Think you know all of London’s underground lines? Well, think again. You may be surprised to hear that from 1923 to as recently as 2003, London had its very own ‘Mail Rail’ an underground line designed for carrying post. Today, on September 4th, 2017, The Postal museum re-opened up that old, abandoned railway. Not for the letters this time, but for people, and I felt very lucky to ride it!
Distributing post between Paddington and Whitechapel, the mail rail was once a vital artery in Britain’s communication network. Hidden from view and with only a small number of staff managing its operation, the average Londoner was simply unaware of its existence beneath their feet. Until now, of course.
Following closure in 2003, because it became too expensive to run, The Postal Museum has now replaced the old, teeny-tiny, self-driving post trains, with sleek, teeny-tiny trains for people.
The trains are really, pretty small and that is part of their charm because the original trains were small, designed for sacks of letters. We got inside the train and sat in a chair each, in single file. If you have kids, you could squeeze side by side. It’s definitely not a train journey for claustrophobics or tall people. Think of those miniature trains you get at a holiday park combined with a spaceship because the whole ceiling is clear plastic – perfect for viewing the inside of those tunnels!
The whole journey lasts around 20 minutes as you crawl deeper and deeper beneath the city. An audio guide featuring a former mail rail employee plays, pointing out features and reeling off bits of history as you ride through the dark labyrinth. The air is heavy, cool and damp down there. In its heydey, the train carried 4 million letters a day!
There are a few informative videos throughout the ride, cleverly projected onto the original platforms you stop at (one extremely cheesy one detailing the journey of a letter).
You start and end your journey at an original mail rail site – Mount Pleasant, located opposite The Postal Museum in Clerkenwell. After the train journey you pass through an interactive exhibition revealing further secrets and information on this charming railway. Being an enthusiastic Londoner, I had read about the mail rail before my visit, but here I was able to learn so much more about it and gain a real sense of its history. It’s funny to think, that without its reopening the mail rail it would’ve remained a mystery to many. What else are you hiding from us down there, London?
Info: Open everyday from 10:00 am to 5pm.
Tickets: You can even get a combined ticket for both the Postal Museum exhibitions and Rail Mail ride, cost £14.50 while kids’ tickets cost £7.25.