The Internet doesn’t half like to make a fuss doesn’t it? With amount of shit lost at place hacking and silentuks Post Office scalextric announcement in 2011, you’d have been mistaken for thinking they’d found Elvis forging out a porno career at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
Of course, there was a lot of excitement in the community, but bear in mind that these people get excited over rivers of sewage, abandoned shitholes and different flavours of underground railway junctions. Having that much noise created in the realm of joe public probably meant it was a big deal, and I suppose, in terms of urban exploration in its purest most literal form, it was.
The astounding obsessiveness of the group that pulled this off is now only matched by a singlehanded-handed-count of people operating in the city of London, and at the time, they were pushing at all the boundaries of what we and the police, thought was possible (and/or sensible).
Regrettably, some of them are now paying back their perceived debt to society via the court system, and with many of the champions of that era having stepped off, the post office railway will probably be remembered by google indexing as their crowning achievement.
The mail rail (for those who are unaware) is a now disused system of narrow-gauge train tunnels and stations that sit underneath central London which were used by the GPO (later Royal Mail) to shift thousands of tonnes of mostly junk-mail, phone-books and utility bills around the capital to avoid it’s congested road system.
It’s current form was dug and kitted out between 1915 and 1927 (with an elongated tea break due to the Great War), with the first traffic running between Paddington and the West Central District Office (not on this map) in 1928. The lines were extended over the course of the next 20 odd years, with the network we know today being finished around 1958. Unsurprisingly, running a fleet of miniature underground trains is a bit dear when compared with say, email, and by the early 2000’s, the Royal Mail had had enough, closing it in 2003 after reporting losses of over a million quid a day.
I think one of the things that made the (re)discovery special in the eyes of those within the community, was that the party was over pretty quickly, brought to a sudden halt with a bit of a kerfuffle involving a derailed locomotive before too many leaches could get their suckers in. Exclusivity and rarity are pretty obviously prime breeders of value.
Since then, there hasn’t really been any news of anyone else getting their grubby little kicks on those 2 foot gauge rails, and with chat of postman pat live monitoring the cameras up and down the system, no one really thought getting down there would have done too much for their arrest tally, even if they could find a way in.
2 fucking years this has taken.
I think we’ve all gotten a bit soft.
We were planning a full weekend at it, but after both rear suspension springs snapped on the fucked up hand-me-down Beemer we were packed into at some god-forsaken M6 service station, we arrived wayyyy later then we should have and pretty much wasted what was left of Friday night failing at nothing, and went to get some kip in a lovely new squat recently appropriated by Manchester trooper sho. The next day, I wanted to finish off the lower bits of the River Fleet and walk the route of the mail rail overground to see for myself why on earth it was impossible.
Turns out it wasn’t.
And that feeling. Those of you who actually explore know it. It’s what this whole thing is about.
You don’t get it by browsing the ‘non-public’ sections of forums, ringing up your usuals for deets then smashing up photos of yourself on Facebook in some stupid pose ten minutes after getting home, pretending you’ve achieved something.
Taking a risk, going in blind, using your brain, your nerve, your stealth and abstinence from too many kebabs and having it pay off. You can’t get that shit for free.
Seeing this sign on this battered door deep beneath the streets of central London after negotiating our way through the labyrinth of a journey to the sub basements brought an ear to ear smile to my face, which grew like a teenagers boner as we made our way further down and closer to the tracks, ending up as a childish giggle as we slid down a 15 ft parcel chute and out onto the now bricked up platform.
The tunnels themselves are fantastic. It’s really just the tube in miniature, but with way more ups and downs (apparently to aid ac/deceleration of trains in and out of the stations – genius!). Most of the stations have now been bricked up, with the depots above them being sold on by the Royal Mail to capitalise on the outrageous value of central London real estate.
It’s still full of shit though, with all sorts of old trains and other bits and pieces still littering the tubes, and there has been a bit of work here and there to keep them ventilated.
We’d done a couple of miles, but with 7.00am quickly approaching (and jobs starting to fall asleep – smashed on tramadol to stave off the agony on his foot from an injury sustained falling off a bread factory) it was time to get going. I’m not really one to document every last nut and bolt of a place, I’m much more interested in the process of getting myself into these unlikely spaces (and going ner ner ne ner nerr on the Internet afterwards), so my photos are a little sparse.
If you want a proper photo-doc of the place, have a look at guerrilla exploring, and for photo porn – the place hacking or silentuk posts. They’re all excellent, although the rhetoric displayed in the latter pair is a little on the strong side.
Some of us went back two days later, the method of entry having gone behind a host of now active motion sensors and a 1/4″ steel door with a beasty abloy.