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The Royal Mail is celebrating 40 years since the introduction of postcodes – but what are the longest, strangest and most common street names in the UK?

The Royal Mail is marking the allocation of postcodes to every town in Britain with a special postmark that will be applied to letters as of this week.

There are now around 1.8 million postcodes covering the UK’s 29million addresses.

The Royal Mail commemorative postmark will be applied to letters from Monday April 7.

In 1959, the first postcodes were trialled in Norwich.

Royal Mail started a major mechanism programme designed to use machines to overcome the problems of labour intensive letter sorting. This depended on reducing the address to a machine-readable code.

In 1966, the eight-year programme to postcode the whole country began and was completed in 1974 with the recoding of Norwich.

Today, Royal Mail’s online postcode finder is one of the UK’s most used webpage’s with around 100,000 visits a day, more than 40 million a year.

Almost 5,000 changes are made to the postcode file each day totalling around 1.3 million a year.

Steve Rooney, head of Royal Mail’s address management unit, said: “The invention of the postcode revolutionised the way post is sorted and delivered.

“As it has evolved, the postcode has revolutionised the way companies do business. The postcode system, with origins dating back more than 150 years, continues to play an integral role in today’s technology-led world.”

Five facts about the postcode

  • There are around 1.8 million postcodes across the UK, covering over 29 million addresses. In total, there are 48 million postcodes available under Royal Mail’s alphanumeric system.
  • The combination of letters and numbers was chosen because people can remember a mixture of numbers and letters more easily than a list of numbers and it gives more code combinations.
  • Optical recognition machines read the postcodes and automatically convert them to phosphor dots. The sorting machines which handle correctly addressed mail, post-coded letters 20 times faster than manual sorting in turn read these.
  • On average one postcode covers 17 residential addresses.
  • Royal Mail’s online postcode finder is one of the UK’s most used webpages with around 100,000 visits a day – more than 40 million a year.

Did you know?

  • High Street is the UK’s most common road name
  • The most popular house name is The Cottage
  • The longest post town is Llanfairpwllgwyngyll
  • One of the most unusual street names is Whip Ma, Whop Ma Gate, York, YO1 8BL
  • Royal Mail believes the longest street name is Stoke Newington Church Street, London, N16

The origin of the postcode

1856 – a rapid growth in London’s population in the mid-1800s led to a greater volume of letters.

To accelerate the delivery of mail in London, Sir Rowland Hill proposed a solution which involved dividing the capital into ten separate postal districts.

The districts were based on the compass points. An office was established for the ten districts created – EC (Eastern Central), WC (Western central), and NW, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW and W. The plan was authorised in 1856 and implemented during 1857 and 1858.

The public were asked to add the initials of the district to the end of an address. This helped accelerate the circulation of London’s mail.

1860s – London was followed by other large towns. The initial of the town name was used – for example, M for Manchester – followed by a number to indicate the geographic district.

Liverpool was the first provincial town to be divided into districts in 1864-5, followed by Manchester.

By the early 1930s, other towns and cities including Sheffield, Edinburgh, and Birmingham had joined the scheme.

1917 – during the First World War numbers were introduced to postcodes as the districts were divided into sub-districts, such as SW6 for Fulham, still in use today.

These were introduced to assist women who had taken over the sorting work from men who had gone to war and therefore did not have the knowledge or experience acquired over many years in the job.