I love a niche museum. The high point for me had to be the Paris Sewers Museum, just down the road from the Musee de L’Orangerie – yes I recommend it, and no I would not have gone if Dad had not taken me there on the false pretence of getting coffee. Anyway, talking niche museums, the Postal Museum opened in Clerkenwell mid last year and it has been on my list to visit since I saw an ad for it on the tube. What caught my eye, what made me choose this museum to fantasise about above all others, was its newly refurbished postal train.
You read that right. London used to have a tube network running beneath the streets just for the post. It was created when the streets began to fill up with traffic back in the day and keeping to a regular timed route became impossible. To solve the problem they created mini-tube carriages (like ¼ the size of the normal tube) that had sacks of letters hauled onto them, the trains travelled around this fair city making sure the words found their homes.
The reason I took quite so long to get to the Postal Museum is because that darling Postal Train had sold out for bloody months. I had to wait for a spontaneous bright and freezing Thursday in January to be able to secure a coveted seat.
The museum space proper is across the road from the train part, it is unbelievably cute and kids (or you know, millennials with a child’s heart) will love it. It’s interactive and full of fun facts about how the postal service shaped the nation. And it has some working pneumatic tubes that you can use to send anonymous notes to the other side of museum – I will let you guess what I wrote on mine (a risky move since I was the youngest in the museum by about 50 years).
When you head to across the road to THE TRAIN you get some more fun interactive post games, including my favourite where you have to maintain your balance on a moving train carriage simulator and put letters in the right slots. It’s a cool museum.
But ONTO THE POST TRAIN. I had an unfortunate wait when it came to my timeslot (all rides have a specific time, you can’t just hop on), one of the two trains had broken down and there was a delay of half an hour. No, not ironic at all. I eventually managed to hop on the TINY TRAIN (they are not designed for passengers, only mail was meant to travel on them) and begin my 15 minute journey.
It is amazing to see the real life tubes that the mail travelled down for so many years, and hear the history of the men that worked the mail train. They have some interactive displays that are a nice touch and then before you can blink you are back to the start.
I really enjoyed my time at the museum and the mail train ride (excluding the 30 minute delay which was a Royal pain), however it is the price that I quibble with. I don’t doubt that it costs a pretty penny to restore and maintain the train, and the museum is world class – however we are in a city of free museums. I think £17 is a lot for the train ride, and for the price I don’t think I would do it again (or have done it in the first place). Check out the website and make your own mind up, it is a really interesting way of looking at history in any case. And besides, stamps are cool.