The Oldest Number Plate in the World?

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Howell Green with N1 DVM

Do you find you need a little nostalgia in life? Well, as much as we try to embrace the ever-changing technological miracles of tomorrow or get hyped up with the constant bombardment of the information superhighway, the past is a bit of a welcome antidote – calmer, more reliable, and certainly a lot less tiring.

Most of us have some pieces of our childhood around us (even if they’re tucked away in the attic!), photographs of that great holiday, a super recipe for Christmas pudding that still transports the taste buds back to the 1950’s or thereabouts, and those abiding, oh so fond memories of the places we used to go to when we were younger, when life seemed a lot simpler. So it is, our curiosity is stirred with things from times of yore, even to the point of unrequited fascination.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am utterly enthralled with items of quite astounding beauty, or even unsurpassed ingenuity, from an era we think had such limited ability. Yet, as Adam Hart-Davies has so skilfully presented in such programs as What the Romans Did For Us, we owe a great debt to the inventive originality of our so-called ‘primitive’ forefathers. But incredibly, did you know that one of the most notable legacies left to us by the Romans is probably ‘the oldest cherished number in the world’ ?

Some little while ago, having purchased a new car for my wife for our fortieth wedding anniversary. I thought I would add that little finishing touch of a cherished number with both our initials – HG53 MJG. Well, call me an old romantic, but it does look good, and my wife was positively enthralled! The only problem was that, like most of you reading this article, I found myself smitten by the cherished number bug. So I thought it might be quite nice to have one on my own car, one that would be a little unusual or notable. But what to buy? I hadn’t a clue. Well, while musing the plates available from, I was rather excited when I came across advertised for sale N1 DVM .

Now you may wonder what all the fuss is about! As it happens, N1 DVM spells an actual word – albeit a Roman word, the word – NIDVM (transliterated ‘Nidum’). Perhaps you will forgive a brief sortie into the world of ancient history. (Qui vir odiosus¹): According to experts, NIDVM is thought to mean ‘nest’ or ‘fort’ , and has a very particular association with the town of Neath in South Wales.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica informs us that, c75 AD, a site was chosen by the Roman settlers at the lowest practicable crossing of the River Neath (in Welsh, the Avon Nedd, the ‘dd’ is pronounced ‘th’ as in ‘the’) and built a fort called NIDVM, which was a strategic protection point on their road from Gloucester to Carmarthen. Although experts had know this Roman settlement to have existed through research into Roman literature (the Roman name for Neath, NIDVM , appears in the Antonine Itinerary of the mid-2nd century), physical proof of its existence was actually uncovered during excavations for a new building development in 1949, and was further revealed during subsequent excavations to circa 1962. The housing development in the immediate vicinity is known as ‘Roman Way’.

As I said earlier, while looking at the list provided by, I wasn’t looking for any cherished number in particular, but thought that if I saw something interesting, perhaps a little different, and oh yes, affordable, then I might be tempted. And o boy was I tempted when I saw N1 DVM. As a resident and native of Neath, having been born and lived here all my life to date, I really could not resist this rather unique opportunity.

Tongue in cheek, heart in mouth, and with pulse racing, I telephoned, and after some rather stiff, but pleasurable negotiations, (I was most probably thought of as one of the last of the big spenders), sealed the deal. N1DVM now adorns my E Class. Not only has this quite unique plate become a most splendid talking point among many a resident, but also, as Theo Paphitis said in the Spring 2008 magazine, “Its an extension of enjoying nice cars and finishing them off properly.”

In addition to all this – and this is the icing on the cake – I discovered an altogether unexpected benefit, for I have had some very serious offers for the purchase of it, from both residents, the rugby fraternity, and historians alike. So it just goes to show, a registration number, which seems on the face of it rather ordinary and relatively uninteresting, has turned out to be both a sound investment and a most valuable asset.

So, unbeknown to the Romans of some 2000 years ago, and of course to at the time, they have provided me with what is most probably ‘the oldest cherished number in the world’ (Are there any challengers out there?). Now perhaps an obvious question may arise at this stage is, will I sell it? Well, as the ancients say: “Qui tacet consentit”².

¹ What a bore!
² Who keeps silent, consents

Howell Green
by email

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