Great British Railway Journeys

Railways have been used to deliver mail since the early 19th Century – almost as long as they have been in existence. Our collection contains a lot of interesting material on this topic, but it is the Post Office Underground Railway (aka Mail Rail) which people find most fascinating. This driverless railway was built by the Post Office in the early 20th Century. From its opening in 1927 until it closed in 2003 it carried mail under the streets of London – more than six million bags of letters a year.

Postmen loading bags from conveyor into containers to use on the Post Office underground railway, 1935 (POST 118/381)

Postmen loading bags from conveyor into containers to use on the Post Office underground railway, 1935 (POST 118/381)

This Friday’s episode of Great British Railway Journeys will take a look at Mail Rail, with host Michael Portillo being given the rare opportunity to take a ride on the service. The Railway’s primary purpose was to carry bags of letters and parcels, but a special carriage was built by Post Office engineers for use by VIPs. The programme will also include an interview with our Curator Chris Taft, an expert on Mail Rail and its history.

Mail Rail removal from Mount Pleasant, May 2011

Mail Rail removal from Mount Pleasant, May 2011

Here at the BPMA our curatorial team are working, with the support of Royal Mail, to preserve the story of Mail Rail through collecting, conserving and making accessible objects and records relating to its history. A project is underway to conserve three Mail Rail trains, with special Mail Rail events taking place later this year (keep checking this blog for further information on these). You can see images of the retrieval of three Mail Rail cars from underground at Mount Pleasant sorting office on our Flickr account.

Great British Railway Journeys is broadcast on BBC-2 at 6.30pm on weekdays. The episode featuring Mail Rail airs on Friday 6th January 2012 and will be available on BBC iPlayer thereafter.

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