Sorting Britain: The Power of Postcodes opens at The Postal Museum

March 31, 2022Amy Hughes0

Sorting Britain: The Power of Postcodes is a new exhibition that reveals the ground-breaking technology that revolutionised life forever. Open at The Postal Museum from 30 March 2022 until 1 January 2023.

Sorting Britain: The Power of Postcodes © The Postal Museum

Postcodes are part of everyday life. The Post Office innovation revolutionised the processing, sorting and delivery of post, and also had unintended outcomes for life in Britain. They affect everything from communications and identity to house prices and care. From wartime tech pioneers to ‘Poco the Postcode Elephant,’ the surprising story of the postcode is uncovered in a new temporary exhibition at The Postal Museum in London.

Exhibition highlights include memorabilia created for ‘Poco the Postcode Elephant’ which became one of the biggest advertising campaigns of the 1980s, and stunning unseen maps of London from the 19th century.

Postcodes were first trialled in Norwich in 1959, but their story goes back further. The exhibition explains the early postal districts of London, Liverpool and Manchester in the 1850s and 1860s to the modern coding we know today.


‘London Post Offices and streets’ for correct addresses poster 1962 © Royal Mail Group, courtesy of The Postal Museum  Map of the London Postal, 1856 Norwich Sorting Office ELSIE Electronic letter sorting and indicating equipment, Operating position 1960 © Royal Mail Group


ELSIE, the original 1950s Electronic Letter Sorting Indicating Equipment, will give visitors the chance to try coding the post. In 1960, there were around 28 million letters and packages passing through the postal system every day. With the help of ELSIE and coded post, an operator could sort up to 110 letters per minute, or about 6,000 letters an hour.

Visitors can find out about the importance of ‘Poco the Postcode Elephant,’ and the array of incredible memorabilia created for it, which helped change the nation’s habits in the 1980s through a decade-long advertising campaign. And, finally, Sorting Britain considers ‘what does my postcode say about me?’

Contemporary British artist, Alison Turnbull, has been commissioned to create a response to the exhibition’s themes. Alison is known for transforming and reimagining readymade information, such as plans, diagrams, blueprints and charts, into vivid abstract paintings.


There was a great sense of national pride at the heart of the drive for innovation at the Post Office. The mechanisation of traditional systems, and ultimately the adoption of the postcode system, helped changed the face of Britain forever. Today, the advent of new technology continues to change how we communicate with each other at astonishing speed. Sorting Britain is a fascinating look into this little-known history, told through the wonderful collections at The Postal Museum –Chris Taft, Head of Collections


Essential Information

Sorting Britain: The Power of Postcodes, 30 March 2022 – 1 January 2023

The exhibition will be accompanied by events throughout 2022 at The Postal Museum and online. Admission is included in the ticket price (Adult £16 online; child £9 online).

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