Take a ride on the Mail Rail, a spine-tingling and super-geeky journey into London's secret history.
One hundred years ago, the Post Office built a secret railway under central London. Stretching six-and-a-half miles from Paddington to Whitechapel and linking post offices across the city, the driverless electric line carried up to four million letters a day. But in 2003, after 75 years of service, this wonder of engineering was shut down. The postmen left and the tunnels fell silent.
Now the Mail Rail is back in service – but this time it won’t carry letters. Instead, two battery-powered trains will take passengers through the tunnels for the first time as the Mail Rail reopens as part of the brand new Postal Museum.
Opening this week by Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell, the museum charts 500 years of the pioneering British postal service. It’s got original Penny Black stamps, pneumatic tubes, a superb-looking kids’ play area called Sorted! and a nifty five-wheeled post bike that wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Shoreditch.
But the main event is across the street under Mount Pleasant itself. This is the old Mail Rail engineering depot, and it’s where you can hop on board for a 15-minute journey that’s deeper than the tube. You’ll learn what it took to make London’s post arrive on time, hear about the men who spent their lives down here, and see the roof of the interwar tunnel passing inches above your head.
The only catch is you’ll have to wait until September, when trains start running – but you can book right now to be one of the first passengers. Having taken a ride for a sneak preview last month (and trekked down on foot too), I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a tantalising glimpse of the awesome work that went on down here, and of the miles of tunnel stretching away on either side, still silent and shut: maybe London’s last real secret. James Manning
Book and find out more here.
|Venue name:||British Postal Museum and Archive||Contact:|
|Opening hours:||10am to 5pm|
|Transport:||Tube: Farringdon/Chancery Lane|
|Price:||£16, £13 concessions, £8 child|