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Postal Museum

A first look at London’s new Postal Museum

1 August 2017 Angela Lord

London’s new Postal Museum has opened its doors to visitors with a packed programme of family-themed activities over the summer holidays. Unfortunately its main attraction, Mail Rail, won’t be part and parcel of the package just yet. The themed ride isn’t due to open until September 4, no doubt prompting numerous cynical observations about British trains failing to arrive on time.

The museum, built with the support of a £4.5m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, houses a section of underground track that was once used to transport mail bags, and has now been restored to its former glory. 


A sheet of rare Penny Black stamps
 
The original line, known as the London Pneumatic Dispatch railway, was used unofficially as a novelty ride for Victorian passengers, who climbed aboard and sped down the tunnel at up to 30 miles an hour. Running from Euston Station to the main sorting office, the railway was later replaced by an improved service, the Post Office Underground Railway, which ran from Paddington to Whitechapel for 75 years.
 
Work on six miles of tunnels, for a railway with driverless trains, was completed in 1917 but the train was not allowed to operate during wartime. Instead, the tunnels were used to store art treasures from the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery. The railway was officially opened on 5 December 1927. To mark its 60th anniversary in 1987, the Post Office Underground Railway was upgraded and changed its name to Mail Rail. At its peak, more than six million bags of mail were carried underground per year. By the late 1990’s, the service was scaled down, as it was becoming uneconomical to run, and it eventually closed in 2003.


New Mail Rail train being tested in the tunnels

Now Mail Rail is back in operation, and passengers will be able to climb aboard the trains to ride along a one kilometre stretch of the original tunnels. The trains are much smaller than on the London underground, but the stations are built in a similar style, with circular walls. The museum charts the changing face of the postal service through the ages, from the reign of King Charles I to the present.

Exhibits and interactive displays tell tales of the “Perilous Post” in the days when mail ships were in danger from pirates on the high seas, and armed guards defended mail coaches from highwaymen. Flintlock pistols used to defend mail coaches in the 19th Century are on show, along with displays from more recent history, including evidence from the Great Train Robbery trial.

The museum is hosting a Family Extravaganza featuring interactive exhibitions, face painting, arts and crafts, story telling and actors in costume, over the weekends of 28-30 July and 5-6 August.


Children sorting and delivering parcels as part of the Sorted! game.

The Postal Museum is found in Phoenix Place,
WC1X 0DA, and is open every day from 10am - 5pm.

Adult tickets for exhibitions only (not including a ride on Mail Rail) cost £11, including a donation. Free entry for children up to the age of 15. From September 4, tickets for entry to the museum exhibitions plus a ride on Mail Rail cost £16 for adults, and £8 for children, including a donation. Concessions available.
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