Street signs and numbers in France

Street signs and numbers in France

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Nowadays, it's easy to get to a defined address. We have the name of the street as well as house number. Let us thank the instigator of this decree, because there was a time, the journey was most epic to reach an individual. In the 17th century, to look for the young lady Louison in Paris, a friend of the poet Berthaud, you could read her address as “living at Alizon's, precisely on the fifth floor, near the cabaret de la Cage, in a double room, near Saint- Pierre des Assis ”! Not really practical you will tell me ...

The first street signs

And yet, it was customary to name the streets by "the path that goes to Montmartre" or "the street that goes to Seine" as to the number of the house, the explanation was most comical as shown in this example. for the son of the doctor Belin "lodged rue de la Harpe, with a hatter, at the Main Fleurie, the third room opposite the Gibecière, very close to the Crossbow".

The streets, as we can see, did not have a particular name, but reference was made to the signs, or to the name of a known notable living in the street such as the “rue des Célestins” or according to the inhabitants and communities of people "rue des Bourguignons", "rue de la Bretonnerie".

In 1728, the Paris police lieutenant had plaques placed on the first and the last house on the street "we are working to number the streets of Paris on a tin plate that we apply to every street corner, and which also contains the name of the said streets ”, to which was added a letter or a number corresponding to the district. A good part of the population was satisfied, but of course there were some recalcitrant who preferred another street name: the plaques were degraded or completely removed. The administration kept watch and issued an ordinance in July 1729 stating that "in the event of the removal or wear of the plates, the owners would be required to replace them with tables of binder stone an inch and a half thick, of sufficient size to engrave the same names and the same numbers… ”. This is how some weird street names disappeared, like the "cul-de-sac de ...".

The streets were named, but the house numbers? As we saw above, the signs were used as an indication. We also mentioned "the house of the Grand Pignon" or "the painted house" and very often, even if the house was transformed, the term was remembered and was used, but was confusing, people not always finding the address.

And yet, did you know that there were already house numbers in the 1415s? In fact, private houses were built on the Pont Notre Dame and an agreement of November 1436 established the numbering to the right to and to the left of the dwelling, the address then mentioning the number, the side of the bridge and the downstream position or upstream. But the bridge threatened to fall into ruin in 1440, reconstruction took place in 1512 with thirty four houses on either side. Numbers were assigned "above the door of each of them was placed, in golden letters and on a red or blue background, a large number formed of Roman numerals. The numbers, instead of following each other, were divided into 2 sets, the even numbers on one side and the odd numbers on the other ".

Numbering, frowned upon by the population

It was not until 1726 that the municipality decreed the numbering of the porte cochères and carts, under the control of the treasurer of France, carried out by the officers of the finance office of the generality of Paris, but the Parisians were recalcitrant, they understood thus, not a use which was going to make their life easier, but an intention to increase taxes. An attempt was made to restart the operation in 1740 and 1765, without much success. The Royal Almanac mentions between 1760 and 1775 various numbered houses belonging to a police inspector and four or five councilors in Parliament, people submitting to the request of the municipality and trying to set a good example.

The other addresses were still as before “Papillon, engraver on wood, in Paris, rue de Bièvre, near Place Maubert, after the first porte-cochère on the right, in the long alley, on the second floor of the grand staircase. 1769 ”! Some numbering attempts were made, but this generally cooled the nobility as well as the traders. The great lords, the wealthy financiers did not always have exemplary neighbors and did not like to see their address and numbering with a full hotel or a boutique as a neighbor.

During the Revolution, the Parisian had other concerns than numbering his residence ...

Legislation imposes numbers and plates

Finally, a decree of February 1805 made mandatory the numbering of houses "a series of numbers for the same street, a single number placed on the main door of the house, even numbers for the right side of the street, odd numbers for the left side, knowing that the right side of a street will be determined, in streets perpendicular or oblique along the Seine, by the right of the passer-by heading towards the river, and in parallel ones, by the right of the passer-by walking in the direction of the course of the river ”.

The municipality of Paris takes care of the numbering, but the maintenance is up to the owners who can change the plate if they do not like them while respecting the specifications: height, location, color. The numbering was in black on an ocher background for the streets perpendicular and oblique to the Seine, and red on the same background for the parallel streets. This numbering was extended to the towns of the departments in April 1823. It was not until 1847 that Rambuteau ordered plaques as we know them today: numbers and letters in white on a blue background.


Revue France Pittoresque 2nd quarter 2008 extracts from:

- Political and literary review of 1879

- Bulletin of the Society for the History of Paris and the Ile de France in 1888

- The private life of the past - Parisian varieties released in 1901

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