Friday, 24 October 2014

Street Numbers

Houses which did not need numbering: "Barbreck"
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Libraries Ref. 02-558
We take it for granted now that even rural properties will have numbers, making them easier to find, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries addresses were much less precise. The big houses had names – ‘Fairlight’, ‘Barbreck’, ‘Taiparirua’ – which with or without the street name were sufficient to identify the place. But for the ordinary little houses, you just had to know where people lived. As towns grew, this made for difficulties.

Letterhead of Easy Find House Numbering Company
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Libraries
On 24 August 1931, the directors of the Easy Find House Numbering Co. of New Zealand wrote to the Town Clerk of the Tauranga Borough Council from their head office in Worcester Street, Christchurch. They asked the Council to grant the company sole rights to manage a house numbering project from start to finish: calling on householders, explaining the advantages of the system, soliciting orders, doing the work, and collecting the payments. The Council would get ten per cent of the moneys taken – ‘to be given to the unemployed fund, or to any other fund the Council deems fit’. The number of each house would be painted on the kerb in front of the gate, facing the centre of the road, using ‘a black uniform type on a white background (averaging 10” x 6”)’ so that they would be easily seen at night under the street lamps. The Town Clerk’s reply to Easy Find does not survive, but it’s doubtful if the system would have suited Tauranga in 1931, when houses were scattered, gates far from universal, and kerbs less than ideally smooth for having numbers painted on them. It’s doubtful also that the Council would have signed up to a deal that would have returned it only ten per cent.

Houses which did not need numbering: "Fairlight" and surroundings
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Libraries Ref. 10-123
Seven years later, street numbering was still an issue in the town. The Very Rev. T. H. Roseveare, newly arrived minister of the Presbyterian Church, wrote to the Mayor in 1938 about the inconvenience of not having the houses numbered. His letter is polite, but he refers the matter quite pointedly to the consciences of the Mayor and Councillors, ‘feeling sure that you will take what course appears to you to be right’.

By 1939 some progress had been made: a report states that 313 houses had been numbered – and paid for, at 1/6d each. 50 or 60 were to be called on again. But every system has its failures, and a stalwart four refused to have anything to do with the scheme.

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