Mail Rail Ride and Letterboxes I have Seen : London’s Postal Museum

The Postal Museum at Mount Pleasant, WC1, opened to the public on 28 July last year (2017) with Mail Rail opening on 4 September. My sister and I spent a few days in London just after new year and near the top of our ‘must-do’ list was a visit to the museum and a ride on the train. As you might guess the museum is devoted to the story of the 500 years of the British postal service since Henry VIII tasked Sir Brian Tuke with establishing a national postal network to serve his Court.

The Museum Courtyard

Aside from the fascinating ride on the Mail Rail train under London, which was surely the icing on the cake, my interest is in the period since the Victorians who brought the postal service to all classes of society and into its heyday in the 20th century. I’m always aghast to note that my early life is now considered as history and the stuff which I grew up with and was so familiar with now constitutes artefacts found in museums!

I find unusual letter boxes fascinating and have a small collection of photos of ones that have caught my eye here on Flickr. And here are some more on display at the museum.

Queen Victoria ‘London Ornate’ Pillar Box, 1857-59. Beautiful and useful – this ornate early pillar box with festoons of flowers and lions’ heads, was designed by the leading Richard Redgrave

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Collection plate from one of the first London pillar boxes, 1855. There’s a busy schedule of collections and deliveries listed on this plate. But positioned low to the ground, it would have been splashed with mud and hard to read

A Channel Islands box with the initials VR which stood for Victoria Regina

Blue post boxes appeared on London streets in 1930 to draw attention to faster and far-reaching international services

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Apparently a rare example of a box with Edward VIII insignia. Over 160 new boxes appeared during the brief reign of King Edward VIII but as they needed repair the insignia was replaced with that of the reigning monarch

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We all remember the gold painted boxes in honour of our 2012 Olympic Gold Medal Winners. I was intrigued to notice that the one selected for display was that which I had photographed myself at Hebden, near Grassington, in North Yorkshire. This is not Hebden Bridge as indicated in the description.

My photos of the Andrew Triggs Hodge gold box in Hebden, 2012

My photos of the replacement lamp box for Andrew Triggs Hodge in Hebden near Grassington, August 2017

I did point this fact out to a member of the library/archive staff and was delighted to be able search in the library records and find my uncle Walter Spencer listed as a Leicester postman in 1949.

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The Mail Rail Ride was very exciting. We joined the tiny trains, were shut inside and were entertained with a commentary by two former workers and a light show at each station as we sped along the tracks formerly used by the sorting office above to convey post to various London mainline stations for delivery around the country.

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You have to be quick to catch the light show but I managed to snap this one – postcodes were trialled in Norwich from 1959 before being rolled out in the rest of the country in a different format in 1966. Apparently, Norwich was only recoded itself in 1974. Read all about here in this article from the EDP (Eastern Daily Press). Ah, yes, I remember our code – NOR20D now NR1 3RD. Happy days!

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4 comments on “Mail Rail Ride and Letterboxes I have Seen : London’s Postal Museum

  1. sherry02738 says:

    Fascinating.

  2. ms6282 says:

    That train ride looks fun 😊 I was surprised by the green postboxes. That’s what you see in Ireland as they painted them green after independence

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