Security Breach: The London Mail Rail

Posted by Consolidation Crew on Sunday Apr 24, 2011 Under Celebration, Infiltration, Urban Exploration

Every sin is the result of a collaboration.

A Consolidation Crew post by Patch, “Gary”, Statler, Silent Motion, Scott, Winch, Ercle and Goblinmerchant

Holy Grail, photo by "Gary"

The exploration of the London Mail Rail last week was a (re)discovery of the highest order, the pinnacle of a year of heavy exploration for the London Consolidation Crew. Since 2008, myself, Statler, Site, Siologen, Winch, Otter, Snappel, Urban Fox, Silent Motion, Ercle, Scott, “Gary”, Gigi, Cogito, Marc Explo, Neb and Patch have moved through one London Underground station after anotherMark Lane, South Kentish Town, Lords, Swiss Cottage, Aldwych, Holborn, Brompton Road, Marlborough Road, Old King’s Cross, York Road, Down Street, City Road, the list goes on… Night after night, we have stood on the edges of the tracks waiting for the current to shut off on the third rail before we turned the Tube tunnels into our playgrounds of delicious disorder, negotiating the boundary between chaos and order in the nocturnal city. We have done so much work underground and research above that it’s likely at this point we understand the disused parts of the TFL tunnel system better than the workers – as Patch recently said, “if I’d filled my head with knowledge that’s actually useful rather than endless information about the Tube then maybe I’d have come up with an amazing idea or business model and become a millionaire by now.”

City Road infiltration, photo by Silent Motion

Aldwych bitch! photo by "Gary"

Thought you knew, photo by "Gary"

Riding the rails, photo by Silent Motion

Slowly since our humble beginnings as a crew, as our appetite for new experiences grew, the musings of Ninjalicious became increasingly poignant where he said in an interview with Dylan Trigg in 2005 that “I wouldn’t say what [urban explorers] are looking for is the beauty of decay so much as the beauty of authenticity, of which decay is a component.” The authenticity of the explore for us, increasingly, became as much about pushing boundaries as exploring locations; without the boundaries, explorations being nothing more than ruin porn. As the geographer Tim Cresswell writes, we may have to experience geographical transgression before we realize that a boundary even existed and once we realise where the boundaries actually lay (rather than where we are told they lay), we also realise how fluid and porous they are. As Marc Explo has said about our motivations, “I don’t think we are against the system, we’re just pointing out its limits. And as soon as the authorities realise we have, the boundaries evolve.”

Heightened security, photo by Silent Motion

Rewind six months. As part of our Tube onslaught, we become aware of a separate system of nine stations far below the city historically used by the Post Office to transport letters across London – the first track laid in May 1861 as an experimental 452 yard line. Supposedly, it was now all disused and could somehow be accessed, though we had no idea how. However, on Halloween night 2010, ravers took over a massive derelict Post Office building in the city and threw an illegal party of epic proportions. When pictures from the party emerged, we were astonished to find that a few of them looked to be of a tiny rail system somehow accessed from the building.

Silent Motion, Winch, Statler and myself were there a day later. Statler and Winch kept watch while Silent Motion and I snuck into the building. It was absolutely ravaged. After hours of exploration, we finally found what we thought might be a freshly bricked up wall into the mythical Mail Rail the partygoers had inadvertently found (I also found a great camouflage Animal jacket someone left behind that I’ve been wearing ever since). We went back to the car and discussed the possibility of chiselling the brick out. We decided that, given how soon it was after the party, the place was too hot to do that just now and we walked away, vowing to try again in a couple of months. When the MSP crew was out a few months later, we had another look but were again deterred by police wanting to know what we we doing hanging around the area.

I left London for Las Vegas in March of 2011 to go write my thesis, leaving my flat keys with Patch and “Gary” who then converted my flat into a squat for the crew; the Team B war room, the new London secret hideout for explorers from across the world, including the infamous Steve Duncan a few weeks ago. About a month after I was gone, drunk in my thesis document haze, I got a message from Statler that said “I think we found access again mate”. If there is one thing we have learned exploring the London Underground, it is to move fast once entry is found, we have to hit a place hard and document everything we can before the Glitch is sealed. A day later, the first pictures went up.

Subterranean departure, photo by Silent Motion

And sneakily, photo by Silent Motion

We're in! photo by Scott

Like win, photo by Statler

So let this begin! Photo by "Gary"

Framed in terms of increasingly vertical movement above and below “street level”, our explorations have become an extravagant passage of surreal encounter and discovery through the city in an attempt to discover and remake it in an image not mediated by corporate sponsors and bureaucrats but by bands of friends doing epic shit together. Similarly, in the 1960s, the Situationist International in Paris also sought to counter the contemplative and non-interventionist power of “the spectacle” by intervening in the city and experiencing its spaces directly as actors rather than spectators.  Part of this process of intervention, for us, required letting go of the social constraints that were binding even our exploration of the city. In effect, we had to become more criminal minded to get where we needed to be. We don’t apologize for that, that’s how we do it in the Proleague.

In this spot, photo by Statler

"Gary" hits the jackpot, photo by Patch

The sociologist Stephen Lyng writes that some criminal actions are experienced as almost magical events that involve distinctive ‘sensual dynamics’. These criminal pursuits often take on a transcendent appeal, offering the criminal an opportunity for a passionate, intensely authentic experience. Although urban exploration may be, as Siologen contends, a “victimless crime”, at some point we all have to admit that in order to obtain a Holy Grail, boundaries have to be pushed hard, if not necessarily broken, though the politic behind this is more subtle than assertive, more subversive than transgressive.

Level up, photo by Silent Motion

Filthy, photo by Statler

Little, photo by Lucida Grange

One, photo by "Gary"

The Consolidation Crew found a complete system of nine Mail Rail stations underneath London, full of small trains or “mini yorks” used to move mail around the city. Statler wrote later that “it’s unreal how this hadn’t been done before, I mean all the access info was online via sub-brit (Subterranea Britannica) and all it involved was a little bit of climbing!” It just went to prove that as much as urban exploration is about skill, it is also about luck and persistence.

Ninja skillz?

The crew made multiple trips into Mail Rail. “Gary” writes that himself, Otter, and Site made the journey from Paddington to Whitechapel. Including the journey back, they walked roughly 8 miles of tunnel. He continues,

The tunnels become tighter approaching the stations, meaning stooping was required at regular intervals throughout the trip. Towards the eastern end of the line, calcium stalactites were more abundant, hanging from the tunnel ceilings, and gleaming under the fluorescent light. This produced a very real feeling of adventure, like we were in an Indiana Jones movie, in some kind of mine or cave system with wooden carts and the smell of damp throughout. During this first of my two trips, the feeling of  surreal adventure was most prominent and the constant reminder that this incredible piece of infrastructure was indeed underneath the centre of London was a bizarre realisation. The stations themselves had an air of secrecy to them. Hearing the distant echoes from some of the live sorting offices above (particularly Rathbone) was exciting yet comforting (though others found it rather unsettling; it’s funny how different sounds/situations provoke different reactions when exploring) and emphasised the fact that we really had wiggled our dirty little fingers into one of the myths of subterranean London, peeling it back for all to see.

Otter on the rails, photo by "Gary"

Photographing grails, photo by Ercle

Inside the Mail Rail, Ercle writes that it was almost comical, “it felt like we were inside a model railway (with it bearing a striking resemblance to the full sized tube)”. Statler adds,

it was hot, sweaty, dank, wet…. it smelt like a mouldering hospital in parts and was pretty cramped in the tunnels. The stretch between Liverpool Street to Whitechapel was a real neck breaker in places and a long walk probably around 45 minutes. There were also a lot of calcium stalactites that would snap off in your face and hair it was obvious that people hadn’t been in the tunnels for a very long time. The same goes for the stretch between Bird street and Paddington which was also another long walk of small diameter tunnels.

Breaker, photo by Silent Motion

Breaker 1-2, photo by Statler

You're breaking up! Photo by Statler

Although accessing the system was no easy feat, like many place, once inside Ercle writes that “the threat of security felt a very long way off for all but one of the stations”, even whilst dodging CCTV cameras, highlighting the fact that once past the liminal zone of cameras, motions sensors and security guards, we are relatively free to do as we please in derelict infrastructural urban spaces. Scott describes how “unlike the usual stress of Tube exploration, we were all totally relaxed, free to chat and enjoy ourselves as it got later and later into the night. It was a luxurious experience and was reminiscent of the feeling of exploration when I first began; pure admiration of my surroundings.”

Admiration, photo by Silent Motion

Shock, photo by Ercle

For four days, the crew went back again and again, hitting the system hard right in front of the cameras, running longer down the lines to more stations, occasionally setting of alarms and then scurrying out of the system before anybody official arrived. Every night was a new bout of edgework, a dance with subterranean London where the mundane everyday world provides the boundaries and edges that are approached. And it is the very approach to the edge that provides a heightened state of excitement and adrenaline rush. The thrill is in being able to come as close as possible to the edge without detection… Finally on the 5th night, luck broke and Statler, Patch and Winch were approached by police and a Post Office employee on the street as they were exiting the system who told them they “had been watching them run around in here for days now on CCTV”.  Winch tells the story:

After enduring a tense period on the street waiting for a period of inactivity both within the large building, the three of us swiftly made our way to our access point at Paddington, pleased with ourselves for such a well executed entry having continually checked for unwanted attention and seeing nobody, we assumed we were safely in.

“Right lads, stay where you are. The police are on their way. You’re fucked”. Postman Pat was bellowing down the shaft at us. In a second we froze, before hastily dropping down ladders and finding a bolted door, a ladder that had previously assisted access to other parties now nowhere to be seen.

The door seemed impenetrable, nothing there to assist the 20ft climb. The frame being metal it flexed enough to squeeze a hand through and unbolt the door. We ran to the tunnels. Entering the pitch black we stopped for a second to take stock, aware that going down the wrong tunnels could take us away from our intended destination where we had a car parked.

We trod quickly and carefully through to our exit station with no time to hang around and take pictures, just an opportunity to exit through a door onto the street and away from the now screaming alarm (Which had been switched off on previous visits, but was now fully armed), away from the Mail Rail that would no doubt be crawling with police soon.

Back at the car, we packed our kit away and headed back to collect our other vehicle. A Police van flew past, sirens blazing, blue lights on. We breathed a sigh of relief. We could have been fucked. Postman Pat could have been right.

By our access point was 3 police cars. We collected the other car and departed, having arranged to meet Gary at a nearby station for some other activities in the area.

An hour or so later, the city was crawling. Police cars bolted up and down side streets, combing the area for those they’d assumedly seen on CCTV. We met with Otter and Siologen too, and congregated on a non-descript street to arrange ourselves.

Sirens blazed. A van buzzed down the street. The siren stopped. The van stopped. The questions started. Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins arrived. I’ve seen him on CCTV. And him. And him. Arrest them all, we’ve got all of them.

It was Siolo’s smooth talking to the police that ultimately saved us a night in the cells – by the end Postman Pat and Mrs Goggins were annoying the police more than we were and we were told to leave and not come back, having been searched.

Otter was the first to post the story of the Mail Rail infiltration on his blog. It hit a number of major news providers within hours and went viral, crashing the Silent UK website and the hosting provider’s server two days ago, causing cheers of utter delight from all of us in the background.

Cheers all around, photo by Scott

Accessing Mail Rail was, and is, something to be proud of, but it also led to dejection among the crew in the post-explore comedown. Otter wrote on Silent UK that in a way, its with a bit of sadness I write this, when your group has conquered the best location a city or country has to offer, those remaining will often seem tame by comparison. Many of the crew commented that “London was done now” and there was “nothing left” while Urbanity decreed on 28 Days Later the “end of exploration” (admittedly tongue-in-cheek), while Patch and Winch contended that “there will always be more to explore.”

Always, photo by Silent Motion

More to explore, photo by Silent Motion

As Speed, an explorer from another crew on wrote on 28 Days Later,

I think most people could see it coming… the whole scene in London is really on its toes right now. You have a large group of very capable [people] who are not afraid to take big risks and push into stuff people have previously only skimmed the surface of. It was only a year or so ago one of the main protagonists was telling me how he was moving to London and was going to ‘batter the tube’ and things to that effect. A year on and he’s done exactly what he said with success even an ‘optimist’ such as myself didn’t really see coming. That’s the sort of thing I’ve got a lot of respect for.

Focus gets you a long way.

The Mail Rail was the most significant achievement by far of the Consolidation Crew, the discovery, exploration and leak of what urban explorers call a Holy Grail – a site of utter historic impotence, unrivalled beauty and “authentic” discovery built on the back of skill, luck and research. It was the pinnacle of everything we had built up to together. Although I wasn’t there for the Mail Rail, I was honoured when the crew asked me to post the collected photos from the trip.

So long, photo by Patch

Mail Rail, photo by Scott

While urban exploration can be seen as an material investigation of informal spaces or liminal zones, it can also be viewed as a process that melds the zones of in-between into the fabric of the rest of the city by dulling the boundaries of can and can’t, seen and unseen, imagined and experienced, done and not done. The Consolidation Crew, in the last year and especially since the IDM last January, has accomplished more than I’ve ever thought possible and whatever the future of the UK urban Exploration scene may be, 2008-2011 will always be remembered as a Golden Age of London infiltration.

And with that…

Explore Everything, photo by Silent Motion


A huge thanks to everyone in the Consolidation Crew for keep me in the loop while I hide away writing our stories. Shouts to Statler, Siologen, Urban Fox, Winch, Snappel, Silent Motion, Patch, Ercle, “Gary”, Otter and Scott for accomplishing what few thought possible.



51 Responses to “Security Breach: The London Mail Rail”

  1. mat Says:

    amazing, brilliant post

  2. vanishing days Says:

    fucking epic!

  3. urbanity Says:

    I didn't decree anything – just trying to liven up the monotony that has gotton to be 28DL at the moment! The CC have certainly earned the right to claim a Golden Age of Infiltration if they want. Mail Grail and the Tube demolition have been amazing achivements.
    I'd never claim the "End of Exploring", indeed I'm fortunate to be based in an area without a publicity machine to feed. 😉

  4. PhatSo Says:

    Epic is all I can say.

  5. Gareth James Says:

    very very impressive!

  6. Richard (Dicky) Says:

    Nice write up, accompanied by some inspiring shots. Good job again to all involved.


  7. Jim Gillette Says:


    Love it.

  8. Fire-Fly Says:

    Epic report as always mate :D. Some of the stuff you’re doing lately is amazing, makes me wish I could get more time away from work :( lol

  9. Cherry Says:

    Sweeeeeeeet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Congratts to all….

  10. Site Says:

    very very very fuckin sick write up man….

  11. PaddyLondon Says:

    You've alll been very naughty boys!

  12. Emily Says:

    This is very very cool – congratulations!

  13. PC Plod Says:

    Isn't this kind of thing illegal?

  14. friends doing epic shit together… IN THE GROUND « zunguzungu Says:

    […] London Consolidation Crew finds the holy grail: The exploration of the London Mail Rail last week was a (re)discovery of the highest order, the […]

  15. Steve Says:

    “Rewriting the underlying spatial code to make places “open access”, democratising space” Creating an alternative and dissident discourse of urban space perhaps. Great post!

  16. Steve Reckless Says:

    “Rewriting the underlying spatial code to make places "open access", democratising space.” Creating an alternative and dissident discourse of urban space perhaps. Great post!

  17. coloradodave Says:

    one day i hope to buy every member of that team a beer.

    be proud.

  18. booda Says:

    yooheeeee love it :)

  19. Fifth Linkfest Says:

    […] Consolidation Crew: Security Breach: The London Mail Rail […]

  20. Patrimonio Industrial » El London Mail Rail Says:

    […] silenciosa, otra red subterránea y desconocida para muchos: el viejo sistema de correos, el London Mail Rail, hoy en desuso, que servía para transportar cartas a través de la […]

  21. That Parisien Loop. « Uncategorised. « The Winchester Says:

    […] to proving that it is possible to explore everything that has helped motivate and push the Consolidation Crew towards completion of the London Underground, the final steps of this goal actually taken by those […]

  22. Photo Of The Day - Page 21 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed Says:

    […] not jsut photos, but some great commentary and shots of the disused London Mail Rail:…don-mail-rail/ […]

  23. Ben23 Says:

    I’m intrigued that all the lights are on in the photos. Did you find them that way, or switch them on yourselves?

  24. Laban Says:

    Fantastic photos of a fascinating place. Although I can live without all the "… process that melds the zones of in-between into the fabric of …." cultural studies nagombi, it was still (as Pooh said to Piglet) "a noble thing you did".

  25. Weekly Score 29.07.11 [Bradley L Garrett] « Says:

    […] I read – a lead. Once you realize something exists, for instance when we found out about the London Mail Rail, then it’s just a matter of mapping it out, finding possible access points and then going out and […]

  26. Space & Grime: Sapping Chicago | Place Hacking Says:

    […] on our successes in Detroit. We had been hearing rumours of an extensive tunnel system modelled on London’s Mail Rail where some fiendish little schizophrenic called Dr. Chaos had hidden cyanide stolen from the […]

  27. Londonsplore « Dereliction « The Winchester Says:

    […] activities shared online on various blogs, forums and Facebook. As seen with the activities and outcomes from the LCC, it’s become obvious that collaboration and information sharing has moved things forwards to […]

  28. 2011 – The Top Twenty. « The Creme « The Winchester Says:

    […] with several high profile places this year!) I headed down with Luke and Chris a few days after the initial accomplishment of getting into the Mailrail. Having been on the site for no longer than 20 seconds, Postman Pat was bellowing at us and we […]

  29. James Cole Says:

    behead those who insult islam

  30. daz Says:

    Amazing, I'm surprised that as it has been disused since 2003 why all the lighting rigs are still on, wonder how much £ that's cost us?

  31. antipinko Says:

    Brilliant…. a piece of work marked genius by any standard.

  32. jonleeds Says:

    Beautiful stuff lads – Well done! You're efforts and attitude are a shining example for us all. Its such a shame that the brass get so wound up about us poking around in this stuff, they ought to be pleased that the whole nation isnt a braindead corrie/eastenders addled mess. Its a shame more young folk arent up for urban adventuring as they seem delighted to be doing it on their PS3's, they dont realise how much better it is in real life.

    I envy you so much living in London, here in Leeds we've got some good sites, but I'd love to see some of the real subterrenean capital city. Anyway keep up the good work !

  33. Video: Crack The Surface | & || | INHABIT Says:

    […] have heard about British group Silent UK‘s recent plumb to the depths of London’s abandoned mail train system. Now the team have created Crack the Surface,  a series of short films following Silent UK as they […]

  34. cjh Says:

    is the only way to get in though the only post buliding, is the entrence sealed up now?

  35. Vanessa Hayes Says:

    The CC have certainly earned the right to claim a Golden Age of Infiltration if they want. Mail Grail and the Tube demolition have been amazing achivements. By the way Nice Shots.

  36. Clinique Layla Says:

    Inspiring write up and good pics. It was indeed a great feat by CC. They have come up with brilliant ideas and intelligently executed it. The Holy Grail is one such instance which proved their dexterity and team strength.
    Wishing them a good success in all their endeavours.

  37. Caden Anderson Says:

    Intelligent and careful use of urban space backed by consistent persistence and perseverance is what that has happened to London. Thanks to CC. It is so amazing to know that the complete project happened to be completed in a short span of time. Your team has made great news. Keep up the good work.

  38. Vanessa H2 Says:

    Nice shots and hats off to the CC. It is definitely a pinnacle on their perseverance. We look forward to more such innovative and interesting things from you. Keep up the good work.

  39. JOHN ROBERTS Says:

    Hats off to CC. The completion of such an awesome work shows how dedicated and hard working the entire team is. The pics are so realistic. Looking forward for more such pioneering and out standing endeavours from your team.

  40. Natalie Minute Says:

    Very good wrok CC. Congragulations. By reading this article we understand the hard word and dedication of the team. This shows that team work is all that counts. Always in a team co-orination is important. We see that co-ordination is a plenty in this team. The pics are also great and clear. All the for the entire team and keep up the good work guys.

  41. First Wall « Write Already Says:

    […] in researching the Royal Mail, I came across more of my old fascination: a now-defunct and abandon mail rail system in London, recently invaded by an urban exploration team called the London Consolidation […]

  42. BLM Says:

    Very interesting – as a postal worker myself I always new this existed and was closed down in 2003 but am vey shocked to see it still lit up and do wonder who foots that bill. Also always facied doing caving or exploration myself – but rather not get wet so this sort of thing greatly interests me as always had a facination for tunnels and what have you – since a wee boy had an interest in World War II history, componds, underground bunkers, hidden cities etc. Also all the closed down Underground Stations and lines no longer in use have intrigued me. Long may the Consolidation Crew reign and maybe inspire others like myself to actually get out into the real enviorment to explore – though I may avoid the Holy Grail (Mail Rail) as if caught could possibly cost me my job immediatley.

  43. Barry Says:

    Absolutely Awesome! Apparently Aldwych is used in movies and tv quite often – I'm very envious! The photography is brilliant too. Good job. Stay safe, stay in the shadows ;o)

  44. Frank Pike Says:

    The tunnel lights are controlled by a timer on the platforms, click a button and they light up for 30 minutes, the platforms have regular light switches which i assume these guys just turned on.
    So are you the chaps that also decided to steal the battery loco, derail it, then get locked up.

  45. Ex-Postie Dave Says:

    Good stuff,i often wondered what sort of state the old Mail Rail was in now as i used to work in the Rathbone Place and Paddington offices.

  46. Mofo Says:

    I wish I was as bad ass as them.

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