History of the Postcode

In 2019, the UK celebrated the 60th anniversary of the postcode.

We use our Postcode practically every day for online purchasing, confirming our identities, checking traffic home, arranging trips for the next day, and so on. In fact, according to a recent Royal Mail survey, some people are more likely to remember their Postcode than their birthdays and significant anniversaries! But how well do you know the Postcode’s history?

During the 1850s, when mail volumes began to rise, it became evident that a complete addressing solution would be required. Initially, this meant merely dividing London into postal districts based on the points of the compass, each with its own head office. Many of these London postal districts, such as SE and NW, are still in operation today. The method was then expanded to other important towns and cities, but it wasn’t until 1959 that Ernest Maples (pictured below), the then Postmaster General, trialled a more comprehensive postal code – the form we know today – in Norwich.

 Postcode Address File and Updates

The Postcode Address File (PAF) was produced in the early 1980s and contains all of the UK’s commercial and residential addresses. Data was captured electronically, however updating the file was done on paper, which was time-consuming.

PAF is now a fully digital, integrated system that can be updated in real-time. It receives over half a million updates every year, ensuring that it remains the UK’s most accurate and up-to-date addressing database, with over 31 million deliverable UK addresses spread across almost 1.8 million postcodes.

Jul. 07, 1959 – “The Postmaster General, Mr. Ernest Marples, this afternoon visited Norwich to inspect the sorting office where eight electronic sorting machines (Elsie) have been installed. He also announced that everyone in and around Norwich is to be given a postal code and asked to use it as the last line of their postal address. This will apply to residents, firms and business houses alike – in fact, everyone whose present address includes the words ‘’Norwich, Norfolk’’. He said the people of Norwich will be the first in the world to use postal codes in this way. The object is to open the way for the automatic sorting of letters. Photo shows Mr. Ernest Marples feeding letters into one of the electronic sorting machines at Norwich today. Each of the machines costs about £15,000 and sorts 3,000 letters an hour.”

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