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Most people don’t think about the things that keep society running, such as the mail & deliveries. Behind the scenes of everyday life, there are large networks of services that make everything run smoothly. In a city as massive as London, it can be easier to move people & goods below ground. While everyone is familiar with the London Underground, London’s Mail Rail Postal Train is less familiar. Royal Mail has opened a new Postal Museum & Mail Rail in London that tells the history of how mail has moved around the capital & the rest of the country for centuries, both above & below ground.
How to visit the Postal Museum & Mail Rail London – Tickets, info, & how to get there
Postal Museum & Mail Rail tickets
Now that the Postal Museum & Mail Rail have been open for a few years, it’s much easier to get tickets through the museum’s website. It’s also part of the London Pass. It’s still recommended to book tickets ahead of time so you aren’t disappointed. Tickets are for a scheduled Mail Rail visit & ride, then you are free to visit the Postal Museum as many times as you want for the next year for the same admission price. That’s pretty cool, & it does take some of the sting out of the fact that many other London museums are free. It’s especially nice if you have kids who become obsessed with the museum. Entry to the Postal Play Space is an additional fee per visit, but there are also plenty of kid-friendly activities in the main Royal Mail Museum.
How to get to the Postal Museum & Mail Rail
While there’s no Underground or train station right at the Postal Museum, Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross St Pancras, and Chancery Lane stations are all less than a mile away. There are also several bus routes nearby. You’ll know you’re in the right area when every building seems to have to do with Royal Mail in some way. In addition to the Postal Museum & Mail Rail, the area is also home to the Royal Mail Central London Delivery Office & the Royal Mail Head Office.
The Postal Museum London
The London Postal Museum starts off by telling the history of Royal Mail. The postal service was started in 1516 by King Henry VIII. Originally, the postal service was just for royals (hence the name Royal Mail,). Charles I made it accessible to the public in 1635, though it was expensive. Due to the high costs, people would hide their messages on the cover of the mail to save money, since the postage was paid by the recipient.
To many, the mail may be a boring subject, but the Postal Museum does an excellent job of highlighting the interesting elements of its history.
For example, during the early days of the Royal Mail, moving the mail was dangerous. Post roads were subject to robberies. One of the many kid-friendly activities at the Postal Museum (but also still fun for adults) is a choose-your-own-adventure-type game where you protect a mail coach. When I played the game, my horses got attacked by a lioness, which I am sure is historically accurate.
Another example of animals & Royal Mail is the fact that in a 1936 Royal Mail guide, postal service rules allowed for game (including rabbits) to be mailed with only a neck label, as long as “no liquid is likely to exude”. The mere existence of that qualifier certainly means there were some incidents of exuding.
As one might expect, stamps are an important part of the London postal museum. The first stamps were created during the reign of Queen Victoria. This brought cheap mail to everyone & helped Royal Mail launch into a new era.
The Postal Museum has large displays showing stamp artwork, including everything that goes into their design. You can even design your own stamp as part of another interactive activity.
That’s not the only creative work showcased at the London Postal Museum. There are also posters & ads used throughout the years to promote Royal Mail. Another exhibit shows the first commercial Christmas card.
In 1936, the General Postal Office Film Unit famously produced a documentary called “Night Mail” about Royal Mail’s nightly postal train between London & Scotland. You can view it below.
The museum also has a collection of vehicles that have been used to transport mail over the years.
Depending on how long you spend at each exhibit & how many interactive activities you partake in, it takes perhaps an hour or so to get through the Postal Museum. It’s not a huge museum, but there’s a ton of info & postal memorabilia.
Outside of the London Postal Museum, there’s a replica Dennis Royal Mail van that you can sit in and take photos. Everyone loved it, young and old.
Mail Rail London
Depending on what time your Mail Rail ticket is scheduled for, you can either do it before or after visiting the Postal Museum. It’s housed in a separate building across the street that was formerly an engineering depot. Both buildings have gift shops.
The Mail Rail at the Postal Museum also includes the postal play space for kids, which requires a separate ticket.
Downstairs, there’s a Mail Rail museum gallery with old rail cars & equipment. This includes a pneumatic car from 1863, showing that the hyperloop is not a new idea. You can also practice with switches & controls.
The London Mail Rail ride itself takes 15 minutes. You can quickly see that this narrow-gauge rail system was not made for passenger comfort (or really, passengers at all). I had to duck my head a bit because the roof was so low. Recognizing that some visitors have limited mobility, there is a video & audio-accessible tour for anyone who is unable to ride the train. It shows the same videos & exhibits that are shown down in the tunnels, including the full train ride.
The London Post Office Railway was in operation from 1927 until 2003. In its heyday, it ran between Paddington & Whitechapel. The largest stop was here at Mount Pleasant. Mount Pleasant was once one of the largest mail sorting facilities in the world. At one point, the London Mail Rail carried 4 million letters & packages every day.
As the Mail Rail passes through the tunnels, there is a guided audio tour. Since the train is so narrow, there’s great visibility the whole ride. A video is shown at the first stop, the former Mount Pleasant station, with another video being shown later on. It’s a cool little tour of a unique system.
The London Mail Rail & Postal Museum experience is a lot of fun for all ages. While there are plenty of kids, it also attracts older people who like history & mail & trains, which I have apparently become.
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Last updated on August 13, 2022