Exploring London’s Postal Museum
After opening one year ago, The Postal Museum near Russell Square has been nominated for the UK’s Art Fund Museum of the Year award. From the five nominees it’s the only London contender, so we went along yesterday to see it for ourselves.
The museum celebrates more than 500 years of Britain’s postal service, which was created to serve the court of Henry VIII. The bright, colourful space presents interesting highlights from its history, such as the moment an escaped lioness attacked a mail coach in the early 1800s, as well as a very rare King Edward VIII postbox, which was built before he announced his abdication in 1936.
A fantastic effort has been made to bring this legacy to life, so children will find as much to engage with as adults. For example, there’s an interactive screen which takes your photograph before putting your face on a stamp, while you can send messages across the museum to each other via plastic tubes. There are plenty of dressing-up opportunities, as well as a postal-themed, indoor play area for kids under nine.
In another building across the road is the Mail Rail. For almost 100 years, these tiny train used an underground network to send letters across London until 2003. Now, the carriages have been repurposed for humans (above), so that you can enjoy a 15-minute underground ride. On the journey, a recording tells you about its history, large projections on the walls bring the underground world to life, and there's a cheeky surprise in the middle of a dark tunnel.
The Mail Rail is accompanied by its own exhibition which is peppered with clever, interactive displays too, while the main museum building also houses a temporary exhibition space. Currently on display is Voices from the Deep (until January 2019), a more adult-friendly offering which tells the incredible story of the steam boat SS Gairsoppa: sunk by a German torpedo in 1941, Gairsoppa was carrying sacks of letters from India to the UK. Unbelievably, over 700 survived until the wreckage was found in 2013 (above). You can read a selection of the letters here, alongside a silver bar, discarded shoes and more.
The Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018 will be announced on 5 July and The Postal Museum is up against Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, Glasgow Women’s Library and the Tate gallery in St Ives. Previous London winners are the V&A (2016), the William Morris Gallery (2013) and the British Museum (2011).
The Postal Museum is open daily 10am-5pm. Museum only: Adult £11, concession £9, child free. Museum and Mail Rail: Adult £17.05, concession £15.40, child £10.45. www.postalmuseum.org.