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May 29

40 years of postcodes: What does yours say about you?

Posted on Thursday 29th May 2014

Today we take postcodes for granted as the most essential part of our address. However, they haven't in fact been around for all that long. This April saw the 40th anniversary of UK wide postcodes, an ingenious invention that allowed for the automation of letter sorting, dramatically increasing the speed of the postal services' processes.

To mark the occasion, the Royal Mail commissioned a study with the aim to highlight which UK postcodes fair best and worst for key indicators.

The study was carried out by the Centre for Economic and Business Research and focused on "five features of everyday life in 2014." These were health and wellbeing, marriage and birth rates, work, cost of living, crime and security. Researchers looked at data from local level sources including the 2011 census and the Office of National Statistics, to gain insights into localised differences across Britain today.

We take a trip down memory lane to consider the story of the postcode and discover what yours says about you.

A brief history of UK postcodes

The beginnings of the British postcode occurred in the mid-19th century, when ten London postal districts were introduced. These districts were based on geographical areas of the city such as North, North-East, East, South-East, South etc. and were a simple way to classify different areas and make sorting and transportation of mail throughout London easier. As the population increased, smaller sub-divisions were introduced - a method implemented by other cities in the UK in the 1930's.

In the 1950s, the postcodes that we are familiar with today came into being, in response to the introduction of automated sorting by the Royal Mail, which required a machine-readable code. There was also an increasing amount of mail being sent nationally and internationally, making it necessary to formulate a system that worked to increase the speed of the sorting process, as well as making the entire process more efficient.

The postcode introduced was a mixture of letters and numbers, with the first section representing a wider geographical area and the second section representing the specific street or area. The new system was approved in 1959, but wasn't made immediately UK-wide. Norwich was selected as the first city to use the system, and it wasn't until the 1970's that it spread to the whole of Britain.

The use of the postcode today

Today, there are around 1.8 million postcodes in the UK, and their use has evolved to be far more than just a way of ensuring our letters get delivered.

The Royal Mail’s Address Management Unit manages The Postcode Address File, which contains details of 29 million UK delivery addresses. This file is used every day by tens of thousands of organisations and businesses, to update databases, confirm identity and prevent fraud.

They are also an incredibly useful piece of information to have when it comes to tracking down individuals and full addresses.


Image by: shrinkin'violet

So, what does your postcode say about you?

The Royal Mail's study into UK postcodes unearthed a wealth of information about localised areas across Britain.

Health and wellbeing

Fancy a lifestyle overhaul? Moving to one of the healthiest postcodes in the UK could be the solution. Surprisingly, central London boroughs hold the top five positions in England, contradicting the popular image of the capital as the 'big smoke'.

In Scotland, Langholm (DG13) and Gretna (DG16) are the healthiest postcodes to live in, whilst in Wales, Cynderwen in Dyfed (SA66) is the place to be. Hillsbrough (BT26) wins the title for being the healthiest place in Northern Island.

Average age by postcode

An interesting aspect of the studies' results was where the youngest and oldest members of the population tend to live.

The youngest postcodes are predominantly city areas, with B4 in Birmingham topping the list with an average age of 22. This is followed by S1 in Sheffield and LS1 and LS2 in Leeds. In fact, none of the ten youngest postcodes has an average age older than 28.

On the other hand, the oldest postcodes are, without exception, remoter out of town areas or Isles. These include PO35 and PO34 in the Isle of Wight, TA17 in South Somerset and LL73 in the Isle of Anglesey.

Hoping to live to a grand old age? Try relocating to the Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh (IP15) – it has the highest average age in the UK.

Postcodes with the lowest average unemployment

The statistics regarding postcodes with the lowest unemployment hold a few surprises. You may expect big cities with lots of job opportunities, such as London or Birmingham, to appear on this list. However, it is in fact BA2-BA11 and TA10-12 in Somerton and Frome which are in first place, with only around one percent of people unemployed.

No large cities appear in the top ten – other areas on the list include HP5-9 and HP15-16 in Chesham and Amersham and BS18-21 in North Somerset.

Highest average level of qualifications

London dominates when it comes to areas with the highest qualified residents – those with a degree or professional qualification. A massive 9/10 postcodes on the list are in the capital, with EC4Y in first place with 80% of residents having one of these qualifications.

The only area from outside of London in the top 10 is B3 in Birmingham, where 66 % of residents have a degree or professional qualification.

Lowest average crime

Unsurprisingly, rural areas, particularly those in the North of England, are the best places to head if you want a crime free life. TD12 in Coldstream, Northumberland has the lowest rate of crime, quickly followed by LA17 and CA20 in Cumbria.

However, EC2V in central London makes an unexpected appearance at number five.

Highest average cost of living

The study examined the cost of living in different postcodes by looking at the number and size of outstanding mortgages. No surprises here – all of the top 10 are postcodes in London, with EC4A in the City topping the list with an average outstanding mortgage of £100,000.

Postcodes have played an important role in transforming the postal service, and in making it fast and efficient enough to deal with the demand placed on it today. Their role has also expanded, with them now being a useful piece of information for fraud detection, identity checks and locating individuals.

The Royal Mail study to mark its 40th anniversary has thrown up some surprising statistics about postcodes in Britain – as well as some that confirm what we already thought.

Do you live in any of the postcodes mentioned in the study? What do you think about the results?