Last Updated on 24. March 2021
In September 2017 a new museum opened in London: the Postal Museum. Close to King’s Cross Station it’s all about the development of the modern postal system that we know today. You can also take a ride in small trains which take you into a secret tunnel system underneath London.
The Postal Museum
Approximately 20 minutes away from Kings Cross Station the latest addition to the museum’s landscape of London can be found: the Postal Museum. I have to admit, I never collected stamps or had a special interest into them. However, it goes without saying that I visit a new museum in London and I loved my time there! The museum shows how letters were distributed in the past, how the clothing of postmen and post boxes have changed over the years. This all is part of London’s history and therefore very interesting to me. An absolute highlight is a ride with the Mail Rail Train. In a hidden tunnel system underneath London letters and parcels were transported between 1927 and 2003 in small trains (the Mail Rail). These trains are now open to the visitors.
The main building houses the museum which tells about the history and development of our modern postal system. Back to the 1500s when Henry VIII assigned the first “Master of the Posts” to Charles I who in 1635 opened the postal system to the public to 1840 when the first stamp, the “Penny Black” was published. 1852 saw the erection of the first post box and from 1868 onward special employers were part of the team: cats were employed to catch all the mice.
Learn inside the museum what “post-boy boots” are and why they were so useful back at the time. And did you know that you paid to receive a letter rather than to send it? Some clever ones did hide messages on the cover so that the recipient could read the message without accepting the letter. The best learning to me was the fact that post boxes always carry the royal cipher of the monarch who was in charge when the post box was installed. Nowadays, many have a “ER” which stands for Elizabeth Regina. Regina is Latin and means queen. So the “ER” stands for the current Queen, Elizabeth II. Inside the museum you will find very old post boxes with a “VR” for Victoria Regina. There is also a post box which not only could collect letters but also sell stamps. The “Type E Combination Pillar Box” was designed in the 1930s but never had a big breakthrough. If you’re interested why post boxes once were green, have a look at the “Green post boxes“ post by Julian Stray from the museum. In the building of the museum there is also the shop and a cafe. Get some refreshments before boarding the Mail Rail Train.
A ride with the Mail Rail
The Mail Rail is located at another building. When you leave the museum turn right and follow the street a bit further down the road. Then entrance will be on your left. On street level there is a small shop, a toilet and the ticket area. Good to know: it’s best to book your tickets for the train ride online before visiting as they are very popular and often sold out for month. Also: museum and train ride can be booked separately. If you want to visit both attractions you need two tickets.
The trains and the technical exhibition are one floor down. In the big hall there is the entry and exit point for the Mail Rail Train and an exhibition with technical equipment and machinery needed in operation the trains. Depending on your departure time of the train you can visit the exhibition before or after your ride.
The ride with the train is truly unique and very special – if you are not claustrophobic. The wagons are small and narrow and get closed completely. Each bench is designed for two people, there are two benches in each wagon. I was lucky and had a bench for myself. If you are tall you might need to duck your head.
Once everyone is seated the 20-minutes long ride starts in the narrow tunnel system underneath London. It’s all so narrow because originally the trains were supposed to transport letters and parcels from one end of London to the other. Each wagon as a loudspeaker and you can listen to the history of the Mail Rail while enjoying the ride. The trains were used between 1927 and May 2003. I absolutely recommend to ride the train! It shows a special part of London’s history which was hidden and forgotten for years and which is finally open to the public.
What you need to know for your visit
- The address of the museum is 15-20 Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DA.
- The tube stations Kings Cross, Farringdon, Russell Square or Chancery Lane are closest to the museum. From Kings Cross it took me 20 minutes.
- The museum is open daily (except Christmas) from 10 to 17, the last train leaves at 16.15.
- Museum and train are £16. Kids pay less. I strongly recommend to book in advance as train tickets are often sold out for month.
- A train ride lasts 20 minutes, in the museum you can easily spend 1-5 to 2 hours.
- Check out the museum’s homepage for latest news.
After your visit to the Postal Museum
Want to visit more museums? The Charles Dickens Museum is approx. 5 minutes away, the London Canal Museumcan be reached within 20 minutes. Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station is worth visiting because of its many arty artifacts and at the British Library you can admire rare books and stamps.
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