What?: We can’t get enough of kids’ play galleries, so were naturally beside ourselves when we learnt that Clerkenwell’s newly opened Postal Museum would be hosting a big new shiny one. Children’s galleries are brilliant in that they usually act as an immersive microcosm of the wider museum and are packed with interactive bits that enable little ones to learn about its subject (be it the postal service, science, transport or even the city they live in) through play, as well as allowing culture-starved parents to get into museums with their tinies without having to worry about boredom-induced tantrums shutting down Operation Day Trip.
When we visited on the Friday of Sorted!’s first week, which also happened to be the first week of the September school term, the space was eerily quiet and empty bar one other mum-and-toddler pair and the lady manning the ingeniously situated coffee cart. While I was initially quite glad to be in limited company as I thought it would enable Bab to explore uninterrupted and save me from parental politics (i.e. the tedium of droning “that’s some great sharing” every five seconds), it did feel a little bit soulless after a while, and the staff desperately trying to interest her in the magnetic wall within the first few minutes did make me wonder if we were going to run out of things to do.
Luckily we didn’t, and in fact Bab had a brilliant time clambering in and out of the Postman Pat-style red van (despite its frustratingly fixed steering wheel), pushing the little red mail cart (even if it was an absolute bastard to steer), and whizzing down the big red mail chute (even if she did smack her head on the side when Mummy misguidedly decided she was big enough to go down it on her own). We even stayed an extra 15 minutes at the end because the member of staff on duty said she didn’t really need time to tidy up for the next session since Bab and her little friend hadn’t really made any mess, save for scattering a few parcels around the place.
All in all it was an hour well spent. The gallery is light, clean – at least for now – and well designed, with lots of clever touches to keep small people interested. Roughly half the space is occupied by a miniature mouse city, complete with a wooden play table designed for cruisers, and tiny houses for curious toddlers to crawl into. The mail-sorting depot, mail van and post office have been constructed on a much bigger scale but this actually works beautifully thanks to the copious squashy brown packages that tie everything together, having been shrewdly designed to be used across the various play stations as well as fitting through letterboxes in Mouse Town.
Bab loved the animal noises that sounded unexpectedly when the mouse houses were opened, and we spent roughly a quarter of our visit ferrying parcels back and forth on the sorting office’s hand-operated conveyor belt. There was even a little park-themed library complete with London skyline and post-themed books in case everything else got a bit much. My only criticism of the actual design – and bear in mind I have absolutely zero experience of kids aged two and above and this is total speculation – would be that those at the top end of the recommended 0-8 age range might get bored after they’ve gone down the slide, pulled at the pulley and shouted down the phone at each other a few times, though I could be totally wrong. Brilliant for under-fives anyway.
Where?: The Postal Museum is located on Phoenix Place in Clerkenwell and is a 10-minute walk from Farringdon (mainline, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City) and Chancery Lane (Central), 15 from Russell Square (Piccadilly) and 20 from Kings Cross (mainline, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern).
Best Bits: Looks really cool and is jam-packed with clever little flourishes.
Worst Bits: There was a general sense of disorganisation that I suppose is inevitable in a brand-new museum. Sorted! wasn’t signposted so we had to queue for 10 minutes to find out where it was while the woman on the till had a chinwag with some old bloke. We were then told that it was actually in a different building down the street, by which point we’d missed the first 10 minutes of our session. I could have probably worked out Sorted!’s location myself had I read the website properly before our visit but sometimes I just want to turn up somewhere and not have to worry about these things, you know? There was also no bin in the baby-change toilet, which is just silly.
Facilities: Baby changing, buggy parking, refreshment cart selling hot and cold drinks plus snacks.
Cost: Entry to Sorted! costs £5 per child aged 0-8 and doesn’t include entry to the main museum or the Mail Rail ride.
Would We Come Back?: While I genuinely thought Sorted! was great I do feel like we’ve seen it all now so probably wouldn’t return unless we happened to be passing. I’d love to check out the museum and Mail Rail but probably wouldn’t pay £5 to use Sorted! on top of the already pretty steep entry fee.
Bab delivers post at Sorted!, The Postal Museum, Clerkenwell.