I have to be honest. I did not have high hopes for London’s new Postal Museum. Having very recently opened in London, it was the Mail Rail that initially caught my eye. For some background, my dad (as regular readers may already be aware) is a born and bred train buff. He kindly made the trek over with the rest of my family to visit me in London, and I wanted to treat him to a special and memorable day out for his birthday.
Flash forward to a sadly typical grey and rainy day in London when I navigated us to the backstreets of Clerkenwell where, in juxtaposition to the vacant wasteland next to it, the bright, shiny new Postal Museum had just opened its doors. Thankfully, as it turned out, it was the first day the museum was open to the public and we were able to get in – no queuing required. After receiving both our tickets to the museum and an allocated time for our ride on the Mail Rail, we entered into the history of the British postal system.
Image: London Postal Museum
Far more interesting than I ever expected, the museum seamlessly blends historic facts and stories in an interactive way that is as engaging for adults as it is for children. With plenty of original post boxes, transportation methods and artefacts, there are games, dress ups and even the opportunity to create your own stamp. From how the postal system was first conceived and built (back when it was mainly for royals and the rich) to its eventual commercialisation and the role it plays today, this was most definitely an understated starring role. Two and a half hours later, the full historic series on the postal adventures of Britain unravelled to us, I’d learnt how many male postal staff went to war, how women temporarily replaced them, and the innovative way the post office arguably pioneered the concept of public relations.
Dragging ourselves away from the museum, we crossed the road to catch our allocated Mail Rail trip, a journey along the 100-year-old underground tunnels once used to distribute mail. Slightly fearful about my claustrophobia, we squeezed ourselves into the dinky train carriages, closing the glass hatch above our heads. Next thing, we found ourselves whizzing along under London in what can best be described much like the tube but in miniature form. Pulling into stations we learnt how the postal staff used to collect the mail from the trains for sorting, and reload it to be taken to other stations.
Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves back at the start, disembarking to explore the remainder of the museum dedicated entirely to the Mail Rail. With more dress ups and games – arguably for children, as my dad pointed out; but I refused to let this deter me, actively participating and trying my hand at everything in postal history, from being a controller to mail room sorter.
A fantastic day out for adults and children alike, I would highly recommend the Postal Museum as one of London’s best secret attractions. But be quick if you’re visiting the capital – with reviews like this, I doubt it will stay a secret for very long!
For more information and tickets, visit London Postal Museum