diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Yesterday we looked at the first and last London postcodes, alphabetically speaking, that's E1 0AA and WC2R 3XP. Today let's look at the first and last postcodes in London, alphabetically speaking, because they're very much not the same thing.

The London postal district consists of eight postcode areas, namely E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W and WC. But they by no means cover the whole of Greater London, with another thirteen postcode areas used on post delivered in the capital. There's HA for Harrow, for example,and KT for Kingston and RM for Romford. Most importantly, for our purposes, some of these outer London postcode areas come before E in the alphabet. Take DA for Dartford, for example, which covers parts of Bexley. Or CR for Croydon, which would be fun because Croydon is another of those rare postcode areas with a district zero. But one other area beats the lot of them, alphabetically speaking, and that's BR for Bromley.

London's first postcode (alphabetically speaking)
BR1 1AA: Ask Italian, 3 East Street, Bromley

Yes, the very first postcode in Greater London belongs to an Italian restaurant. It's not even a proper Italian restaurant, but a chain, but then that's precisely what you'd expect in the middle of a large town centre. If you fancy a Pronto Lunch or a Ravioli Marittimi then this Bromley North Village eaterie is the place to be, but maybe give the outside tables a miss until the weather gets a little warmer. There is of course a very good reason why a pizza outlet should be top of the list, and that's because up until ten years ago the building it occupies was Bromley's main Post Office. This opened in 1897, with the slightly less ornate extension where Ask Italian now trades added in 1913. As this was the location of the district head office it was central Bromley which won the designation BR1, back when all of this was in Kent, with this pre-eminent building allocated the postcode BR1 1AA in the 1970s.



But there is a postcode mystery bubbling here. The restaurant nextdoor at 3a East Street is a Tex-Mex eaterie called Chimichanga, whose copywriters promise buzz and zing and dazzle should you choose to dine within. Look up above its three arched windows and you can see the words 'Post Office' beautifully carved into the stonework, confirming the building's original tenure. But Chimichanga has the postcode BR1 1AB, despite being the older and more important bit of the former Post Office, and it's not alone. Eight luxury flats were carved out of the upper storeys after counter services moved to the local W H Smith, and they all have the postcode BR1 1AB too. Only Ask Italian appears to have kept the top prize of BR1 1AA... and the only convincing evidence for this is on the restaurant's website.

So maybe it's not Ask. A number of online services peddle postcode information, and if you ask them where BR1 1AA is located they don't mention East Street at all. Instead they suggest that this super-postcode is to be found a quarter of a mile down the High Street, up a rather less important sideroad, in a newbuild block...

London's first postcode (alphabetically speaking)
BR1 1AA: Henry House, Ringers Road, Bromley

Ringers Road is a short sharply-descending street, tumbling down from Laura Ashley and TK Maxx on Bromley High Street to a small Quaker meeting hall at the bottom. It's the road where the 126 bus parks up before heading off to Eltham with a hill start, and where you come for your dialysis appointment if your kidneys are dodgy. The site of a former department store on the southern side had been lying dormant for a while, with a footbridge that needed demolition, and a sequence of redevelopment plans were drawn up and referred to the Mayor because they proposed building at height.



A pair of nine-/ten-storey blocks is the result, recently completed and awkwardly laid out thanks to the sloping ground. The toppermost tower is Henry House, presumably named after somebody locally relevant, and it's here that our postcode of interest unexpectedly appears. Several flats in the block have been awarded the postcode BR1 1AA, maybe all 30-odd of them, or maybe only a selection - the internet again refuses to provide rock-solid evidence. But if you've snapped up a starter home here in the last few months then you have the very first postcode in Greater London. You and maybe an Italian restaurant.

Surely there'll be greater certainty regarding the last postcode in Greater London? Well, don't be so sure. What's definite is that we need to cross town to the Watford area, because WD is the only postcode area which lines up alphabetically after WC. Intriguingly only a tiny, tiny fraction of the Watford postcode area falls within the boundaries of Greater London, and deliberately so. There's a patch north of Harefield along Springwell Lane, where very few people live, which is part of WD3. There's a smidgeon of land by Stirling Corner, outside Borehamwood, which is part of WD6. And there's a row of cottages in Bushey Heath, near Bentley Priory, which is part of WD23. It should be obvious which of these comes last, alphabetically speaking.

London's last postcode (alphabetically speaking)
WD23 1NX: Magpie Hall Lane, Bushey Heath

Let's start with a bit of Watford's postcode history. Watford used to have seven postcode districts, numbered 1 to 7, but the first two of these became subject to "postcode exhaustion" and were redesignated in September 2000. WD1 was split into WD17, WD18 and WD19, managing to make all of central Watford sound less significant overnight, while WD2 was subdivided into WD23, WD24 and WD25. The new postcode district for Bushey was WD23, and it's this which nudges over the Greater London boundary at Bushey Heath. Magpie Hall Lane is the exact dividing line where Herts meets London, but it makes sense for letters on either side to be delivered from the same van, so a handful of properties in the borough of Harrow have a Watford address.



The only two Bushey postcodes within Greater London are WD23 1NT and WD23 1NX. The first of these contains three detached properties, two currently shrouded in scaffolding so that builders can swarm all over them. It's a shame this isn't the last postcode, because one of the houses is apparently the address of 'The Bag Factory Limited', and it would have been interesting to dig up what that's about. Meanwhile WD23 1NX contains six residences, half of which are substantial modern detached homes set back in their own secluded cul-de-sac. This trio are called Ashdown, Woodland and Fernwood, because house-builders always reckon tree-related names have a classy suburban cachet. More full of character are the three homes known as Heathfield Cottages, which are older conjoined stock with front-facing gables. Number 1 is the poshest, or likes to think it is, hence the lions on the gateposts and the sharply-pointed conifers. Numbers 2 and 3 are plainer, but none the less desirable, plus they had their bins out which is always the best way to confirm that this is Harrow not Hertsmere. Definitely the last unit in London's postcode list, this, unless...

There's one last problem to consider, and that's what 'alphabetical order' really means. You'd think WD3 comes before WD6 comes before WD23, because that's the way the numbers run, but a computer would see things rather differently. The generally accepted convention for sorting an alphanumeric list is that spaces come before numbers come before letters, which means WD23 isn't at the bottom of the list. It has a '2' as its 3rd character, whereas WD3 has a '3' as its third character and WD6 has a '6', so they both appear after WD23. Indeed if you try sorting these three strings in a spreadsheet, it will confirm the correct order as WD23, WD3, WD6. And if you accept that, then we need to travel four miles east to a roundabout on the Barnet Bypass.

London's last postcode (alphanumerically speaking)
WD6 2RW: Elstree Park, Stirling Corner, Borehamwood

Stirling Corner is a ridiculously busy roundabout where the A1 crosses the A411, and sits on the very edge of the capital. Two of the surrounding quadrants are wholly in London (the Shell garage and the Harvester) and one is wholly in Hertfordshire (the Morrisons). It's the southwest quadrant that's the problem, because that's a bit of both. This didn't matter when the Greater London boundary was drawn up in 1965, but in 1990 the Berkeley Leisure Group came along and built a retirement park. Specifically they swirled two looping roads around a field, called it Elstree Park and added approximately 150 mobile homes. Some of these lie in Hertfordshire and some in London, and some in both because you can plonk a chalet anywhere. But the whole park is in the WD6 postcode, and all the tenants pay council tax at Barnet rates, making this one crazy mixed-up location.



I really wanted to go inside Elstree Park and have a look, but a sign at the entrance pointed out that this was private property and so I chickened out. In particular the park office is located in the first cottage past the white posts, and they'd no doubt have been peering out, plus a number of residents were walking back from Morrisons with their shopping and they'd soon have spotted I didn't fit in. A shame, because I would have loved to try and locate one of the chalets that straddles the unseen line, and to be able to show you a proper photograph from within. Instead I got no further than the park noticeboard, where I learned that milk is delivered daily, parking a boat is forbidden, and the only permitted pet is one cat per chalet. I am now old enough to move in, however, should I ever decide that a geographically schizophrenic location at the foot of London's postcode pecking order is for me.

Clear as mud.


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