London’s lost letters

London’s Least Used First Letters

Flicking through the alphabetical list of London postal districts, there are countless entries for certain letters, but very few for others; and these eight are absent: I, J, O, Q, V, X, Y and Z.

Unsurprisingly there are no locations in London beginning with X, according to Wikipedia’s strangely comprehensive List of United Kingdom locations there are no places in the entire United Kingdom beginning with X. In London’s case, that’s no suburbs, no stations, no roads . . . perhaps the odd nightclub and a dozen Chinese restaurants, but nothing of any geographical significance.

That said, the index at the back of a London A-Z isn’t completely blank for the letter X. There is a single entry, which is Xylon House in Worcester Park.

London’s second least used index letter has to be Z. Again no names of suburbs, boroughs, stations, or postal districts start with Z, but unlike X there is a well known London attraction that instantly springs to mind. London Zoo is as well known as they come and is officially known as ZSL London Zoo, the Zoological Society of London. This ticks all the Z boxes – twice.

It’s arguable whether J or Y comes third in the Least Frequent Initial Letter stakes, but I’m going with J. No London boroughs start with J, nor London constituencies, nor the names of any London suburbs. As for stations, none of London’s tube stations nor railway stations begins with J, but we do have a disused station, namely Junction Road. As for Y only the locality of Yiewsley and Yeading, both in the borough of Hillingdon, carry that initial, alas neither are postal districts.

The Queen is ignored

There are lots of Qs in London, mainly thanks to the fact that we’ve had a queen not a king for the majority of the last 200 years. Surprisingly no one, and I mean, no one has thought to name a postal district after Her Majesty after over 60 years of dedicated service.

You might have thought V was an excellent letter to start a designation after all the nascent penny black postal service was started in Victoria’s reign, but postcodes hadn’t been invented at the time.

As for the last two – I and J – those of you living, like me, in north-east London are now saying: “What about Ilford and the IG code?” Unfortunately, this rather salubrious area is in Greater London; and the nearest O postal district is in Wallingford near Oxford, not to be confused with Walford, BBC’s fictional location in Eastenders, more of which next.

Cracking the code

Does anyone understand postcodes in London? The E20 postcode of Albert Square in BBC’s soap Eastenders (no I don’t watch it either) was merely fictitious, but Olympic bosses applied for premises on the Stratford site to use the iconic postcode, despite the next available East London code being E19.

Postcodes it would seem to have no obvious logic to their designation and no relevance in relation to the adjoining areas.

To complicate life for a cabbie house numbers sometimes have even and odd numbers on opposite sides of the street, while on others the numbers run sequentially up one side and down on the opposite side, in addition, some houses are designated a street and number even though their front door actually opens onto an adjacent road, and to further complicate matters the convention that the lowest number on any street is supposed to be the house closest to Charing Cross is ignored, or is that an urban myth?

If London’s postcodes are allocated alphabetically why is it that E2 is Bethnal Green; E3 Bow; E4 Chingford; E5 Clapton; E6 East Ham; E7 Wanstead; and then arbitrarily E8 Hackney?

Conversely, if the postcode number denotes its position away from the centre of London why is NW1 near Mornington Crescent but NW2 miles away in Cricklewood; and Sloane Square SW1 while Brixton Hill is SW2 and Scotch Corner just yards from Sloane Square near Harrods SW3? How does that work?

You have to ask yourself, just why it is necessary for Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to be in five different postal districts unevenly divided between W1, W2, W8, SW1 and SW7, with the lines curving and twisting through the parks.

Early simplicity

It all started out so simple; during the 1840s the number of letters being sent in London was increasing rapidly, with many localities having similar street names, letters were often misdirected. So in the 1850s, a committee was instructed to find a way to stop the confusion. They originally planned to rename the streets, but many residents objected, so they decided instead to split the city into various sectors. The two central sectors were EC and WC (East and West Central) and the outer ones were named N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW after the points of a compass. A scheme which involved people adding these letters to their addresses was implemented during 1857 and 1858. In 1866 in author Anthony Trollope, then a surveyor, who also introduced our red pillar boxes, suggested that NE be merged into E and then S vanished two years later, after being split between SE and SW.

While it is immensely helpful for the Post Office in locating addresses, without a vast knowledge of the postcode system it is of little use to the man, or cabbie, on the street, except to perhaps point people to a general area, say within 10 miles from their destination. If you want to find where you are going don’t rely on a postcode; use a map or better still jump in a cab and let him figure it out.

Some notable postcodes:

SAN TA1 – Father Christmas
GIR OAA – Girobank
RM1 1AA – Royal Mail Customer Service
E20 – Walford (Eastenders) or the Olympic Park
SW1A 1AA – Buckingham Palace
SW1A 0AA – House of Commons
SW1A 0PW – House of Lords
SW1A 2AA – 10 Downing Street
SW1A 2AB – 11 Downing Street
W1A 1AA – BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place

2 thoughts on “London’s lost letters”

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