The Mail Rail was a driverless underground railway built by the Post Office with assistance from the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, to move mail between sorting offices. First operational in 1927 it closed in 2003 when new technology made it obsolete.
Now it's back for the benefit of visitors curious about the history of Britain's mail service.
Starting on Wednesday 1 August, visitors can hop on a train and head 70ft underground to take a tour of the labyrinthine tunnels and passageways of the Mail Rail. The train stops at original platforms, which have been left largely unchanged save for audio visual displays that recount the Mail Rail history.
The original Mail Rail trains were driverless, so the tunnels were not devised with humans in mind. The trains are small, and a transparent roof is closed over you – the head of any adult slightly above average height would touch the top of it. The small space also means that the Postal Museum staff were, unfortunately, unable to make the trains accessible for wheelchair users. However, they provide a cinematic display as an alternative for those who are unable to go on the ride.
The cavernous engineering depot, where the ride kicks off, has been converted into an exhibition space all about the history of the Mail Rail and, particularly, the people who worked on it. As well as housing untouched elements from the original network, the exhibition is full of audio clips from people who used to work for the service.
There are plenty of interactive displays for younger kids, including a ‘Travelling Post Office’, complete with a floor which shakes while visitors try to sort the mail.
At the same time as the opening of Mail Rail, the Postal Museum will be unveiling Sorted!, their dedicated play area for children aged 8 and under. Kids can play with trolleys and slides, or play postman in a mini wooden vintage post van.
The Postal Museum itself, on the opposite side of the street and newly opened on 28 July, is home to a display charting the history of the Royal Postal Service in Britain. Like the Mail Rail exhibition, the Postal Museum does a great job of integrating interactive displays. Fun anecdotes from the history of mail, such as the story of an escaped lioness attacking a mail coach in 1816, make the museum all the more engaging.
Londoners may think they know the city inside out, but the Postal Museum and Mail Rail are here to prove them wrong – and provide a wild ride along the way.
|What||The Postal Museum and Mail Rail|
|Where||The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place, London, WC1X 0DA | MAP|
01 Aug 18 – 02 Sep 18, (Exhibitions start to close at 16.45, last train departs 16.35)
|Price||££9 - £17.05|
|Website||Click here for more details|