No Postcode Envy


There’s a line in the song ‘Royals’ by Lorde, which goes: ‘And I’m not proud of my address, in a torn up town, no postcode envy.’ Despite sounding American, she’s from New Zealand, which has ‘postcodes’, not ‘zip codes’ as in the US. ‘ZIP’ was an acronym for ‘Zone Improvement Plan’, or as Elvis once sang: ‘Return to sender, address unknown, no such number, no such zone’. 

In 2004, the Gibraltar Post Office (then not yet Royal) announced plans for a postcode system, based on the thirteen (now fourteen) postal districts and delivery walks it divides the Rock into. Even with cracking street names, those sorting mail still need to know that Boschetti’s Steps is in ‘Moorish Castle, Walk 5’ and Crutchett’s Ramp is in ‘Waterport, Walk 10’.

Or that one part of Main Street is in ‘Waterport, Walk 10’, but the other is in ‘Southport, Walk 12’, and while one part of Gowland’s Ramp is in ‘Sacred Heart, Walk 2’, the other is in ‘Town Range, Walk 6’, as is part of Governor’s Street, although the other is in ‘Moorish Castle, Walk 5’. However, as the system is for internal use, most people in Gibraltar will know nothing of it.

Perhaps it’s just as well, as some names are more functional, like ‘Reclamation South 2, Walk 7’. And the name of the newest one sounds like a medical condition, without even a number, only a letter – if you are lucky enough to live in Ocean Village, being in ‘Growth, Walk G’ is hardly on a par with ‘Beverly Hills 90210’, even if it is a growth area!

In 2006, after the Post Office presented him with ideas for a postcode system, Trade and Industry Minister Joe Holliday said it ‘would help improve efficiency in the delivery of mail and in minimising delays outside Gibraltar in handling correspondence generated locally’, adding that ‘I expect to make an announcement in this regard towards the end of the year’.

Indeed, I was told by the Post Office that, as in the UK, postcodes would be assigned to rows of buildings in the old town and to each building elsewere, but was warned that ‘it won’t be this side of Christmas’. Indeed not, as it was only four years later that ‘GX11 1AA’ was introduced, to be used, according to the Universal Postal Union, ‘for the time being’.

In hindsight, just as Anguilla, a fellow Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, based its AI-2640 postcode on its ISO code and North American area code, perhaps the Rock’s interim postcode should have been ‘GI-00350’, a constant reminder to Spain of what it long refused to recognise, and the ‘00’ being one that Gibraltar was not one of its fifty-two provinces or cities.


Another stumbling block emerged, as before 2015, Gibraltar had no official address register, with no fewer than 36 different address lists in use. Then, the Post Office was told by Royal Mail that it could only have 25 entries in the UK Postcode Address File, when it needed more. This was not just for its benefit, but Royal Mail’s too, helping sort mail to Gibraltar before sending it on.

I already knew that ‘GX’ was to be used, and wondered why, suggesting that ‘GT’ would be better, given that the ‘T’ would be for ‘Tarik’, whose rock Gibraltar is. It was because, I was told, the International Organisation for Standardisation uses it for Guatemala, although Guernsey uses ‘GY’ for its postcodes, even though GY is also the ISO code for Guyana.

Only in 1969, 83 years after Gibraltar, did Guernsey, like Jersey, establish its own post office, the Isle of Man following suit later, so none had postcodes until 1993. However, Royal Mail still charges UK inland rates for mail to the Islands, not the ‘Europe’ one like that to Gibraltar, once charged at the preferential ‘Commonwealth’ rate, the ‘International’ one for Spain being double.

Even after mail from or via the UK was sorted automatically before arriving in Gibraltar, local mail would still be sorted manually, as it was in the Isle of Man for some years after postcodes were introduced there. It now has a sorting machine that can sort nearly 50 000 items an hour, but that is what the Royal Gibraltar Post Office sorts in three or four months.


Ironically, modern sorting machines can now ‘read’ entire addresses, rather than just the numbers or letters making up a postcode, prompting An Post in Ireland to argue that postcodes were ‘a 1960s solution to a 21st century problem’, but at the Mail Centre on Admiral Rooke Road, ‘optical character recognition’ means ‘using the eyes in your head to read’.

Ireland does now have ‘Eircode’, helping couriers to deliver your parcel when they don’t know that yours is the cottage by the chapel with the blue door, as while U2 once sang ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, houses in rural areas have no names either. In Dublin, postal districts have numbers displayed on street signs, with those in Irishtown (not ‘Irish Town’) having a ‘4’.

If Gibraltar does finally introduce new postcodes, it could also put them on street signs, with the ones in the old town being in the same typeface as the existing sign, only in red, and each district using a different colour. Years from now, like the red telephone boxes, and the rare Edward VIII pillar box, specially imported, tourists will think they’ve always been there!