Posting a letter is widely regarded as a rather
simple procedure and so a variety of people post letters in very
simple ways. Often these ways are of such simplicity that the
letters have enormous difficulty getting to their destinations.
With this in mind it was decided it would
be helpful to write the following question and answer session.
1) How should I package my post?
Postcards can be allowed to float around loose.
Unless the sorting office is exceptionally quiet, the sorters
are unlikely to have time to look at the pretty picture, let
alone read your card.
Letters should be placed in envelopes of about
the right size for the letter. Too small and the envelope will
probably break. Too big and the letter will float around inside.
If you are using a window envelope, ensure that the whole address
lines up with the window. If it is too long, put the address
on the outside instead. If your letter is floating around in
an oversized window envelope, Murphy's Law dictates that in order
to read the address the sorter will have to bash the envelope
on the desk or peel back the window frame. Both of these options
will result in a scruffy envelope.
Parcels and packets should be made up using
packaging strong enough to protect the contents and ensure it
doesn't fall out. Packages of up to a certain size are generally
"lob-sorted" by picking them out of one container
and throwing them a few yards into another. It helps if your
package is heavy enough to traverse the distance. To test the
package's ability to withstand this sorting method and its ability
to have other things dropped on top, throw it across your living
room. If it breaks, it needs more packaging.
Envelopes and packages protect the post, ensure
that it doesn't get scattered across the sorting office and prevent
staff from using your confidential documents as reading matter
at quiet times. Your medical records are interesting.
2) How should I address my post?
Generally post should be addressed as "Sir",
although "Madam" may also be appropriate. If it specifically
asks for a cup of something, make every endeavour to provide
3) What address should I put on my post?
Three things are utterly, totally and completely
- The name of the addressee (or title if you
don't have a name for them);
- The number or name of their property (plus
floor if appropriate);
- The correct postcode.
This is sufficient to allow the letter to
be sorted and delivered to its ultimate destination. Make sure
that the postcode is completely correct, otherwise it won't reach
Street names, towns and counties are useful
(you may wish to put the street name on for reassurance) but
not very essential and not a proper substitute for the postcode.
4) What if I don't have the postcode?
You can find out the postcode for your address
at Royal Mail's online
If, despite being able to read this article,
you do not have internet access, you can also try your local
If you have no internet, no telephone and
no local post office, please consider the possibility that if
you did complete the address you would not be able to post the
5) Why can't I use a county instead of
A full address, including street name, town
and county may suffice, but the local major town or county does
not always help - e.g.:
- Bude, in Cornwall, has an Exeter postcode;
- Hampshire is divided between SO, SP, RG,
PO and GU postcodes;
- London and environs are divided between AL,
BR, CR, DA, E, EC, EN, HA, IG, KT, N, NW, RM, SL, SM, SE, SW,
TW, UB, W, WC and WD postcodes;
- The Ipswich postcode includes Thetford and
Diss, which are in Norfolk, but surrenders some parts of Suffolk
to Norwich and Colchester;
- Some of Invernesshire is in the Aberdeen
and Perth postcode areas;
- Yorkshire is divided up into BD, DN, HD,
HG, HU, HX, LS, S, WF and YO postcodes. Helpfully, S also overlaps
bits of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
On that note, the name of the parish or valley
does not always help much either. Postcode borders aim to conveniently
separate large urban areas and blocks of communities between
sorting offices. So, as an example which everyone here will understand,
the Parish of Tidenham may seem like a convenient descriptor
to you but is in fact split so that Sedbury and Tidenham are
in Newport but Hewelsfield is in Gloucester.
Sometimes finishing the address with a major
town or county does help:
- Northern Ireland all comes under BT (Belfast).
However, not everybody knows that the only counties in Northern
Ireland are Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and
Tyrone, so make sure that you specify in your address whether
you mean Northern or Southern Ireland.
- Herefordshire is pretty much all HR (Hereford)
and, with the exception of Hay on Wye, everything outside Herefordshire
is not HR.
Please note that once your letter reaches
the main sorting office for its destination finishing it with
"Gatcombe", "Helford" or "St Andrews"
may be awkward, even if the original sorting office can work
out where those places might be. Also liable to be a nuisance
are Penrhyn and Purton. (Do you know them all?)
6) What can I use instead of the postcode?
Well, you can't use any of the following because
they aren't any help to anyone trying to sort the post:
- Your postcode;
- Your telephone number;
- Your mobile number;
- The recipient's telephone number;
- A postcode which you worked out through some
form of logic rather than looking it up (unless it's the postcode
of a nearby house on the same street if your logic is
that CF is Cardiff so CA must be Aberdare then sorry, your letter
is off to Carlisle);
- A vague guess of the postcode (no, Kettering
does not use KT as its postcode that's Kingston Upon Thames);
- The word "Local".
You may, however, be able to use in certain
- The Engineer's Line Reference for the local
railway line as of 1959; one end of it will probably end up in
the vicinity of the relevant sorting office (e.g. Bude was accessed
off the railway from Exeter via Okehampton and accordingly has
an EX postcode for East Devon despite being in Cornwall).
However, Leighton Buzzard is in LU (Luton,
Midland Railway) despite being predominantly a MK (Milton Keynes,
London and North Western) location. So don't get over-optimistic.
7) What if I'm sending a letter into the
UK from abroad?
Attach an Airmail stamp (even from Southern
Ireland, unless it's going to the Northern bit) and the correct
postage. The address should finish with "United Kingdom"
written in your local language (e.g. "Royanne Uni"
in French-speaking regions) so your local sorting office knows
to sort it to go abroad.
Once in the UK the rest of the address needs
to be legible to a monolingual English sorter. Accordingly, regardless
of where in the UK the letter is being sent and the first language
of the recipient, the within-UK address should be written in
Make sure you include the postcode.
You can also add England, Wales or Scotland
to the address (if you must) but use the right one
Porthlevan won't be happy to be told it's in Wales (it's in West
Cornwall) and Helmsdale might be a bit offended at suggestions
that it's in England (it's in Sutherland, the Land of the South,
which is part of that chunk of land north of Inverness).
8) What if I'm sending a letter from the
UK to abroad?
Follow the suggestions above include
correct stamps and relevant airmail notes, make sure that the
relevant country is named in English and then spell out the rest
of the address in the local lingo.
There is no official Royal Mail guide on usage
of Palestine/ Israel or Burma/ Myanmar.
9) What happens if my letter doesn't have
a full address?
Royal Mail will do its best to ensure that
the letter still reaches its correct destination. However, this
may not always be possible and the letter may be delayed.
In the first instance, the sorter will look
at your letter and, if they recognise the location, will put
it in the relevant box - possibly scribbling the postcode on
it for luck. This is a bit hit and miss - the sorter may know
that Sedbury is NP but not be able to remember whether Chipping
Campden is WR, GL or OX. (Do you know? Answer without checking.)
If the sorter doesn't know where to send your
letter, they will ask someone. The someone may or may not have
a clue. If the letter potters round the sorting office and nobody
knows, it goes in a box marked "Vague" and instantly
has another day put on its journey time.
Sometimes people abbreviate obvious placenames
to things like "C'bridge". In the event of dispute
as to where "C'bridge" is, it will go to the nearest
place to the relevant sorting office which could be "C'bridge".
Depending on location, this could be Cambridge, Cowbridge, Carrbridge
or Coatbridge. If your letter is sent to Cambridge and Cambridge
rejects it, it will then potter off to find another likely location.
Depending on how many places called "C'bridge" are
found around the country and what stamp you put on the letter,
this may increase its journey time by a couple of weeks.
It is quite popular in Scotland to omit the
postcode and simply write "Local" on the letter. This
is not advisable, if only because should your letter manage to
leave the local area it becomes very difficult to get it back.
Rather, it will probably go to the largest place with the name
that you finish your address with - so if you address your local
letter in Bridgend, Galashiels to "Bridgend" it is
not impossible that it will find itself in Bridgend, South Wales.
The recipient will be able to tell if this has happened because
the envelope will say "Not CF". It may also add "Not
EH" and "Not PH". Finally, it will be about a
week late. It only takes a few seconds to add the postcode -
and if the letter is so local that it doesn't need a postcode,
"TD" (Tweeddale, the Galashiels postcode) is quicker
to write than "Local".
If you provide a nonsensical address - e.g.
"Mr Blair, c/o the Government, England" your letter
will swiftly make its way into the "Vague" box for
further consideration elsewhere. Please note that Mr Blair is
no longer employed by the UK Government and the current residents
are not really sufficiently fond of him to forward miscellaneous
post to whichever corner of some hopefully foreign warzone which
is forever stuck with him.
If your letter has no address then it will
regrettably have to be opened to see if you have provided any
form of address inside. It is not unusual for sorting offices
to have to handle blank envelopes (with and without stamps),
empty envelopes and blank sheets of paper.
10) What happens if my letter has insufficient
or no postage?
If you don't put a stamp on your letter it
will be surcharged and held at the post office. The recipient
will instead receive a bit of card informing of them of this
and advising them of what to do next. Generally it is advisable
to pay, since the letter may be important - though you may equally
wish to question who writes important letters and then throws
them in the post without investing in a stamp.
11) What happens if the recipient has moved?
The general response of the new owner is either
to forward the letter (by scribbling out the old one and writing
the new address next to it under "Please redirect to")
or to put the letter in the nearest postbox with "Not known
here" or "Return to sender" written on it. Post
redirected in the former method will be sent to the redirection
address (even if the redirection address is in fact the sender)
by second class mail. Post disposed of by the latter method will
be returned to the destination address again. This makes "Not
known here" an unreliable method of playing practical jokes
on absent flatmates, disposing of gas bills and putting off bailiffs.
(In the latter case it is advisable to write to the bailiffs
explaining that the debtor has left in a hurry and consider seeking
legal advice. Don't keep putting the letter back in the post
with "Not known here" written all over it.)
When Royal Mail tire of delivering post to
an address and getting it returned to them or when you
collar the postie and say that the addressee has gone
they will stick a red sticker on it saying that the letter is
to be returned to sender. If it has a sender's address on it
then it will totter sedately back to there. If it has no sender
then it becomes a Dead letter. In all likelihood you will never
see it again and neither will the recepient.
12) What if I didn't intend to put the
letter in the post?
These letters are always quite obvious due
to the lack of a proper address. If you are doing cards for self-delivery
or handing over at Christmas then you probably aren't going to
put a full address on them or in them and so if
you put them in the postbox by accident then you're probably
best advised to buy replacements.
If your child puts the opened remains of an
envelope with an incomplete address in the post then it will
also fail to reach its destination, though all normal efforts
will be made to get it there - even if all it does say is "dear
dad" and it has no stamp.
Similarly, if your child puts the final demand
from their school for their dinner money in the post then every
effort will be made to get the final demand back to them
or, at least, to the school. Children putting such demands in
the post should be aware that the Head may become aware of this
when Postie delivers the demands with the address carefully researched
by the Vagues people in a few days time.
13) Answers to the questions posed in the
Point 5 - Gatcombe is in Gloucester (GL),
Helford is in Truro (TR) and St Andrews can either be in Fife
(KY) or on Guernsey (GY). Penrhyn (short for Penrhyndeudraeth)
is LL (Llandudno) and should not be confused with Penryn (also
TR). Three Purtons can be found across GL13 (Berkeley), GL15
(Lydney) and SN5 (the largest Purton, north of Swindon), so even
if your letter to Purton with no postcode is posted in Gloucestershire
there's no guarantee it'll reach the right one. They should not
be confused with Perton (WV6, west of Wolverhampton)
Point 9 - Chipping Campden is GL (Gloucester).
The C'bridges are Cambridge, Cardiff, Perth and Motherwell (CB,
CF, PH and ML).