Philatelic Foreword — By Jay Bigalke
The new Postal Museum in London, England, officially opened to the public July 28, 2017. In September, it launched an underground Mail Rail attraction that utilizes part of the Post Office railway that operated beneath the city’s streets from 1927 through 2003.
I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to experience both during a trip to London in February.
I went on a Friday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised to see both the museum space and Mail Rail busy with lots of families participating with the interactive nature of many of the exhibits.
The Mail Rail area is located across the street from the Postal Museum. The tickets for the Mail Rail and the exhibitions are £17.05 for adults and £10.45 for children (currently about $24 and $15). If only interested in the exhibitions, the cost is £11 for adults and free for children. Additional pricing details are found on the museum’s website.
When you walk into the Mail Rail entrance, you see a large gift shop area with a staircase in the back that leads down to a larger display of different Mail Rail artifacts. This exhibition area also has a mock train car with a moving floor that simulates riding on the rails. While in motion, children are encouraged to sort mail into the appropriate slots.
There is a waiting area for those with tickets for the train. The original Mail Rail cars were not manned, though the current cars are.
Two trains were created for the Mail Rail ride that completely enclose the riders. As you can see from the photo (on page 4), you really do have to “mind your head” as the sign says. Those that are claustrophobic should take note before getting on the train.
The 15-minute journey takes you through part of the former railway’s tunnels. The train stops at different points along the way to show videos projected on the walls. You also hear stories from former Mail Rail workers.
The tickets are quite popular with peak times often selling out. London-based tour group companies have been including the experience in their packages. It’s great seeing so many young individuals and families learning about the mails.
Similar to the Mail Rail experience, the Postal Museum exhibit space on the other side of the road focuses heavily on other types of mail delivery moments throughout Royal Mail’s history. A mail coach, a motorcycle and pillar mailboxes are on display, to name a few.
Stamp collectors will note a few rare pieces of postal history on display. Also there is a detailed story of the current Machin head series of stamps that even includes one of the printing plates.
Among the interactive exhibits in the museum is a station where you can design your own stamp. My favorite, however, was a working pneumatic tube, where you can write a message and send it off to the other side of the museum exhibit area.
The museum has an excellent gift shop and restaurant area with a post & go postage label machine near the entrance.
For the serious philatelists, there is a research area upstairs with a large tabletop digital interactive exhibit that has scans of a number of items from the museum’s collection.
For those that have research projects related to British postage stamps and Royal Mail, the museum has areas for researchers to explore. It is best to contact the museum in advance to see what it might have and how it could accommodate your project.
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I had visited London a couple of years ago when the museum project was in its early stages. Overall, it was quite wonderful to see the finished project.
The Postal Museum is located at 15-20 Phoenix Place in London. To learn more about the Postal Museum, visit online.