Tuesday, 30 December 2008

UK's postcodes at 50th anniversary

Note from Mosonga:
I heard this morning (30/12/2008 via Talksport Radio) that today(?) is the anniversary of the prestigious British postcode system! I'm not sure if they meant it is exactly today or maybe sometime next year, as I have come to learn that the system was started in 1959 (in Norwich), which means that the anniversay is supposed to be next year!

The Postcode
The postcode, in its present form as a mixture of six letters and digits, was first used in Norwich in October, 1959. This was the world's first experiment with postal address codes, designed to allow sorting by machine. By 1974, the postcode system covered Britain.

The earliest form of postcode was introduced in London in 1857. Sir Rowland Hill, the inventor of the penny post, divided London into districts denoted by compass points, 'N' for north, 'S' for south and so on. The first provincial city to be divided into postal districts was Liverpool in 1864.

Numbers were added to the London postal districts to divide them up more specifically into NW1, SW2, etc during the First World War, in 1916.
(source; bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1082558)

Postal codes in the United Kingdom
UK postal codes are known as postcodes.

UK postcodes are alphanumeric. These codes were introduced by the Royal Mail over a 15-year period from 1959 to 1974 — the full list is now available electronically from the Royal Mail as the Postcode Address File. They have been widely adopted not just for their original purpose of automating the sorting of mail but for many other purposes such as insurance premium calculations and as a way to describe United Kingdom locations to route planning software, and as the lowest level of aggregation in census enumeration.

However, as the format of the codes does not achieve its objective of primarily identifying the main sorting office and sub-office they have been supplemented by a newer system of five-digit codes called Mailsort — but only for mailings of 'a minimum of 4,000 letter-sized items'. Mail users who can deliver mail to the post office sorted by Mailsort code receive discounts but [bulk] delivery by postcode provides no such incentive.

Postcode history
The major cities of the UK have much older postcodes, now incorporated into the current system, than other areas. In the mid-19th century, central London postal districts were divided between east central (EC) and west central (WC); broadly speaking the City and the West End, while the perimeter of inner London were split into N, NW, NE, S, SW, SE, W, and E. This first system of ten London postal districts was devised by Sir Rowland Hill and introduced in 1857 and 1858. S and NE were later dropped and are now used for Sheffield and Newcastle. The numbered subdivisions (W1, W2 etc) were a war-time measure and date from 1917. The 1917 subdivisions remain important, because they form the first part of the two-part modern postcode (so N1 1AA is an address in the old N1 district), and because they continue to be used by Londoners to refer to their districts.

The Post Office experimented with electromechanical sorting machines in the late 1950s. These devices would present an envelope to an operator, who would press a button indicating which bin to sort the letter into. Postcodes were suggested to increase the efficiency of this process, by removing the need for the sorter to remember the correct sorting for as many places.

In January 1959 the Post Office analyzed the results of a survey on public attitudes towards the use of postal codes. The next step would be choosing a town in which to experiment with coded addresses. The envisaged format was to be a six character alphanumeric code with three letters designating the geographical area and three numbers to identify the individual address. On 28 July Ernest Marples, the Postmaster General, announced that Norwich had been selected, and that each of the 150,000 private and business addresses would receive a code by October. Norwich had been selected as it already had eight automatic mail sorting machines in use. The codes were in the form NOR followed by two digits and a letter.

When this modern postcode system was introduced for London in 1960s, the numerals were added such that the nearest areas in each direction were allocated the number “1” (W1, SW1, ect.). Afterwards, numbers were allocated alphabetically, not by geography, and with complete disregard to the boundaries of London’s boroughs.

In October 1965 it was confirmed that postal coding was to be extended to the rest of the country in the "next few years". On 1 May 1967 post codes were introduced in Croydon. The codes for central Croydon started with the letters CRO, and those of the surrounding post towns with CR2, CR3 and CR4. This was to be the beginning of a ten year plan, costing an estimated £24 million. Within two years it was expected that coding would be used in Aberdeen, Belfast, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newport, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and the western district of London. By 1967 codes had been introduced to Aberdeen, Southampton, Brighton and Derby. In 1970 codes were introduced to the Western and North West London areas. In December 1970 Christmas mail was franked with the message "Remember to use the Postcode", although codes were only used to sort mail in a handful of sorting offices.

During 1971 occupants of addresses began to receive notification of their postcode. Asked in the House of Commons about the completion of the coding exercise, the Postmaster General, Sir John Eden stated it was expected to be completed during 1972.

The scheme was finalised in 1974 when Norwich was completely re-coded but the scheme tested in Croydon was sufficiently close to the final design for it to be retained. Newport was originally allocated NPT, in a similar way to Norwich and Croydon, with the surrounding towns allocated NP1-NP8. This lasted into the mid 1980s when for operational reasons (NPT being non-standard, and too similar to NP7) it was recoded.

The legacy of the Croydon trial can still be seen today:

CR0 was the only postal district with a zero in that position: all others start with 1. This caused some of the Royal Mail's software to misbehave slightly. Subsequently, the "zeroth" district has been used in some other postcode areas, such as Bolton, Harrow, Slough, Chelmsford and Southend on Sea.
A separate postal "district", CR9 is used for large users and PO Box holders. This policy has been used elsewhere, with normal postcodes "growing" upwards from district 1 and large-user postcodes "growing" downwards from district 99.
The CR0 district contains far more addresses than any other postal district in the country.
CR1 has never been used — possibly left spare for rationalisation. (The other CR districts, CR2 etc. were coded later and conform to the general standards.)
There was at one point a movement to change all CR0 postcodes to CR1, but this was rejected.
CR0 is often incorrectly written as CRO, although in some type faces and handwriting the digit '0' and letter 'O' are identical -- the problem is exacerbated as it is often pronounced 'Sea Arr Oh' rather than 'Sea Arr Zero'.

The format of UK postcodes is generally:

A9 9AA
A99 9AA
AA99 9AA
where A signifies a letter and 9 a digit. It is a hierarchical system, working from left to right — the first letter or pair of letters represents the area, the following digit or digits represent the district within that area, and so on. Each postcode generally represents a street, part of a street, or a single premises. This feature makes the postcode useful to route planning software.

The part of the code before the space is the outward code or out code used to direct mail from one sorting office to the destination sorting office, while the part after the space is the inward code or in code used to sort the mail into individual delivery rounds. The outward code can be split further into the area part (letters identifying one of 124 postal areas) and the district part (usually numbers); similarly, the inward code is split into the sector part (number) and the unit part (letters). Each postcode identifies the address to within 100 properties (with an average of 15 properties per postcode), although a large business may have a single code

Name Location Component format for YO31 1EB Number of live codes Number of terminated codes. Other Codes
(GIR 0AA, SAN TA1, BX) [17] Total
postcode area out code YO 124 0 3 127
postcode district out code YO31 2,971 103 4 3,078
sector in code YO31 1 10,631 1,071 4 11,706
unit in code YO31 1EB 1,762,464[16] 650,417 4 2,412,885
Postcode Addresses approx. 27,000,000 [18]

The letters in the outward code may give some clue to its geographical location (but see London below). For example, L indicates Liverpool, EH indicates Edinburgh and AB indicates Aberdeen; see List of postcode areas in the United Kingdom for a full list. Although BT indicates Belfast, it covers the whole of Northern Ireland. The letters in the inward code, however, are restricted to the set ABDEFGHJLNPQRSTUWXYZ (excluding CIKMOV), which generally do not resemble digits or each other when hand-written.

There are at least two exceptions (other than the overseas territories) to this format:

the postcode for the formerly Post Office-owned Girobank is GIR 0AA.
the postcode for correctly addressed letters to Father Christmas is SAN TA1[19]
In addition to postcodes, Delivery Point Suffixes (DPS) have been developed to uniquely identify each delivery point (a letterbox) within a single postcode. A DPS is two-character (a digit and a letter) code optionally appended to postcode. Use of DPS codes is mandatory for Mailsort barcodes generation.

Greater London postcodes
Main article: London postal district
In the London Postal Area postcodes are slightly different, being based on the 1856 system of Postal Districts which was refined in 1917 by numbering the 163 Sub-Districts; predating by many years the introduction of postcodes in the 1960s:

In parts of central London, WC and EC (West Central and East Central)
In the rest of the London Postal Area, N, NW, SW, SE, W and E.
The London postal districts rarely coincide with the boundaries of the London boroughs (even the former, smaller Metropolitan Boroughs). The numbering system appears arbitrary on the map: for example, NW1 is close to central London, but NW2 is a long way out. This is because, after starting with 1 for the area containing the main sorting office of the larger district, the numbers were allocated alphabetically according to the name of the smaller sorting office that formed each new sub-district's hub.

The area covered by the London postal districts was somewhat larger than the County of London, and included parts of Kent, Essex, Surrey, Middlesex and Hertfordshire. In 1965 the creation of Greater London caused this situation to be reversed as the boundaries of Greater London went beyond most of the existing London postal districts.

Those places not covered by the existing districts received postcodes as part of the national coding plan, so the postcode areas of "EN" Enfield, "KT" Kingston upon Thames, "HA" Harrow, "UB" Uxbridge", "TW" Twickenham, "SM" Sutton, "CR" Croydon, "DA" Dartford, "BR" Bromley, "RM" Romford and "IG" Ilford cross administrative boundaries and cover parts of neighbouring counties as well as parts of Greater London.

A further complication is that in some of the most central London areas, a further gradation has been necessary to produce enough postcodes, giving codes like EC1A 1AA.

While most postcodes are allocated by administrative convenience, a few are deliberately chosen. For example in Westminster:

SW1A 0AA - House of Commons
SW1A 0PW - House of Lords, Palace of Westminster
SW1A 1AA - Buckingham Palace
SW1A 2AA - 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury
SW1A 2AB - 11 Downing Street, Chancellor of the Exchequer
SW1A 2HQ - HM Treasury headquarters
W1A 1AA - Broadcasting House
W1A 1AB - Selfridges
N81 1ER - Electoral Reform Society (the whole of N81 is reserved for the ERS)

Other areas' postcodes

Street name signs on Birdbrook Road, Great Barr, Birmingham, showing old "Birmingham 22" (top) and modern "B44" postcodes.Until the 1960s, Postal Areas such as Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hove, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sheffield were divided into numbered Postal Districts, e.g. Toxteth in Liverpool was Liverpool 8. When the national postcode system was introduced, these were incorporated into it, so that postcodes in Toxteth start with L8. A similar system is still used in the Republic of Ireland for Dublin's postal districts.

Some Birmingham codes were sub-divided, with a letter, such as Great Barr, Birmingham 22 or Birmingham 22a - as can still be seen on many older street-name signs.

A single numbering sequence was split between Manchester and Salford. Letters would be addressed to Manchester 1 or Salford 4. However in the 1960s, all the districts in both Manchester and Salford gained "M" postcodes, so "Salford 4" became M4, etc., much to the chagrin of Salfordians. The old coding lives on in a handful of street signs which are still embossed with "Salford 4" etc, at the bottom.

Glasgow shared with London a distinction from all other UK cities as it had compass postal districts due to its claimed status as the Second City of the British Empire, i.e., C, W, NW, N, E, S, SW, SE. When postcodes were introduced these were mapped into the new 'G' postcode area thus: C1 became G1, W1 became G11, N1 became G21, E1 became G31, S1 became G41, SW1 became G51, and so on.

The consequence of the complexity outlined above is that for almost every rule concerning UK postcodes, an exception can be found. Automatic validation of postcodes on the basis of pattern feasibility is therefore almost impossible to design, and the system contains no self-validating feature such as a check digit. Completely accurate validation is only possible by attempting to deliver mail to the address, and verifying with the recipient.

Validation is usually performed against a copy of the "Postcode Address File" (PAF), which is generated by the Royal Mail and contains about 27 million UK commercial and residential addresses. However, even the PAF cannot be relied on as it contains errors, and because new postcodes are occasionally created and used before copies of the PAF can be distributed to users.

It is possible to validate the format of a postcode using the rules described in British Standard BS 7666. In general, the format is one of "A9 9AA", "A99 9AA", "AA9 9AA", "AA99 9AA", "A9A 9AA" or "AA9A 9AA", where A is an alphabetic character and 9 is a numeric character. There are restrictions on the set of alphabetic characters dependent on the position they are in.

As can be seen, the first character is always alphabetical and the final three characters are always a numeric character followed by two alphabetic characters.

A regular expression is given in the comments of the schema, which implements full checking of all the stated BS 7666 postcode format rules. That regular expression can be restated as a "traditional" regular expression:

(GIR 0AA|[A-PR-UWYZ]([0-9]{1,2}|([A-HK-Y][0-9]|[A-HK-Y][0-9]([0-9]|[ABEHMNPRV-Y]))|[0-9][A-HJKS-UW]) [0-9][ABD-HJLNP-UW-Z]{2})
The BS 7666 rules do not match British Forces Post Office postcodes, which have the format "BFPO NNN" or "BFPO c/o NNN", where NNN is 1 to 4 numerical digits.

A regular expression to implement the BS 7666 rules:[22]

(GIR 0AA)|((([A-Z-[QVX]][0-9][0-9]?)|(([A-Z-[QVX]][A-Z-[IJZ]][0-9][0-9]?)|(([A-Z-[QVX]][0-9][A-HJKSTUW])|([A-Z-[QVX]][A-Z-[IJZ]][0-9][ABEHMNPRVWXY])))) [0-9][A-Z-[CIKMOV]]{2}){2}
Alternative short regular expression from BS7666 Schema is:

[A-Z]{1,2}[0-9R][0-9A-Z]? [0-9][A-Z-[CIKMOV]]{2}
However, it has error and modified expression can be used:

[A-Z]{1,2}[0-9R][0-9A-Z]? [0-9][A-Z]{2}

Non-geographic postcodes
Almost all postcodes map directly to a geographic area, but there are some which are used simply for routing, mostly for the purposes of direct marketing, and cannot be used for navigation or distance-finding applications.

These codes include BS98, BS99, BT58, E98, NE98, NE99 and WC99.

There is an additional entirely non-geographic outward code BX, from which postcodes can be allocated entirely independently of the geographic location of the recipient (and which can be retained in the event of the customer moving)

Within Royal Mail, outward codes beginning XY are used internally as routing codes to route mis-addressed mail, and to route international outbound mail.

Girobank's headquarters in Bootle used the non-geographic postcode GIR 0AA, which is still used today by Girobank's eventual owners, Alliance and Leicester (Note that Alliance and Leicester have now been taken over by Santander).

The PAF is commercially licenseable and is often incorporated in address management software packages. The capabilities of such packages allow an address to be constructed solely from the postcode and house number for most addresses. By including the map references of postcodes in the address database, the postcode can be used automatically to pinpoint a postcode area on a map. See http://www.streetmap.co.uk for an example of this in practice. The PAF is constantly updated with around 4,000 postcodes added each month and 2,000 existing postcodes terminated.

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland was the last part of the UK to be postcoded with all postcodes beginning BT, between 1970 and 1974. While Belfast was already divided into postal districts, rural areas known as townlands posed an additional problem, as (at the time) many roads were not named, and houses were not numbered. Consequently, many people living in such areas shared the same postal address, which still occurs in the Republic of Ireland. Today the majority of roads in Northern Ireland are named (notable exceptions are in Fermanagh) and most houses (even in rural areas) are allocated a number. Those that are not allocated numbers can be uniquely identified by a house name. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)



Post Office, Stamps, Postcode History in UK

Although the first stamp was not introduced until 1840, the long and interesting history of postal services began in the 17th Century.

Royal Beginnings

Originally, the only letters carried were those to and from the King and the Royal Court. In 1626, the service was extended to run between London and Plymouth; at the time, Plymouth was one of Britain's most strategically important ports. Soon, other postal services began and a network grew between the main cities. On 31 July, 1635, King Charles I issued a proclamation extending the use of the Royal Mail to the public.

The First Postmark

The Post Office was reorganised in 1660 and Henry Bishop was made Postmaster General. Bishop is remembered as the man who introduced the first postmark, issued in 1661. The Bishop Mark, as it is called, only showed the day and month of the posting; its purpose was to ensure that the letter carriers did not delay the mail, either for espionage purposes or simply due to laziness. At this time, all letters were taken to London, Edinburgh or Dublin before being sent to their destinations and Bishop marks were used in these cities (Edinburgh's being red). Similar postmarks were simultaneously being used in America, notably in Philadelphia and New York; they are still often referred to as American Bishop marks or Franklin marks (after Benjamin Franklin, the one-time Deputy Postmaster General).

Postal Rates and Routes

Early postal rates were very complicated. They were calculated according to the distance travelled and the number of sheets of paper included in the letter. The whole process was very time-consuming and expensive, so that only businesses and the wealthy could afford to send letters.

Over the years there were many improvements to the postal system. During the time when all letters were carried to London, Edinburgh or Dublin, there were six post roads around London. To improve the system, a series of additional routes was established, which increased the network. Cross posts ran between two different post roads. By-posts ran between a post road and a town some distance from it. A way-letter went between two towns on the same post road. Instructions were put on the bottom left corner of letters, hence early covers often arrived with 'Cross post' or 'X-post' written on them.

Dockwra's Penny Post

A special local penny-post was introduced in London in 1680 by William Dockwra. His service also introduced the first pre-payment of letters - previously it had been the custom for the recipient to pay for the cost of the letter. This cheap local post was soon used in other major cities and was later adopted by many provincial towns.

The revenue from the postal service went to the Government. This London penny post was increased to tuppence in 1801 to help finance the war against Napoleon.

Rowland Hill's Reforms

It was Rowland Hill who instigated the greatest reform of the postal service. His dream, which he was finally able to fulfil, was to have a cheap and efficient postal system which everybody could afford to use. He was also keen to introduce a convenient method of prepaying the postage and suggested 'a bit of paper just large enough to bear a stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash'. He demonstrated that the cost of transporting a letter from one post town to another was almost negligible. He also showed that it would be far better to charge by weight rather than by the number of sheets. He suggested that there should be a uniform charge of one penny per half ounce made on all letters delivered within the United Kingdom and that payment could be prepaid by using a label or special stationary.

These recommendations were eventually approved. In 1839 a competition was organised for suggestions for types of adhesive labels and stamped paper. Although there were over 2,500 entries, none was entirely suitable. The best of these ideas were refined by Rowland Hill himself, with the help of the printers Perkins, Bacon and Petch. However, the public demand for a uniform penny post was so great that the new rates were introduced on 10 January, 1840, months ahead of schedule and well before any postage stamps were ready. Special head-stamps had to be made for use by the post offices to indicate that the penny postage had been paid. Finally on 6 May, 1840, the famous Penny Black stamps and some stamped wrappers designed by William Mulready were on sale at post offices.

The two-penny stamp was not ready until 8 May. It was thought that Mulready's stamped wrappers would be used most frequently, but the design was ridiculed by all and the penny and two-penny stamps were by far the most popular.

Rowland Hill was knighted in 1860 by Queen Victoria for his services to the Empire.

Overseas Post Offices

After the issue of these first stamps, many of the British colonies expressed a wish to issue their own postage stamps. However, the General Post Office (GPO) in London dismissed this idea, claiming it would be too confusing if more than one country were to use them. They believed that the postal workers would not be able to cope if hundreds of different postage stamps were available. So the first stamps which these colonies were allowed was a standard hand-stamp applied in red on letters. It showed a crown on top of a circle with the words 'paid at' and the name of the city or country.

Other countries were not so restricted, and it was not long before adhesive stamps were appearing elsewhere. Brazil followed Great Britain on 1 August, 1843, with the issue of the famous 'Bull's Eye' stamps. The cantons (states) of Switzerland came next with their first issues in 1843 and 1845. These were followed by the United States of America and Mauritius in 1847, and France, Belgium and Bavaria in 1849.

The Postcode

The postcode, in its present form as a mixture of six letters and digits, was first used in Norwich in October, 1959. This was the world's first experiment with postal address codes, designed to allow sorting by machine. By 1974, the postcode system covered Britain.

The earliest form of postcode was introduced in London in 1857. Sir Rowland Hill, the inventor of the penny post, divided London into districts denoted by compass points, 'N' for north, 'S' for south and so on. The first provincial city to be divided into postal districts was Liverpool in 1864.

Numbers were added to the London postal districts to divide them up more specifically into NW1, SW2, etc during the First World War, in 1916.

(source: www.bbc.uk/dna/h2g2/A1082558)

garydubh said...

The complexity of the UK postcode system has sent the Irish Government and its advisors around in circles for 4 years now trying to devise a Post Code for Ireland that fills all the gaps and ticks all the boxes. Nothing has been agreed yet and probably will not for quite some time. However, there are those who say that for sorting letters a PostCode is no longer required as OCR and a good address database will do the job. However, the more significant requirement for a Code nowadays is for navigation and routing (Logistics and Emergency services etc)

The fact that with postal deregulation in Europe including in Ireland commenicing in 2009, mail delivery will be done by courier type opeartions with a larger need for routing than actual sorting also increases the need for a dedicated code. It is for this reason that a navigation Code has now been published in Ireland - referred to as PON Codes;- they express a location geographically to an accuracy of +/- 6 meters and can be determined by anyone for anywhere..... see http://www.irishpostcodes.ie for more details. PON Codes have been tested by Garmin and GPS Ireland intends releasing a full version of the system early in 2009.
The PON Code system can already be used in Northern Ireland - eliminating the problems arising with the Royal Mail system in Fermanagh as mentioned in your article. PON Codes can be customised for any country.