Updated: Nov 30, 2021
The brilliant quirky Postal Museum with its Mail Rail across the road has been a firm favourite of ours since it was opened in its current guise just under five years ago. We would recommend a trip at any time but currently there are some extra Christmas highlights to fuel the festive spirit.
THE POSTAL MUSEUM
Five hundred years of postal history is celebrated in this fabulous museum with loads of exhibits kids can get their hands on. Did you know that that postboxes were once green? They only went red in 1874. Who knew that MPs in the1930s didn't pay for post? There's stacks to see: post boxes, uniforms, greetings cards and – of course – the original Penny Blacks, the worlds first adhesive postage stamps first issued in 1840.
🎄 The First Christmas Card 🎄
We spotted this little gem by John Callcott (the first commercially Christmas card) in the Dickens Museum for the first time a few years ago and it is now back on display in its permanent home. You'll need to keep an eye out for it because it is in a display case in a rather dark corner (just behind the Penny Black stamps) alongside a whole lot of other fascinating treasures. The card was designed for Henry Cole in 1843 and a thousand were printed and sold for one shilling each. Interestingly, the card went on sale the same week that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was first published.
🎄 Letters to Father Christmas 🎄
There is also a delightful display case filled with letters to Father Christmas from children between 1963 and 2010 along with the thoughtful replies sent back to them from Father Christmas (aka Royal Mail!). Geoffrey (1963) asks for Monopoly and a guitar but also wishes for a happy Christmas for all the old people and poor people. It's nostalgic-making stuff!
MAIL RAIL at THE POSTAL MUSEUM
Over the road from The Postal Museum the history of Royal Mail comes to life. The entrance ticket to the Postal Museum also includes a ride on the Rail Mail (and Rail Mail museum). Visitors can travel through tunnels (20 metres below ground) that from 1927 until 2003 were used for delivery of mail to mainline stations on a miniature train. Warning this is not for the claustrophobic! Look out for the 'train graveyard' on the left (where all the disused trains are stored) and as you travel under Mount Pleasant sorting office you will see the tunnel that leads to Liverpool Street Station.
🎄 A Christmas ride 🎄
The projections on the 15-minute ride have had a special festive make-over with wartime wives wishing husbands a happy Christmas from far away and the broadcast of the first King's Speech on the BBC. The commentary and timeline on the wall and the journey of a letter is fascinating for all ages. Children might be too young to remember that postcodes only came along relatively recently in the 1970s (making postal life way easier) but many of us aren't!
Do leave time for the rest of the Mail Rail exhibits – lots are interactive and there's a really good film.
It is worth downloading the Cloud Guide app in advance of your visit and then all you have to do is pay for a code to download the audio guide for both museums – definitely worth it for adult and older visitors.
The Trails and activities are alway top notch here: as well as a beautifully produced Rail Mail Family Trail, The Postal Museum Letter Trail and an Activity Trail there is currently a 🎄 Christmas Tibs Trail 🎄 (look out for Tibs the cat, hiding next to objects in Mail Rail and The Postal Museum). These can be picked up at the entrance and in various spots around the museums.
Under 8s can enjoy a 45-minute session (book online) on the postal-themed play equipment in SORTED! Set them to work weighing and sending in the mini sorting office!
There is a cafe and small garden on site. The shops on both sites are perfect for Christmas shopping and stocking fillers.
🎄 Family Festive Fun Day 🎄 on 4,11,18 Dec. Follow the Christmas Trail plus festive art and craft sessions (10 am to 5 pm).
By Julia Colls and Anya Waddington, 24 November 2021
Tickets: Adults (25+) £16, (16–24) £11, child £9
Advance booking online with a time slot is necessary
Price includes one ride on the Mail Rail
The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DA