Okay, so Bath is some place your guidebook will tell you to go, but the Postal Museum is a place you may skip over in favor of the other attractions the city offers. Don’t, because it is fantastic.
There are some amazing museums in the UK. On this particular trip, my friend and I had come to Bath straight from London, where we had spent hours wandering through the treasures of the Victoria and Albert Museum and visited the Dickens exhibit among others at the Museum of London (Dickens is my favorite author, so this was a particular treat for me). But I am the kind of person who likes to stroll through museums, looking closely at things that catch my eye and breezing past things that don’t. I appreciate art, but I am certainly not a connoisseur. Being stuck on a tour with a guide who explains every single artifact in a museum is a nightmare for me. My attention span can’t handle it. So, needless to say, after our time in London, I was not looking to spend any more time in museums.
But it happened that on our second day we had to wait to meet up with my friend who lives in Bath, and we had already exhausted pretty much everything there is to do there (it was my second visit and Bath is not a very large town). So, to kill some time, we followed the signs to the Postal Museum. It was, though it may sound strange to say, one of the highlights of the trip.
The Postal Museum is located in the basement of the main Bath Post Office. It is a tiny space and it didn’t seem too promising at first. But the first sign that the visit might be a success was the woman at the reception desk. First off, since my friend was a student, the receptionist let me pay the student entrance fee, even though I was not, and people who take the limits of my bank account seriously always get on my good side. Secondly, she was truly excited about the museum, and her excitement was contagious. “Come look at this,” she said before we began our tour, showing us how to play short videos of actors dressed up in period outfits describing the lives of the key players in post office history from a first-person perspective. After pointing out other delights that awaited us, she went back to the counter and let us browse.
My second problem with museums is that I often don’t remember what I learn in them – the key facts never seem to stick. But I left that museum with newly solidified knowledge on a topic that I had never really thought much about. And the museum is the site of history – the very first letter with a postage stamp, called the Penny Black, was sent from the Bath post office in 1840. Before that, the recipient of a letter had to pay – can you imagine having to pay to receive junk mail? And, somewhat strangely for two Americans in a tiny British museum, there was an exhibit on the history of the Pony Express. But I learned new things here as well. Did you know that the Pony Express only existed for six months? So why the heck is it so famous? Unfortunately the exhibit could not answer that question for me.
The other great thing about the Postal Museum is that it played to my inner child and therefore my short attention span. Besides the videos of the actors, there was a board game where you had to move mail around the country, which my friend and I dutifully played. (I can’t remember who won, but I’m sure it was me). Best of all, there was a coloring station. Yes, I took a break from learning things to color a picture of Postman Pete, occasionally making a brief dash outside of the lines with my crayon, rebelling in ways my kindergarten self never could. I finished my picture and wrote a message to my friend we were meeting on it and gave it to him as a present, which I’m sure he treasures to this day.
Overall, the Bath Postal Museum is an overlooked gem that also shows you how infectious excitement in the museum workers can be. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the museum itself, but here is a pretty picture of Bath to tide you over.