The London Postal Museum
London is full of amazing museums that are brilliant for kids. You could probably visit a new museum every weekend for a year and still not tick off all the galleries that London has to offer. But one museum that you should make the effort to visit very soon is the Postal Museum that opened in June 2017. Located in London’s Kings Cross, opposite the enormous Royal Mail depot, is this special museum that tracks the history of the humble letter.
We visited early in the summer holidays and had a wonderful day. The museum is divided into four sections; the Postal Museum Exhibition that traces the origins of the postal system, Sorted!, a fantastic play space for kids, the Mail Rail, a subterranean railway that once whisked four million letters a day across London and the Mail Rail Exhibition, which covers the history of the underground mail train system.
The Postal Museum Exhibition
The brilliantly interactive main exhibition charts the origins of postal system and includes lots of quirky stories such as the cryptic Victorian valentine cards and how an escaped lioness once disrupted the mail service on Salisbury Plain. On display are five-wheeled cycles invented to deliver letters faster, a Royal Mail stagecoach from the 1800s, post buses and a Royal Mail embossed Morris Minor.
Interactive exhibits invite kids of all ages to play and learn. My three had a great time designing their own stamps, dressing up as a Postwoman and Telegram Messenger Boy, and trying to decipher Morse code. There’s even a great dress-up section where kids can reenact the famous lioness incident! The exhibit is really well curated; I particularly liked the selection of posters and magazines form the 1950s and 60s and the section at the end where guests can write about memorable letters they’ve received. There are activity booklets for kids to follow as well.
Sorted is a fantastic play space for kids aged 0-8 years old (although my 10-year-old played as well and thought it was great). Designed as a miniature town, kids can dress up and pretend to be part of the postal system. They can sort parcels, deliver letters in wooden mail trolleys, pretend to drive a vintage post van, work in a post-office and more. Small wooden houses double-up as post-boxes, complete with sound effects once their doors are open (cue lots of barking dogs and ringing doorbells!).
There are telephone boxes with whispering tubes for sending secret messages and a counter for creating and sending telegrams. For little ones, there’s a designated baby area, too. What’s really cute about it all is the attention to detail such as the addresses that include “Kids Cross”, “Carnababy Street” and “Granny Square”. For non-Londoners, they’re all a great play on popular capital destinations (Kings Cross, Carnaby Street and Granary Square). You can book Sorted! as a standalone session, which costs £5 or £3.75 if bought in conjunction with a General Admission ticket. If visiting at weekends or during school holidays it’s definitely worth booking in advance; tickets are sold for 45 minute sessions.
The Mail Rail
This is the real highlight of the London Postal Museum but, despite visiting mid-week out of school holidays, tickets were all sold out when we visited! So, we are just going to have to return on another day, at which point I’ll update the details here. Until then, however, a brief introduction to the Mail Rail.
From the 1920s until its closure in 2003, the Mail rail system transported letters and parcels 6.5miles across London, from Paddington in the west to Whitechapel in the east. The train line linked six sorting offices with mainline railway stations and delivered four million letters ever day! At its peak, the Mail Rail ran 22 hours a day and employed more than 220 staff.Today, two new trains have been adapted from the original design and take visitors on a 15 minute trip, 21 metres underground. If you’re planning to visit the Postal Museum, book your Mail Rail tickets in advance!I had no idea that an underground mail system even existed before I started reading about the Postal Museum – so this only doubled my annoyance that there were no tickets available on our visit! Staff say that you can generally get walk-in tickets but, from personal experience, I’d say be organised and book online first.
The Mail Rail Exhibition
This is the exhibition that accompanies the ride on the Mail Rail itself and allows budding engineers and train drivers to see if they can keep the networking running.
In a city like London where there are brilliant museums for kids seemingly on every corner, the London Postal Museum still stands out. It’s fun, educational, interactive and just really, really interesting. Make sure you visit next time you’re in the capital!
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