Boris described it as “a national treasure of global importance”, and yet one of London’s least known museums boasts an average of just 10 visitors a day; it is the British Postal Museum & Archive. We now live in a world of emailing, twittering, texting and Facebooking each other. I’m as bad as the next techie-junkie (for why should I be writing this post!), but for over a century-and-a-half we managed to get by with the Royal Mail – Thank you very much.
[C]urrently situated behind Mount Pleasant Sorting Office the archive in its title doesn’t do it justice. A collection of old phone boxes; every sort of pillar box ever built; two million stamps, many never issued and worth thousands; and all houses in two-and-a-half miles of archives.
The museum has its own 6-mile private underground stretching from Paddington to Whitechapel which was in use by the Post Office until 2003. There is also the British Postal Museum Store at Debden, Essex for larger objects.
When producers of the BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford want to recreate an authentic Victorian post office counter, they borrowed an original from here.
During the Blitz, the pillar box was often the only thing left standing on East London’s streets so deep are their foundations, but that should keep these sentinels of our streets immune from thieves with a JCB digger.
In 1874 the Post Office switched from green pillar boxes to the familiar red to make them more visible in urban fog – people kept bumping into them.
As with the telephone box letter writing and posting is becoming rarer, we have need of a museum to celebrate this lost art. With £20 million from the National Lottery and a further £5 million from the sale of some of their collection the British Postal Museum & Archive plan to open a proper museum attracting 80,000 visitors a year, and it has plans to reopen a section of the old London Post Office Railway for tourist journeys.
With the imminent sale of Royal Mail we might one day need a museum to show future generations this uniquely British institution.