Musings on the psychogeography of addr:housenumber=13

posted in: Observations | 2

Within the West Midlands we have surveyed and edited many thousands of addresses. It can be tedious work, made more frustrating by a simple error that everyone makes initially. This is recording the first and last house numbers in a row of houses when out surveying and later at home trying to allocate the house numbers to traced building outlines only to realise they don’t fit for odd number ranges. Guess what? Our logical minds assume that odd numbers progress incrementally and that includes the number 13, but the irrational, superstitious mind doesn’t want a house with an “unlucky” number. So many rows of odd-numbered buildings jump from 11 to 15, omitting the number 13.

Now 13 isn’t an unlucky number in all cultures so we wonder if there are other house numbers that are avoided in other countries. Perhaps also there is  variation within cultures where 13 is unlucky with different tolerances to the house number 13 in different countries and regions? And similarly for other “unlucky” numbers?

An added complication to surveying is that avoiding house number 13 is not universal. Victorian and Edwardian houses (c. 1800-1914) have no such inhibitions. The practice seems to have crept in somewhere in the 1940s and 1950s becoming more prevalent so that new housing developments (from around the 1990s) NEVER have a number 13. We can’t be precise about the changeovers because we haven’t done a scientific analysis, so this is just a rough “feel” for the data. Maybe someone, somewhere has done the analysis. If it hasn’t been done – perhaps there’s an opportunity for  an academic research paper.

Also some new owners have “retrofitted” older houses which were numbered 13 as 11A! Again we haven’t analysed whether this is just cosmetic or whether there are legal and administrative processes for the Post Office and local authority to record the change in official databases and legal documents such as title deeds.

It seems that the Victorians and Edwardians  lived in a more rational age, closer to the Enlightenment and more optimistic about scientific and technological progress. A century later with even more scientific and technological progress (think powered flight, atomic power, computers, the Internet, TV, DNA, antibiotics and so on and so forth) and an understanding of the universe several orders of magnitude greater, yet we’ve reverted in a basic social function to a more irrational and superstitious practice.

Perhaps the randomness of survival and death in two World Wars played a part; but contrary to this, earlier generations faced high mortality rates through natural causes: disease.

A mapping blog is probably not the place to solve such puzzles, but we can map the data and leave others to worry about them. Anyway it provides another instance of how mapping can reveal hidden trends which lead into unexpected lines of inquiry.

2 Responses

  1. tom

    How interesting! I’ve not noticed this around my part of south east London.

    According to tag info there is a slip dip in the trend for #13, as the numbers of objects decline the higher the house number.

    9 – 235,286
    10 – 240,940
    11 – 217,777
    12 – 214,012
    13 – 182,711
    14 – 192,354
    15 – 182,311
    16 – 175,082
    17 – 160,458

    Of course we don’t have a very representative sample, but perhaps your observation has some wider truth about it.

  2. Kyle

    Bing maps depress me, as a Londoner.The recnet upgrades of the railways STILL have not shown The ariel views and maps still do not show the refurbished North london Route between Dalston and Whitechapel.Given that re-opening to Highbury is likely to be in the middle of February, they ought to revise this

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