Postal addresses: a little history and a lot of photos
- POST TOWNS
- Changes to post towns
- Post town in a different county
- Welsh spelling changes
- Hebridean, Orkney, Shetland and Scilly Isles
- Full list of post towns
- POSTAL COUNTIES
- Post towns not requiring a county name
- Changes in 1974
- Counties whose names never appear on an address
- A few little anomalies
- Redundancy of counties
- Changes in 1996-8
- Full list of postal counties
- Other large cities
- Norwich, Croydon and the national roll-out
- An anomaly at Newport
- Area and district, outward and inward
- Typical numbering setup
- Non-geographic postcodes
- Changes to postcodes
- Other postcodes
Following this, an album displays a photograph from each current geographical postcode district.
The article ends with an alphabetical index to all current and many former post towns.
Modern processes now mean that many of the post towns do not actually have their own sorting offices, but they remain an important part of the postal address and a letter is not correctly addressed without it.
In postal addresses, post towns are written in uppercase letters, as I will be doing from this point forward.
* Often these smaller places, which it seems strange to consider on a par with London, were significant rural places because of the existence of a railway station. Indeed, there are many examples in Scotland of small places which were post towns until the railway stations closed – Bunchrew and Gollanfield, Inverness-shire, to name but two – as well as larger places such as East Wemyss and Falkland, Fife. While in Scotland these places ceased to be post towns soon after the station closed, this has generally not happened elsewhere.
The village of Westhill, in Aberdeenshire, whose post town was SKENE, had grown to be much bigger than the village of Skene itself. Here, the post town for AB32 was simply changed to WESTHILL without changing any postcodes or their boundaries. So Skene now has the post town WESTHILL.
WIMBORNE, in Dorset, provides examples of two other methods of creating new post towns. WIMBORNE was originally assigned BH21 and BH22. By 1991 Ferndown (in BH22) had grown substantially, so FERNDOWN was designated the post town for BH22 while WIMBORNE remained so for BH21. Verwood (in BH21) had likewise grown. But because it was part of the same district as WIMBORNE, the district BH21 was divided into VERWOOD, BH31, and the remainder of BH21 unchanged. This left the BH area with districts 1 to 25, plus the seemingly random 31.
Above: Counter date-stamp in use in West Moors, BH22, in 1993 still showing the previous post town, WIMBORNE; meanwhile the Wimborne Road date-stamp was changed promptly after FERNDOWN was introduced.
Sometimes, the change goes the other way and a post town is subsumed into a neighbouring one, presumably for operational reasons. There are numerous examples of this throughout the last 100 years; a recent example is RHYMNEY, whose postcode district was reassigned to the neighbouring post town of TREDEGAR in December 1998.
Where these changes have occurred since 1990, this has been noted in the album for the relevant postcode area. (Some earlier changes have also been mentioned.)
For instance, the Dorset/Hampshire boundary has reciprocal examples: RINGWOOD (Hampshire) is the post town for the Dorset villages of St. Ives and St. Leonards; while CHRISTCHURCH (Dorset) is the post town for Sopley and Bransgore, in Hampshire.
In these instances, the correct county on a postal address is that of the post town, not the location of the village.
Left: Counter date-stamp in use at Sopley, in Hampshire, correctly displaying the county Dorset for the post town, CHRISTCHURCH.
There are even instances across the England/Wales and England/Scotland boundaries. Small parts of northern Cumbria come under NEWCASTLETON, Roxburghshire, while Gretna came under CARLISLE until around 1990 when GRETNA itself became a post town. Meanwhile Gladestry, Powys is under KINGTON, Herefordshire; and Chirbury, Shropshire is under MONTGOMERY, Powys. The most extreme example is certainly OSWESTRY, Shropshire, whose post town area extends a good distance into mid-Wales – as far as Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and Lake Vyrnwy.
Counter date-stamps at
Gladestry (in Wales but postally Herefordshire);
Chirbury (in England but postally Powys);
and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (well into Wales but postally under OSWESTRY, Shropshire or Salop.).
|1923||MERTHYR TYDVIL to MERTHYR TYDFIL||1.12.1972||CONWAY to CONWY|
|22.3.1950||PRESTEIGN to PRESTEIGNE||by 1973||PORTMADOC to PORTHMADOG|
|1951||BLAENAU FESTINIOG to BLAENAU FFESTINIOG||1974||CRYMMYCH to CRYMYCH|
|by 1955||BETTWS-Y-COED to BETWS-Y-COED||1.4.1974||CAERNARVON² to CAERNARFON|
|1.8.1958||DOLGELLEY¹ to DOLGELLAU||1.1.1979||LLANYBYTHER to LLANYBYDDER|
|1.12.1966||LLANELLY to LLANELLI||1.12.1979||LLANDYSSUL³ to LLANDYSUL|
|by 1968||TOWYN to TYWYN||1980||LLANRHYSTYD to LLANRHYSTUD|
¹ DOLGELLEY had changed from DOLGELLY on 1.4.1911
² CAERNARVON had changed from CARNARVON in c.1926
³ LLANDYSSUL had changed from LLANDYSSYL on 1.1.1908
Lewis used STORNOWAY until the early 1950s when ISLE OF LEWIS became the post town for all but Stornoway town, which remains STORNOWAY. Harris comprised the post towns LEVERBURGH and (somewhat peculiarly) HARRIS without the 'ISLE OF'. These were both changed to ISLE OF HARRIS in 2000.
Other islands which had more than one post office (except Benbecula; plus Cumbrae) used the name of the island's main place, but these were changed in 1995 (Outer Hebrides) or 2000 (Inner) to the island name:
|Island||Original post town||Date of change||New post town|
|Arran||BRODICK, Isle of Arran||2000||ISLE OF ARRAN|
|Barra||CASTLEBAY, Isle of Barra||1995||ISLE OF BARRA|
|Bute||ROTHESAY, Isle of Bute||2000||ISLE OF BUTE|
|Cumbrae||MILLPORT, Isle of Cumbrae||2000||ISLE OF CUMBRAE|
|Jura||CRAIGHOUSE, Isle of Jura||2000||ISLE OF JURA|
|North Uist||LOCHMADDY, Isle of North Uist||1995||ISLE OF NORTH UIST|
|South Uist||LOCHBOISDALE, Isle of South Uist||1995||ISLE OF SOUTH UIST|
|Tiree||SCARINISH, Isle of Tiree||2000||ISLE OF TIREE|
(Much of this had no effect on what words appeared on an address, only affecting what was capitalised: 'BRODICK, Isle of Arran' became 'Brodick, ISLE OF ARRAN'. Some of the subsidiary villages changed, though, for example 'Balemartine, SCARINISH, Isle of Tiree' to 'Balemartine, ISLE OF TIREE'.)
The islands that had only had one post office (except Cumbrae; plus Benbecula) all simply use the island name as the post town, namely:
ISLE OF CANNA, ISLE OF COLL, ISLE OF COLONSAY, ISLE OF EIGG, ISLE OF GIGHA, ISLE OF IONA, ISLE OF RHUM (later spelt RUM), ISLE OF SCALPAY (off Harris); and so too ISLE OF BENBECULA although it had several offices.
Finally, the following other inhabited islands, unconnected to the mainland, have never been post towns: Lismore, Kerrera and Luing come under OBAN, Argyll; Raasay comes under KYLE, Ross-shire; and Muck, which has never had a post office, comes under MALLAIG. (Of the now-uninhabited islands, Scarp came under HARRIS; Soay under MALLAIG, Inverness-shire; and St. Kilda was a post town.)
It should be noted that Stroma is not an Orkney isle and came under WICK, Caithness when inhabited.
These changes are detailed in the relevant postcode area albums – see HS, IV, KA, PA and (for Scilly) TR.
alphabetical list of post towns, including selected former post towns.
These post towns were:
|ANTRIM||CHESTER||INVERNESS||NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE||SOUTH WIRRAL|
LONDON is excluded from the list because it was never considered as having a 'county', as such – but essentially qualifies for inclusion.
Prior to 1974 a shorter list had been given as "Berwick-upon-Tweed, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Huntingdon, and Peterborough; and generally a county town which gives its name to a county, for example: Lincoln." (Post Office Guide, July 1969).
Some Welsh post towns qualified under the 'county towns' proviso prior to 1974 when the counties were changed: BRECON; CAERNARVON (now CAERNARFON); CARDIGAN; CARMARTHEN; DENBIGH; FLINT; MONMOUTH; MONTGOMERY. These all required the 'new' county name after 1974 (likewise HUNTINGDON).
Further post towns could have the county omitted, only as long as the full address and postcode were present. These were mostly post towns which were at the head of the postcode areas:
- In Scotland, all the traditional counties were retained;
- In Wales, however, the new counties (Powys, Clwyd etc.) were adopted;
- In Greater Manchester, no changes were made – e.g. OLDHAM, Lancs. and STOCKPORT, Cheshire remained correct;
- Teesside (which had been created and adopted by the Post Office on 1 April 1968) was replaced by Cleveland;
- The new counties Avon, Merseyside, Tyne & Wear and West Midlands were also introduced;
- Cumberland was renamed Cumbria and Westmorland replaced by either Cumbria or Lancashire;
- Yorkshire, which had not previously been prefixed with a compass point, was now referred to as North, South or West Yorkshire...
- ...and the new county of Humberside was introduced, but split into North Humberside for the north of the Humber and South Humberside for the south. (GOOLE, although south of the river, was assigned North Humberside because it was previously in Yorkshire rather than Lincolnshire);
- Huntingdonshire was subsumed into Cambridgeshire;
- Middlesex was retained – as were the traditional counties for towns within Greater London but outside the London postal area – e.g. HORNCHURCH, Essex; CARSHALTON, Surrey; SIDCUP, Kent;
- Sussex was split into East Sussex and West Sussex.
Counter date-stamps showing the 'new' counties of Tyne & Wear, S. Humberside and Dyfed; one showing an 'old' Scottish county, Kirkcudbrightshire; and one from 1950 showing Sussex – before it was split into West and East Sussex.
|Beds.||Hants.||Northants.||S. Glam.||W. Sussex|
|Berks.||Herts.||N. Humberside||S. Humberside||W. Yorkshire|
|E. Sussex||Middx.||Notts.||W. Glam.|
|Glos.||M. Glam.||Oxon.||W. Midlands.|
Also Salop (but not Shrops.) was permissible for Shropshire; and Co. for County was permissible in the case of Durham and the six Northern Ireland counties (with Co. Derry acceptable for Londonderry). The 'abbreviation' Tyne & Wear (with the ampersand) was also specified for Tyne and Wear.
The abbreviation Warks. for Warwickshire was later accepted too. I have not found an exact date; it was not listed in October 1979 but had been included by May 1983.
Of course, for those islands where the island name itself was the post town, it would not be repeated (for example, one would write simply ISLE OF IONA; not ISLE OF IONA, Isle of Iona!) in the same way as one need not write DERBY, Derbyshire. However, Tarbert on Harris had the post town HARRIS (without the 'ISLE OF'), so the correct postal address there was actually HARRIS, Isle of Harris.
This became largely academic in 2000 when almost all the place-name post towns (such as BRODICK, Isle of Arran) were renamed as the island (Brodick, ISLE OF ARRAN). The only instances of Hebridean 'island counties' now which do not match the post town are PORTREE, Isle of Skye (which covers the northeast of the island; the rest is ISLE OF SKYE) and STORNOWAY, Isle of Lewis (which only covers the town itself; the rest of the island is ISLE OF LEWIS) – although this occurred after postal counties were made redundant in 1996.
Left: Counter date-stamp at Amhuinnsuidh in 1975, showing the then correct postal address HARRIS, Isle of Harris.
(We have already discussed the way placenames or island names were used as post towns, and the changes that were made to these over the years.)
which do not require a county name.
As noted earlier, London arguably falls within the same category, as has Shetland since 2000 when LERWICK, the only post town on the islands other than SHETLAND, was redesignated as Lerwick, SHETLAND. The same actually applies to the 'Isle of...' postal counties, discussed earlier, except for Skye and Lewis which have further the post towns, PORTREE and STORNOWAY respectively. (However, the Shetland and Hebridean examples here occurred after postal counties were deemed redundant in 1996.)
- GATWICK, Surrey – Gatwick Airport is actually in West Sussex; the post town however was created from HORLEY, Surrey;
- RHYMNEY, Gwent – Rhymney was never in Gwent when the 'new' counties of Wales came into being; it was in Mid Glamorgan although it had previously been in Monmouthshire, on which Gwent was largely based. This is now academic since the RHYMNEY post town was discontinued in December 1998 and it is now under TREDEGAR;
- ASHFORD, SHEPPERTON, STAINES and SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, Middx. – these had all been transferred from Middlesex to Surrey when Middlesex County Council was abolished in 1965; however, the Post Office never adopted these so Middx. remained the postal county. (The other Middlesex town to be transferred to another county outside Greater London was POTTERS BAR, and in this instance the Post Office did update the county to Herts.)
- TODMORDEN, Lancs. – The town of Todmorden is actually in West Yorkshire.
- TIDWORTH, Hants. – The town was two separate parishes, North Tidworth in Wiltshire and South Tidworth in Hampshire; however, North Tidworth developed into the main part of the town. In 1992 the county boundary was realigned and all of Tidworth is now in Wiltshire.
Left: Counter date-stamps showing RHYMNEY, Gwent;
GATWICK, Surrey; and STAINES, Middlesex.
They became known as 'former postal counties' and are still listed in the Royal Mail's address files, albeit not under the major headings, along with administrative and traditional counties.
Post towns created after 1996 are not assigned a former postal county, although they are included in the albums to distinguish them from the towns discussed above which did not require county names.
The one exception to this is Rutland, whose residents successfully campaigned to have Rutland reinstated for its only post town, OAKHAM. This took effect in January 2008.
Having said that, the people of East Yorkshire have similarly campaigned to have that name substituted for what is often considered the 'made up' title of North Humberside: nevertheless Royal Mail has not acceded to this request.
|Aberdeenshire||Dumfriesshire||Isle of Eigg||London||Shetland|
|Angus||Dunbartonshire||Isle of Gigha||Co. Derry||Shropshire|
|Co. Antrim||Co. Durham||Isle of Harris||Merseyside||Somerset|
|Argyll||Dyfed||Isle of Iona||Middx.||S. Glam.|
|Co. Armagh||East Lothian||Isle of Islay||M. Glam.||S. Humberside|
|Avon||E. Sussex||Isle of Jura||Midlothian||S. Yorkshire|
|Ayrshire||Essex||Isle of Lewis||Morayshire||Staffs.|
|Banffshire||Co. Fermanagh||Isle of Mull||Nairnshire||Stirlingshire|
|Beds.||Fife||Isle of North Uist||Norfolk||Suffolk|
|Berks.||Glos.||Isle of Rum||Northants.||Surrey|
|Berwickshire||Gwent||Isle of Scalpay||N. Humberside||Sutherland|
|Bucks.||Gwynedd||Isle of Skye||Northd.||Tyne & Wear|
|Caithness||Hants.||Isle of South Uist||N. Yorkshire||Co. Tyrone|
|Cambs.||Herefordshire||Isle of Tiree||Notts.||Warks.|
|Cheshire||Herts.||Isle of Wight||Orkney||W. Glam.|
|Clackmannanshire||Inverness-shire||Isles of Scilly||Oxon.||West Lothian|
|Cleveland||Isle of Arran||Kent||Peeblesshire||W. Midlands|
|Clwyd||Isle of Barra||Kincardineshire||Perthshire||W. Sussex|
|Cornwall||Isle of Benbecula||Kinross-shire||Powys||W. Yorkshire|
|Cumbria||Isle of Bute||Kirkcudbrightshire||Renfrewshire||Wigtownshire|
|Derbyshire||Isle of Canna||Lanarkshire||Ross-shire||Wilts.|
|Devon||Isle of Coll||Lancs.||Roxburghshire||Worcs.|
|Dorset||Isle of Colonsay||Leics.||Rutland|
|Co. Down||Isle of Cumbrae||Lincs.||Selkirkshire|
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