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Mail by Rail (Hardback)

The Story of the Post Office and the Railways

Colour Books P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > By Century > 20th Century Photographic Books Transport > Trains & Railways

By Peter Johnson
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 296
Illustrations: 200 colour & black and white illustrations & maps
ISBN: 9781526776136
Published: 2nd September 2022



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Railways have been used for the carriage of mail since soon after the Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in 1830, the development of the first travelling post offices following, enabling the Post Office to achieve maximum efficiencies in mail transportation. As the rail network grew the mail network grew with it, reaching a peak with the dedicated mail trains that ran between London and Aberdeen.

The Post Office also turned to railways when it sought a solution to the London traffic that hindered its operations in the Capital, obtaining powers to build its own narrow gauge, automatic underground railway under the streets to connect railway stations and sorting offices. Although construction and completion were delayed by the First World War, the Post Office (London) Railway was eventually brought into use and was an essential part of Post Office operations for many years.

Changing circumstances brought an end to both the travelling post offices and the underground railway but mail is still carried, in bulk, by train and a part of the railway has found a new life as the Mail Rail tourist attraction.

Author Peter Johnson has delved into the archives and old newspapers to uncover the inside story of the Post Office and its use of railways to carry the mail for nearly 200 years.

"This book is a good record of a past age before the days of the internet and emails."

Bradford Railway Circle

'A good book for both rail enthusiasts and philatelists'.

Friends of the NRM Review - Spring 2023

"If detail is heaven, this is definitely a book to uplift you.....Data is packed into every page, with history, maps and images"

Steam Days - March 2023

As featured by

The Broad Gauge Society

A noted author on the subject, Peter Johnson has produced three previous books on the topic; this all-new work is perhaps the final full-stop in the story, although limited amounts of mail still travel by rail. The full illustrated history from 1830 to 2021, it will become the new ‘standard’ reference.

Trackside magazine

" I doubt there is another volume which provides us with such a comprehensive history of the carrying of the mail by rail. Highly recommended."

The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society - The Railway Observer, February 2023, Volume 93, Number 1128

"A useful book."

Railway and Canal Historical Society

"Peter Johnson goes into great detail about many aspects of the transport of mail and this well-illustrated volume contains much of his recent research."

Best of British Magazine - February 2023

... well illustrated throughout with many previously unpublished pictures and reports from contemporary newspapers. ... This is a book which should be on the shelves of any collector with a wider interest in railways and the mails.

Railway Philatelic Group

In this latest offering, Peter Johnson lives up to his reputation for detailed research and interesting content. He has clearly researched the subject very thoroughly, and the supporting photographs and illustrations are excellent. If this is an aspect of railways into which you wish to delve deeply, this book ticks the box.

Ffestiniog Railway Magazine - Winter 22

This is a well researched book that doesn’t neglect the people involved in putting mail on rail. A good book for both rail enthusiasts and philatelists.

The Society of Model and Experimental Engineers Journal - December 2022

As featured in

Railways Illustrated

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Stephen Knight

As featured on Michael's Model Railways

Michael's Model Railways

The book is recommended to anyone who collects items of postal history that were carried and sorted by rail.

Reviewer: Mark Bailey

The Royal Philatelic Society London

Narrow gauge enthusiasts may well find the standard-gauge section of this book interesting, but the Post Office Railway chapters will fascinate.

Narrow Gauge World Magazine - No 170, October 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I found this book very interesting, full of information, well researched, and informative.
I learned a lot in an enjoyable way.
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Having written a brilliant series of books on narrow gauge railways in Wales, Peter Johnson now turns his attention to how the Post Office and the railways came together from the very early days of the railways right up to date. This fascinating book certainly opened the eyes of this reviewer who also enjoyed the section on the Post Office (London) Underground Railway which like the rest of the book is well illustrated. Highly recommended.

Peter A. Harding - Branch Line & Light railway Publications.

I must admit this is not really my thing, so it is a compliment to Mr Johnson that as well as being lavishly illustrated the book is also a good read and packed with information.

If you collect train mail the book is a must, if not there is enough here to easily justify the cost simply because it is a good read with some great pictures. Highly recommended.

Read the full review here

Chris Forwood, Epsom & Ewell Philatelic Society

This was an interesting and very in depth read of the history of mail trains through the years. I enjoyed reading about the history of the mail trains. The pictures dispersed throughout the book was great.

NetGalley, Anna A.

This book was very interesting. I learned a lot from reading it.

NetGalley, Angela Wetzel

Mail By Rail, from Peter Johnson, is an attractive and informative volume that highlights how the rail system(s) affected and improved mail delivery.

There was so much information here that was entirely new to me. Part of that is because I'm from the US and part is because I have tended, unfortunately, to take mail delivery for granted.

I was probably most fascinated by the underground London postal rail system, though I also found the whole TPO idea intriguing... The wonderful photographs and illustrations also provided great visuals to accompany the text.

Highly recommended for both rail/train enthusiasts as well as those with an interest in stamps and postal history. Even for someone like myself who just likes to learn new things, this is a rewarding book.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

An interesting romp through the history of mail by rail which begins surprisingly early in the history of railways. Well illustrated throughout this book provides a look at the network of mail trains, both expanding and contracting, as well as a look at the Post Office Railway that ran beneath the streets of London. The changing demands of the post network and the 'improvements' made are assessed before concluding with some of the older mail vans in preservation meaning readers can follow up with visits to places of interest.

A well produced volume, knowledgeably written but with readability in mind.

NetGalley, Peter Burnett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Great brilliant book, well written. Enjoyed every moment. Worth reading
Must read for everyone.
Definitely buy

NetGalley, Karen Bull

After visiting the Postal Museum in London a few years ago, I was intrigued by this system. Mail by Rail did not disappoint with the level of research and detail in this book. The Royal Mail System is amazing. The numerous photos in this book helped bring the text to life to see the ways the mail got onto a train and how it was sorted on a carriage. If you want to learn more about how mail moved around the UK from the 1800s to now, this book will give you everything you need to know.

NetGalley, Deb Kiley

This is now the definitive book on the subject. It is by far the best and complete book on the subject. Highly recommended.six star book

James Simmonds
 Peter Johnson

About Peter Johnson

Best known for his books on narrow gauge and Welsh railways, Peter Johnson first wrote about travelling post offices in 1985 and added the Post Office (London) Railway to his portfolio in 1995. Living in Leicester, he was employed in local authority fire service communications for 29 years. 

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