I'm old enough to remember friends and boyfriends sending me letters at university (I know, I'm a dinosaur) so I've got a definite soft spot for the traditional art of letter writing. I also like a train journey, and the new Postal Museum in London has the coolest little train that kids adore. Signed, sealed, delivered, it's very family friendly.
Visiting Mail Rail, Sorted, and the Postal Museum London – Any visitor attraction in London faces stiff competition so every new site needs a quality USP to draw the punters, and the Postal Museum has a really cool one – the Mail Rail.
The Mail Rail – Visiting Mail Rail, Sorted, and the Postal Museum London
Opened in September 2017, this tiny train chugs its way under the streets of London, with video projections on the walls telling passengers the story of the world’s first social media i.e. the post.
Mail Rail History – Visiting Mail Rail, Sorted, and the Postal Museum London
The wee trains were used to carry London’s post, as many as eighteen trains could be whizzing about at any one time, carrying four million letters a day! Two hundred people worked in shifts to keep this running smoothly – it’s amazing what can be happening literally under our feet. But when the line ceased operations in 2003 the rail system was maintained by engineer Ray Middlesworth and his team.
It’s very James Bond that the line was maintained, just in case, because we never really know when we’ll need a little train track under London. Now it’s a very novel, curious, exciting visitor attraction.
Book the Mail Rail in Advance
The train is hugely popular so make sure you book ahead, and it’s also tiny so not for the very claustrophobic. I saw a picture of the empty train and totally misjudged the sense of scale, so I’m featuring a video with my family in it to show what a snug little jaunt it is.
En route the kids were transfixed, there are dark sections of the tunnel, followed by brilliantly illuminated, animated films, and the ‘trick’ when the lights went out and a ‘pretend’ break down occurred – hilarious, I was starting to feel mildly uncomfortable! The return journey takes about 15-20 minutes but we were all transfixed.
Once you disembark there’s a small display area, which reveals a range of curious factoids. The one that stood out to me was the fact that commercial liners, such as Cunard ships, carried mail across the Atlantic. When the Titanic sank it had over 3000 mail sacks onboard; in the big picture the mail sacks don’t matter a jot next to the human cost, but think of all those letters, messages of love, homesickness and business, lost to the ocean. The postal workers onboard attempted to move the sacks to the upper decks when the mail room began to flood. They didn’t leave their posts. It’s a heartbreaking detail.
Sorted Play Area – Visiting Mail Rail, Sorted, and the Postal Museum London
Next to the Mail Rail is ‘Sorted!’, a play area for tots. Forty-five minute slots can be booked here and we met some local nannies taking their mini clients out to play. It’s a very cool area, very immersive, not some grubby soft play, but a sparkling white postal heaven, with uniforms, parcels, sorting areas, pigeon holes, post boxes, post wagons, I could go on.
My tots moved post, from pillar to post, ad nauseam, with the most serious looks of concentration on their faces. Kids are hilarious, you’d think the entire festive season of successful post delivery rested on their tiny shoulders, they kept moving letters back and forth in their wee red uniforms till we were dizzy, a comedy hive of activity.
After every Sorted! household had received its mail about four times over we opted for some chill out time in the reading corner, with gems such as Postman Bear, The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Pocket Postman. Sorted! is a really different play experience for kids and wonderfully done.
The Postal Museum
Then we headed to the museum itself, stopping at the café for coffee and a cake. The museum itself is naturally full of factoids about the postal service. The post first served one man, and one man only, King Henry VIII. I also got to watch the short film Night Mail, a fantastic Grierson documentary charting the mail’s journey from London to Aberdeen (a bit like us on the Caledonian Sleeper!). Featuring verse commentary by W H Auden, and a score by Benjamin Britten, it’s an archive gem that I hadn’t seen since I was a student in Glasgow.
In terms of the kids, they were busy dressing up as mini postal staff and marching around the museum’s mail vans, they put their hand in a secret hole to look for tigers (it made sense at the time) and they sat at a letter-writing station penning notes to various relatives.
The whole set up is excellent, but the prices are quite high for a family to access all three (and the pricing structure is a little bit complicated), but on the plus side you can pick and choose between the three attractions as you wish. It’s a unique day out and a strong addition to London’s child-friendly scene.
IN THE AREA
For lunch we nipped to Leon at the Brunswick Centre, for healthy fast food. Then we had a play at the famous Coram’s Fields. Adults can only enter this seven acre play area if they are accompanied by a child, which was strangely reassuring. Coram’s Fields are free, and a mix of playgrounds are available.
For a list of activities to try in London with tots click here. We travelled from Aberdeen to London aboard the Caledonian Sleeper (read our review here) so we had a bit of ‘rail’ theme going on. We stayed with relatives near the Elephant & Castle, before hopping on a bus to reach the Postal Museum. To be fair I don’t understand the London bus service but my husband does, and it’s far easier with a buggy than attempting to use the tube.