There’s a new ride in town called Mail Rail, the undoubted star of the new Postal Museum in London, although for those reading this before 4th September you should know it’s not open until then! The rest of the museum is fun too and for more info about that, do scroll down.
The Mail Rail is a little known 100-year-old railway that ran under the streets of London moving our mail around from 1927 to 2003 and now it is back in business. In a stroke of genius, the Postal Museum hasinstalled new carriages that can passengers so we can all take a spin around the tunnels.
Let’s take a ride:
The green Mail Rail train awaits…
Step inside your carriage and settle in for the ride. The carriage is quite small and at 5 foot 3 ins I was able to sit upright but taller friends were a bit squashed, but it’s worth it.
The audio which accompanies you through your journey features Ray Wrigglesworth who still works here although he is about to retire. It’s a great way to bring the history to life and make it feel very real.
Join me for a trip through the tunnels:
The original railway circuit looped round from Whitechapel to Paddington with Mount Pleasant office, where the Postal Museum is, at the centre of the loop.
As you travel through the tunnels, you also travel through time with the video displays on the walls of the platforms, giving you history about the postal service. Here are some of these displays from the 1970s, 1950s and a shot of the wartime damage to the Post Office building.
The ride lasts about 20 minutes and afterwards you can explore a small display area with old engines, interactive games and some history about the Mail Rail and the people who worked there. Never one to miss an opportunity to play at being the driver, here I am on a maintenance locomotive!
Ray features here too and a couple of posters mean you can get to know him. I shocked to find out that the loyal Mail Rail workforce was not warned about its closure in 2003 but simply came to work to be told the news and were told to leave that day! Their lockers are still there with the personal items in, just as they left them. Why did it close? It was built to speed post between sorting offices to avoid the busy London streets and ran a train around the loop every 6 minutes, delivering 4 million post items around the network. By 2003, most of the original 8 offices had closed so it was no longer worth running the railway as the job of delivering post around the sorting offices had returned back to the roads.
There’s fun stuff to play with and I particularly enjoyed the letter sorting game, where you race against the clock and another person to get the large addressed ‘letters’ into the correct sorting slot.
The museum itself is full of fun stuff which means a visit to the whole site would need at least a couple of hours, without even enjoying the shop or the cafe. I’ve picked out just a few highlights as there is a wealth of items tracing the history of the postal service from its beginnings back in the days of Henry Viii up to the present day. Henry VIII set up the postal service just to serve him but it soon grew and mail coaches were racing around the country.
We see strange tales of passengers in the mail coaches seeing lions on the road! Learn of the post-boys and see their giant boots. They have one of the telegrams sent from the Titanic, the first blue airmail post boxes from when separate boxes were used, not just a separate slot. normal mail
In the Victorian times, back in 1840, the Penny Black stamp revolutionised post, making it affordable for all and the Postal Museum have a sheet of them – the only place in the world to have sheets rather than just individual stamps, so worth a bit!
We are the only country which does not have the name of the country on our stamps, just the Queen or King’s head and they have the cast of the portrait used for our Queen’s stamp profile. This because the UK was the first country to use stamps. In a fun exhibit, you can photograph yourself onto a stamp template and email it to yourself!
We learn when pillar boxes started and that it was Anthony Trollope who championed their introduction, Displays tell us how the postal service continued during the Blitz and prided themselves on managing to keep the service going despite such difficult and dangerous circumstances. On a lighter note, one section reminds us that post has been at the heart of some very famous songs and children’s characters.
There’s a lot more to see than I’ve managed to cover. So wait until the Mail Rail is working and enjoy the full Postal experience.
For more information and tickets check out their website: www.postalmuseum.org
Full disclosure: As is usual in this business, I was invited to visit the Postal Museum to review what they have. This has not influenced my views as I really did enjoy it!