Archives. They all contain well-drawn plans, so that the plot of land can be traced in relation to other adjoining plots.

Another fortunate source are the advertisements by shopkeepers and tradesmen. They were keen to point out where their premises were situated – especially when they had just moved – and often used either a geographical reference or the name of the former occupier of the premises they were taking over. Before house numbering, this was essential, but it did persist afterwards. This type of description remained popular with lawyers until well into the 20th century, usually including adjacent owners as well.

BG CS1.xls

Study Two: Renumbering the Lower End of Sincil Street

Most of Sincil Street was put up in the 1820s, with the west side being built southwards from the river as far as where the second Corn Exchange now stands, and the east side similarly built southwards to what is now number 24 (Pepperdine’s). Sincil Street had been numbered by the time that Pigot’s & Co’s 1841 directory was being prepared. Those numbering would have left gaps to allow for new buildings, but on both sides of the road it was insufficient.

During the 1830s, four houses were erected on the west side, south of the what became the New Market building, by John Smith, a printer who owned a parcel of land running from his house on the High Street (currently no. 320) to Sincil Street. By the early 1840s, these were numbered 15-18 (from north to south), with the Lincoln Commercial Directory of 1843 listing George Walster, boot and shoe maker at no. 15. By the time of the 1851 census, two houses on the back-lands of the Queen Hotel had been built and were numbered 19 and 20. During the 1860s, three shops and then their associated houses were built on the land between numbers 18 and 19. This caused a problem with the numbering, with the extra houses listed under numbers 17 and 18 until the whole row was renumbered between 1881 and 1885 as 10-17.

On the east side of Sincil Street, Thomas Watson built himself a house and workshop set back from the road between 1830 and 1838. Following the sale of land adjoining the old line of the Sincil Dike in 1848, the road south of number 24 began to be developed, along with Norman Street. Three houses and shops on the corner of Sincil Street and Norman Street were built by Thomas Hibbert and three houses on the street frontage with two houses in a yard, were built by Frederick Bellamy Savage. These houses were almost certainly built after the numbering of the houses on the west side of Sincil Street (which ended at no. 20) and the numbering of 24 upwards on the east side.

The evidence for this is that the numbers 21-23 were shared out in various ways between at least five properties (with the shop on the corner partly in Norman Street) between the 1851-1881 censuses and street directories of 1857, 1867, 1872 and 1881. In the 1867 directory, Watson’s Court (court houses behind the street line but probably built by 1838) were listed as numbers 21-24 Sincil Street, so this may have been the numbering as originally given.

It was probably a great relief to all when this part of the street was renumbered between 1881-85 (probably c. 1883 when Portland Place in adjoining St Mary’s Street was renumbered).

Comparing directory entries for 1881 and 1885:

BG Directory 3.xls

Notes on Sources:

Census Returns:

The 1851 census was the first one to systematically record house numbers. It is tempting to think that from that time you can definitively identify the number of a particular building in the census, especially if you are using several, but this can be fraught with difficulties.

The organisation and operation of the census in the nineteenth century has been covered expertly in two books:

Edward Higgs, Making Sense of the Census: The Manuscript Returns for England and Wales, 1801-1901, (1989)

Dennis Mills and Kevin Schürer (eds), Local Communities in the Victorian Census Enumerators’ Books (1996)

Several possible problems with census returns are indicated in these books. The census enumerator was implicitly instructed to enter each return from their schedules in geographical order, but there is evidence that, in order to use every line on the page (which they were also instructed to do), some ‘shuffled’ their returns in order to fit every household in neatly. There is also an example from Ramsgate in 1851, where the enumerator of the harbour district listed every inn first, regardless of geography.

Looking at Sincil Street, where there were numerous court dwellings behind the main street, census enumerators varied whether they recorded these all as a group (although usually preserving their court names), or where they were accessed from the front street. Given the large number of court dwellings in Lincoln, this probably happened all across the city.


These can obviously be useful, but mistakes were sometimes made over numbering. The directory for any given year was probably researched late the year before. Dennis Mills related a conversation with John Ruddock (1916-1997):

‘he told me that to avoid double recording and failure to record people on the move, they engaged a large number of temporary clerks to complete the job inside a week.’

This is, at least, reassuring that the intention was to produce an accurate directory at the time of publication.

The first street by street directory of Lincoln was produced by Akrill in 1857. This directory, and many others, can be found on Historical Directories of England and Wales hosted by Leicester University on http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4.


As mentioned above, newspapers can be a good source of street numbering through advertisements, auction sales and incidental mentions (‘Henry Bodd of 225 High Street…’. It is also good for the ‘in Mr x’s former premises’ references so useful when trying to research a building’s history. There are, of course, mistakes - as in any source. The British Newspaper Archive hosts an excellent collection of Lincolnshire newspapers on https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk (by subscription or free at libraries).

Deeds and Leases:

Where these can be found for a house or premises, legal documents are the most useful of all. Where a building has ever had a different number, that is likely to be recorded in a deed, especially if the numbering has changed since it was last sold (or in the immediate period before that). Additionally, neighbouring properties are recorded in a legally definitive way, giving all surrounding owners. There may also be a plan of the property and its surroundings. All these things can be used to confirm the location of the property over time.

Other records:

It is well worth looking for:

· Maps and plans which may include street numbers

· Lincoln city building plans and applications

· Auction catalogues or listings

· Wills by former residents or owners.


Linking a property recorded in the 1828 Valuation to one on the ground today is certainly possible, but has to be done with caution and systematically. It is always worth considering renumbering when looking at a particular property or group of properties over time. Checking a variety of sources and understanding their limitations is vital to ensure that mistakes are avoided when establishing the history of a building.