Did you know that there’s a secret tunnel under central London that used to carry mail across the capital?
The Post Office Underground Railway (renamed Mail Rail for its 60th anniversary in 1987) is a unique and iconic part of Britain’s industrial heritage. It is the only example in the world of a dedicated underground rail system for transporting mail and one of the most frequently enquired about aspects of the UK’s postal history.
In May 2011 The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) was able to retrieve examples of the 1927 (the only known remaining of its kind) and 1930s units from the underground system, and unite them with a 1980s unit already in our care. Years of use and subsequent storage underground have, however, taken their toll; thanks to funding from the Arts Council England PRISM Fund, the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme and the Friends of the BPMA, conservation work of the trains is now underway.
On Saturday 21 April, the BPMA are inviting people to the British Postal Museum Store in Debden, Essex for a Mail Rail themed Open Day. The day is a great opportunity to find out more about the railway and conservation project, and will feature talks, guided tours, film screenings, family activities and ‘Ask the Curator’ sessions. The Conservator will be on hand to show the conservation work and there will be a display with objects and images from the BPMA archive.
Mail Rail came about because of congestions on the London streets at the turn of the 20th century. The railway was opened on 5 December 1927 with parcels traffic running between Mount Pleasant and Paddington. At its peak, over 4 million items of mail were transported on the railway every day. The trains ran in a single tunnel, 9ft in diameter, with a double 2ft gauge track. Although the trains are much smaller than on London’s passenger underground, the stations look much the same, with the familiar sound of approaching trains. The tunnels were used during the First World War to store and protect art treasures belonging to the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery. Through declining use and closure of the above ground offices the system eventually became un-economical to run. In 2003 the system was suspended and today remains closed.
Event details: Mail Rail Open Day
Saturday 21 April 10.00am – 4.00pm
The British Postal Museum Store, Unit 7, Imprimo Park, Debden Industrial Estate, Lenthall Road, Loughton, Essex IG10 3UF.
Call 020 7239 2570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.