Address Twins: One man’s search for the shortest distance between two homes with the same address

Another popular street name. Image: Getty.

If you lived in a house with the address ’5 Station Road’, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if you learned that there was another house somewhere in the country which also had the address ’5 Station Road’. There are, after all, over 2000 streets named ’Station Road’ in the UK.

But the fact that you sometimes get streets quite close together with the same name can be confusing. In London, there’s a sign on the platform at Abbey Road DLR station telling tourists, via the medium of appalling puns, that if they’re looking for the Abbey Road made famous by the Beatles, they are, in fact, in the wrong place. The Beatles’ Abbey Road is 12.5km away from the Abbey Road DLR station.

I found myself wondering what the shortest distance was between two Address Twins – houses with the same number and the same street-name.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a publicly-available list of every house in the UK – Royal Mail have house address data, but you have to pay a minimum of £399 to licence it. But I do have an Ordnance Survey list of every street in the UK, so my plan was to find every pair of streets with the same name, calculate the distance between them, sort them from nearest to furthest, and then go down the list looking on Google Streetview until I found two houses with the same number. Easy.

So: I removed uniquely-named streets, and calculated the distance between any two streets with the same name. And I found that there were pairs of streets which were only a few metres apart. When I had a look on a map, I discovered that this appeared to be because if a street had a spur coming off it, that spur was sometimes listed as a separate street.

I also discovered that there were streets which had been fairly long in the past, but something had happened to split the street in two (like they built a park, or a school in the middle of it), and now the two ends of the street were listed as two different streets. Obviously, in neither of these cases would there be any house-numbers in common, so I needed to get rid of them.

I thought about just discarding any pairs of streets that were closer than a certain distance. Maybe 1km? Just to check, I had a look at a few random address-pairs around the 1 kilometre boundary, when I found this…

Image: Ordnance Survey/Google Street view/author provided.

Two streets with the same name, less than a kilometre apart, with at least one house-number in common! Blimey!

Um. So instead of discarding everything under a kilometre, I could actually discard everything over a kilometre. That meant a huge reduction in the amount of data.

This still left a lot of data though, and no way I could think of to procedurally remove the spur streets or split streets mentioned above, so I went through the data by hand.

It took ages.

This, by the way, showed up loads of errors in the Ordnance Survey data. The OS manage a vast amount of data and errors are bound to appear. If an error is of a type which is unlikely to be spotted during ‘normal’ usage of the data, it might never be found until some weirdo comes along, uses the data in an unorthodox way, and finds all the hidden flaws.

When I made my town & street name search apps, I’d already found dozens of errors in the OS data, but now I found loads more – especially duplicated streets. In one case, they had seven streets named Church Meadows within metres of each other. They turned out to all be the same street. Seven streets gives twenty-one pairs of streets – all erroneous. Aaaarrrgh!

The results

Yes! The bit you actually care about!

When I first wrote this blog post, I had here a top five of closest Address Twins, but for reasons I’ll get to later I’ve reduced it to just number one. The distance is front-door to front-door as measured with Google Earth’s ‘ruler’, rounded to the nearest five metres.

Image: Streetmap.co.uk.

2 George Street BB5 0HD, and 2 George Street BB5 0ET, both in Accrington, Lancashire, are only 235 metres apart.

Yes, that’s right. These twins are less than a sixth of a mile apart. When I set out to find the closest twins, I thought they might perhaps be around a mile and a half apart, which would itself be quite silly. But 235 metres is definitely in the “What were they thinking?” category.

Image: author provided.

It’s possible to stand at a point midway between the two houses where you can see both of them without moving. Sadly, you can’t quite see one house from the other.

But wait…

So, I was happy with that result. I wrote up this blog post, and I even visited the houses in Accrington and took some photos, while I was there for an exhibition.


But…

Before I posted this, I discovered that HM Land Registry make available data on their website about property sales in England and Wales. You can download all standard and additional price paid data transactions received at HM Land Registry from 1 January 1995 to the most current monthly data. So I got a copy to have a nosey.

I noticed that, amongst other things, the data contained the house number, street name, and postcode of almost every house that had been sold since 1995.

Now obviously this is not a complete list of every house in the UK, but because it was the nearest thing I’d found to a list of individual houses, I was intrigued as to whether it might show up any additional insights into the nearest address-twins.

Obviously there was a lot of data, and no geographic data which I could use directly to calculate distances between houses. So I generated a list of every pair of houses which had the same number and street name, and had different postcodes, but where the postcodes only differed by the last letter – because I guessed that very close address twins were likely to have very similar postcodes. The data was incomplete anyway, so I was just doing this out of curiosity.

And then, while checking out random house pairs, I found this…

Image: Streetmap.co.uk.

Um…

Oh.

I realised that one of my fundamental assumptions had been incorrect. I assumed that you couldn’t get two houses close together with the same number on the same street. Clearly you could. Those two houses are only about 130 metres apart.

Bugger.

So all the work I’d done up to this point was for nothing.

*quiet sobbing*

So now I had a choice. All the Ordnance Survey data was no longer useful. If I wanted to continue with the Land Registry data, then it would mean a lot more processing, because there was more data to start with, and none of it had any position data. Also, even if I found the closest address twins, I’d have no way of knowing if they were genuinely the closest in real life, because the data wasn’t a complete list of every house – as well as not including Scotland, it’s possible that there were entire streets where no house had been sold in the last 20 years. 

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.

The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it. 

So… on we go then.

I removed duplicate addresses (if a house was sold twice, it appeared in the list twice, etc.). Then I removed flats (because they all share an address and just screw up the results). Then I found every pair of address twins. Then I grouped all the pairs by street. Then I geolocated the postcodes of every pair of streets. Then I calculated the distances and sorted the list by nearest to furthest.

This all took ages.

The resulting list still needed work because of a few factors. Firstly, the original file contained legacy data, so if a house changed postcode for some reason, it might be listed under both postcodes. Secondly, it appears that sometimes new-build houses are sold before they’ve had a postcode assigned, so the first time they’re sold they use a random nearby postcode – which means that, again, the same house might appear under two different postcodes.

And thirdly, some of the postcode geolocation data was wrong, because of course it was.

My enthusiasm was starting to flag by this point, so I thought that the first thing I’d do was to find the two nearest address twins which were in completely different postcode areas to each other. This involved processing much less data, and at least I’d have a result of some description – which would hopefully be an incentive to find the ultimate result.

The results (part 2)

What I didn’t expect was that almost immediately I’d find the ultimate result.

The holy grail.

Yes! The big one.

Image: author provided.

See these two houses? They’re both number 443 Manchester Road.

The one on the left is in Bolton; the one on the right is in Salford, both in Greater Manchester. They’re literally next door to each other.

Image: Streetmap.co.uk.

I cannot get over how ridiculous a situation this is. It’s possible to live in a house where your next-door neighbour on the same street has the same house number as you.

I spoke to a chap who lived on the other side of the road (who, quite rightly, wanted to know why I was taking photos of people’s houses). Apparently they’ve been trying for ages to get the two councils to put up signage to clarify the situation. You can see in the photo the sign on the Salford side which says “Manchester Road, Clifton”, but without a corresponding sign on the Bolton side, or maybe arrows to indicate that “Clifton” refers to the area to the right of the sign, it doesn’t really help.

So, the answer to the question “What’s the shortest distance between two houses with the same number and the same street-name?” is “no distance at all”.

PS…

You may have noticed that all the houses I’ve mentioned are in the North of England – particularly the North-West. This seems to be a trend. Of all the many twin-streets I looked at which I haven’t mentioned here, I’d say that at least 80 per cent of them were in the North, particularly the North-West. I’m not sure why this is.

My guess is that people used to have very localised lives, and it didn’t matter that lots of streets had the same names. The reason this situation remains in the North-West, I’m guessing, is that compared to other areas of the country, very little regeneration has taken place since then.

PPS…

It’s unlikely you’re thinking of actually visiting these houses, but I was nerdy enough to do so, so you might also, in which case remember that these are private houses. Don’t hassle the people who live there. Try not to look like you’re planning a robbery. You know, just be sensible about it.

This article originally appeared on Paul Plowman’s personal blog, and appears here with his permission.

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How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.