Tag Archives: Michael Portillo

Great British Railway Journeys and Mail Rail

Anyone who watched this evening’s Great British Railway Journeys will have seen the Royal Mail’s underground postal railway featured. In the episode presenter Michael Portillo visited the Post Office (London) Railway, as it was originally called, and was given the rare opportunity to take a short ride on one of the trains. Today Mail Rail, as it is more affectionately known, remains closed and is not normally open to visitors, but due to the interest in the network, and to try and give as many people as possible a flavour of the railway, the BPMA guided Michael on his journey across this part of London.

A Mail Rail Train, circa 1990s

A Mail Rail Train, circa 1990s

The postal underground railway, despite closing down in 2003 after many of the stations it served above ground were no longer operating, and after the Travelling Post Office stopped running from the mainline London stations, holds great fascination for many. For this reason the BPMA are currently working to conserve three of the original railway cars in its collection, and are also planning on hosting a special Mail Rail themed open day at the BPMA Museum Store in Debden, near Loughton. The one day event, aimed at all the family, and specialists and non-specialists alike, will take place on Saturday 21st April 2012 from 10am till 4pm. Throughout the day BPMA staff will be on hand to help guide visitors round a series of events and presentations about the railway.

Mail Rail removal from Mount Pleasant, May 2011

Mail Rail removal from Mount Pleasant, May 2011

There will be an opportunity to listen to talks about the history of the railway, and its predecessor, the pneumatic railway, with a chance to see the only two pneumatic rail cars known to exist from the 1860/1870s London trials. There will also be film showings including never before seen film of the railway with its driver-less electric trains running for the final time. Curators will also be available to guide visitors around the Museum Store and explore some of the objects related to the railway in the BPMA collection, including the three rail cars that are undergoing or about to undergo conservation. During the day there will also be activities aimed at younger visitors.

Booking is not required but larger group wishing to visit are encouraged to contact the BPMA in advance to make their visit easier.

There is lots more information about the Post Office (London) Railway on the BPMA website and further details about the event will also appear on our website nearer the event.

– Chris Taft, Curator

The BPMA thanks The Arts Council England PRISM Fund, and the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme for their support of the Mail Rail Conservation project.

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.