Keep to the left

One of my favourite source authors is J. L. J. Hughes, who wrote a paper in 1956 entitled “Dublin Street Names” which was on the topic of the book of the same name, published by Hodges Figgis & Co in 1892. What more could you want? It’s a wonderful ramble, and towards the end he addresses some questions that you were not likely to ask yourself, but now that I’m telling you, you’ll wonder why you never knew before. You will thank me at your next Table Quiz.

JLJ Hughes

When did numbering of housing begin?

House numbering began in 1774 after an Act of George III that year required householders to fix a number on their house. The number was decided by the Commissioners of Paving (oh, those Georgians), and there was an additional requirement put “at each end or corner of each square, street or lane the name it is usually or properly called or known.” This must have been the origin then of street signs.  The penalty for non-compliance was a whopping fifty shillings. A street directory published following the Act showed that compliance was prompt; merchant and trader addresses included a street number.

Why do we drive on the left?

In 1793, an Act of George III required:

that from and after the passing of this act, all and every person and persons riding any beast, or driving any carriage, car, or cart on any road within the said County of the said city of Dublin, shall ride such beast, and drive such carriage, car, or cart, on the left hand side of such road.

It is a guess, but I’m hoping a good one that by this time, traffic of man, beast, carts and cars had become quite substantial, and George, through his Dublin Parliament, were acting out of need to sort out the chaotic motion.

Why (oh why!) are odd street numbers on one side and even on the other?

This seems erratic, and perhaps visitors might say whether they can identify any exceptions. The origins to this are less than clear. Streets in the Pembroke Township (essentially Dublin 4) were listed in 1866 with odd numbers on one side and even numbers on the other. Our friend Hughes proposes that this idea may have arrived here from Paris. While the Parisians established street numbering much later than Dublin (Napoleon sorted it in 1804), the numbering was required to have even numbers on the right hand side (relative to the Seine). I’m not sure Dublin has a system of any sort, but it would be interesting to examine if there was a predominance of this arrangement in the old Pembroke township.


J. L. J. Hughes (1956) Dublin Street Names, Dublin Historical Record,14(2), 50-56.

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