Museum profile – The Postal Museum

1. Mail Rail © The Postal Museum, Miles Willis COVER IMAGE FEB (1)

The Postal Museum, based in Clerkenwell in London, is one of the country’s newest museums, having opened in September 2017 after many years of planning. We tell the story of postal communication and its impact on a global society; and use our collection to explore stories around communication and to inspire everyone to make richer and more meaningful connections in their lives.  

The Postal Museum is comprised of two Charitable Trusts – the Postal Heritage Trust and the Postal Heritage Collection Trust. Both bodies share the same Board members and were formed in 2004 to care for the collection formerly owned by the GPO and to manage the archive of the UK postal service.  

Our collection covers 500 years of British heritage. We are home to the Royal Mail Archive and the GPO film unit, both recognised by UNESCO as having world significance and outstanding universal value. In addition to holding items such as staff records and postal objects such as the national collection of letter boxes, vehicles, iconic posters and a world class philatelic collection, we tell everyday and extraordinary stories of British life from the role of the postal service in the world wars, to women at work and the invention of the first programmable electric computer. 

Alongside permanent exhibition galleries and a temporary exhibition space, Mail Rail – London’s hidden underground Post Office Railway – has been opened to the public for the first time in its 100-year history. Since opening we have taken thousands of visitors on rides through the tunnels on our miniature trains. 

We’ve had an incredibly successful first couple of years and have been thrilled to have won and been nominated for many awards, including winning Best Day Out for Under 5’s voted for by the public through Days out with the Kids and Accessible Visitor Experience of the Year 2019 from the VE Forum Awards. 

Both of those awards reflect two areas that are of real importance to us. The first is being family friendly in the most intrinsic way – our museum is built for children to really enjoy their first experience of visiting a museum. The second is being as accessible as possible – physically, emotionally and in terms of our visitors’ background, expertise and experience. That might seem somewhat of a paradox, as Mail Rail requires visitors to be able bodied, but we have ambitious plans to make the ride more accessible to everyone over the next couple of years. We’re also working hard to ensure that our welcome is as open and unintimidating as possible. It really helps that our collection is so accessible – everyone has had experience of the post. 

We’re still finding our feet in terms of our business model – it has been an interesting learning curve to run trains, track and signals in a unique heritage environment, as well as maintaining our building and displays, running our learning programmes and putting on temporary exhibitions. We are reasonably sized and staffed for an independent museum, with about 50 full-time and 25 part-time members of staff. Our income is around £5m from a variety of sources, including admissions income, fundraising, commercial activities and a service income received for looking after and making accessible the archives of Royal Mail and the Post Office. 

Visitor numbers in our first full calendar year were almost 160,000. We are developing new programmes and exhibitions and building our brand to better promote the museum and ensure that people are aware of us and expect to have a great time when they visit. We aim to create a world-class experience for visitors that enriches their lives and makes them come back and recommend us to others.   

Laura Wright, Director 

The Postal Museum