serves up free postcode data (just don't tell Royal Mail)

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We may be doing the founders of a disservice, rather than a favor, in drawing attention to their site. Why? Because in the quaint world of Ye Olde Englande, Her Majesty’s Royal Mail still owns all the zipcode/postcode data. Unlike the US, where web apps and Google Maps have thrived on free to access zipcodes, the UK remains far behind. To license it requires hard cash, something innovative, early-stage startups rarely have. But ErnestMarples is basically a postcode database with an API sitting on top. It allows developers to build cool projects without having to pay Royal Mail (or Her Majesty) an arm and a leg for the privilege of the data. Boston Tea Party anyone?

I met Harry Metcalf, one of the guys behind ErnestMarples, at Young Rewired State (a project whose goals were very similar to’s). “We’ll undoubtedly get shouted at severely by the Royal Mail eventually,” he said. “But before we do, it would be great to have lots more people write useful apps that use the ErnestMarples API. If we get shut down, we’ll make lots of noise, and lots of useful apps would make for a much more powerful argument for more open data.” Fighting talk.

Metcalf and his co-founder Richard Pope won’t say where their data comes from, though they claim they “don’t hold a copy of the postcode database ourselves, neither in complete form nor as part of a cache”.

Projects created to date using the API include, which alerts you of planning applications submitted near you; The Straight Choice, an election leaflet monitoring service and Jobcentre Pro Plus, which provides geographically filtered email alerts for job vacancies.

  • KDB

    Strong work! On a separate note, do services like Google Maps (API) not provide similar geocoding data?

    • Dafydd Vaughan

      I believe that Google Maps currently removes some level of accuracy from postcodes. So if you have a postcode “XX1 1YY”, it will geocode “XX1 1” which in some pages (particularly rural locations) could be a fair distance from the point you are after.

      Anyway, good work from Harry & Richard!

      • Richard Fairhurst

        Google Maps API is only approximate as you say. Google AJAX Search, however, provides full-resolution postcodes.

  • David

    Great news, the UK postcodes are one of the best geolocation methods in the world would be interesting to see what developers/universities can do with a free API. Now developers should be able to pour more money into app development rather than license fees.

  • andy

    hi have to say googlemaps sometimes fails badly if you search by postcode. We tried to use it for our field workers and found it failed to give the correct location for quite popular locations in london!

    • san jose massage

      100% agree

  • Mike

    Wait a minute… let’s not get too excited.

    Does this website actually have a copy of the post code data base? NO.

    Can I get a copy of the database from them? NO.

    Are they going to get shut down? Most likey, YES.

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  • Phil McThomas

    There’s a similar issue with soccer game schedules in the UK. The leagues generate the schedule but then claim is it copyrighted and may not be reproduced (without a $30K annual fee). The newspapers grumble and pay-up, but start-ups just don’t have these kind of resources.

    It stinks and it probably wouldn’t hold up to a court case (can you copyright the fact that Manchester United are playing Arsenal later today?) but it remains unchallenged.

  • Anon

    Can someone explain to me why TC seems to approve of the above; but doesn’t approve of this:

    • Steve G

      I can’t speak on behalf of TC but the obvious answer would be that the postcode system was funded by taxpayers. It’s therefore annoying for non-profits and startups to find they have to pay substantial licensing costs to make use of the data. Geolocation is essential in order for UK companies to provide many useful services.

      Perhaps anon can explain why he/she thinks this has anything to do with one private company stealing code from another?

  • Eric Caron

    I prefer the UK solution at, their list can be downloaded.

    Also, Canada has these same stipulations – why aren’t they getting as much attention for their technology-hindering regulations?

  • MyBrute Guide

    Very cool, but can’t the owner of the site get in trouble for this?

  • Sandy

    Great work! Canada has a similar problem with Canada Post ‘owning’ the postal codes and the associated data.

    This should give lots of people in Canada some great ideas.

  • techkrunch serves up free postcode data (just don’t tell Royal Mail)…

    We may be doing the founders of a disservice, rather than a favor, in drawing attention to their site. Why? Because in the quaint world of Ye Olde Englande, Her Majesty’s Royal Mail still owns all the zipcode/postcode data. Unlike t…

  • Jim

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF) database isn’t a static file one can simply download and distribute and feel all warm and cuddly about.

    There are over 100,000 changes made to the PAF data every month, what with new roads, etc. etc., and there is an inescapable cost involved with managing and maintaining the data.

    As custodians of the postcode database, Royal Mail do an admirable job, and while they’re not so hot on licensing the data for cash-strapped developers and small businesses, third-party vendors exist that essentially resell the data at an eminently affordable rate. (I know because I work for one of them – Postcode Anywhere). Our company, for one, is very keen to make the data available for developers and work closely with our customers to make sure they don’t blow the budget on the data costs of development.

    If you’ve an itchy dev finger and want something to mess about with, sure there are options out there, but for enterprise-level data you simply can’t code up a web service using these open source “alternatives”. You’ll be getting a lot of calls and a lot of unhappy users who most likely will never want to work with you again.

    There is a continued, spectacular lack of understanding on this issue. People are getitng carried away. An OS UK address database will never happen. While, for instance, Jigsaw has at least a case for attempting to break open Dun and Bradstreet’s market for business contact data (businesses have an incentive to add themselves to the database), there is no incentive for Joe Blow who’s just moved into a new housing estate to add his postcode to the data. It just won’t happen.

    This intense “power to the people” attitude belies, in this case, an ignorance of the true nature of the address data.

  • Paul

    I have used postcode anywhere on a fair few projects… I don’t have to pay the fee so doesn’t bother me that much but I have to say it is a bit of a rip off. I just tested the accuracy of postcode anywhere vs ernestmarples on my postcode and Ironically although postcode anywhere returns a few more decimal places ernestmarples was considerably more accurate. Postcode anywhere put me on the wrong road. If you are only purchasing a small amount of credit from postcode anywhere it cost 5p per credit and then there is VAT on that. 5p doesn’t seem that much until you multiply it by a few hundred/thousand lookups.

  • Jim

    @Paul: I think it’s a bit strong using the term “rip-off.”

    Having looked at this ErnestMarples site properly I can see it’s not an open source answer to PAF but an OS version of PostZon, which links postcode areas to geographic coordinates.

    The geodata you refer to is of course not Postcode Anywhere’s own dataset, but TeleAtlas data. TeleAtlas data is similar to PostZon but is not maintained by the Royal Mail and will give slightly different results.

    The website in question seems to be using data very similar to Royal Mail PostZon data (at least it fetches similar coordinates).

    As far as I can see both PostZon and TeleAtlas data are backed by organisations that look after the dataset, are accountable for it, and update it (Royal Mail PostZon is updated monthly).

    This open-source data website might be fun to play with but it’s not exactly accountable – “we’re not telling you where we got the data and Royal Mail might shut us down tomorrow” is not quite the sort of message that’s going to make an enterprise client sleep easy when they ask where you’re getting your data from.

    Testing it with a couple of postcodes that work, the data in question seems virtually identical to the PostZon data – to a few decimal places.

    If I had a copy of PostZon I wanted to destructively distribute without getting taken to court for breach of licence I might code something up to randomly rewrite the last few decimal places of the dataset – so that it was basically accurate enough, but noticeably different.

    I wouldn’t advise anyone use this data for any serious business development, for obvious reasons.

    Regarding Postcode Anywhere pricing, geocoding packs start at 5p per credit – that’s £50/year for up to 1,000 look-ups.
    However the licensing is scalable so the price goes down for higher volume use. If you use bucket-loads it goes down to a penny per look-up. Licensing terms and the cost of maintaining the data make this the only sensible sensible proposition for use on the web, offering enterprise-level data to low-volume users at a reasonable rate.

    Any questions you can email me via my blog.

    I hope this throws a little bit of light on the subject, anyway.

  • PAul

    I’ve build a little class that attempts to get the data from ernestmarples first and then if it fails for any reason it will use Postcode anywhere. Although not sure why I botherd since I’m not paying anyway, but that is one way to go if you want it to be reliable… assuming ernestmarples never returns bad results. I have thrown it on my scrappy website if anyone wants to copy it.. I’m not sure if it sometimes just returns 0 0 though as I noticed something in the database for a contact. Not sure if thats an error in my app or if sometimes ernestmaples returns bad results. I’ll have to see if it happens again

  • Will Tinsdeall

    Sadly this resource has been shut down….. Petition @

  • http://link Pol18

    The conversation was relaxed and she was laughing it off. ,

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