Museum Monday in London

How is it Tuesday night already?! One minute, the trip is just starting and I’m thinking about how I’m going to fill my time here and the next, I’m writing a blog post in bed the night before I have to fly home. It’s been a great trip though! And now I get to re-live the end of it over the next couple of blog posts (since I haven’t been able to write yesterday’s blog post until now and I still have one more to write up about today’s adventures). So what did I do on my last (well, only) Monday of this trip?

As I teased at the end of my last post, I booked two new-to-me experiences for Monday. And as you may have guessed from the title of this post, they were both museums – the newly-opened Postal Museum (including a ride on the fun Mail Rail) and the perennial London favorite, HMS Belfast. Scott and I missed the chance to visit the Postal Museum when we were here in August as it didn’t open until September and the HMS Belfast is something I’ve always been aware of, but I’ve just never made the time to do. I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado of either postal or military matters in general, but both sounded like they would be worth visiting. Thankfully, they both proved to be!

Before I made it to either museum, I snapped a few pictures along the way (I walked to both – lots of steps on Monday!). Check them out!


After the dreariness (rain AND clouds) of the weekend, it was great to see some sun again!


Another picture of the Admiralty Arch, this time without cars in the way (the street was closed), but with added police instead.


Panorama of Trafalgar Square.


One of the fountains with the Fourth Plinth/Really Good just behind.


The London Lumiere was over after Sunday, so these colorful guys were being taken out of Leicester Square when I walked through.


Ah, the Underground. 🙂


Victoria House in Bloomsbury Square.

The Postal Museum is about exactly what you’d suspect – the Royal Mail. Most of what you’ll learn about centers around the history of the Royal Mail – how it got started, how it was delivered (in its early days, mail was delivered by post boys who carried guns to protect valuable parcels), merchandise associated with the Royal Mail, etc. And that’s all well and good, but I was more interested in the Mail Rail. What’s that, I hear you ask? Disused since 2003, the Mail Rail is a network of underground, driverless trains that brought mail to various stations around London to be picked up, sorted, and delivered and was built because London streets were so congested that it took mail too long to reach its intended destinations. The Royal Mail shut the Mail Rail down in 2003 because it was significantly more expensive to use it vs. road-based delivery methods and it sat disused until it was decided that a portion of it could be opened up to the public. Taking a ride on the rail is part of your Postal Museum ticket, though you can choose to buy a ticket that doesn’t include it, but be aware that you should book your ticket ahead of time to ensure there’s space available on the Mail Rail (it can only carry 20 people per 20-minute ride). Their website makes it very easy to do this, so check it out before you go! Ticket prices are pretty reasonable – £15.50 for the museum w/Mail Rail (£17.05 with voluntary donation) or £10 to visit the museum only (£11 with voluntary donation). Even if you choose to not ride the Mail Rail, your museum ticket still gets you into the Mail Rail exhibition, so you can learn about it without riding on it. Also, note that the Postal Museum and Mail Rail are in two different buildings, though very close together (across the street). They’re both well-signed, as you’ll see in the photos below, so there’s little risk of getting lost!

On with the pictures!


Outside the Postal Museum.


This cool painting showing the Mail Rail is on the ground outside the museum’s café.


The Mail Rail building is just across the street and maybe 100 yards down. Easy to find!


This is a control center for the Mail Rail, from the exhibition you can walk through while waiting to get on the train.


These nets were used to catch mail bags.


The bags used to transport mail (that were thrown into the nets above).


This was a neat little activity that simulated the experience of sorting mail on a moving train (not the Mail Rail), which was a key part of the Royal Mail’s process in the past.


A Mail Rail car.


This was the tool cart of a long-time Mail Rail engineer, who left it exactly as it was on his last day of work.


Imagine it, eh?


An original pneumatic version of the Mail Rail car (later phased out in favor of electric cars).


Getting on the Mail Rail! I told you it was small.


Sitting in my seat on the Mail Rail. At just over 6′ tall, it was definitely cozy for me.


There isn’t really anything to take pictures of on the ride (and it would be difficult to do so, thanks to the cramped quarters), but I did sneak one of this tunnel, which leads to Liverpool Street.


Inside the museum proper, I found this example of a gun and boot used by post boys when delivering mail in the early days. I’m not sure if you can see how heavy those boots are, but they look REALLY uncomfortable and bulky.


Mail coach.


These five-wheeled bicycles were used to deliver the mail for awhile.


Various versions of Royal Mail uniforms.


Vroom, vroom!


An early mail truck.


Up, up, and away with the air mail!


Royal Mail posters/advertisements from over the years.


Royal Mail logo under King George VI.


Royal Mail merchandise and toys.


This van had a very Scooby Doo feel to it.

Overall, I’d recommend a visit to both the museum and the Mail Rail! Truth be told, the Mail Rail stuff was actually more interesting to me, but the whole package is certainly worth the price of entry.

Although not necessary, I had already pre-booked a ticket to the HMS Belfast (note – you save 10% by booking online) and, because the weather was so much nicer than it had been over the weekend (and because I like to walk anyway), I decided to walk about 45 minutes from the Postal Museum to the HMS Belfast. Naturally, I snapped a few pictures along the way, so consider them to be a brief interlude before diving into the details of one of Britain’s most famous warships.


Sunny lamp post!


Monochrome church.


A quick hello to St. Paul’s.


Getting a look at the HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge while crossing London Bridge.


Did you know that several bridges have been called London Bridge? The last iteration of it was sold to a US oil tycoon, who had it rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, AZ. Bizarre, eh?


Nearly there!


The panorama is pretty impressive, too. Really gives a sense of how big it is!


Of course, I had to take advantage of the chance to take a photo of Tower Bridge from a different angle (while walking on the path from the ticket office to the ship).

So, the HMS Belfast was originally launched in 1938 and saw active duty until being placed on reserve in 1963. Like many ships, it likely would have been scrapped after that, but efforts were made to preserve the ship as a museum. Because of those efforts, it has operated as part of the Imperial War Museums since 1971. Because of its proximity to Tower Bridge, I’ve walked by the HMS Belfast on probably every London trip I’ve ever taken, but it never made its way onto any of my travel itineraries, so this trip felt like the time to finally pull the trigger. Although not everything on the ship is original (not at all surprising), you are truly walking through the original warship and learning about how the men on it lived and worked for sometimes months at a time. Fascinating, in my opinion! There are several decks and it feels like there are all sorts of twists and turns along the way, so I didn’t actually always know where I was. But everything is signed fairly well and I think the optional audio guide (which I didn’t use) would help you stay on a more predictable path. It’s certainly a place you could spend a lot of time in, especially if you’re a fan of naval/military stuff. I got lucky because there were very few people there when I was, so I was able to move around freely without running into big crowds of people. Because of the naturally tight spaces, I imagine it would feel pretty cramped when there are lots of visitors, so keep that in mind if you’re at all claustrophobic or bothered by crowds. The price is entry is fairly reasonable – £13.90 (£15.30 with voluntary donation). Have a look at the pictures below and decide if it’s somewhere you’d like to visit!


Gun turrets at the back of the ship (which is where you get on to start the tour).


Ring-a-ding-ding!


Thankfully, no one needed to use this while I was there.


An original sign with all sorts of good advice for the seamen.


One of the ship’s torpedos.


The woodworking shop.


This equipment was used to transmit music, radio, etc. throughout the ship.


The kitchen! These mannequins are all over the ship, but this was the first time I saw them and they surprised me a bit!


The ship’s dental office. That patient does NOT look happy.


The ship also had a doctor and surgeries were performed on board. The dentist also served as the ship’s anesthetist.


A sea mine. Only about 18 months after being launched, the HMS Belfast was damaged by a German mine.


The sewing workshop, where things like rope were made and sails were repaired.


The low-ranking midshipmen lived, slept, and ate in the same space. Not exactly spacious!


The battery workshop, where the lead acid batteries used all over the ship could be repaired.


So much equipment!


The workings of the front gun turret.


Peeking at the London skyline from the ship’s deck.


Looking up at the Shard in the (semi) sunlight.


#gunturretselfie


Because this ship also carried an admiral, a separate admiral’s bridge is also on the ship. From here, the admiral could monitor/direct his fleet without getting in the way of the ship’s captain.


I imagine it was very loud on the ship, hence why this mannequin seems to be yelling.


And this bridge was for the captain, from where he would command the ship.


The high-ranking officers had fairly decent accommodations.


More huge equipment.


Because soap and tobacco could easily contaminate food, they were always stored separately.


It took a lot of bodies to make this ship run! Fascinating to think how they must have had to all work in concert so well.


This canteen was for the officers to purchase treats like soda, chocolate, and other sweets.


The lower-ranking officers didn’t have the same high level of accommodations, but what they did have didn’t look too bad. And if you want to experience what sleeping on the ship is like for yourself, check out the Kip in a Ship program!


Diagram of the ship to put the size and scale in perspective.


Farewell, HMS Belfast!

Overall, I enjoyed the HMS Belfast! As I said, I’m not someone who really digs military museums/information/history, but I’m glad I finally took the time to visit this ship. Although I didn’t use the included audio guide, I think it would have been useful to provide additional context to all the various parts of the ship (beyond the information the signs provided).

Post-museums, I FaceTime’d my parents to give them a little visual tour of the area around the HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. They’ve never been to London before, so they said it was fun to see it! By the time I finished that (having still been on my feet the whole time), I was ready for a little break, so I stopped by The Liberty Bounds, a pub near the Tower of London that Matt and I walked by on Sunday. I was hungry, but not super hungry, so I decided to have a small meal with my beverage:


Nachos outside the US are never as good, but these hit the spot. And that Kopparberg cider is really light and fresh!

Believe it or not, this STILL wasn’t the end of my day! I did run back to the hotel to recharge for a little while, but I left again shortly to go meet my friend Tim for a drink in Soho. I hadn’t seen him for seven or so years, so it was great to catch up! I’m really pleased with the number of friends I was able to connect with on this trip (though of course there are some I didn’t get a chance to see), so I’ve had a really nice time overall.

But I’m not quite done yet! Keep an eye out for the next post from this trip, hopefully coming tomorrow. I don’t have an early flight tomorrow (1p, so no need to wake up before dawn, as I’ve had to do on some trips), so I’ll at least get a good start on the post tomorrow. And then of course, there will be time to kill at the airport, so I’m hopeful I can get it done. Never fear either way – it will arrive soon!

‘Til next time!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel and horror. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey of travel and horror (though not necessarily in that order).