LivingTravelThe history of London postcodes

The history of London postcodes

A postal code is a series of letters and numbers that are added to a postal address to facilitate the classification of mail. The American equivalent is a zip code.

The history of postcodes in London

Before the postal code system, people added a basic address to a letter and hoped it would get to the right place. Postal reforms in 1840 and the rapid growth of London’s population led to an increased volume of letters.

To try to have some organization, former English teacher Sir Rowland Hill received instructions from the General Post Office to design a new system. On January 1, 1858, the system we use today was introduced and rolled out across the UK in the 1970s.

To divide London, Hill looked at a circular area with the center as the post office at St Martin’s Le Grand, near Postman Park and St Paul’s Cathedral. From here, the circle had a radius of 12 miles and divided London into ten separate postal districts: two central areas and eight cardinal points: EC, WC, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, and NW. A local office was opened in each area to sort the mail rather than take everything to a central London location.

Later, Sir Rowland Hill was appointed Secretary to the Postmaster General and continued to reform the Post Office until his retirement in 1864.

In 1866, Anthony Trollope (the novelist who also worked for the General Post Office) wrote a report that abolished the NE and S divisions.Since then, these have been repurposed nationally for the northern England areas of Newcastle and Sheffield. , respectively.

The postcode areas of NE London were merged into E, and the S district was divided between SE and SW in 1868.


To continue to improve the efficiency of women sorting mail during World War I, the districts were subdivided into a number applied to each sub-district in 1917. This was accomplished by adding a letter to the original postal district (for example, SW1)

The districts that are subdivided are E1, N1, EC (EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4) SW1, W1, WC1 and WC2 (each with several subdivisions).

Not geographic

While the initial organization of London’s postal areas was divided by cardinal points, the additional sub-districts were alphabetically numbered, so you may be surprised that NW1 and NW2 are not neighboring districts.

The current alphanumeric code system was introduced in the late 1950s and was finally completed across the UK in 1974.

Social status

London postal codes are more than just a way to accurately address letters. They are often the identity of an area and can even denote the social status of the residents in some cases.

Postal sub-districts are often used as an abbreviation for naming an area, especially in the real estate market, as a W11 ZIP code is much more desirable than a W2 ZIP code (even though they are actually neighboring districts), leading to to a lot of snobbery and inflated prices.

Full zip codes

While W11 can help you recognize the Notting Hill area, the full zip code is needed to identify the exact address. Let’s look at SW1A 1AA (the postcode for Buckingham Palace).

SW = South West London postcode area.

1 = the district zip code

A = since SW1 covers a large area, A adds additional subdivision

1 = the sector

AA – unity

The sector and unit are sometimes referred to as internal code and help the mail sorting office to divide the mail into individual postal bags for the delivery team.

Not all properties have a different zip code, but it will take you to an average of 15 properties. For example, on my street, one side of the road has the same full zip code and the even numbers on the other have a slightly different full zip code.

How to use a zip code

People were often asked to add periods between each character (eg SW1) and to write the name of the town or city in capitals (eg LONDON). Neither of these practices is needed now.

When directing mail to an address in London, it is recommended to write the postal code on its own line or on the same line as ‘London’. For example:

12 High Road


12 High Road
London SW1A 1AA

There is always a space between the zip code sub-district and the hyperlocal identifiers (sector and unit).

Royal Mail has a helpful page to help you find a postal code to fill in a UK address correctly.

You can also use a full zip code to help you plan a trip. The Journey Planner and Citymapper online application is recommended.

London’s newest postcode

As London is constantly evolving with the addition of new buildings and new streets and the demolition of old structures and areas, the postal code system must be kept up to date. The new larger postal code was added in 2011. E20 was once the fictional postal code for the soap opera EastEnders and became the postal code for the London 2012 Olympic Park in Stratford. (Walford, the fictional East London suburb where EastEnders is located, received the E20 postcode when the BBC released the soap opera in 1985.)

E20 was needed, not only for the Olympic venues, but also for housing developments in the park in five new neighborhoods. Over 100 zip codes have been assigned to developments being built throughout the Olympic Park to serve up to 8,000 planned homes in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The previous highest postcode area in real life in East London was E18, around South Woodford. There is no E19.

The Olympic Stadium assigned its own zip code: E20 2ST.

Some postal districts

Here is a list of postcodes and the districts they relate to that you may encounter on a trip to London. (Keep in mind that there are many more!):

WC1: Bloomsbury
WC2: Covent Garden, Holborn y Strand
EC1: Clerkenwell
EC2: Bank, Barbican y Liverpool Street
EC3: Tower Hill y Aldgate
EC4: St. Paul’s, Blackfriars y Fleet Street
W1: Mayfair, Marylebone y Soho
W2: Bayswater
W4: Chiswick
W6: Hammersmith
W8: Kensington
W11: Notting Hill
SW1: St. James’s, Westminster, Victoria, Pimlico y Belgravia
SW3: Chelsea
SW5: Earl’s Court
SW7: Knightsbridge y South Kensington
SW11: Battersea
SW19: Wimbledon
SE1: Lambeth y Southwark
SE10: Greenwich
SE16: Bermondsey y Rotherhithe
SE21: Dulwich
E1: Whitechapel and Wapping
E2: Bethnal Green
E3: Arco
N1: Islington y Hoxton
N5: Highbury
N6: Highgate
NW1: Camden Town
NW3: Hampstead

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