Do not underestimate the power of a London postcode.
They are the definitive alphanumeric signifiers of status and location. It isn’t the boarded up council estates or luxurious mansion houses that decide whether your area is grit or glamour, it’s the postcode. SW1 and SE17 are very close to each other geographically. In postcode terminology they’re in different universes.
Paris has its arrondisements, New York its boroughs, London has its precious postcodes.
Trying to sell a house? Your postcode could literally halve or double your selling price. Been on a hot date? Getting the night bus home to N17 rather than say NW3 might wreck your chances of a second date. Postcodes can even influence the way your CV or job application is viewed. There is a class thing going on. Some postcodes signify wealth and charm, others signify poverty and dereliction.
I have a personal bugbear. I don’t like my postcode. And I’ve lived with it for 18 years. N22. I often feel embarrassed saying it. I don’t know why. It somehow just seems so bleeeurgh. Prosaic. Silly. Boring. Suburban. It’s the highest of the N numbers making it sound really far out. It’s not. Look at the map; it’s just above N8 and next door to N10. I can’t help it, sometimes I just long for my beloved old N4. Everything seems ok in N4, surrounded by part-time hippies, eco warriors, middle class Arsenal fans and alternative therapists. N22, on the other hand, sounds like you’re at the top of a massive hill like some kind of freakish Gulliver accidentally stomping over the N1’s and E2’s.
Ok, rein it in Josh; you’re firing off postcodes like an anti-tank gun. Some people may be a little confused. If you are confused, i.e. if you are not from London, I don’t have time to go into great detail. Sorry. There isn’t any great logic to the system to be honest. For a start the numbering goes in no logical sequence (almost the complete opposite to the Parisian system which runs from one to twenty and is arranged in a near-perfect clockwork spiral beginning on the banks of the Seine and ending in Belleville. In London, W13 is squashed in between W5 and W7! Crazy.
The suffixes themselves are not even logical; there is no ‘S’ prefix (simply South) in London (only SW’s and SE’s) and there is no ‘NE’ (North East) only N’s and NW’s. Crazy. There is of course an explanation for this; in 1866 ‘S’ and ‘NE’ were scrapped and re-assigned to Sheffield and Newcastle-Upon Tyne. But that kind of logic cuts no ice with me. It makes London seem messy and disorganised!
Just to make things even more confusing, some central areas, the EC1’s and WC1’s have random extra letters attached (e.g. EC1V or WC1H). I find this little quirk an endearing feature I must say...
But please don’t ever attempt to work out which London borough you’re in by using the postcode system because, as Wikipedia rather eloquently puts it “the boundaries of each [postcode] sub-district rarely correspond to any units of civil administration such as parishes or boroughs. Despite this they have developed over time into a primary reference frame”…... Primary reference frame?! Yeah, thanks Postmaster General. Thanks for making things so easy to understand back in the 1800s.
Ach, what am I moaning about? There’s no geographic consistency in London anyway so why should the post coding be well ordered? London is an insane hybrid mish-mash of bending, maze-like roads built totally at random at different points in its two thousand year history. Starting with the Romans and hybridising all the way up to us. There’s even a possibility the construction of the 2012 Olympic Games site could create a new postcode where once barren wasteland was simply incorporated into surrounding codes. It’s happened before. Thamesmead in the 1970s was assigned SE28, after extensive development work was done to create the area.
But of course postcodes do not exist in isolation. When we think of them we think of the areas and what they signify. So, for example, E1 we think Whitechapel (Kray Twins, murdered Victorian prostitutes, skinny jeaned Scenesters). SW1, Sloane Square (‘could one please pick me up from Harrods in the Bentley?’) while N16 Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill is an odd blend of quintessential liberal Socialist Worker middle class North London and orthodox Jewish families.
I’m so obsessed with postcodes I once wrote to the Notes & Queries page of The Guardian requesting an explanation for the randomness of their assignment. I’m still waiting to hear back...
I’ll leave you with a few of my personal favourites…
1. N5 - majestic, crisp, beautiful. Highbury
2. EC1-to-EC4 - the City sends Dickensian shivers down my spine
3. E8 - Dalston and London Fields. Horribly trendy and yet a fantastic blend; the epitome of gentrified, shabby chic, arty, industrial-turned-Bohemian, beautiful Victorian semi detached, railway arched, fabulous pubbed, retro, multicultural, down to earth, working class liberal East London
Go on readers. Show yourself some love. Move to the postcode you’ve always dreamed of. (But remember kids, SW3 might be a little bit out of your league...)