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The London Postal District

The London postal district is the area in England, currently of 241 square miles, to which mail addressed to the LONDON post town is delivered. The area was initially devised in 1856 and throughout its history has been subject to periodic reorganisation, contraction and division into increasingly smaller postal units. It was integrated into the national postcode system of the United Kingdom during the early 1970s and now corresponds to the N, NW, SW, SE, W, WC, E and EC postcode areas. The postal district has also been known as the London postal area and as the inner area of the London postal region.


By the 1850s, the rapid growth of the metropolitan area meant it became too large to efficiently operate as a single post town. A Post Office inquiry into the problem had been set up in 1837 and a House of Commons committee was initiated in 1843. In 1854 Charles Canning, the Postmaster General, set up a committee at the Post Office in St. Martin's Le Grand to investigate how London could best be divided for the purposes of directing mail. In 1856, of the 470,000,000 items of mail sent in the United Kingdom during the year, approximately one fifth (100,000,000 items) were for delivery in London and half of these (50,000,000 items) also originated there.
The original London postal district was devised by Sir Rowland Hill in 1856 as a circular area of 12 miles radius from the central post office at St. Martin's Le Grand, near St Paul's Cathedral in central London. As originally devised, it extended from Waltham Cross in the north, to Carshalton in the south and from Romford in the east to Southall in the west. Within the district it was divided into ten large areas which operated much like separate towns. Each was constituted "London" with a suffix (EC, WC, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, and NW) indicating the area it covered; each had a separate head office. The system was introduced during 1857 and was completed on 1 January 1858.

Changes to NE and S

The NE and S divisions were abolished following a report by Anthony Trollope. In 1866 NE was merged into the E district, transferring places such as Walthamstow, Wanstead and Leytonstone. Also at this time the outer boundary was retracted in the east, removing places such as Great Ilford from the postal district altogether. In 1868 the S district was split between SE and SW. The NE and S codes have been re-used in the national postcode system and now refer to the NE postcode area around Newcastle Upon Tyne and the S postcode area around Sheffield.[4]

[edit] Numbered divisions

In 1917, as a wartime measure to improve efficiency, the districts were further subdivided with a number applied to each sub-district.[3] This was achieved by designating the area served directly by the head office in each district "1" and then allocating the rest alphabetically by the name of the location of each delivery office.[3] Exceptionally, W2 and SW11 are also 'head districts'. The boundaries of each sub-district rarely correspond to any units of civil administration such as parishes or boroughs; despite this they have developed over time into a primary reference frame. The numbered sub-districts were later used as the outward code (first half) of the postcode system implemented during the 1970s. There have been a number of ad-hoc changes to the organisation of the districts, such as the creation of SE28 from part of SE2 because of the construction of the high density Thamesmead development.

[edit] High density districts

Due to high demand, some high density postcode districts have been split to create new, smaller postcode districts. This is achieved by adding a letter after the original postcode district, for example W1P. Where districts are used for purposes other than the sorting of mail, such as use as a geographic reference and on street signs, the subdivisions continue to be classed as one 'district'. The districts that have been subdivided are E1, W1, EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4, WC1, WC2 and SW1.

[edit] Relationship to London boundary

The initial system was designed at a time when the official London boundary was restricted to the square mile of the small ancient City of London. The wider metropolitan postal area covered parts of the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire. In 1889 a County of London was created which was somewhat smaller than the postal district. Around 40 of the sub-districts created in 1917 were outside its boundary with Leyton in Essex, Ealing in Middlesex, Totteridge in Hertfordshire and Wimbledon in Surrey served by the London postal area but outside the County of London.
In 1965 the creation of Greater London caused London's boundary to expand to include these places for local government as well as postal purposes. However the new boundary went far beyond these postal districts. Royal Mail were unable to follow this change and expand the postal district to match because of the prohibitive cost.[10] Places in London's outer boroughs such as Harrow, Enfield, Ilford, Romford, Bromley, Richmond and Croydon are therefore covered by parts of twelve adjoining postcode areas (EN, IG, RM, DA, BR, TN, CR, SM, KT, TW, HA and UB) in five former postal counties. Royal Mail now has a policy of changing postcodes only if there is an operational advantage to them and has no plan to change the postcode system to match up with the Greater London boundaries. In 2003 the then Mayor of London expressed support for revision of postal addresses in Greater London.[11]

(Source Wikipedia)