History of UK Number Plate Area Codes: A Journey Through Time


When you pass by a vehicle on the British motorways or local roads, have you ever wondered what the alphanumeric characters displayed on the number plate represent? While the current number plate system might seem straightforward, it has a rich and complex history that has evolved over more than a century. This article delves deep into the history of UK Number Plate Area Codes, unraveling its layers and offering a historical perspective on how this seemingly mundane aspect of British life tells a larger story.

Number Plate Area Codes

Origins of Number Plates in the UK

The Genesis: Motor Car Act 1903

The origin of the number plate system can be traced back to the Motor Car Act of 1903 whereby Regulation 2, paragraph 2,  of this act, states that;

‘A mark, indicating the registered number of the car and the council with which the car is registered, shall be fixed on the car or on a vehicle drawn by the car, or on both, in such manner as the council requires in conformity with regulations of the Local Government Board made under this Act.’ .

Before this Act, there was little regulation governing the rapidly growing number of motor vehicles on British roads. The Act sought to bring order, making it compulsory for all motor vehicles to be registered and to display registration marks—early versions of today’s number plates. Initially, the plates were quite simple, often featuring just a one or two-letter area code followed by a sequence number.

The Rationale

The primary function of the early number plates was identification rather than regional categorization. But as the number of cars began to increase, the necessity for a more organized system became apparent. That led to the initial idea of incorporating area codes in the plates to signify where a vehicle was registered.

The Early Area Code System

Geography Meets Identification

In the early 20th century, the number plate area codes often consisted of one or two letters that identified a specific geographic location. For example, “A” was reserved for London, “B” for Lancashire, and so forth.

The Importance of Sequence

In this period, the sequence number that followed the area code was just as significant. Authorities initially assigned these numbers in the order in which vehicles were registered, giving the public a loose gauge of a vehicle’s age. Here is the full list of the early number plate area code format:-

Regional Prefix / Suffix Letter

A London
AA Bournemouth
AB Worcester
AC Coventry
AD Gloucester
AE Bristol
AF Truro
AG Hull
AH Norwich
AJ Middlesbrough
AK Sheffield
AL Nottingham
AM Swindon
AN Reading
AO Carlisle
AP Brighton
AR Chelmsford
AS Inverness
AT Hull
AU Nottingham
AV Peterborough
AW Shrewsbury
AX Cardiff
AY Leicester
AZ Belfast
B Lancashire
BA Manchester
BB Newcastle-upon-Tyne
BC Leicester
BD Northampton
BE Lincoln
BF Stoke-on-Trent
BG Liverpool
BH Luton
BJ Ipswich
BK Portsmouth
BL Reading
BM Luton
BN Manchester or Bolton
BO Cardiff
BP Portsmouth
BR Newcastle-upon-Tyne
BS Aberdeen
BT Leeds
BU Manchester
BV Preston
BW Oxford
BX Haverfordwest
BY London (North-West)
BZ County Down
C West Yorkshire
CA Chester
CB Manchester
CC Bangor
CD Brighton
CE Peterborough
CF Reading
CG Bournemouth
CH Nottingham
CJ Gloucester
CK Preston
CL Norwich
CM Liverpool
CN Newcastle-upon-Tyne
CO Exeter
CP Huddersfield
CR Southampton
CS Glasgow
CT Lincoln
CU Newcastle-upon-Tyne
CV Truro
CW Preston
CX Huddersfield
CY Swansea
CZ Belfast
D Kent
DA Birmingham
DB Manchester
DC Middlesbrough
DD Gloucester
DE Haverfordwest
DF Gloucester
DG Gloucester
DH Dudley
DJ Liverpool
DK Rochdale, later Manchester
DL Portsmouth
DM Chester
DN Leeds
DO Lincoln
DP Reading
DR Exeter
DS Glasgow
DT Sheffield
DU Coventry
DV Exeter
DW Cardiff
DX Ipswich
DY Brighton
DZ County Antrim
E Staffordshire
EA Dudley
EB Peterborough
EC Preston
ED Liverpool
EE Lincoln
EF Middlesbrough
EG Peterborough
EH Stoke-on-Trent
EJ Haverfordwest
EK Liverpool
EL Bournemouth
EM Liverpool
EN Bury, later Manchester
EO Preston
EP Swansea
ER Peterborough
ES Dundee
ET Sheffield
EU Bristol
EV Chelmsford
EW Peterborough
EX Norwich
EY Bangor
EZ Belfast
F Essex
FA Stoke-on-Trent
FB Bristol
FC Oxford
FD Dudley
FE Lincoln
FF Bangor
FG Brighton
FH Gloucester
FJ Exeter
FK Dudley
FL Peterborough
FM Chester
FN Maidstone
FO Gloucester
FP Leicester
FR Preston
FS Edinburgh
FT Newcastle-upon-Tyne
FU Lincoln
FV Preston
FW Lincoln
FX Bournemouth
FY Liverpool
FZ Belfast
G Glasgow
GA Glasgow
GB Glasgow
GC London (South-West)
GD Glasgow
GE Glasgow
GF London (South-West)
GG Glasgow
GH London (South-West)
GJ London (South-West)
GK London (South-West)
GL Truro
GM Reading
GN London (South-West)
GO London (South-West)
GP London (South-West)
GR Newcastle-upon-Tyne
GS Luton
GT London (South-West)
GU London (South-East)
GV Ipswich
GW London (South-East)
GX London (South-East)
GY London (South-East)
GZ Belfast
H London
HA Dudley
HB Cardiff
HC Brighton
HD Huddersfield
HE Sheffield
HF Liverpool
HG Preston
HH Carlisle
HJ Chelmsford
HK Chelmsford
HL Sheffield
HM London (Central)
HN Middlesbrough
HO Bournemouth
HP Coventry
HR Swindon
HS Glasgow
HT Bristol
HU Bristol
HV London (Central)
HW Bristol
HX London (Central)
HY Bristol
J Durham
JA Manchester
JB Reading
JC Bangor
JD London (Central)
JE Peterborough
JF Leicester
JG Maidstone
JH Reading
JJ Maidstone
JK Brighton
JL Lincoln
JM Reading
JN Chelmsford
JO Oxford
JP Liverpool
JR Newcastle-upon-Tyne
JS Inverness
JT Bournemouth
JU Leicester
JV Lincoln
JW Birmingham
JX Huddersfield
JY Exeter
JZ County Down
K Liverpool
KA Liverpool
KB Liverpool
KC Liverpool
KD Liverpool
KE Maidstone
KF Liverpool
KG Cardiff
KH Hull
KJ Maidstone
KK Maidstone
KL Maidstone
KM Maidstone
KN Maidstone
KO Maidstone
KP Maidstone
KR Maidstone
KS Edinburgh
KT Maidstone
KU Sheffield
KV Coventry
KW Sheffield
KX Luton
KY Sheffield
KZ County Antrim
L Glamorganshire
LA London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LB London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LC London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LD London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LE London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LF London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LG Chester
LH London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
KJ Bournemouth
LK London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LL London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LM London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LN London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LO London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LP London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LR London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LS Edinburgh
LT London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LU London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LV Liverpool
LW London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LX London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LY London (North-West) (used for London County Council before 1965)
LZ County Armagh
M Cheshire
MA Chester
MB Chester
MC London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MD London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
ME London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MF London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MG London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MH London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MJ Luton
MK London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
ML London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MM London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MN used in the Isle of Man
MO Reading
MP London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MR Swindon
MS Edinburgh
MT London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MU London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MV London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MW Swindon
MX London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MY London (North-East) (used for Middlesex before 1965)
MZ Belfast
N Manchester
NA Manchester
NB Manchester
NC Manchester
ND Manchester
NE Manchester
NF Manchester
NG Norwich
NH Northampton
NJ Brighton
NK Luton
NL Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NM Luton
NN Nottingham
NO Chelmsford
NP Worcester
NR Leicester
NS Glasgow
NT Shrewsbury
NU Nottingham
NV Northampton
NW Leeds
NX Dudley
NY Cardiff
NZ County Londonderry/Derry
O Birmingham
OA Birmingham
OB Birmingham
OC Birmingham
OD Exeter
OE Birmingham
OF Birmingham
OG Birmingham
OH Birmingham
OI Belfast
OJ Birmingham
OK Birmingham
OL Birmingham
OM Birmingham
ON Birmingham
OO Chelmsford
OP Birmingham
OR Portsmouth
OS Glasgow
OT Portsmouth
OU Bristol
OV Birmingham
OW Southampton
OX Birmingham
OY London (North-West)
OZ Belfast
P Surrey
PA Guildford
PB Guildford
PC Guildford
PD Guildford
PE Guildford
PF Guildford
PG Guildford
PH Guildford
PJ Guildford
PK Guildford
PL Guildford
PM Guildford
PN Brighton
PO Portsmouth (GPO formerly used for General Post Office vehicles)
PP Luton
PR Bournemouth
PS Aberdeen
PT Newcastle-upon-Tyne
PU Chelmsford
PV Ipswich
PW Norwich
PX Portsmouth
PY Middlesbrough
PZ Belfast
R Derbyshire
RA Nottingham
RB Nottingham
RC Nottingham
RD Reading
RE Stoke-on-Trent
RF Stoke-on-Trent
RG Newcastle-upon-Tyne
RH Hull
RJ Manchester
RK London (North-West)
RL Truro
RM Carlisle
RN Preston
RO Luton
RP Northampton
RR Nottingham
RS Aberdeen
RT Ipswich
RU Bournemouth
RV Portsmouth
RW Coventry
RX Reading
RY Leicester
RZ County Antrim
S Edinburgh
SA Aberdeen
SB Glasgow
SC Edinburgh
SD Glasgow
SE Aberdeen
SF Edinburgh
SG Edinburgh
SH Edinburgh
SJ Glasgow
SK Inverness
SL Dundee
SM Carlisle
SN Dundee
SO Aberdeen
SP Dundee
SR Dundee
SS Aberdeen
ST Inverness
SU Glasgow
SW Carlisle
SX Edinburgh
T Devon
TA Exeter
TB Liverpool
TC Bristol
TD Manchester
TE Manchester
TF Reading
TG Cardiff
TH Swansea
TJ Liverpool
TK Exeter
TL Lincoln
TM Luton
TN Newcastle-upon-Tyne
TO Nottingham
TP Portsmouth
TR Southampton
TS Dundee
TT Exeter
TU Chester
TV Nottingham
TW Chelmsford
TX Cardiff
TY Newcastle-upon-Tyne
TZ Belfast
U Leeds
UA Leeds
UB Leeds
UC London (Central)
UD Oxford
UE Dudley
UF Brighton
UG Leeds
UH Cardiff
UI County Londonderry/Derry
UJ Shrewsbury
UK Birmingham
UL London (Central)
UM Leeds
UN Exeter
UO Exeter
UP Newcastle-upon-Tyne
UR Luton
US Glasgow
UT Leicester
UU London (Central)
UV London (Central)
UW London (Central)
UX Shrewsbury
UY Worcester
UZ Belfast
V Lanarkshire
VA Peterborough
VB Maidstone
VC Coventry
VD Lanarkshire/Luton
VE Peterborough
VF Norwich
VG Norwich
VH Huddersfield
VJ Gloucester
VK Newcastle-upon-Tyne
VL Lincoln
VM Manchester
VN Middlesbrough
VO Nottingham
VP Birmingham
VR Manchester
VS Luton
VT Stoke-on-Trent
VU Manchester
VV Northampton
VW Chelmsford
VX Chelmsford
VY Leeds
VZ County Tyrone
W Sheffield
WA Sheffield
WB Sheffield
WC Chelmsford
WD Dudley
WE Sheffield
WF Sheffield
WG Sheffield
WH Manchester or Bolton
WJ Sheffield
WK Coventry
WL Oxford
WM Liverpool
WN Swansea
WO Cardiff
WP Worcester
WR Leeds
WS Bristol
WT Leeds
WU Leeds
WV Brighton
WW Leeds
WX Leeds
WY Leeds
WZ Belfast
X Northumberland
XI Belfast
XZ County Armagh
Y Somerset
YA Taunton
YB Taunton
YC Taunton
YD Taunton
YE London (Central)
YF London (Central)
YG Leeds
YH London (Central)
YJ Brighton
YK London (Central)
YL London (Central)
YM London (Central)
YN London (Central)
YO London (Central)
YP London (Central)
YR London (Central)
YS Glasgow
YT London (Central)
YU London (Central)
YV London (Central)
YW London (Central)
YX London (Central)
YY London (Central)
YZ County Londonderry

Post-War Changes

The Boom of the Automobile Industry

The post-WWII era was a period of economic recovery and a boom in the automobile industry. Vehicle ownership became more common, and the simple number plate area code and sequence number system began to show its limitations which therefore required an overhaul!

The Urban Shift

As people moved from rural to urban areas in the post-war years, some area codes began to “run out” of numbers. This necessitated the creation of new area codes, and occasionally, the reshuffling of existing ones.

1960s Reforms and The Modernization Effort

A Major Overhaul

By the 1960s, it was clear that a more robust system was required to cope with the burgeoning number of motor vehicles. The government introduced a new format that included a year identifier, helping people quickly gauge the age of a vehicle. This first overhaul of the number plate format used the first letter, and last letter to identify the year of the vehicle manufacture; this led to the prefix number plate style and suffix number plate styles.

Suffix number plates started in the year 1963 up until 1982 when the more recent prefix number plate format took over; the list of the suffix number plate age related plates are below:-

A 1963
B 1964
C 1965
D 1966
E 1967
F 1967
G 1968
H 1969
J 1970
K 1971
L 1972
M 1973
N 1974
P 1975
R 1976
S 1977
T 1978
V 1979
W 1980
X 1981
Y 1982

Public Reaction

The new system was initially met with some resistance, as people had grown accustomed to the old format. However, the benefits—such as the ability to identify the age of a vehicle quickly—soon became apparent, and the new system was widely adopted.

The Current System: Prefix and Current Style

Evolution to the Present Day

The system has seen several changes since the 1960s, culminating in the two formats we’re familiar with today: the prefix and current styles. While the prefix style, used until 2001, featured a year identifier at the beginning of the number, the current style has the year identifier in the middle.

The prefix number plate age related plates are as seen below. This number plate format started in 1983 and ended in 2001 when the newer ‘current number plate style’ took over.

A 1983
B 1984
C 1985
D 1986
E 1987
F 1988
G 1989
H 1990
J 1991
K 1992
L 1993
M 1994
N 1995
P 1996
R 1997
S 1998
T 1999
V 1999
W 2000
X 2000
Y 2001
Y 2001

Number Plate Area Codes Today

Today’s area codes are still two letters, but they now point to the specific DVLA office where the vehicle was registered, rather than a broader geographic region. For instance, plates starting with “EA” to “EY” are registered in Essex. However, the full table can be seen below:-


Regional Identifiers Region DVLA Office
AA, AB, AC, AD, AE, AF, AG, AH, AJ, AK, AL, AM, AN Anglia Peterborough
AO, AP, AR, AS, AT, AU Anglia Norwich
AV, AW, AX, AY Anglia Ipswich
BA, BB, BC, BD, BE, BF, BG, BH, BJ, BK, BL, BM, BN, BO, BP, BR, BS, BT, BU, BV, BW, BX, BY Birmingham Birmingham
CA, CB, CC, CD, CE, CF, CG, CH, CJ, CK, CL, CM, CN, CO Cymru Cardiff
CP, CR, CS, CT, CU, CV Cymru Swansea
CW, CX, CY Cymru Bangor
DA, DB, DC, DD, DE, DF, DG, DH, DJ, DK Deeside to Shrewsbury Chester
DL, DM, DN, DO, DP, DR, DS, DT, DU, DV, DW, DX, DY Deeside to Shrewsbury Shrewsbury
EA, EB, EC, ED, EE, EF, EG, EH, EJ, EK, EL, EM, EN, EO, EP, ER, ES, ET, EU, EV, EW, EX, EY Essex Chelmsford
FA, FB, FC, FD, FE, FF, FG, FH, FJ, FK, FL, FM, FN, FP Forest and Fens Nottingham
FR, FS, FT, FV, FW, FX, FY Forest and Fens Lincoln
GA, GB, GC, GD, GE, GF, GG, GH, GJ, GK, GL, GM, GN, GO Garden of England Maidstone
GP, GR, GS, GT, GU, GV, GX, GY Garden of England Brighton
HA, HB, HC, HD, HE, HF, HG, HH, HJ Hampshire and Dorset Bournemouth
HK, HL, HM, HN, HO, HP, HR, HS, HT, HU, HV, HX, HY Hampshire and Dorset Portsmouth
HW Hampshire and Dorset Portsmouth (Used exclusively for the Isle of Wight)
KA, KB, KC, KD, KE, KF, KG, KH, KJ, KK, KL Luton
KM, KN, KO, KP, KR, KS, KT, KU, KV, KW, KX, KY Northampton
LA, LB, LC, LD, LE, LF, LG, LH, LJ London Wimbledon
LK, LL, LM, LN, LO, LP, LR, LS, LT London Stanmore
LU, LV, LW, LX, LY London Sidcup
MA, MB, MC, MD, ME, MF, MG, MH, MJ, MK, ML, MM, MN, MO, MP, MR, MS, MT, MU, MV, MW, MX, MY Manchester and Merseyside Manchester
NA, NB, NC, ND, NE, NF, NG, NH, NJ, NK, NL, NM, NN, NO North Newcastle
NP, NR, NS, NT, NU, NV, NW, NX, NY North Stockton
OA, OB, OC, OD, OE, OF, OG, OH, OJ, OK, OL, OM, ON, OO, OP, OR, OS, OT, OU, OV, OW, OX, OY Oxford Oxford
PA, PB, PC, PD, PE, PF, PG, PH, PJ, PK, PL, PM, PN, PO, PP, PR, PS, PT Preston Preston
PU, PV, PW, PX, PY Preston Carlisle
RA, RB, RC, RD, RE, RF, RG, RH, RJ, RK, RL, RM, RN, RO, RP, RR, RS, RT, RU, RV, RW, RX, RY Reading Reading
SA, SB, SC, SD, SE, SF, SG, SH, SJ Scotland Glasgow
SK, SL, SM, SN, SO Scotland Edinburgh
SP, SR, SS, ST Scotland Dundee
SU, SV, SW Scotland Aberdeen
SX, SY Scotland Inverness
VA, VB, VC, VD, VE, VF, VG, VH, VJ, VK, VL, VM, VN, VO, VP, VR, VS, VT, VU, VV, VW, VX, VY Severn Valley Worcester
WA, WB, WC, WD, WE, WF, WG, WH, WJ West of England Exeter
WK, WL West of England Truro
WM, WN, WO, WP, WR, WS, WT, WU, WV, WW, WX, WY West of England Bristol
YA, YB, YC, YD, YE, YF, YG, YH, YJ, YK Yorkshire Leeds
YL, YM, YN, YO, YP, YR, YS, YT, YU Yorkshire Sheffield
YV, YW, YX, YY Yorkshire Beverley


Unique and Notable Area Codes

Vanity and Custom Plates

While most people have a standard, current style, number plate, there’s a thriving market for ‘vanity’ or custom plates that often have unique area codes or meanings. For instance, “1 A,” believed to be the first-ever number plate issued in the UK, was auctioned for a staggering £160,000 in 1989. However, if it was up for sale today, it would be valued in excess of £10,000,000!

VIP Codes

Over the years, some area codes have gained notoriety for being associated with luxury or VIP status. Anecdotal evidence suggests that plates from certain affluent areas or specific codes known only to insiders have become particularly sought-after.

Private Number Plates Statistics

According to the DVLA, after the 30th anniversary of the famous “1 A” number plate auction, the following 6 statistical records regarding personalised registrations are as follows:-


  1. DVLA sold 658 registrations in the 1989/90 financial year, increasing to 26,161 the following year. In the 2018/19 financial year almost 404,000 registrations were sold.
  2. The average price for registration marks sold at a timed auction currently stands at £877 and £3,225 for those sold at live auctions, while the average price for those sold direct through the DVLA website is £342.
  3. A recent DVLA survey showed that 69% of respondents would buy a private registration because of a personal connection, a name or initial, 6% for their business, while 17% said they saw them as an investment.
  4. Research by DVLA shows that 28% of UK motorists have named their car, with ‘Doris’, ‘Dave’, ‘Henry’, ‘Betsy’ and ‘Bumble’ all popular. Of those, 87% said they had bought a personalised registration to match the name they give to their car.
  5. With the vast majority of two-letter, one single number registrations already issued or sold, ‘IG 1’ is certain to draw the attention of those looking to purchase a rare find at the auction in the Vale Resort in Hensol, Vale of Glamorgan.
  6. Auctions have been held at venues including Legoland, Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, the Heritage Motor Museum, Granada Film Studios, the Imperial War Museum and Williams F1 Conference Centre and Museum.

The future of the Number Plate Format

As we slowly consume the availability of the current style number plate format, we may think and wonder when the current system will end. As of 2023, we are currently in the 23/73 format of number plates which is approximately halfway through the current styles timeline which started on the 01/51 identifier in 2001/2002.

As the current style started on the 01/51 identifier, then surely it must end on the “50” identifier in the year 2050 which will then lead us UK motorists onto a new age of number plate formats. We may see a shuffle in the format of characters or we may see a completely different layout entirely – who knows! 


The number plate area codes system in the UK is more than just a series of letters and numbers. It’s a living history book that offers insights into the socio-economic shifts, technological advancements, and legislative reforms that have shaped the nation. As we look towards the future—with the advent of electric vehicles and potential new reforms—one can only wonder what the next chapter in this fascinating history will be.

With its humble beginnings in 1903 to its current structured and detailed form, the history of the UK number plate area codes serves as a remarkable reflection of Britain’s legislative, technological, and social journey. It may be a topic you’d never given much thought to, but behind those letters and numbers is a narrative that is deeply intertwined with the fabric of the United Kingdom itself.


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