This summer the Postal Museum opened at Mount Pleasant, just up the road from us. It tells the fascinating history of the Royal Mail. For the very first time the public can travel on the Mail Rail, a Victorian underground railway system that was used right up to 2003. Art Director, Stephen O’Neill has a ticket to ride.
The mail rail tunnels were dug in the 19th century, so that mail could be transported from Whitechapel in east London over to Paddington in the west, via six sorting office ‘stations’. “Like having your own giant train set to run,” said Ray Middlesworth, one of the last engineers to work on it – except it was a train set with stalactites, mysterious side tunnels, and even a mail train graveyard.
The whole exhibition has been designed with real care, with stunning audiovisual displays on the walls of several stops along the line. ScanLAB, a creative practice who create stunning 3D digital replicas of buildings and landscapes, have developed an interactive replica of how the tunnels were in the past. And the graphic design of the exhibition perfectly complements the rough industrial feel – the main typeface is GT Pressura, designed to resemble the bleeding, stamped type seen on shipping boxes.
After a ride through the tunnels, you can visit a display of old mail trains. Best of all was a pneumatic driverless car from the 1860s. Stuffed with letters, it would fly through the tunnels at 40mph. And it wasn’t unknown for a person to follow it too. The London Journal records an incident from 1863 when ‘a lady whose courage or rashness – we know what not which to call it – astonished spectators and was shot the whole length of the tube, crinoline and all, without injury to person or petticoat’.
I really recommend booking a ticket for the Mail Rail express to discover a new/old part of hidden London that took place right beneath our feet. Mount Pleasant should be named Mount Fun! www.postalmuseum.org