The Unorthodox Website Blog

London addresses

10 Jun

Red line is Greater London boundary, built up areas in mauve (click on map to enlarge.)

London is in a mess. It has always been in a mess as long as I can remember. For instance, I grew up from the age of 6 in the now extinct county of Middlesex, came under the Middlesex County Council education board, but we had the London postal address of Wood Green, London, N22.

To this day there’s a village in Essex, Sewardstone, which has the London postal district of E4.

Conversely many areas of Greater London do not include the city in their postal addresses. Many people still insist on including the non-existant County of Middlesex (e.g. Wembley, Middlesex) in the postal address. In outlying London boroughs many people still include the name of the old county before Greater London was created, so we get incorrect addresses like Croydon, Surrey; Ilford, Essex; Barnet, Herts.; Bromley, Kent. All these places are in Greater London and not in the above counties, but they don’t have a London postcode.

However their correct postal addresses do not need an incorrect county name, just the postcode after the street/area.

The old London County Council covered just inner London. It was abolished in the 1960s and Greater London was created as an urban administrative area which included most of the suburbs and urban area. However Greater London also includes some rural areas, whilst ribbon development means places like Woking, Leatherhead, Loughton, Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey, Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Dartford and Gravesend are now more or less joined up to London and are therefore considered part of the London urban area although they remain in the surrounding Home Counties.

Greater London roughly covers the area inside the M25 motorway encircling the capital. The London postal district is much smaller. The Post Office decided it could not afford to expand the London postal district when Greater London was created, and there seems to be a reluctance by the local population outside the London postal district to admit their towns have long been swallowed up by the metropolis. This happened before the Second World War, as since then London’s growth has been restricted by the Green Belt.

So we get a mental picture of Ilford as a town in the rural fields of Essex, when in fact it is an East London suburb, Croydon is a South London suburb, etc. Battersea, where I live, was once in the county of Surrey, but we have long had the London postal district of SW11 so Surrey no longer appears in our address, quite rightly.

The Greater London administrative metropolitan area should surely include the whole urban area and the London postal codes should correspond to this.

The same applies, of course, to other urban areas, such as the West Midlands conurbation. Postal districts should be revised to reflect the fact that Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Solihull, etc are all part of the same urban sprawl or metropolis – e.g. allocating all these places the postcode beginning WM or, if this is already in use, a similar one. The same applies to the conurbations around Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, etc.. 

Maintaining the illusion that places are separate towns or cities surrounded by green fields and forests is really unhelpful, and including incorrect and sometimes obsolete county names in postal addresses is even more confusing.

Certainly large joined up urban areas should have one metropolitan authority administrating them, and a post code which reflects this fact.

3 Responses to “London addresses”

  1. 1
    Spencer Says:

    Hello Tony

    A very interesting site.

    With regard to the Greater London inconsistencies you mention – I think a cost effective and practical solution would be for the outer London boroughs to keep their Surrey, Kent or Middlesex post codes, but the county names of Surrey, Kent or Middlesex in an existing Greater London postal address could just simply be replaced with Greater London.

    That way no massive administrative headaches and cost for the postal service and clear and simple clarification whether a town is in Greater London or is in fact in the county of Surrey etc.

    E.g.: hypothetical example: Greater London town and Surrey County town.

    Flat 2
    24 Pembroke Gardens
    Greater London
    KT6 4FT

    Compared with

    41 Aston Close
    KT22 4DS

    I notice Google utilise Greater London classifications when typing in a route such as ‘Richmond to Guildford’


  2. 2
    Tony Papard Says:

    That would be a sensible solution I agree. The present confusion is apparent in quiz shows, for instance. On ‘Deal or No Deal’ one recent contestant said they come from ‘Barnet, Hertfordshire’ while another correctly said ‘New Barnet in London’. (New Barnet and Barnet are essentially the same place).

    Of course when Greater London was created there were no postcodes for many places, so when these were introduced it would have been relatively easy to allcoate London ones for outlying areas, and similarly for other conurbations.

    However now postcodes have already been allocated everywhere, your solution would be a good one.

    At the moment the correct address for Surbiton, for instance, would be:

    Flat 2
    24 Pembroke Gardens
    KT6 4FT

    But many people would put incorrectly:

    Flat 2
    24 Pembroke Gardens
    KT6 4FT

    Just as incorrect as if a Battersea address included the county name ‘Surrey’ instead of ‘London’ because it was once in Surrey.

  3. 3
    Spencer Says:

    Yes – I have also noticed inconsistencies within BBC news stories recently. I have heard both Surbiton and Richmond inter-referred to as being both South West London and Surrey.

    Logically speaking if you say a town is in a certain county when in fact it is not – you may as well say that any town can be in any county you’d like to mention?

    Erroneous examples:

    Leatherhead – West Sussex
    Bicester – Northamptonshire
    Coventry – Warwickshire

    Frustrating to read!

    Things like the Head office of Surrey CC still confusingly operating from Kingston – albeit extraterritorially don’t help matters! ☺

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