London postal district

The London postal district is the area in England of 241 square miles (620 km2) to which mail addressed to the LONDON post town is delivered. The General Post Office at the control of the Postmaster General directed Sir Rowland Hill to devise the area in 1856 and throughout its history has been subject to gradual periodic reorganisation and division into increasingly smaller postal units, with the early loss of two compass points and a minor retraction in 1866. It was integrated by the Post Office into the national postcode system of the United Kingdom during the early 1970s and 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. The County of London was much smaller at 117 square miles (300 km2), but Greater London is much larger at 607 square miles (1,570 km2).

Postcode areasE, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W, WC
  Total620 km2 (241 sq mi)



By the 1850s, the rapid growth of the metropolitan area meant it became too large to operate efficiently as a single post town.[1] A Post Office inquiry into the problem had been set up in 1837 and a House of Commons committee was initiated in 1843.[2] 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 million items of mail sent in the United Kingdom during the year, approximately one fifth (100 million) were for delivery in London and half of these (50 million items) also originated there.[2]

The General Post Office thus at the control of the Postmaster General devised the area in 1856 project-managed by Sir Rowland Hill.[3]

Hill produced an almost perfectly circular area of 12 miles (19 km) radius from the central post office at St. Martin's Le Grand, near St Paul's Cathedral in central London.[3] As originally devised, it extended from Waltham Cross in the north to Carshalton in the south and from Romford in the east to Sunbury in the west six counties at the time if including the City of London.[2] Within the district it was divided into two central areas and eight compass points which operated much like separate post 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.[3] The system was introduced during 1857[1] and completed on 1 January 1858.[4]

Abolition of NE and S divisions and retraction of E division

The NE and S divisions were abolished following a report by Anthony Trollope: in 1866 NE was merged into the E district, the large districts transferred included Walthamstow,[5] Wanstead and Leytonstone.[6] The remaining eight letter prefixes (excluding all numbers) have not changed.[7]

At the same time, the London postal district boundary was retracted in the east, removing places such as (Great) Ilford for good.[1][8]

In 1868 the S district was split between SE and SW.[1]

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.[7]

Numbered divisions

In 1917, as a wartime measure to improve efficiency, the districts were further subdivided with a number applied to each sub-district.[1] This was achieved by designating a sub-area served most conveniently by the head office in each district "1" and then allocating the rest alphabetically by the name of the location of each delivery office.[1] Exceptionally and esoterically, W2 and SW11 are also 'head districts'.

The boundaries of each sub-district rarely correspond to any units of civil administration: the parishes and hamlets/chapelries with chapels that traditionally define settlement names everywhere in England and Wales or the generally larger boroughs; despite this, postal sub-districts have developed over time into a primary reference frame. The numbered sub-districts became the "outward code" (first half) of the postcode system as expanded into longer codes during the 1970s.


Ad hoc changes have taken place to the organisation of the districts, such as the creation of SE28 from existing districts because of the construction of the high-density Thamesmead development.

High-density districts

Subdivisions of postcode sub-districts

Owing to heavier demand, seven high-density postcode districts in central London have been subdivided to create new, smaller postcode districts. This is achieved by adding a letter after the original postcode district, for example W1P. Where such sub-districts are used elsewhere such as on street signs and maps, the original unsuffixed catch-all versions often remain in use instead. The districts subdivided are E1, N1, EC (EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4) SW1, W1, WC1 and WC2 (each with several subdivisions). Similarly, there are solely non-geographic suffixed sub-districts for PO boxes in NW1 (e.g. NW1W) and SE1 (e.g. SE1P).

Relationship to London boundary

The London postal district has never been aligned with the London boundary. When the initial system was designed, the London boundary was restricted to the square mile of the small, ancient City of London. The wider metropolitan postal area covered parts of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire.

In 1889 a County of London, which was smaller than the postal district, was created from parts of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent. The bulk of 40 fringe sub-districts (having been numbered in 1917) lay outside its boundary including, for example: Leyton, Ealing, Totteridge and Wimbledon

In 1965 the creation of Greater London boundary went beyond these postal districts except for part of the parish of Waltham Holy Cross. The General Post Office was unwilling to follow this change and expand the postal district to match because of the cost.[9] Places in London's outer boroughs such as Harrow, Barnet, Wembley, Enfield, Ilford, Romford, Bexleyheath, Bromley, Hounslow, Richmond, Croydon, Sutton, Kingston and Uxbridge are therefore covered by parts of twelve adjoining postcode areas (EN, IG, RM, DA, BR, TN, CR, SM, KT, TW, HA and UB) from postal districts of 5 different counties including Middlesex which was abolished upon the creation of Greater London.

Royal Mail has a seemingly settled policy of changing postcodes only if there is an operational advantage to doing so, unlike the postal services of other countries, and so has no plan to change the postcode system to correlate with the Greater London boundary. In 2003 the then Mayor of London expressed support for revision of postal addresses in Greater London.[10] Equally organisations on the fringes of the London postal district have lobbied to be excluded or included in an attempt to decrease their insurance premiums (SE2→DA7) or raise the prestige of their business (IG1-IG6→E19). This is generally futile as Royal Mail changes postcodes only in order to facilitate the delivery of post, and not to illustrate geographical boundaries like the postal services of other countries.[11]

The London postal district includes all of the City of London, Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster. Almost entirely included are Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham and Waltham Forest, except for a few streets. Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Harrow,[12] Hounslow, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Redbridge, and Richmond upon Thames are partly in the postal district. Havering, Hillingdon and Sutton are completely outside the postal district. Sewardstone in the Epping Forest District of Essex is anomalously the only place to be outside the Greater London boundary but within the London E4 postal district.

Under early abandoned price differentials it formed the inner area of the London postal region, one now obscure definition of Inner London the term has however lost economic significance from the consumer viewpoint with the standardisation of Royal Mail pricing.[13]


It is common to use postal sub-districts as placenames in London, particularly in the property market: a property may be described as being "in N11", especially where this can be synonymous with a desirable location but also covers other less prestigious places. Thus sub-districts are a convenient shorthand indicator towards social status,[14][15] such that a 'desirable' postcode may add significantly to the value of property, and property developers have tried to no avail to have Royal Mail alter the boundaries of postal districts so that new developments will sound as though they are in a richer area, whether in capital, personal income or both.

Parliament, which first established the London postal district, then created the narrower County of London (18891965) and replaced it with the much larger county of Greater London. However, there has been very little change in London postal district boundaries. Being in a London postcode inaccurately gives a broad definition of Inner London[16]


All London postal districts were traditionally prefixed with the post town 'LONDON' and full stops were commonly placed after each character, e.g. LONDON S.W.1. Use of the full stops ended with the implementation of the national postcode system. In addition, integration of the London postal districts into postcodes means that the postal district should now appear on a separate line, in line with other postcodes in the national system.

The presentation of the postal districts on street signs in London is commonplace, although not universal as each borough is individually responsible for street signs. Current regulations date from 1952 and were originally for the County of London, but were extended to Greater London in 1965. The section relating to postal districts reads "The appropriate postal district shall be indicated in the nameplate in signal red".[17]

List of London postal districts

The postcode district names refer to the original delivery office.[18][19] Some postcode districts have been further subdivided. The postcode area articles give the full coverage of each district.
Postcode areaDistrict[13]Postcode districts and district names
EEasternE1 Head district
E2 Bethnal Green
E3 Bow
E4 Chingford
E5 Clapton
E6 East Ham
E7 Forest Gate
E8 Hackney
E9 Homerton
E10 Leyton
E11 Leytonstone
E12 Manor Park
E13 Plaistow
E14 Poplar
E15 Stratford
E16 Victoria Docks and North Woolwich
E17 Walthamstow
E18 Woodford and South Woodford
E20 Olympic Park
ECEastern CentralEC1 Head district
EC2 Bishopsgate
EC3 Fenchurch Street
EC4 Fleet Street
NNorthernN1 Head district
N2 East Finchley
N3 Finchley
N4 Finsbury Park
N5 Highbury
N6 Highgate
N7 Holloway
N8 Hornsey
N9 Lower Edmonton
N10 Muswell Hill
N11 New Southgate
N12 North Finchley
N13 Palmers Green
N14 Southgate
N15 South Tottenham
N16 Stoke Newington
N17 Tottenham
N18 Upper Edmonton
N19 Upper Holloway
N20 Whetstone
N21 Winchmore Hill
N22 Wood Green
Postcode areaDistrict[13]Postcode districts and district names
NWNorth WesternNW1 Head district
NW2 Cricklewood
NW3 Hampstead
NW4 Hendon
NW5 Kentish Town
NW6 Kilburn
NW7 Mill Hill
NW8 St John's Wood
NW9 The Hyde
NW10 Willesden
NW11 Golders Green
SESouth EasternSE1 Head district
SE2 Abbey Wood
SE3 Blackheath
SE4 Brockley
SE5 Camberwell
SE6 Catford
SE7 Charlton
SE8 Deptford
SE9 Eltham
SE10 Greenwich
SE11 Kennington
SE12 Lee
SE13 Lewisham
SE14 New Cross
SE15 Peckham
SE16 Rotherhithe
SE17 Walworth
SE18 Woolwich
SE19 Norwood
SE20 Anerley
SE21 Dulwich
SE22 East Dulwich
SE23 Forest Hill
SE24 Herne Hill
SE25 South Norwood
SE26 Sydenham
SE27 West Norwood
SE28 Thamesmead
Postcode areaDistrict[13]Postcode districts and district names
SWSouth WesternSW1 Head district
SW2 Brixton
SW3 Chelsea
SW4 Clapham
SW5 Earls Court
SW6 Fulham
SW7 South Kensington
SW8 South Lambeth
SW9 Stockwell
SW10 West Brompton
BatterseaSW11 Head district
SW12 Balham
SW13 Barnes
SW14 Mortlake
SW15 Putney
SW16 Streatham
SW17 Tooting
SW18 Wandsworth
SW19 Wimbledon
SW20 West Wimbledon
WWesternW1 Head district
PaddingtonW2 Head district
W3 Acton
W4 Chiswick
W5 Ealing
W6 Hammersmith
W7 Hanwell
W8 Kensington
W9 Maida Hill
W10 North Kensington
W11 Notting Hill
W12 Shepherds Bush
W13 West Ealing
W14 West Kensington
WCWestern CentralWC1 Head district
WC2 Strand


KML is from Wikidata
LONDON post town map, showing postcode districts in red and the single post town in grey text for E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W and WC London postcode areas, with links to nearby BR, CM, CR, DA, EN, HA, IG, KT, RM, SM, TW, UB and WD postcode areas.

The area covered is 241 square miles (620 km2).[13]

London postal region

The E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W and WC postcode areas (the eight London postal districts) comprised the inner area of the London postal region and correspond to the London post town.

The BR, CR, DA, EN, HA, IG, SL, TN, KT, RM, SM, TW, UB and WD postcode areas (the 14 outer London postcode areas) comprised the outer area of the London postal region.[20]

The inner and outer areas together comprised the London postal region.[13]


  1. British Postal Museum and Archive - Web page: Postcodes
  2. Chambers, W., The Postman's Knock, Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (1857)
  3. IGWE Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine - John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72)
  4. Richardson, J., The Annals of London (2000)
  5. "Walthamstow: Transport and postal services" Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 250-251. Retrieved 14 December 2007.
  6. "Wanstead: Introduction" Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 317-322. Retrieved 22 December 2007.
  7. Royal Mail, Address Management Guide, (2004)
  8. "Little Ilford" Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 163-174. Retrieved 14 December 2007.
  9. "G.P.O. To Keep Old Names. London Changes Too Costly." The Times (London). 12 April 1966.
  10. "Mayor answers to London: London postal address". Greater London Authority. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
  11. "Cracking the code's not easy" Archived 26 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. This is Local London, 12 March 2002.
  12. Honeypot Close in the London Borough of Harrow is within NW9 postcode, the only address in the Borough which is inside the London Postal District; see: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) and "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. Monopolies and Mergers Commission (31 March 1980). The Inner London Letter Post: A Report on the Letter Post Service in the Area comprising the Numbered London Postal Districts. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 0-10-251580-8. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  14. Calder, S., "London's in-crowd". The Independent (London), 26 October 1996.
  15. "Area and Property Guide for n11 - Mouseprice". Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  16. HMSO, The Inner London Letter Post
  18. "Names of Streets and Places in the London Postal area". HMSO. 1930. Archived from the original on 20 October 2004.
  19. Map of London district names and numbers, from the 1963 edition of Bartholomew's Reference Atlas of Greater London
  20. The Inner London Letter Post, Annex 2, map of the London Postal Region (page 106).
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