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Mail Rail review: Travel under London on the Royal Mail’s underground railway

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Mail Rail is a ride on the Royal Mail’s former underground railway

We all know about the Victorian origins of the London Underground, which has been transporting commuters since 1863. However, did you know it’s not the capital’s only underground railway in existence? For eight decades, the Post Office ran their own subterranean train system to transport letters and parcels under the city’s streets. Affectionately known as the ‘Mail Rail’, it closed for good in 2003. However, in September 2017, the railway was brought back to life and adapted for human passengers as part of a new experience at the Postal Museum.

Road traffic has been a problem in London for centuries, stemming back to the days of horses and carts. For owners of the Post Office, the impact on their deliveries arriving late was not good for business so something had to be done. In 1909, a committee was set up to devise a traffic-proof delivery system, and by 1911 had settled on the idea of driverless electric trains. Construction began in 1914 with a trial tunnel in Plumstead Marshes, south-east London, with the main 6 1/2 miles of tunnels completed by 1917. By this time, World War I was in full swing so lack of labour and materials meant the project was put on hold. However, the tunnels did find some use during WWI as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate stored some of their artworks in them for safe-keeping. Following the end of the Great War, costs of materials had risen so much, it wasn’t until 1923 that work could finally resume. Finally, on 5 December 1927, parcels were transported underground between Mount Pleasant and Paddington for the first time.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

One of the former stations, where busy Royal Mail workers would be hauling carts of post to and from trains

The trains run in a single 9ft tunnel featuring a double 2ft gauge track. Approaching each station, the tunnel would split into two 7ft tunnels with a single track each. The railway’s deepest point was 70ft, although the stations tended to be slightly closer to street level. By 1930, the original rolling stock were knackered so they were replaced with new trains. These new ones featured a 27ft single car train with each container having a capacity for 15 bags of letters or six bags of parcels. These were used until they were replaced in 1980 by a new fleet. Over the decades, some of the stations came and went, including the Western Parcels Office and Western District Office, with the latter name being reused at a new station at Rathbone Place, which opened in 1965. In 1987, the train system was renamed ‘Mail Rail’ to mark its 60th anniversary. In 1993, the whole system was computerised so the trains could be controlled from a single point. By the end of the 1990s, only the stations at Paddington, Western Delivery Office, Mount Pleasant, and the East District Office were being used, carrying over 6 million bags of mail annually. However, as the system aged, Royal Mail decided it was becoming too costly to run the railway, claiming road transport was cheaper and its death warrant was signed. On 31 May 2003, the Mail Rail was closed for good.  Read the rest of this entry

Crystal Palace Subway: A hidden survivor of a lost Victorian train station

Year Of The Bus: An infographic detailing facts and figures about our iconic red bus

Last year, it was all about the London Underground, but 2014 has seen the celebration of the Year Of The Bus. 2014 saw two landmarks for our beloved red transport methods – 60 years since the first Routemaster and 100 years since the B-type motor buses were used on the front line in World War I.

With so much information around about our trusty public transport methods, the team at Refresh Apartments have created a handy infographic to commemorate the Year Of The Bus and its important place within our city’s infrastructure.

The infographic dates back to 1829 when Londoners started using the inaugural horse-drawn buses, otherwise known as ‘omnibuses. The various guises London buses have grown through over the decades has been detailed, up until they went cash-free this summer.

 London bus History Infographic


For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

For a blog post on the disused Aldwych underground station, click here.

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Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott review: Treat yourself in stunning Gothic surroundings

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Let’s hope they don’t fall! The bell chandeliers suspended above our heads in The Gilbert Scott bar

Gilbert Scott afternoon tea © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Savoury treats (below) and mini desserts of praline mousse, Eccles cakes, Eton Mess and lemon cupcakes

Like many Londoners, and visitors to the capital too I’m sure, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and train station is one of my favourite buildings in the capital. Designed by Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Gothic Revival masterpiece was originally opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel. Although impressive when it first opened with its grand staircase, fireplaces in every room and striking architectural features, decades later it started falling out of favour due to the lack of ensuite bedrooms and closed to guests in 1935. After 76 years as railway offices, the building was finally restored to its original intended use and opened as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in 2011.

Given how long I have loved the building, I’m surprised I haven’t visited one of the restaurants or bars inside the hotel sooner. So when I was eyeing possible venues for afternoon tea for my birthday last week, I was thrilled to see The Gilbert Scott featured it on their menu. Booking the afternoon tea option through their website, I opted for a 2pm slot on a Friday. We entered through the main St Pancras Renaissance Hotel entrance so walked through some of the stone Neo-Gothic arched doorways, passing by the red and gold leaf Medieval-style wallpapers and, the pièce de résistance, the grand staircase.

Gilbert Scott table door © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The comfortable tables (left) and the striking Neo Gothic archways leading in the bar from the hotel (right)

Gilbert Scott afternoon tea © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Scones, clotted cream and jam

We were seated inside The Gilbert Scott bar – next to the adjoining restaurant of the same name. We entered from a hotel hallway through twin arches featuring golf leaf detailing and polished limestone columns. The bar was absolutely stunning, with equilateral arch windows letting in lots of light through its three exterior walls. On the ceiling was ornate, tapestry-like patterns of predominantly red, blue and green, with huge bells hanging from the ceiling as chandeliers. The bar used to the ‘coffee room’ in the former Midland Grand Hotel.

Seated at our table, we were greeted by an attentive and friendly waiter. After being presented with the menu, there are various afternoon tea options – the standard at £25 or with a glass of Moët & Chandon champagne for an extra £8 – which we opted for as we were celebrating my birthday. Alternatively, there is also a Ruinart afternoon tea with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV for £36.00.

St Pancras exterior Gilbert Scott © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Gothic revival masterpiece

We started with a flute of Moët each before we were presented with our three-tier cake stand. A selection of savoury treats – cucumber rolls, sausage rolls, egg mayonnaise and coronation chicken sandwiches on the lower tier. The middle featured a selection of mini desserts – Eton Mess, lemon cupcakes, Eccles cakes and praline mousse. Then finally on the top-tier were quite possibly two of the biggest scones – handmade of course – I have ever seen in my life with clotted cream and jam. The food was all delicious and despite forfeiting lunch or a decent sized breakfast, my sister and I struggled to finish all our food. We had the options of refilling the savoury platter, but honestly couldn’t eat any more. After finishing our bubbly, we were served individual pots of tea. As an extra, surprise treat, I was presented with two chef-made chocolate truffles with ‘happy birthday’ written in chocolate sauce and a candle, which was a lovely thought by the waiter.

Overall, the whole experience was brilliant. The service was attentive and friendly, the food was delicious and incredibly filling – the mini desserts were a lovely alternative to the usual afternoon tea experience. Finally, the striking setting – along with the opportunity to check out some of the hotel’s halls and staircase – completed a perfect afternoon. I would highly recommend booking an afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott. I can’t wait to come back and try the menu at the restaurant next door.

  • The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Afternoon tea is served between 12-4pm. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras. For more information and bookings, visit The Gilbert Scott website.
St Pancras staircase © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

If you enter through the hotel, you get to check out the stunning grand staircase


To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here for the contents page.

For another Metro Girl blog posts on a George Gilbert Scott creation, read about the Albert Memorial, or his grandson Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations Battersea Power Station or London Calling: BT Artbox celebrates 25 years of Childline

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