A couple weekends ago we visited The Postal Museum after hearing good things about it from colleagues, and it was actually surprisingly really good. We booked tickets online to see the museum and ride the mail rail, which is in another building across the road. The booking slot allows you one hour to enter the ride.
History of the Mail Rail
This is 6 miles of underground network connecting key sorting offices where mail was transported under London. Opened in 1927, it ran for 75 years and stopped operating in 2003. Part of The Postal Museum’s work is to maintain the mail rail trains which previously ran for an astonishing 22 hours a day.
Mail Rail ride
The ride is 15 minutes and you sit in a tiny little train, it can be a little claustrophobic for some, which makes sense as these train carts were designed to transport post not people. Due to the small size it is advised to leave bags in the lockers nearby before entering the ride, and I’m glad we listened as it was really quite cosy on the ride. There are two trains, red and green, one goes out and the other comes back so there isn’t too much waiting around.
Mail Rail Exhibition
After the ride you are led along the Mail Rail Exhibition, which tells you more about the story of the postal railway. Ideal for kids, but also some fun for adults, there are displays and mechanical contraptions you can play around with and they talk you through how to “drive a mail cart” among other things. Quite entertaining and not crowded so you can definitely see everything.
The Postal Museum Exhibition
Then across the road we entered the main exhibition and museum. I actually learnt quite a bit: for instance Henry VIII first founded a mail system to keep an eye on his kingdom. Also the initials on post boxes show who the monarch was at the time of installation and Edward VIII mail boxes are rare, as he ruled for less than a year before abdicating.
Also post boxes used to be green and then people in the country side complained about their drab appearance and then they were painted red. I have seen blue post boxes in Guernsey, but blue ones in the UK used to be for air mail only. Also some post boxes were painted gold for each 2012 gold Olympic winner in their hometown to celebrate their win. I did not remember this back in 2012, but I do recall some post boxes were temporarily painted pink to celebrate the birth of Princess Charlotte a few years ago.
I also learnt that in WWI the Post Office had its own battalion, the Post Office Rifles, and there was a civilised agreement to carry post free of charge between prisoners of war. Evidently letters were keeping up morale during this terrible time. The Post Office Rifles fought in France, won 145 awards, and one Victoria Cross. WWI also meant some progress for women who took over duties as men went to fight, but then lost their jobs when the war stopped and men returned to their jobs.
Great train robbery
One thing I didn’t know was that high value packages used to be sent via the post, and in 1963 a travelling post office train was robbed. Money in envelopes totalling £2.6m, equivalent to £54.8m today, was stolen. It was thought to be an inside job, as the travelling post office train was a replacement train with no alarms fitted. It was interesting walking around this exhibition and learning about what happened.
As you are led to the end of the exhibition, there is a wall of framed cat pictures showing the post office cats used to catch rodents.
A lovely afternoon for a rainy day. I would suggest to go on the Mail Rail ride first, as there is a set one hour window to enter. The ticket includes the Mail Rail ride, which is one time only, and entrance to the exhibition and museum that allows entry for a year.