diamond geezer

 Monday, February 13, 2017

I received this email last week from a reader.
"I recently had to go to Whitechapel and realised the postcode I wanted was probably one of the first in an alphabetic list of postcodes of London, which made me think, what would be the first and last and what would they be like."
Well, there's an irresistible idea, I thought.

The London postal district consists of eight postcode areas, namely E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W and WC. Top of the shop alphabetically speaking is E for East London, specifically E1, the postcode district for Whitechapel. These numbered districts were first introduced in 1917, with the location of the district head office allocated '1', and subsequent districts numbered alphabetically.

The first London postcode (alphabetically speaking)
E1 1AA: Royal Mail Whitechapel Delivery Office, 206 Whitechapel Road

Whitechapel hasn't always been home to the Eastern District Office - this started out in Commercial Road until it became clear in the 1880s that far larger premises were required. A patch of waste ground alongside the Royal London Hospital was selected, and a three-storey redbrick building constructed with a sorting office out back. Around the turn of the century a doubling in size was required, and the Mail Rail arrived in the basement in 1927, this being the eastern terminus of the line.

The most recent expansion on site came in 1970 when a tall Modernist building was erected to a standard concrete design, presenting a stark modular frontage towards the Whitechapel Road. A mechanised workflow occupied the open-plan rooms on the upper floors, while ground level comprised a loading yard and the public-facing Crown Post Office. Over 2000 workers were employed here in the building's heyday, processing mail for the entire ā€˜Eā€™ postal district, at what eventually became known as the East London Mail Centre. But the majority of work was later transferred to an industrial estate in Bromley-by-Bow, and subsequently Mount Pleasant, with all operations at Whitechapel ceasing in 2012. [full history]

A variety of temporary tenants now lurk on the building's upper floors, including Crossrail staff, while the site has been classified by Tower Hamlets council as a 'strategic regeneration opportunity'. But the E1 1AA postcode survives, for now, in the form of the Whitechapel Delivery Office. This is where you come if live locally and your postman tries to deliver a package while you're out, and consists of a small grim room for queueing and collection. As for the former Post Office nextdoor, that's been an echoing empty space for a few years now, with all its fixtures and fittings ripped out... as you can see if you peer in through the grime on the front window. A less Crown-like Post Office has been installed in a shop unit a few doors up the road, slotted underneath the Methodist Church, now reduced to a queueing slalom and a counter, and sharing space with an independent travel company and currency exchange.

Except hang on. I assumed E1 1AA would be the first E1 postcode, except some subsequent research revealed it's not. E1 turns out to be one of seven high-density postcode districts in London to have been additionally subdivided, which is how a riverside strip was reallocated to E1W in 1999. More importantly, for alphabetical purposes, an E1 0 postcode sector was introduced along E1W's northern border, and E1 0 beats E1 1. So I had to go out with my camera again...

Actually the first London postcode (alphabetically speaking)
E1 0AA: St Mary & St Michael RC Church, The Presbytery, 2 Lukin Street

I was not expecting this. The first E1 postcode belongs to a Roman Catholic church on Commercial Road, roughly in the vicinity of Shadwell station, a few streets east of Watney Market. St Mary & St Michael is a high-peaked whopper, opened as 'The Cathedral of the East End' in 1857, although that's an entirely unofficial title. In its day this was the largest Roman Catholic church in the capital, its parish taking in most of Stepney, hence the need for all those pews inside. The most dramatic event here was a wedding in March 1945, interrupted as the guests were arriving by the unexpected impact of one of the last V2 rockets to strike London. Although the church's roof was destroyed, and a number of people sadly died, the participants dusted themselves down and the ceremony went ahead amid the rubble.

Technically E1 0AA is the postcode not of the church but of the Presbytery nextdoor, a plainer block on Lukin Street which acts as church hall and office, and thereby hosts the letterbox into which the church's mail is delivered. It's not the only E1 0AA building along here either, eleven others share the same postcode, including the neighbouring Bishop Challoner Community Centre. This mostly sporty facility is under the care of the local secondary school, which too is a whopper, with a girls' school on one side of the street and boys' on the other linked by a curving grey skybridge of intrusively modern design.

The school itself isn't within our chosen postcode, but ten modest terraced homes fill out the remainder of the postie's round. They're very much late 20th century, when Tower Hamlets still built houses rather than flats, and with a cul-de-sac of similar properties squished in behind. I did at first wonder whether every house around here was owned by a cabbie, given how many black cabs were parked up along the road, but it turns out two of the arches under the DLR belong to a bodyshop approved by the London Taxi Company, hence the queues. Whatever, I love the fact that the first London postcode belongs collectively to a few random council house residents who may not realise the pre-eminence of the last line of their address.

As for the last London postcode I'd initially assumed this would be a W, and indeed wasted time touring the streets of Westbourne Park to investigate. But no, WC beats W, so I had to divert my attention to central London instead. The West Central postcode is split into two parts, that's WC1 and WC2, with WC2 further subdivided into six alphabetically-appended districts. It's the last of these that interests us, namely WC2R, which covers a broad area between the Strand and the Embankment, roughly around Somerset House and the Temple.

The last London postcode (alphabetically speaking)
WC2R 3XP: Liberata UK Ltd, PO Box 36838

Now that's disappointing. The last London postcode currently in use belongs to a PO Box, not an actual place you can go and visit. OK, technically somebody has to go and collect the post, so technically the location is the Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell, but that'll also be the case for thousands of other PO Boxes. The business with the good fortune to be served by London's concluding postcode is Liberata, which is one those service companies that delivers things on behalf of government rather that government employing civil servants to do it for them. Founded in 1975, Liberata rejoices in being a "trusted and reliable operating partner delivering specialist business process services", with a modern nod towards automating and digitalising, natch.

Except hang on. Liberata's Head Office is in Wood Street in the City of London, postcode EC2V 7AN, and I'm not allowing that when this is supposed to be WC2. So let's pick again.

Properly the last London postcode (alphabetically speaking)
WC2R 3LL: The Temple Bar, 1 Milford Lane

Hurrah, it's a pub! What's more it's a pub in the warren of streets down the western edge of the Temple, so you're quite likely to find a clerk or barrister supping within. Milford Lane is a narrow thoroughfare leading south from the Strand and meandering down to the Thames, quite picturesque in its pedestrianised lower reaches. The Temple Bar is at the northern end, on the street corner opposite St Clement Dane's, and has been inebriating the local population since 1839. As a free house it serves more interesting beer than most, and there's a distinctly sporting theme to much of its publicity - come watch the Six Nations in our second floor bar, that kind of thing. The pub also promotes itself as a filming location, should you have a legal drama requiring lubrication, and the exterior boasts delightfully evocative bay windows and wooden panelling.

Or so I expected. Alas the currently reality is roadworks, on a massively disruptive scale, with all bar a narrow strip of lane outside the pub sealed off for digging and replacement. The guilty project is the 190 Strand development, a massive residential landgrab currently swallowing up a substantial area to the north of Temple station. A 1960s office block is being replaced by "a luxurious new development of suites, apartments and penthouses", entirely unaffordably, coupled with "a range of streetscape improvements including substantial upgrading of the public realm". At present the repaving of Milford Lane is running at least two months behind schedule, and The Temple Bar's landlord must be cursing every additional day. But if you head down to WC2R 3LL, and can be heard above the noise of drills, you too can down a pint in what's technically the ultimate pub in London.

Today we've been looking at what I believe to be the first and last London postcodes. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the first and last postcodes in London...

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