Museum of the year?

The Postal Museum – bringing 500 years of communications history to life

The Postal Museum is one of five venues across Britain to be shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018 award.

The biggest museum prize in the world, Art Fund Museum of the Year seeks out and celebrates innovation and exceptional achievement in museums and galleries across the UK.

In addition to The Postal Museum, this year’s finalists competing for the £100,000 prize, include Brooklands Museum, Weybridge; Ferens Gallery, Hull; Glasgow Women’s Library; and Tate St Ives

The winner will be announced at a ceremony at the V&A Museum in London on Thursday 5 July.

Bringing five centuries of communications history to life, London’s newest museum, the Postal Museum tells the intriguing story of Britain's postal heritage and first social network.

Former home secretary and postman, Alan Johnson, told The Guardian: ‘It’s not often that a new museum comes along, let alone one that captures 500 years of British social history. The Postal Museum only opened fully last September but it’s already well on the way to turning a 3,000 visitor a year archive at Mount Pleasant into a 185,000 visitor a year London attraction.

‘Royal Mail came into being in 1516 when Henry VIII established a Master of the Posts to oversee the distribution of the king’s missives. It was first made available to the public by Charles I in 1635. Its history is fascinating because it is so intimately associated with human interaction, our desire to communicate with others and the social, economic and scientific advances that relied on that contact. Receiving a letter wasn’t always a cause for celebration, neither was it an experience shared across the social classes.

‘At first it was the recipient who paid, not the sender. They paid by the page, so the longer the letter the more expensive it was to receive. Letter post was the preserve of the prosperous until Rowland Hill’s great reforms of 1840 and the introduction of stamps. This pre-payment system was revolutionary, and at the Postal Museum visitors can view the only complete sheets of the now priceless Penny Black stamps still in existence. Thanks to Hill, the ability to communicate became available to all, irrespective of wealth or social status.

‘My two favourite attractions relate to the way the mail was transported. John Grierson’s famous 1936 documentary, Night Mail, shows a Travelling Post Office dispatching and collecting mail all along its route from London to Scotland without the train even needing to slow down, let alone stop. But the most thrilling addition to this museum is Mail Rail. Visitors can descend 70ft beneath the London streets to ride a miniature railway that once carried 4m letters a day across London. Very few citizens know of its existence.

‘This June it will be 50 years since I became a postman in south-west London. The Postal Museum reminds me of the great institution of which I was once a part.’

Mail Rail

Don’t forget, as part of our sponsorship deal for The Postal Museum’s Mail Rail, colleagues can book their free one-off ticket as well as unlimited visits to the museum’s galleries until 1 September 2019. Click here for instructions on how to book your ticket.

The Postal Museum can be found at 15-20 Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DA. The nearest tube stations are Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross and Chancery Lane. Opening hours are 10am-5pm.

7 Jun 2018