Back in the days of yore, pre internet, people sent letters. A lot of them. London’s Postal Museum celebrates that. Featuring everything from artefacts from the seventeenth century, including the and start of the ‘Post’ under Henry VIII exhibitions to modern examples of Post Office branding, right up to the important role that the postal system plays in keeping our society moving, it’s a fascinating exploration of this most important form of communication.
The highlight is the Mail Rail, a railway system that ran in tunnels underneath London, from Paddington to Liverpool Street, right from Dec 1927 until May 2003. Running for 22 hours a day and carrying 4 million letters per day, the train network was complex, efficient, and crucial to keeping many of the businesses and services in the capital running. Visitors to the museum get to take a twenty minute ride in the little green trains, heading down through the tunnels to see film projections and hear audio narration about what life was like when it was a thriving and functioning railway. We’re all familiar with Queen Elizabeth’s head on our stamps, and you can see the sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II used to produce the iconic image replicated more than 220 billion times on stamps, as well as a priceless sheet of Penny Blacks.
On display is a Bristol to London Mail Coach from the 1800s, a five-wheeled bicycle invented by the Victorians to cope with a huge increase in post, and a replica Travelling Post Office. You can watch the General Post Office documentary Night Mail, with words by W H Auden and music by Benjamin Britten, and hear sound clips of real Mail Rail engineers telling their stories.
Adrian Steel, Director of The Postal Museum, says that ‘The Postal Museum offers people the chance to gain an insight into some of the quirky social history behind an incredible British invention – the post, whilst Mail Rail affords people a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore a slice of subterranean London, previously hidden from public view.͞’
It’s a fascinating experience about something that is in many ways familiar to our lives, yet which we know very little about. Well worth a visit.