The Postal Museum / The Postal Heritage Trust
£26 million (with The Postal Museum)
Snaking 70 feet below ground, from Paddington to Whitechapel, lies one of London’s most hidden secrets – a historic underground railway system. Part of the UK’s industrial heritage, Mail Rail is an integral part of the story of how the Post Office has continuously explored pioneering ideas to speed mail delivery.
The Mail Rail is not listed, but it is a heritage asset; it provides an insight into a unique system and its inner workings. Mail Rail was mothballed in 2003, when it became more efficient to use road transport. Since then, a team of the original engineers have maintained the system. The stations remain, and parts of the tracks are still used (by London Underground and more recently Crossrail). Some equipment and machinery has been removed, but the spaces left behind have remained largely untouched for over a decade.
The emphasis of our scheme was on preserving the industrial feel of the railway, removing only redundant and dangerous services, whilst ensuring that any new installations are reversible.
Visitors access the Car Depot via the Workshop spaces at the street level. At this lower level there is a dedicated exhibition and events space located within the existing vaulted structure. From here they are able to board a train and ride the Mail Rail to the Mount Pleasant Platforms, where audio and visual interpretations tell the story of the Mail Rail.
At the turn of the 20th century, the railways were heavily utilised for nationwide mail distribution. However, the stations and the sorting offices were not well connected to and fog and heavily congested streets caused huge delays to the cross London transportation of mail. Mail Rail was the missing link, connecting Paddington to Whitechapel to provide delay-free transport 22 hours a day on one of the first driverless electric railways in the world.
Opened on 5 December 1927, the tunnels remained in use for almost a century. At its peak six million bags of mail were carried below ground each year delivering 4 million letters a day.
Max Fordham LLP
Gardiner and Theobald
Gardiner and Theobald
Haley Sharpe Design
Blue Sky Building
Nick Kane / Richard Battye / Miles Willis