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Blog > The Little Mail Carriers at the London Postal Museum

Back in 2017, we were in London to visit friends and took the Little Mail Carriers along for the ride. At the time, the newly revamped Postal Museum had just re-opened, and so we were super excited to check it out! Now that the museum has a new temporary exhibition all about postcards, this seems like a good time to fish those photos from the archives and show you a bit of what you can see there as part of their permanent exhibition. Here are the little guys, to tell you all about it! 🙂

The Little Mail Carriers sit atop a red British postbox

Hi everyone! We’re back in London, the city of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace… though we don’t much care for those — we were promised a tour of the fantastic Postal Museum, and we’re super excited to discover the treasures and stories hiding inside.

From cryptic Victorian Valentine cards, to pirates or a mischievous lioness that attacked a mail coach, the whole visit was lots of fun… but let’s start at the beginning.

The Little Mail Carriers look at a museum display of old letters and an illustration of a letter carrier

Check out these really old letters in their permanent exhibition! Through them, you can learn more about how there came to be a need for the uniform penny postage. Before the postal reform that Sir Rowland Hill brought about, postage was paid by the recipient according to the number of sheets in it, and the distance it traveled… which wasn’t very practical!

To save space, some letters were written in a particular style called “crossed writing”, which makes them extra hard to read.

Paulo pulls a display featuring the history of the ship SS Garisoppa

You know how sometimes big ships sometimes have the prefix RMS on their name, like the RMS Titanic or RMS Queen Mary? RMS stands for “Royal Mail Ship”, as these vessels were used to transport not just passengers but also mail. This wasn’t always an easy task though, and there are stories of captains fighting pirates to defend the mail, or ships torpedoed in wars. This was the case of the SS Gairsoppa, sunk in 1941 and found only in 2011. Some 700 pieces of mail from this ship have been recovered, and they offer a unique insight into the lives of ordinary people, living in extraordinary circumstances during the Second World War.

A Little Mail Carrier peeks into the hole of a green letter box

This green pillar box is from 1853, from the Channel islands — the first place where postboxes were trialed before being brought over to the UK. This first trial was a success, so postboxes started appearing around the British mainland soon after. Although these boxes were first painted red, their color was later standardised as green… but it was quickly discovered that the green color blended too much with the background, so, after many complaints by people who couldn’t seem to find mailboxes anywhere, their color was changed back to red again, to make them more conspicuous!

The Little Mail Carriers look at a display featuring a complete sheet of Penny Blacks, the first postage stamp.

Having heard so much about them, we were super excited to check out the only full sheet of the most famous stamp in the world, the Penny Black, which the museum shows in their exhibition! Before looking at them like this, we hadn’t realized that all the stamps in a single sheet are different — for extra security, they all bear a combination of two letters, with one changing from stamp to stamp. There are 240 stamps in each sheet, to make a total of £1 per sheet.

Paulo dressed as a mail coach guard, with a top hat and a heavy red felt coat Ana dressed as a postwoman, with a round hat and heavy blue felt coat

One of our favourite parts of the exhibition is that it is interactive! You can dress up and be like James Moses Nobbs, who was the longest serving (55 years!) and the last of the Mail Coach Guards in the Royal Mail. Or, you can don the postwoman uniform and try to deliver some secret pneumatic messages on their tube system! We were obviously a little too small for the clothes, but the real Paulo and Ana had fun instead. 😀

A display of several posters about the post office A poster with two crossed pens reads Think ahead, write instead

There are also lots of posters and other printed materials to peruse in the permanent exhibition, and we couldn’t help but admire the graphic design on them. The posters came about when Stephen Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer to the General Post Office in 1933. He had extensive experience in PR, and set out on a radical programme to change the way in which the General Post Office communicated with its customers. One of these changes was to start using posters made by talented designers for marketing, and also to display in schools and post offices. Reproductions of many of these are available as postcards in the gift shop!

A yellow and red postbus

There’s even a 1983 Post Bus on display! These cute vehicles could once be seen throughout rural Britain, and they were a convenient hybrid between a normal bus for ferrying passengers and a mail van to deliver mail to those areas.

A display of illustrated envelopes, part of the Tolhurst envelopes collection

One of our favourite parts of the exhibition was looking through the Tolhurst envelopes — a collection of correspondence from Frederick Charles Tolhurst to his children. Each letter was posted in a carefully decorated envelope with hand-drawn images – some happy, some sad, but all gorgeous. It’s mailart from the early 20th century, and an illustrated slice of the events that were taking place at the time.

A worker of the Postal Museum signals the start of a trip on the Mail Rail, the train journey through London's underground postal network, which is now open to the public

The Mail Rail has opened to visitors since the last time we were in London, and so, as part of the museum tour, now you can discover the tunnels below London that used to carry the mail swiftly across the city. It was the first electric railway with driverless trains in the world, and it worked from 1927 until 2003, carrying 4 million letters every day at its peak. If you’re a little bit claustrophobic like big Ana, you can take a peek at the Mail Rail experience on this virtual tour.

Wish you were here — 151 years of the British postcard exhibition poster

Right now, the Museum has a brand new exhibition titled Wish You Were Here: 151 Years of the British Postcard, which looks amazing and right up our alley! Here’s a sneak peak:

You can explore postcards throughout history, reflect on their future and even mail one of four unique postcards by artist Peter Liversidge, especially created for the Postal Museum. Bonus points if you spot Postcrossing in the exhibition and send us a photo of the display! 😍

PS – If you’re planning to check out the museum, let other postcrossers know on the forum (maybe you can go as a group and get a discount!).


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33 comments so far

jezergirl, Italy
I wish I could visit that museum, one day!

Heartlover1717, United States of America
Great history - and thanks for the link to the "Rail Mail From Home" video (virtual tour). Fascinating!

So lovely . Must visit this place once .

I enjoyed the tour of the museum.
The cross letter and the red post bus Royal Mail were especially liked.

vingoul, India
Fabulous! Must visit London just to see this fabulous museum.

ned44440, Ireland
This is definitely on my Must Do List for sure 😀.

Pemasagirls, France
Too bad I didn't know about this museum when we visited London :-(
Well... it makes me wish to go back there and get to this great museum !
Thanks for sharing !

Wendyloued55, United Kingdom
I'm going on Sunday and I'm so excited! It was easy to book my ticket online, and it's valid for further unlimited visits for a year from purchase. Check out the website and its Facebook & Twitter pages.

Tjoks, South Africa
I want to visit!

Jilly_button, United Kingdom
I would love to go to this 😃

ruthkepler, United States of America
Thank you for posting. I put visiting the Postal Museum on my To Do list. I especially liked learning about the mail train.

Speicher3, Germany
Great article, thank you very much! See you at the next Postcrossing meetup. And in those fancy uniforms, okay?

roka100, Japan
I think the tile has a spell miss : Postal Musem ->Postal Museum

meiadeleite, Portugal
@Speicher3 Deal! We just need to brush up on our sewing skills...

@roka100 Thank you for spotting it! Should be fixed now.

Lianozovo, Russia
I didn't even know that such a wonderful and useful museum existed. Thanks!!!!

Ramya, United States of America
Loved this blog! Surprised at the tenaciousness of mail throughout history in every country!

OLEA, Ukraine
it's very interesting story about mail of United Kingdom 💌💤🙋‍♀️

Sandals, United States of America
I want to visit.

idrisson, Malaysia
Visited this museum during the 2018 London meetup. Wonderful experience indeed

candyflosscurls, Canada
I went this year, on World Postcard Day in fact(!) after a Postcrossing meet-up at the Stampex exhibition. It's great fun, and your ticket is valid for a year, so I plan to go back and take my nephew! I didn't get to spend as much time there as I wanted, so already looking forward to going back.

Flippie, Canada
Deep in my heart I love to see this museum but I'm still afraid to fly 9 hours to Europe from the West coast Canada....
But maybe ONE never know, isn't?
Thank you sharing.

Luziaceleste, Brazil
What a place! So nice to learn over fabulous places that honour written communication. Thanks for sharing and maybe inspiring other places to also build interactive and interesting exhibitions!

manencov, Romania
Wonderful material! I think every country has such a museum of postal history. In Romania, in addition to the National Museum of History, the former Post Office Palace also houses the National Philatelic Museum. A place where you can have fun for a few minutes, dropping your mouth on the "features" of the past centuries of fasting, or you can stay longer, admiring stamps from various eras.
If you want to know how our ancestors received the ravages, go to the hall on the left, named after Cezar Librecht, the first director of the post and telegraph in Moldova and Muntenia. Here you can find faithful reproductions of the costumes of the surugii, those who drove the mail carriages, riding on one of the 4 or 6 horses.
After the stallions got tired, the sergeants changed them at the nearest post relay. One of these buildings, where the travelers who went with the diligences could spend the night, is reproduced in a model. Inside the localities, single-horse mail carriages were used, such as the one from Caracal kept in the museum. I suspect most of the parcels transported contained ... floats.
The first railways in the Kingdom of Romania appeared in the late 1860s, and trains began to carry mail from the beginning of the next decade. A miniature postal car is on display at the museum, in the C. Librecht hall.
Also here there is a plaque in memory of a postal conductor who defended the values of the state at the cost of his life. An event that kept the front page of the newspapers for a long time and inspired the creation of the "Hero B. B. Georgescu Postman" distinction.
Among the exhibits in this room are several trumpets from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but also a bone horn. It was used until the end of the 1940s, to announce the arrival of the postman in more isolated localities, according to the museographer Sorian Uyy.
Thousands of Romanian stamps are present in the central hall, "Lahovary". From the first postage stamps ("Cap de Bour" Moldova, 1858) to issues from 1962 and stamps after 1989. In some cases, not the final sheets are displayed, but the models after which the stamps were made, or samples extracted from production process.
New models and samples are not allowed to reach the private circuit, and the old ones are rarely found in collectors, so the museum has many unique. As are the molds after which the first four "Cap de Bour" stamps were made, presented to the public to the right of the hall.
Among the exhibits is a sheet with "Carol I with a beard" (with defective printing) and stamps issued on the occasion of the 1906 National Exhibition in Carol Park. But also postal shows with Luciano Pavarotti (on the occasion of the 1999 eclipse) and Princess Diana (1997). In 2005, on the occasion of the new lion, the Romanian Post issued stamps depicting the new banknotes, and the sheets kept at the museum bear the signature of Traian Basescu.
A third room, "Dimitrie C. Butculescu" is dedicated to the history of philately in Romania, and philatelists can find here various specialized books. Also in this space are exhibited diplomas and medals obtained by the Romanian Post at various international exhibitions.

beesknees, United States of America
When the sky is grey and the buildings are grey you need that box to be a bright red color to brighten things up!

quichelady, Japan
I must visit!!!

DragonnetteLady, Belgium
somewhere to go and visit on the next London trip!

EstebanSG, Argentina
Love the stories of the Little Mail Carriers, thanks

luvwhidbeyisland, United States of America
Great story and photos! Would love a ride on the underground mail train!

3Meredyth, Australia
When I was last in London, 2019, my husband & I visited and took a trip on the postal train - bit squeezy! I do love the unique/weird things you can visit & do in London.

ravicavale, India
Wow nice account of the Postal Museum along with fabulous images . Thanks for the effort !

revathir, India
Underground mail train! The story took me around the museum. Lovely read!

Steve_H, United Kingdom
I've got tickets booked for the museum and the Mail Rail on 8th December! So excited!

corndonhill, United Kingdom
Lovely post and comments. Could I add something else about Postal Museum London?
My maternal grandfather probably responsible for my lifelong interest in postcards. He worked for the postal services in London and during WW1 on the Western Front. Postcards he sent and received at that time now were donated by us and a small selection can be seen online, link follows
Jillian 0n 2 Dec 2021

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