This summer The City Adventurers decided to visit The Postal Museum. With their website proclaiming “Your next adventure is closer than you think”, how could we not?
The attraction is split over two sites near to the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre. On one side of the road there is the museum which charts the history of Britain’s entire postal network from Henry VIII to current mail services. On the other side of the road is The Mail Rail, formerly the Post Office Railway, built to transport mail between sorting offices.
Starting the Tour
I purchased timed tickets in advance for the group. They came as a single ticket with the number of visitors printed on it and the time to start at Mail Rail. This was a little confusing as I was expecting individual tickets and was used to the time on the ticket being the time to enter the venue. (I was later told you can email and request individual tickets).
As the time printed on the ticket is actually the time for your ride on the mail rail, it is best to arrive slightly before your timed ticket. That allows time to store coats and use the facilities. If you get there really early, as some of us did, there is a lovely gift shop upstairs. Downstairs there is also a film about the postal service and a small exhibition to visit while you wait.
While we had time to explore before our train ride, the exit from Mail Rail leads you into the exhibition, so you get to see it before heading over the road. After our train ride we headed over to the café for lunch. The terrace outside features various old post boxes.
Mail Rail was the world’s first driverless electric railway and was used to deliver post to the sorting offices over a 6.5-mile-long track. Opened in 1927, connecting mail sorting offices from Paddington to Whitechapel, it was shut in 2003.
Staff were banned from riding on the train but now 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) stretch of track has been opened to the public. Specially designed carriages trundle through the disused miniature tunnels for a 20 minute ride giving a commentary on the history of the Mail Rail. As it was originally designed to carry letters not people the carriages are quite small and some people may have difficulty getting in/out or feel claustrophobic.
The Postal Museum
The main building has several rooms devoted to the history of the post.
In England, the monarch’s letters to his subjects were carried by relays of couriers as long ago as the 15th century. However, it was Henry VIII who appointed a “Governor of the King’s Posts” and in 1609 it was decreed that letters could only be carried and delivered by persons authorised by the Postmaster General. Why the name “post”? We learnt on our travels that each town had to make three horses available for carrying royal letters, bringing back news and sending out orders. The stables keeping the horses were known as posts and the master of the posts was in charge of the system. Thus the mail system was called “The Post”.
We got to see a beautifully restored mail coach and were treated to an impromptu tour by one of the friendly guides. The whole museum is beautifully curated, with lots of interesting exhibits, photos, posters and old videos. It even holds the world’s only sheet of Penny Black stamps.
We watched other visitors send anonymous messages through pneumatic tubes, before entering the temporary exhibition about the origins of modern postcodes.
The very enjoyable day brought back a lot of memories as well as teaching us something new. And one person in particular was excited to read a name of a former colleague on one of the exhibits!
History of the Museum – Royal Mail transferred the maintenance of its heritage to an independent charitable trust in April 2004. Branded as the British Postal Museum & Archive, it was housed at The British Postal Museum Store in Debden. The BPMA was renamed the Postal Museum in 2016 and moved to it’s new museum site in Clerkenwell in 2017. The Postal Museum is the public identity of the Postal Heritage Trust, an independent charity created to protect and share this rich history and heritage.
Visit The Postal Museum