When I told friends I was taking Baby Bookworm to The Postal Museum, many of them scoffed.
They thought it sounded like nothing to write home about.
But they were wrong.
It was sackloads of fun – and one of the best family days out in London, particularly for under-threes.
The museum opened its doors last June and is based in two buildings next to Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, the biggest sorting office in the capital and one of the busiest in the world.
It’s an easy walk from King’s Cross and Farringdon stations but off the beaten track for tourists, meaning it wasn’t stupidly busy on our visit. I expect this to change as word spreads…
The museum has three different elements that you can enjoy all or part of, to suit your interests and the time available.
We started with Sorted – a postal-themed play space for children up to age eight.
It’s the stuff of dreams for little Postman Pats, with two pretend post offices, a sorting office, miniature houses and a post van for role play, complete with uniforms, hats and high-vis jackets to wear.
The room is light, bright and incredibly cool – the attention to detail is impressive. Baby Bookworm loved turning the conveyor belt to sort the parcels, working the pretend till and opening the fronts of the houses, which play different noises.
What is especially nice is the smaller section tailored to toddlers, with lower counters, shape sorter walls and magnetic landmarks of London. I find this age group is often overlooked at supposedly family-friendly museums.
Toddlers exercised, my friend and I headed downstairs for our scheduled departure on the Mail Rail.
This private underground network operated from 1927 until 2003, moving the city’s letters beneath the streets for 22 hours a day across 6.5 miles of track.
The driverless trains (and their tunnels) are much smaller than the tube but the carriages are big enough to seat a couple of people.
Exploring the old tracks and passing through the disused stations was a real thrill and on the way we learned about the journey of a letter from writer to recipient and the history of this special part of our postal heritage.
The succinct 15-minute trip is just the right length for small children and there is an interactive exhibition to explore when you disembark, should you want to learn more.
After lunch at the cafe, Baby Bookworm promptly fell asleep, allowing me to join one of the daily guided tours of the main museum.
We take our postal service for granted – it’s such an integral part of modern life. But it was the original social network and the daily feat of getting it delivered is a triumph of the modern world.
The exhibition covers 500 years of history: everything from the origins of the post, stamps and the mail service, to the two world wars, popular culture influenced by the Royal Mail and quirks like the now forgotten rural postbuses that would deliver people as well letters to their destination.
I loved how clear and informative the whole thing is – with plenty of interactive elements for children, such as postal uniforms from different eras to dress up in and a ‘make your own stamp’ game.
Toddlers and preschoolers can also follow the Ahlbergs’ much-loved Jolly Postman on his rounds through the exhibition, to find the oldest letter in the collection and meet the animal staff of the Post Office.
One of these was Tibs, a cat employed in the 1950s to catch mice for the tidy sum of 2s 6d a week. He had a perfect record during his 14 years of service and when he died, some national newspapers ran an obituary.
The story of Tibs has inspired a nostalgic book by Joyce Dunbar and illustrator Claire Fletcher, which was specially written for the opening of the museum.
In this version, he is a rural cat who is called up to tackle a massive mouse problem at Mount Pleasant – except Tibs is a lover not a fighter. So how can he stop the rodents wrecking havoc on the post?
Featuring an appearance by the Mail Rail, it was the perfect memento from our day out.
The Postal Museum definitely got our stamp of approval (sorry, couldn’t resist!) and I can see it being one of London’s top attractions for 2018.
Get yourself there before everyone else finds out!
The Postal Museum is open daily 10am-5pm. Entry to exhibitions is £11 for adults and free for children, or £16 adults and £8 for children aged 1+ if you also ride the Mail Rail. Entry to Sorted is £5 for of all ages or buy a combined ticket with the exhibition and Mail Rail for £11.75. Find out more at postalmuseum.org
Baby Bookworm and I visited as guests of The Postal Museum but we were not paid for this review.