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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: the Postal Museum, London for families


As London parents, it can be easy to get a bit blase about the culture oozing out of the Capital's paving stones - a free weekend means the option to visit more museums than there are Pampers stockpiled in my cupboard (A LOT). 

And it's also easy to get stuck in a rut. Lets go see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum; lets pop to the London Transport Museum - the bus soft play is great and it's free on our annual ticket; lets go to Greenwich because all the museums there are epic and there's that fab park to run around in too... 

But when a new museum opens, and it's fantastically kid-friendly AND we parents can learn something new AND there's a train ride that all the family will really, really enjoy (unless you're 8 foot tall or claustrophobic, in which case, watch out..) AND there's great coffee - you really need to go.
Step forward, the Postal Museum in Clerkenwell. It's only been fully open for a handful of months, and is the perfect mix of fun for the kids (there's a whole Kidzania-style soft play, where kids can pick up post, weigh it, sort it, send it on a conveyor belt, pull posties' wagons and drive their vans..), interest for parents (I had no idea the world's first driverless rail ran under the City for more than 75 years until 2003, and loved travelling on its tracks) and interactive exhibits. Here's the lowdown:

The Kids Stuff

The Postal Museum haven't just plonked a few kids exhibits around the place; their Sorted! room is a big indoor play area, aimed at kids aged 8 and under; our toddler squealed with joy throughout, whilst older kids self-appointed themselves post masters and had a ball too. 

The set up is a mini-town with streets, houses, post offices, a sorting office, vans, post wagons, pulleys, slides and chutes; there are tons of mini 'parcels' to deliver to the play houses (where dogs bark, and recipients clap in response); there are tons of uniforms and hats to dress up in, from posties and clerks to sorters, there are kiosks where kids help customers weigh parcels and stamp letters, there's a sorting office with pulleys and conveyor belts to move the mail along, there's a reading corner with post-related books (think Peppa does the post, The Jolly Postman, Postman Pat, etc), there's a mail van to drive and deliver post around town, there's a corner with soft space for young crawlers and little wooden houses and trains to move around. 





The Sorted! sessions last 45 mins, cost £5, and starting at 10am with the last session at 4pm.

Elsewhere, the main exhibit space for the Postal Museum is really family-orientated too: you can send letters along pneumatic shoots around the museum; design your own stamp; dress up, learn stories about postal escapes (like the time an escaped lion stopped the mail cart), write and send post cards, see mail delivering vehicles from bygone eras, and play lots of computer games like drive the mail van. There's a shaking 'travelling sorting office' where you race to organise letters before time's up, and lots of red buttons to push (moving around trains etc) as well as a Jolly Postman trail of envelopes to open. Our toddler didn't want to leave. 

Kids-wise, the only downside is cost: unusually, the museum charges for everyone over one years old, so it'll be a pricey day out for large families. See below for ticket costs.




Mail Rail train

This is definitely the museum's main attraction, but - a practical word of warning: the carriages are really small. Not a squash and a squeeze like the 5.40pm from Euston, families will have their own space, but the carriages are tiny - their height, from the top of seat to the perspex top, is only 87cm and door to door width is 80cm - if you're claustrophobic, you might not like it. Strip off any coats and big jumpers too - it gets warm. 

But the sizing is just because the train tunnel wasn't originally built for people - you're travelling inside the one hundred year old Post Office railway designed for letters. (Although the trains are new, purpose-built ones so you're not sitting in a postal sack!)

copyright: The Postal Museum
Miles Willis / The Postal Museum
It's well worth the squeeze though - you travel deep under Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office, see the original platforms where men would grab sacks of letters and sort them out in seconds, and watch projected films that take you back to the railway's1930s heyday and teach you about the train that travelled under London for 22 hours every day.

Another warning - there's a short spell of total darkness (so you can experience a (pretend) power cut), loud noises and flashing lights, but our toddler wasn't at all phased.

Location

The Postal Museum is near Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross and Chancery Lane Tubes; and bus routes 17, 19, 38, 45, 46, 63, 341. There's paid-for parking on the road outside, or if you go on a Sunday, as we did, you can park right outside for free. Be aware there are two buildings of the museum, on the same road but about 50m apart - one building houses the Mail Ride train ride entrance, and Sorted!, the other houses most of the exhibition space plus the cafe. You can easily walk between the two, but make sure you're at the right entrance for the timed tickets (for Sorted! and the Mail Rail).

Top tips

Book ahead... Get the first-possible slot for Sorted!, (we went at 10am and it was calm, organised, and so much fun), then book an 11 o'clock train (or close to that time) to get you time to get down there, and put away valuables etc if needed (nothing apart from humans fit on the train!) then go to the exhibition last.

The museum has a split location - one entrance, housing Sorted! and the train ride, is about 100m from the other, housing the major exhibition space and cafe, so be aware which one you need to get to.

Details

Tickets are £16 for adults, £8 for kids (which is anyone over 1 years old) for exhibition/train ride, and Sorted! tickets (which can be bought on their own) are £5 for under 8s.



* We were invited to review the Postal Museum, but rest assured we're seriously gobby and only rave about places we really love.
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