Mail Rail & the London Postal Museum
The London Postal Museum may not seem like an exciting place to visit as a tourist but it is absolutely fascinating. We have to thank the Postal Museum London for complimentary tickets to the Museum, we had planned to go because hubs is a retired Canadian postie and we simply couldn’t pass up this kind of history.
I have to admit he did roll his eyes and say “it’s like going back to work” but after the visit, he was “very impressed”.
The British Postal Museum is actually divided into two parts. There is the Mail Rail which are the legendary driverless tube trains that used to carry the mail under London between Paddington and Whitechapel which closed in 2003.
Then across the road is the rest of the museum, which takes you around the history of the London postal service itself.
Where is the London Postal Museum?
Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DA
What are the National Postal Museum hours?
From 10 to 5 every day
How much does the London Postal Museum cost?
Adult (25+) £16 £17
Young Person (16-24) £11 £12
Child (3-15) £9 £10
An audio guide (£3) is available in five languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
How to get to the London Postal Museum?
Because we were in London we headed towards Kings Cross Station and in front of the station we caught the 63 bus and got off at Gwynne Place. From here it’s a short walk of about 5 minutes down Gwynne Street to Margery Street where you can see the large central Post office buildings.
The Postal Museum is located near the Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell. The closest tube stations are Chancery Lane, Farringdon and Russell Square, which are all around a 10-minute walk from the museum.
Nearby attractions include the Charles Dickens Museum, a five-minute walk away and the Foundling Museum, which is a 10-minute walk from the museum.
Taking the Mail Rail at the London Postal Museum
We decided to to the Mail Rail tour first which is opposite the actual Museum. We entered the building which has a small gift shop and descended a short flight of stairs to the lower level. I have to admit I was a bit panicked as I’m terribly claustrophobic so I did wonder about that aspect of the tour.
The confined space on the trains also means that Mail Rail is not suitable for disabled visitors, and wheelchair-bound visitors have a cheaper entry fee (which includes one companion). With the exception of the Mail Rail ride, the rest of the museum is fully wheelchair accessible.
There is a large waiting area for the mail cars and because the cars are pretty tight there are lockers for coats and bags which makes getting into the small cars manageable. I am not a petite flower so I was a tad worried about fitting into the carriages but with just the two of us managed it fine. I was a little hunched over as the clear “lids” close over you but for a 20-minute ride it was really easy.
The carriages are small and can be a squeeze but since the tunnels were never designed for humans it has to be a bit tight. The lids are clamped shut and off you go.
There is narration throughout the ride that provides a brilliant backdrop to the stories unfolding in those dark tunnels. Videos are played against the grubby tunnel walls given you a look back into the past of the Royal Mail and its worker.
You can see where the postal office staff would have unloaded the mail and carted the sacks of the post to the railway for delivery.
Along the video walls, you also see footage of the impact of WWII and how the mail kept running while London was suffering from the Blitz and it is truly inspiring.
The narrator who worked the Mail Rail points out these dark side tunnels full of sandbags and safety mechanisms for flood defences if the Thames overflowed its banks. You also pass the Mail Rail graveyard where the old trains lie abandoned and forlorn.
We absolutely loved the ride it was really cool to see the railways that really haven’t changed much since they were in use. The ride takes about 20 minutes and it seems it’s over in a blink.
Once you clamber out of the tubes you take a short walk through some interactive displays and interesting facts about the Royal Mail. This is great for kids there’s even a mail car that moves so you can pretend you are sorting mail on a moving train.
There’s a storyboard about a Victorian Lady who was brave enough to ride the entire pneumatic tube system in full petticoats and crinolines.
From the Mail Rail, we grabbed our coats from the lockers and headed across the street to the Postal Museum.
What to see at the London Postal Museum
Entering the building through a gift shop and cafe we weren’t sure what we would see but there is a lot more to the Postal Museum than you would think and we spent 2 hours wandering and reading.
The Counter Café near the museum’s entrance serves tea and coffee with pastries and light lunches. The museum also has two gift shops, one near the main exhibition space and another near Mail Rail. It was a very good coffee as well and the staff are really helpful and friendly and seem to love kids.
We did notice a lot of children there who were having a massively good time running about and playing with the interactive displays.
The Royal Mail Museum displays nearly 500 years of the postal service which the Museum calls the “first social network” I thought that was very clever.
The Royal Mail Museum is set up as if on a timeline and as you first enter you encounter some of the beautiful old mail carriages and the uniforms of the mail carriers.
Progressing from these carriages you move onto more “modern” mail equipment like bicycles to motorcycles to vans and wagons.
The main Postal Museum includes exhibits on the World’s first postage stamp the Penny Black and the kids get to dress up in vintage postal uniforms.
Hands-on activities include dressing up in old postal uniforms, playing with the pneumatic tubes and making your own stamp.
There are even answers to question like – How was the mail delivered to the soldiers in the trenches in WWI? Did the posties deliver even during the Blitz of London? There are even a few Titanic stories where you can read telegrams that were sent after the fatal iceberg collision.
You can try your hand at deciphering Morse Code. Learn facts like England is the only country in the world that doesn’t need to list its country on a stamp.
I loved the storyboards on the walls the one I laughed the hardest at was this one. Sorry about the light glow in the middle it’s hard to take photos with those spotlights.
Another intriguing exhibit was all about the Great Train Robbery which is on display until April 2020.
All in all, this was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in Postal history and those families with children it makes a great way to spend a few hours on a rainy day.
What places have you seen in London and what was your favourite spot?
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