British museum receives grant for new building, rail exhibit

By Denise McCarty

The British Postal Museum and Archive announced June 3 that it has been awarded £4.5 million (U.S. $7.5 million) by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Using money raised through Great Britain’s National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund gives grants to projects that focus on heritage, including museums, parks and historic places, as well as archaeology, the natural environment and cultural traditions.

The press release announcing the grant said that it paves the way for success for the new national postal museum to be built in north London.

“Approximately 95 percent funded, BPMA is now focusing on raising the remaining capital necessary to enter the build phase, with construction expected to begin later this year,” the press release stated.

In addition to a permanent museum dedicated to the stories of Britain’s postal past, the museum also plans to open parts of Mail Rail, the world’s only purpose-built underground mail transit system, to the public for the first time.

People will be able ride a mail train through a section of the original tunnels and also be able to explore an interactive exhibit in the car depot at Mount Pleasant, where train maintenance was undertaken throughout the railway’s life.

Sue Bowers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund London, said: “This wonderful new museum and archive repository are set to be enhanced by plans to open up the historic ‘Mail Rail’ for visitors to experience. Proposals for major redevelopment work will help people learn more about the key role the postal service played in shaping the modern world.

“It will also regenerate a part of London that has strong community involvement but ranks high on the list of social deprivation. The combination of all these factors make for an exciting project and we’re delighted to be confirming an investment of £4.5m today.”

Mail Rail began service in 1927 and was in use until 2003. At its peak, the network operated for 22 hours a day, during which time it would carry up to 4 million letters in electrified, driverless cars across London from Whitechapel to Paddington via six stations.

In 2012, the museum, Royal Mail Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced plans for a new home for the British Postal Museum and Archive at Calthorpe House in London, stating that the current facilities had limited space for exhibits and displays.