Opening the Museum Depot for a new summer season

By Fenella Goodhart, Head of Learning, and Matt Brosnan, Head Curator

Planning is now underway to get the London Transport Museum’s Depot in Acton open in August.  We can’t wait to welcome visitors and staff back and to unlock this treasure trove of London’s transport history.

We are planning a family experience at the Depot for two weeks  from 19-23 and 26-30 August 2020.  It will be a timed ticket offer so that we can control numbers and ensure a safe and relaxing experience for visitors.  We will create a trail of the Depot vehicle sheds which will not only reveal some of the stories of this rarely seen collection but also keep those Maths and Literacy neurons for firing over the summer holidays!

View overlooking train shed inside Museum Depot in Acton

Our vehicles are some of the crown jewels in our rich collection. We care for 85 vehicles including buses, trains, trams, taxis and even a tractor. Some are on display at the Museum in Covent Garden, but opening our much larger Depot gives visitors a detailed insight into how travel in London has changed since the nineteenth century. It is also an impressive sight to stand in the space and take in a bus and tram shed packed full of vehicles and row upon row of Underground trains.

Some of the many buses at the Depot – from right to left, a ‘garden seat’ horse bus, a B type motorbus, a K type motorbus and an NS type motorbus

On their trail in August, visitors can encounter a beautiful ‘garden seat’ horse bus dating from 1881, a time when London’s streets were filled with horse-drawn traffic. Immediately alongside is a handsome red B type bus from 1911, the very first mass produced type of motorbus in the world. Visitors will see for themselves that not all London buses were red, with brown, green and even gold examples at the Depot.

A view along one of the walkways between rail vehicles, including a Metropolitan Railway wagon (right) that was in service from 1897 to 1970

Visitors will also be able to weave their way around an array of trains that have served London’s commuters since the early days of the Underground. They range from the functional to the beautiful. Practical vehicles like an 1897 ballast wagon and a 1939 sleet locomotive share rails with a shiny red 1938 Stock Tube train filled with stylish Art Deco touches.

Inspired by the collection, we will be providing family visitors with their very own sealed, activity pack to use on site or take home.  We will be making use of the large outdoor area behind the Depot to allow families time to rest and relax in the fresh air and dip into their activity packs.  Hopefully snacks and hot drinks will also be available for visitors.

Green Routemaster bus outside Museum Depot

And to top it off,  the London Transport Miniature Railway will be up and running, completing the Depot experience with this much loved attraction.

London Transport Museum Miniature Railway. Driver is facing away from camera with three passengers on board behind him

Foremost in our minds in planning the reopening of the Museum Depot is creating a safe, welcoming and enjoyable experience for visitors and staff.  Managing numbers and social distancing, a robust cleaning regime for all, friendly and knowledgeable staff and clearly planned and signposted one way routes are top of our list of priorities.  We look forward to keeping you posted on our planning and welcoming you to the Depot for our summer season from the 19 August 2020.

Keeping our visitors and staff safe

Geoff Rowe, Assistant Director of Operations and Resourcing

Protecting your health, safety and wellbeing are key to you being able to enjoy yourself and having confidence in us that we can provide a safe Museum experience. As our minds turn to opening our Museum Depot in Acton and Covent Garden again to visitors, your Health and Safety is our top key priority.

The Government have issued their guidance on re-starting the visitor economy and Visit Britain have successfully launched their `We’re good to go` industry standard. My team and I have read and re-read this guidance and are putting the measures in place to ensure we successfully meet the standard to give you confidence to visit us. We will have the `We’re good to go` standard when we open and have almost completed the work required, so please look out for this on our social channels soon. I have listened to multiple talks on toilets (a key concern for many people!), learned from our European colleagues who have already opened their doors and spoken to friends in other attractions about how they have opened to get an understanding of how to do this best at LTM.

Our risk assessments are complete and ready for sign off, a reduced capacity agreed, a new chronological route to best showcase the collection, clear signage is being worked up and staff will be consulted on their return to work. Staff are crucial to the process of welcoming you back. Their engagement and confidence is key to ensuring you have a great visit. We don’t want the team to feel stressed when visitors return to see our amazing collection and we want to welcome you as we did before.

Sliding doors inside London Transport Museum with two hand sanitiser stations position either side

When you visit you will notice some differences, this is nothing to worry about. Staff will be wearing clear visors and there will be screens at key points such as tills and the information desk. We have made the decision to wear visors because we still want to communicate with everyone and face coverings don’t allow this. They are not accessible to people who need to lip-read. This will not increase any risk to you or our team as we will have measures to ensure everyone’s protection.

You will see our staff regularly cleaning floors and other high useage areas around the Museum. This does not mean you cannot still ask them questions or talk to them. We are still keen for you to engage with our team but we want to visibly show we are looking after you and cleaning is part of that commitment and reassurance.

Close-up of gloved hand cleaning a metal seat

A key area of concern for visitors returning are the toilets. Never before has toilet talk been so important and socially acceptable! Operations Managers across the country are working out how best to open toilets.  I had never anticipated toilets would be the centre of all my planning.  There will be an enhanced cleaning rota for you to see how often they are cleaned. Some toilets may not be available but we know we need as many toilets open as we can, so you can have a comfortable visit.

Not everything might be open. We are confident that we can open most of the Museum, given the high performing cleaning materials we have, especially a product that will kill bacteria for 28 days. However, any areas that we are not comfortable with due to the nature of play in that area we may close off. This will not stop your enjoyment as we are confident 90% of the Museum will be open for you to enjoy.

Hand sanitiser station positioned by lift near All Aboard play area at London Transport Museum with red bus in background

To support our capacity and for track and trace, we will need you to pre-book timed tickets via our online booking system or call centre. This will give you a timed entry so you can have a comfortable and quick arrival experience.

Daughter sitting on Father's lap at West Ham station platform and both are wearing facemasks

We also need you to help us. It is really important that when you come and visit you read the pre-visit information we provide and you look after your visiting bubble. We need everyone who visits to be responsible as we continue to get life back to normal. We know the kids will be excited to be back, so will we, but we need to ensure that we work together to help ensure that the Museum remains safe for everyone. Please help us do that, support our survival and do that safely.

Father and son walking in the park wearing face covering

The team and I are excited that we are talking about opening and we will soon be able to confirm dates. When you are visiting, please don’t be shy, please talk to us about your experience and let us know your concerns or if you think we have done a good job. We will listen and learn together. We look forward to welcoming you back and having life back in our amazing Museum.

How can we use design to support the new ‘normal’?

By Sau-Fun Mo, Head of Design and Presentation

Around the world, we are seeing countries and cities slowly easing restrictions that were put in place to control and minimise the spread of a highly dangerous virus. We have yet to understand the full scale of the impact that this killer virus will have on our economy, our children’s education, employment and sadly, the loss of loved ones.

After several weeks of lockdown in the safety of our own homes, children, adults, employees and customers alike are cautiously stepping back into the real world. In order to try and get back to some kind of normality, we will need to adjust our behaviours, interactions with others, and ways of moving through public spaces by foot, cycle or public transport.

But how do we resume ‘normal’ life and what does it look like?

Retail shops, offices, schools and visitor attractions are gradually beginning or planning to reopen, with the uncertainty of what may be around the corner. However, one thing’s for sure, it’s certainly not going to be like it was before.

New signage and wayfinding systems are going to be an essential part of everyone’s journey, be it for business, school, leisure or essentials. Communication, instruction and interaction are crucial to helping people navigate through this new existence where there is still an uncomfortable amount of fear of contracting the virus. A well designed signage system will help to provide confidence and encourage people to venture out into this new world and resume some kind of new normality.

We are working hard on planning the re-opening of the Museum and thinking about what measures we will need to put in place to ensure that staff and visitors are safe. Questions such as ‘how anxious will visitors feel?’ are yet to be tested and resolved. But whatever the solutions, our aim is to ensure that the visitor experience will not be diluted.

Key objectives that we are taking into account for our new signage and wayfinding system include:

  • Adopt consistent messaging that is in keeping with the wider society to ensure that content is familiar and easily understood
  • Avoid harsh messages and communicate in a way that is friendly and calm by using design and tone of voice to provide assurance and clear guidance
  • Allow for trial and testing of signage to ensure messages are clear which must be adaptable and flexible for changes as required
  • Create a safe route around exhibits to avoid bottle necks and to minimise queuing
  • Make the signage more engaging by adding symbols or illustrations from our own collection as visual aids to enhance spatial awareness
  • Use colours or other visuals that are uplifting, align with the Museum’s personality and will stand out well within the space
  • Consider the material, location and scale of these new signs so that they complement the environment
  • Create a kit of parts toolkit that is eye-catching and impactful, and can be applied consistently across all of our locations – the Museum, the Depot at Acton, the Shop and eventually the Canteen
  • Ensure that all signage meets the ‘We’re Good to Go’ kitemark accreditation standards in order to provide assurance to visitors
  • Develop friendly, informative messages for our website, social media, and other digital communications, to let visitors know in advance what to expect when they return

There is still lots to be done and questions to be answered, but we continue to work hard on getting the Museum back on track. Our absolute priority is to ensure that our staff and visitors will feel safe and at ease in this time of uncertainty. We know that a vital part of this is to make sure the signage and hazard tape may be reassuringly be our visitors’ first impression, but that their lasting impression is of the warm welcome and unique personality normally associated with London Transport Museum.

Return to Covent Garden – Part 2

by Sam Mullins OBE, Museum Director

My second return to Covent Garden, and the sleeping London Transport Museum, was made on Friday 5 June. It was so good to work – at a distance – with a handful of colleagues who I had only seen on Zoom since mid-March, to have a real conversation and bounce some creative ideas around. We began blocking out a physically distanced linear route around the Museum for when we are able to open, noting pinch points, interactives and access to vehicles. We are confident that this is feasible; the challenge will be to provide an experience for our staff and early adopters which is visibly safe but retaining the lively personality and welcome we are known for.

Sam Mullins standing with his arms out-wide in Covent Garden Piazza in front of London Transport Museum

 

The sunny Piazza itself was just as quiet as three weeks before; a few lonely sightseers, the occasional urban explorer and the smell of paint and varnish as two solitary painters began sprucing up and installing signage in anticipation of the return of non-essential retail on Monday 15 June. The openings on the Piazza will be limited for the time being. We are making preparations to open our shop, but only when there are customers to serve and for the moment the West End is a ghost town. A visit to Pret a Manger on the Strand, the only premises trading in the area, was remarkably a novelty after 11 weeks, the coffee and croissant being passed through a mousehole in the large Perspex screen across the counter.

We returned home on our bikes, rejuvenated and buoyed up by the approaching horizon of re-opening, even if not until August or later. Suffering a heavy shower on the cycle home did not dampen the spirits at our Friday evening social online. So, we continue to plan, to watch museums open in Europe and learn from their experiences, change the plans again and again, and set a timetable for decisions on re-opening. Those plans will likely include timed tickets, later opening hours and probably days for families and evenings for adults alone.  I feel like the Director of a play where the scenery is being built for a production not yet written, the leading roles as yet un-cast and the opening night uncertain and to a reduced audience!

Inspiring curiosity at London Transport Museum

by Fenella Goodhart, Head of Learning

We headed into lockdown committed to keeping the Museum alive in your hearts, minds and across your digital devices.  The Learning, Curatorial, Digital and Hidden London teams have been producing exciting new content for you to access from home. Our new Activities at Home page has quizzes, games and resources for families with children of all ages.  Some are specifically aligned to the primary curriculum, blending history, science and making whilst also supporting core reading and comprehension skills.  We have even recreated our popular under-5’s singing and stories sessions.

Banner with cutout images of vehicles with writing over the top that says 'Make you own London Transport Museum'

Many schools across the UK re-opened on Monday 1 June and we wish all staff, parents and carers and children well with this new phase.  Whilst it must be exciting to be back in the classroom, there must also be lots of challenges and lots to get used to.  We are thinking about ways in which we can support schools across London locally and digitally now and into the new academic year.  If you have a child at school or you are a teacher and you have an idea for how the Museum can support your school, please get in touch learningmailbox@ltmuseum.co.uk.

Two female pupils working together during an Inspire Engineering session

Finger’s crossed, it won’t be too long before we are able to open the Museum and possibly even the Acton Depot again.  Thinking about how to ensure your visit is safe, clean and socially distanced helps us to understand how to reimagine the visitor experience so that it continues to be fun, interesting and enriching.  We are exploring making use of our outdoor spaces, how digital apps and trails might add interactivity to a visit, pre-packed making kits and small scale live experiences amongst many other things.

Three young girls watching a member in our Learning team wearing a train conductors hat during a Singing and Stories session

In spite of this being a challenging time for the Museum, we are also really proud to have continued to deliver some of our more specialised programmes too.  Our young people’s skills programme supports young Londoners aged 16-25 who are in low or no employment/under employed and are seeking meaningful careers in the cultural and transport sectors.  Since the end of March, we have delivered 373 hours of digital learning through interactive employability workshops; we have engaged our young freelancers in work across the Museum and we have delivered some soundscape workshops with young people in Thamesmead.  We know that as we emerge from this crisis life will be challenging and we are committed to playing our part in shaping a positive future for everyone.

Five male pupils and a teacher talking inside a heritage train at London Transport Museum

Changing times in the world of museum retail

by Laura Mullins, Head of Retail

Although our physical shop doors in Covent Garden have been closed, our online shop has been very much open and trading well thanks to your support. Fortunately our online shop is fulfilled by an external fulfilment company who have done an amazing job getting orders to our customers as quickly as possible. Our online partner also fulfils for the online shops of several other charities so they quickly adapted to providing socially distanced, safe working measures for all their staff, with any office based staff working from home.

Monkey, giraffe, turtle and lion soft toys sitting in and next to a wooden red London bus and baby clothing

March was a particularly busy time for the Retail team as it’s when we’re signing-off our Christmas ranges. So, after the team quickly adjusted to working from home, and getting used to video conferencing(!), we turned our attention to Christmas and adding the final touches to this year’s Christmas knitwear and fairtrade bauble designs. I think this year’s design is our best yet so sign up to our enewsletter to be the first to see it when it launches later in the year.

Small proportion of Christmas jumper design showing green Christmas tress on a navy background with white roundels underneath

We’ve seen some interesting trends in online sales since the start of lockdown, including lots of home improvement purchases such as our iconic prints, posters and exclusive moquette furniture. We’ve also sold lots of game and puzzles to keep the family busy. One thing we’ve noticed which is very heart-warming is the sending of gifts to people, so it’s nice to think we’re helping to put a smile on someone’s face during this difficult time.

A moquette sofa and Routemaster fabric, with two District line cushions and a throw on top

In recent weeks, our focus has now shifted to re-opening the shop in Covent Garden. We’re looking at how best to promote a socially distanced and pleasant shopping environment which may mean the removal of some shop floor fixtures and managing the numbers of people entering and exiting the shop. We’ll be following Government guidelines, increasing our cleaning and installing screens around our till points to keep our staff and customers safe. The team especially our Shop Manager, Simon, is desperate to get back on the shop floor to welcome you all again soon.

Small children's gifts in the shop arranged by colour in yellow, green , blue, purple, pink and red

Thank you for your continued support.  Every purchase helps us to re-open our doors so please do keep visiting our online shop.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!

by Geoff Rowe, Assistant Director of Operations and Visitor Services
Everyone at the Museum is looking forward to welcoming you back. The Museum thrives on life and people being inside. Whether it’s being a bustling flower market with traders buying their stock, or the best museum of urban transport, people should be in the building. We want to see people in the Museum learning about London and how transport has shaped our great city and see our friends enjoying themselves again.
Inside London Transport Museum looking down over the vehicles from the first floor

Since we closed, we have not stood still and have been cleaning every part of the Museum and that will continue. Being open non-stop for 13 years makes it difficult to have a real crack at cleaning some areas that might require more attention, so the temporary closure has been a great opportunity to do this work. Glen and Ruben have been working diligently to ensure the place looks great when we all return. Apparently taking 13 years of polish off the floor is a tough task!

Inside London Transport Museum shop, with a focus on the clean floor tiles with four covered stands of shop products.
We are also busy planning for re-opening and this is throwing up a number of new considerations we have not had to think about before in an operational environment.  We have four over-riding key principles we are taking into account in order to welcome you back. These are:
  1. Numbers – how many visitors can safely visit with social distancing guidelines in place?
  2. Cleanliness – the Museum has to be safe for staff and our friends who visit
  3. Social distancing – what is the new visitor experience like?
  4. Reassurance – achieve the recognised kitemark standard on cleanliness and communicate what we are doing

We will ensure that we have listened to feedback from multiple sources such as the government, public surveys, colleagues from outside attractions who are opening now and retailers, so we can deliver a comfortable and confidant visit for you.

We are also learning from TfL and the measures they are putting on across their network to keep us all safe.  We will have enhanced day to day cleaning measures in place and increased cleaning at high touch point areas with high performance disinfectant. On top of this, we are looking in to implementing a sanitising regime every 21 days, where the Museum is cleaned with a surface sanitiser that will kill bacteria for 28 days.  We will also look at what other new technology is available, learning daily about what is possible with the goal of ensuring everyone enjoys their visit in a safe environment.

Cleaning products including two mops and buckets, a blue, red and green bucket sitting next to a table with cleaning rotas
There may also be an exciting opportunity to open the Depot in Acton, so more people can see this Aladdin’s cave. More details on this to come…
We will keep working on getting the building and team ready to deliver on your expectations. We hope to welcome you again soon.
Picture from inside the Museum looking through the shutters out onto Covent Garden Piazza. Two people can be seen outside in the Piazza

A Visit to Covent Garden

By Sam Mullins OBE, Museum Director

It really was time to get out from behind the laptop; two months on from suspending our operations at Covent Garden and beyond it was time to go and make sure for myself that the Museum was still there. A brisk five-mile cycle ride on a sunny afternoon would be just the ticket, a slice of lockdown London from Hackney to Westminster. Pumped up the tyres, oiled the moving parts, dug out my helmet and hi-vis jacket and I was soon rolling past De Beauvoir Square with its socially distanced families enjoying the sun, residential terraces, Wilmington Square with children playing, through streets empty of people but houses and flats full of activity.

The City Road was nose-to-tail traffic, construction site on Pitfield St was back to work, vans delivering and joggers and purposeful walkers out on the quiet side streets. Buses passed with a few separated passengers. I passed a string of closed museums; the Postal Museum and Mail Rail, Dickens House and the British Museum itself, all like us wondering when and, in some cases, how they would open again. As I approached Covent Garden, the city became noticeably more empty; no shops to service, no hotels open, just a few solitary individuals marvelling at the emptied out metropolis, one solitary couple eating ice creams on the Piazza; ‘where did they get those from?’ I wondered.

Outside of London Transport Museum in Covent Garden

The London Transport Museum is in suspended animation; the lifeblood of its visitors, sounds and videos frozen, its shop just waiting for the footstep of a customer to spring back into life, those polished buses and trains awaiting the next passenger to be engaged and tell the stories of transport in London, the Hidden London exhibition itself hidden away.

View from second floor looking down over buses inside London Transport Museum. Maintenance man walking across Museum floor

In the shop, the merchandise was under wraps, the tills open and empty, the screens at the entrance desk flickering blankly. But our ABM cleaning team have deep cleaned the entire museum and ten years of wax removed from the floors which makes them as good as new again.

View from first floor looking into London Transport Museum Shop. All shop products covered with dust sheets

Toy monkey covered in dust sheet

The Piazza had metaphorical tumbleweed blowing across it, despite a golden sunny afternoon; shops all closed, bars and pubs blanked up. Security guards patrolled in pairs, rubbish bins emptied, a scatter of fellow sightseers shared the unaccustomed peace and quiet. It was awe-inspiring to see the usually frantic Piazza free of people.

Covent Garden piazza with no people

But in workrooms and box rooms, on kitchen tables and desks across London, the Museum is very much alive. Working remotely, the ‘bare bones’ Museum team are planning our future. Online trading has nearly doubled in lockdown as gifts and games are despatched, while home educational materials and new digital content such as the Hidden London hang-outs and Poster Power have also kept the LTM flag flying. We are now taking in research insights and experience from European transport museums on what our customers will need when they return to us; enforced social distancing, visible cleanliness, signage and floor markings to name but a few but above all a warm welcome back. We will issue guidance on walking and cycling to Covent Garden, offer online timed tickets, contactless payments, hand sanitisers and no queues in the not too distant future.

So, we get creative, plan and then change our plans as the situation develops, as government and mayoral advice and public sentiment moves on. Our earliest hope is to offer something at Covent Garden and maybe Acton Depot for some part of the summer holidays. This Welcome Back blog will keep you in touch with our thinking and plans, and respond to your questions and suggestions. And it goes without saying, we are very keen to be welcoming you back just as soon as possible. Watch this space.

Sam Mullins taking a photograph of himself in a mirror, positioned in Canteen

Poster Power – The way for all

By Nick Gill, London Transport Museum Friend and Volunteer Guide

London Transport has a long tradition of commissioning established and emerging artists to design advertising posters for the transport network. London Transport Museum’s collection holds around 15,000 between posters, prints and original artworks, the majority of which are housed in our Art and Poster store at the Museum Depot in Acton. As part of our Poster Power online celebrations from 25 April to 3 May 2020, we have asked Nick Gill, London Transport Museum Friend and volunteer guide for 17 years, to tell us about his favourite poster in the Museum’s collection.

My favourite poster in London Transport Museum’s collection is The Way For All by Alfred France (1911), both for the stunning visuals and the powerful statement about travel for all on the newly-formed Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL).

The Way For All, Alfred France, 1911. Collection ref. 1983/4/124 London Transport Museum

The Way For All is among a number of posters commissioned between 1909 and 1912 by Frank Pick. Before becoming London Transport’s first Chief Executive, Pick was Marketing Director of the UERL, having been appointed in 1906.  A great visionary, he commissioned artists and graphic designers to create artwork for the UERL’s intense poster campaigns, and quite significantly he did so irrespective of gender, thus bucking the trend prevalent at the time.

Frank Pick (1878-1941). Collection ref. 2008/652 London Transport Museum

The central figure in Alfred France’s poster represents a middle-class woman who could be a member of the Suffragette movement, highly topical at that time.  The poster’s message is that women should feel safe to travel alone on the new Underground.  The backdrop depicts silhouettes of people from all social backgrounds who can use the classless Underground for business or pleasure, with just one level of fare. The choice of the colour green is a nod to the booking hall tiles typical of Leslie Green’s station design.

Booking hall kiosk window from Russel Square station, 1906. Collection ref. 1993/127 London Transport Museum.

Leslie Green’s design was heavily influenced by the contemporary Art Nouveau and Art & Crafts movements and complimented the modernity of the world’s first underground railway.  The frieze in the poster alludes to the ornamental green dado friezes in Green’s design.

Leslie Green’s tiles at Hampstead station, 1907. Collection ref. 1982/64 London Transport Museum

The story around the original artwork for the poster is quite interesting; the UERL Board considered the central character to be somewhat lacking in colour and bearing an air of intimidation in her stare. They also found the backdrop to be cold and uninviting. The lithographers were therefore requested to bring more colour into the poster and adjust the lady’s stare to a gentle distant gaze.

Alfred France’s original artwork, 1911. Collection ref. 1995/4110 London Transport Museum

There is a strong feminist tone to the poster’s message which proclaims no social boundaries on the Underground.  The poster also represents a strong link with the contemporary design of the newly-formed UERL which soon became known as the Tube.

To me, this poster sums up everything Frank Pick believed in when it came to design: beauty, utility, goodness, truth, immortality, perfection, righteousness and wisdom.

The golden age of urban attractions

By Zorian Clayton, Assistant Curator (Word & Image) at the Victoria and Albert Museum

During this unprecedented time of global lockdown, the following selection of posters from London Transport Museum and V&A poster collections showcases a golden age of illustrative graphic design in the UK. Originally compiled for the Poster Power Open Weekend at the Museum Depot, it has been reorganised as a virtual trip down memory lane, looking forward to the time when we can get back to enjoying the rich cultural offerings of city life.  Join us on a nostalgic look at the history of urban attractions and the advertisement of days out to museums, cinemas, and shows in London and beyond.

Coloured poster depicting people sat in a cinema hall looking at a projection on the wall
Curzon Hall, Birmingham, Albert Morrow circa 1902. Collection ref. E.3312-1932 © V&A Museum

This charming poster by Irish artist Albert Morrow depicts an audience dressed up to the nines for an evening out to enjoy the new pastime of cinematic entertainment. From 1896, variety theatres and music halls in Britain started to show the novel art form of moving pictures, spawning a whole new genre of poster art in the process.

By bus to the pictures tonight, by Tom Eckersley and Eric Lombers, 1935. Collection ref. 1983/4/9728, London Transport Museum

The most valuable and widely collected posters of all time advertise films of the 1920s and 30s.  This 1935 gem by design duo Tom Eckersley and Eric Lombers advertises bus services to go out to cinemas.  They worked together from 1934 to 1940 after both studying in Salford School of Art. The actress on the big screen resembles the star of the decade, Jean Harlow, with pencil thin eyebrows and large blue eyes.  There is a surreal cheekiness in the superimposing of her face onto the plain everyman in the audience.

Sunday Concerts, Fred Taylor, 1912. Collection ref. 1983/356 London Transport Museum

This sumptuous interior view depicts the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place, home of The Proms before the venue was destroyed in the London Blitz, never to be rebuilt.  However, the message again is the mode of transport to attend evening events by Tube, so is not a recommendation for any single concert or artist.

Artist Fred Taylor (1875-1963) was one of the favourite designers for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), London Transport, and other travel companies from 1908 to the 1940s. He was one of the first ten designers who were conferred with the title Designer for Industry (DI), considered the highest accolade in the UK. Best known for posters highlighting train travel to cathedrals and castles up and down the United Kingdom, he fell into this style rather by accident, starting out as a figure artist. After 30 years of working in the same vein, in 1938 he said he longed for a change.

Ausstellung Englische Graphik, 1923. Collection ref. E.3707-1923 V&A Collection

In just over a year, change and tragedy was thrust upon the entire world at the outbreak of World War II.  Taylor moved to work on naval camouflage, a tactic of dazzle design invented by Norman Wilkinson during World War I.  An example of it can be seen in this poster designed by Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949) advertising an exhibition on English graphic design at the Kunstsalon Wolfsberg in Zurich.

Wadsworth was an official dazzle artist himself, aligned with the short-lived Vorticist group of artists who launched in 1914 and broke up shortly after war broke out.  It was also around this time that the Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917, first opening to the public in 1920 at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham Hill.

Souvenirs: Imperial War Museum, Austin Cooper, 1932. Collection ref. 1995/4071 London Transport Museum

This sombre poster marks the souvenirs of war as tanks, bombs and destruction. A bold and hard-hitting design choice by Austin Cooper (1890-1964), he was a Canadian-British artist who created posters for many of the London museums.  Note the South Kensington address, the IWM was then housed in the Imperial Institute on Exhibition Road before moving to its current home on Lambeth Road, 1936.

The South Kensington area has been a museum hub since the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Science Museum and the V&A were once part of the same institution called the South Kensington Museum. In 1909, they split into separate museums with science and technology on one side of Exhibition Road and art and design on the other.

Bicyclism: The Art of Wheeling, Austin Cooper, 1928. Collection ref. 1983/4/2563 London Transport Museum

Cooper’s multi-faceted style was put to excellent use by the Underground Group for 22 years. This jaunty example advertises historic bicycles in the Science Museum collection, nostalgically looking back to the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, by B Swiderska, 1967. Collection ref. 1983/4/7649 London Transport Museum

This similarly fun poster of 1967 by Barbara Swiderska sports some opulent historical fashions to advertise the Victoria and Albert Museum. Little is known about this illustrator except that she continued to work throughout the 1970s as a cover designer for a number of children’s books. The poster text describes the museum as a sort of Aladdin’s cave to be explored at your whim, inviting audiences to put themselves in the picture:

 ‘… these are showcases, brilliantly illuminated and filled with figures from nearly 400 years of fashion’s pageant, from Jacobean gallantry via Georgian magnificence, Victorian upholstery, Edwardian confectionery and the twenties to Dior’s ankle-flapping New Look. Imagine your own choice of outfit – yesterday’s trend is often tomorrow’s…’.

Museum of Natural History, South Kensington, Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1924. Collection ref. E.96-1924 V&A Collection

The final behemoth of the South Kensington area is of course the Natural History Museum, superbly represented here by the woolly mammoth beneath an eye-catching rainbow motif by Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954).  The Natural History Museum was originally an offshoot of the wide-ranging British Museum collections, the two institutions separating completely in 1963.  The NHM as we know and love it today has been in its present home on Cromwell Road since 1881.

Dubbed ‘The Poster King’, this extraordinary Montana born artist emigrated to the UK aged 25 and promptly became a graphic design tour de force.  Weaving avant-garde and dynamic motifs into advertisements for airlines and department stores, it is his work for the London Underground which is the most celebrated.  From his arrival in London in 1915 until his return to the USA in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, around 140 of his poster designs brightened up the city under the commission of Frank Pick and the Underground Group.

The treasure house of London, by Freda Beard, 1921. Collection ref. 1983/4/1184 London Transport Museum

This swirling dragon piece summarises the South Kensington museums, the British Museum, and the London Museum (a precursor to the Museum of London) all promising a dry and comfortable indoor experience on rainy days.  It is by Freda Mildred Beard (1897-1984) who designed for the Underground Group between 1921 and 1926.

She was born in Clapham and besides working for the Tube poster campaigns, she designed advertisements for foodstuffs including many brands still going today like Jacob’s cream crackers, Cadbury’s chocolate, and Hartley’s jam.  This poster drew high praise in ‘Advertising and British Art’ (1924) saying that Beard had adapted ‘the astonishing sea serpent’ from a Japanese cloisonné vase and that this creature was imbued with more imagination than was present in most modern British branding.

South Kensington, by John Banting, 1936. Collection ref. E.124-1961 V&A Collection

This rather naïve butterfly design by John Banting (1902-1971) is another summary of some of the South Kensington Museum transport links and shows an African Emperor Moth. This is actually an entire genus of moths in the Saturnia family of many varieties of evocative names such as the Cavorting Emperor, the Pallid Emperor, and the Confused Emperor!  This one is commonly known as a Bulls Eye Silk Moth and perhaps was chosen by the artist due to the markings resembling a tube stop and the yellow Circle line.

For the zoo, by Dorothy Burroughes, 1922. Collection ref. 1983/4/1346 London Transport Museum

Some of the liveliest posters to advertise attractions include animals, and in urban areas that usually means circuses or zoos.  Many of the best posters for the London Zoo were done by female artists of the 1920s and 30s.  Dorothy Burroughes was one such artist who achieved her first commercial break with a London Underground commission in 1920 depicting a trio of primates playing on a tree branch.   Her second in 1922 was one of the most popular of the time, with requests pouring in for reproductions.

While her name will forever be synonymous with zoo posters, in an interview with Drawing & Design (1923) she spoke at some length over her sadness at seeing animals in captivity.

David Bownes, previously Head of Collections at London Transport Museum, wrote an excellent article on Burroughes which you can read here.

For the zoo; sealion, by Ruth Sandys, 1925. Collection ref. E.1019-1925 V&A Collection

Another of my favourites is Ruth Sandys (1884-1941). These 1925 designs precede John Gilroy’s famous seals utilised for the Guinness posters by a decade.

Ruth was the daughter of the artist Frederick Sandys who had ten illegitimate children with the actress Mary Jones.  Many of them were trained in artistic pursuits and include the portraitist Winifred Sandys. Ruth was active between 1912 and 1940 but it is this poster commission for the London Underground which remains her most well-known work.

This is of course just a tiny taste of our poster collections. While we are all unable to visit the museums in person at the moment, we hope you enjoy delving into London Transport Museum’s and V&A’s  online catalogues to discover more until we are all able to get out and about into our cities once again.