Mail Rail at London’s Postal Museum
Last Updated on 24th July 2020
On Friday 28th July 2017 The Postal Museum opened to visitors for the first time. From 4th September onwards visitors were able to take a ride on London’s latest heritage attraction, the “Mail Rail”. Tickets for both are now on sale at postalmuseum.org.
So what is ‘Mail Rail’?
Mail Rail is the secret Post Office underground railway which lies 70ft below the streets of London. At its peak it carried 4 million letters across London every day! Its full route used to run between Paddington in the west via the Mount Pleasant hub (where the museum is) to Whitechapel in the east with 7 stations in total.
Since it opened to the public in September for the first time in its 100 year history visitors are able to enjoy a 20 minute subterranean ride through 1km of the original tunnels in modified carriages. The original trains were designed to carry post and not human beings! However presenter Dan Snow managed to squeeze into one and he’s’ 6’ 6” so most people should be OK. They can’t make them much bigger than they are due to the size of the tunnels!
Is all started with a casual question
The opening of the Postal Museum marks the end of an ambitious project to convert a disused Clerkenwell printing factory into the new museum site. It brings the disused ‘Mail Rail’ tunnels back to life. Once in their new Clerkenwell home somebody from the team enquired with the Royal Mail what they would do with the tunnels. This then quite literally set the train wheels in motion.
So what do you see when you’re down there?
Visitors descend into the former engineering depot of the 100 year old Post Office railway and board a miniature train designed to transport them through its stalactite-filled tunnels. Mail Rail’s interactive train ride lasts approximately twenty minutes and you pass through the tunnels that run beneath the Mount Pleasant sorting office, stopping at the original and largely unchanged station platforms where an impressive audio visual display gives an insight into how the railway kept post coursing through London for 22 hours a day.
Clever technology and projection mappings transport people back in time to help them understand the impact of the railway on our ability to communicate with people across the world.
And if you’ve ever watched Bruce Willis’s film ‘Hudson Hawk’ you might not have realised that the underground station in The Vatican was actually filmed in London’s ‘Mail Rail’ tunnels.
Anything to do afterwards?
After the ride visitors are be free to wander through the cavernous engineering depot, turned exhibition space. Stepping into a replica of a real-life Travelling Post Office, the floor starts to shake as visitors try and sort the mail just like a real-life traveling postal worker.
And the Postal museum?
Aside from the “Mail Rail” the museum gives visitors the chance to gain an insight into some of the quirky social history behind an incredible British invention – the post.
Celebrate the surprising and quirky history of Britain’s earliest social network, the post! The Postal Museum contains five zones, leading visitors through five centuries of world-class curiosities and providing a different view on some of the world’s most significant historical events.
Other items on display include:
- The sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II. Used to produce the iconic image replicated more than 220 billion times on stamps.
- A gold Olympic post box.
- A priceless sheet of the world’s first stamps, the Penny Black. One of just a few sheets left in the world (all held by The Postal Museum)
All in all a brilliant little visit
‘Mail Rail’ is something I wasn’t even aware of so it’s fantastic that it’s being opened for the public to experience. Who would have thought all these tunnels have been laying dormant below out feet as we stroll above on the pavements of central London.
The Postal Museum
Phoenix Place, Clerkenwell, London WC1X 0DA
I was invited to attend The Postal Museum as part of a press trip.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this check out my other train related article, when through no fault of our own we missed the last Eurostar train back to the UK and got stuck in Belgium.