THE BLOG

A Brief History of Open Addresses

16/01/2015 13:11 GMT | Updated 18/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Addresses are woven into the fabric of our national infrastructure. They connect us to the wider world and help us to access a huge network of services. At Open Addresses UK we are asking people to collaborate with us to create a definitive open list of addresses in the United Kingdom. The existing address databases tend to be subject to licensing restrictions and cannot be released as open data. Open data is information that is available for anyone to access, use and share

Working on Open Addresses UK, we found ourselves wondering about the history of addresses: where did they come from, why are they important and who do they "belong" to ?

Material buildings fall and are re-built but addresses often remain. Their forms are multidimensional. They reincarnate from factories into flats, terraces into tower-blocks. Offices, bridges, theatres, boat docks - all have addresses. The list is never ending; it can, and will surprise you.

After the Great Fire of London, buildings and streets were recreated in the same patterns as those that stood before. The addresses survived the flames. The first London Bridge was built by the Romans in 46AD. It had an address and so does your home.

Modern addresses, however, are far more developed than those in previous centuries. In 1857 and 1858 the first postcodes in the UK were introduced in London. Writers of love letters, pen pals and soldiers fighting overseas no longer had to worry about their mail being delivered to the wrong place. Until then, the misdirection of mail had been a frequent inconvenience. The modern postcode system was introduced in Croydon in 1966. It made deliveries more accessible and efficient. Yet there are many buildings (such as churches) that still don't have postcodes but are still places we might want to address. There are some homes that aren't commonly listed as addresses because they don't have their own letter boxes.

Being able to refer to a list of addresses is important because addresses bind the digital and physical worlds. Understanding the geolocation of an address enables you to find services online that are located near you, including GPs, schools and supermarkets. Understanding the area that an address is within can help news outlets provide you with local news on their websites, give you a link to your bin collection timetable, and enable you to email the MP who represents you in parliament.

Addresses also link the past, present and the future. We have blue plaques placed in the spots where Jimi Hendrix lived in London (23 Brook Street), and where Karl Marx lived with his family in two tiny rooms (28 Dean Street, from 1851-1856). The plaques also mark addresses where key events have occurred. Addresses we want to remember. Addresses are representative of the settings in which we live and work and jumping off points we use to access our history. They are timeless parts of our heritage that cannot be "owned", which is why it is so important that they are available as open data.

The UK's postal history can be traced back to the 12th Century and Henry I, who appointed messengers to carry letters for government. Approximately 4500 letters were delivered by these messengers between 1100 and 1135. Fast forward to 1635 and Charles I opened up the Royal Mail to the public, the UK's first ever national postal service. Four hundred years later, Open Addresses UK is opening up address data to all in the same way that King Charles opened up the postal service. Openness is right at the heart of Open Addresses UK. We want to publish a dataset that contains all UK addresses, making address data accurate, authoritative and available to all. We hope you'll get on board.