World Stamps

Take an excursion on London’s underground Mail Rail from home

May 1, 2020, 3 PM

By Molly Goad

During this unprecedented time of stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, many museums are opening their doors virtually. 

London’s Postal Museum is no exception, having launched Make a Connection, an online gathering space where exhibits can be enjoyed safely at home. Its leading attraction is the Mail Rail from Home virtual tour, available now for a limited time. 

The tour grants access to the more than 100-year-old railway system that was made solely for mail transit. The railway consists of tunnels dug out by hand beneath the bustling streets of London.

Construction began in 1914, but delays due to World War I pushed its opening to December 1927. Mail Rail operated until 2003, when it became uneconomical to continue its use.

The railway system was reopened as a tourist attraction in September 2017. Linn’s editor-in-chief Jay Bigalke wrote about his 15-minute ride after a trip to the new Postal Museum in February 2018. (Read about his experience here.) 

Now you can travel virtually on the underground train as well and learn about its rich history as told by former Rail Mail engineer Ray Middlesworth.

“It was an engineering marvel,” Middlesworth says during the virtual tour. “Mail Rail ran almost non-stop, night and day, for over 75 years until 2003.”

The 10-minute video takes riders back in time, through the dark tunnels and loading platforms, as Middlesworth explains what it was like to work on the mail system. 

“It was hard work down here, but we all thought we were part of something important,” he says. “There was enormous team spirit.” 

The trains were never meant to transport people, and riders are completely enclosed in the tiny rail cars. For those who don’t enjoy very tight spaces, this virtual excursion is a perfect opportunity to experience the wonder of the underground railway.

In addition to the Mail Rail online trek, Make a Connection is a place to view the Postal Museum’s off-site store where large objects such as vehicles and pillar boxes are stored, explore objects from the collections, revisit past exhibitions, and read stories of extraordinary communication from Postal Museum experts. You will also find links to postal-inspired Spotify playlists and activity sheets for kids. 

As a writer juggling many tasks, including home schooling my children, I used Make a Connection as a learning activity for the whole family. We took the virtual tour together, and my kids enjoyed the activity sheets that can be downloaded from the website.

The Make a Connection online hub is available on the Postal Museum's website.

Be sure to visit the museum's website to take the Mail Rail from Home virtual tour.

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