Aldwych Goes Public

I arrived at Aldwych on another bitterly cold Friday in good time for the final briefing and safety check; as a disused station is not maintained as a public environment, so every eventuality has to be anticipated and planned for.  Arrival of the first public visitors immediately confirmed the great enjoyment these visits give people: a row of 40 smiling faces, drinking in the sight and ambience of the station booking hall (and probably also warming up, truth be told).

First things first, the visitors have to be fully safety-briefed before being given an overview of the station’s history by their volunteer tour guide.  Then, in line with the standard pattern of the tour, a couple of minutes for personal exploration and photos before moving to the next site – which involves descending 161 stairs to the lower level of the station. Keeping to time is a major consideration:  there are a number of tours on a given day, and these are tightly timed to a length of 45 minutes so as to offer as many tours as possible to the public. Next it’s the lower lift landings, followed by the two platforms. The western one was in public use until closure of the station in 1994, and was complete with a train of 1972 Northern Line stock.

From there it’s smartly over to the eastern platform (decommissioned in 1914) all the while watching for trip hazards.  This platform features a stretch of track laid in 1907. Note how there’s no suicide pit, a 1920’s innovation. Throughout the benefit of the careful preparation by the volunteers pays off, not just in their set pieces but in answering the many questions, covering every conceivable aspect of the station and much else about the underground system.

Finally, all photos taken and every question answered, we set off for the surface again, up the 161 steps (being so many, one is apt to count!).

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Preparing to Deliver Tours at Aldwych Station

Every year the London Transport Museum with the help of Transport for London runs a short programme of public tours of the disused Underground station at Aldwych. Originally opened as Strand station in 1907, it closed in 1994, never having achieved the passenger numbers expected. Of the entire facility as originally constructed, about one third of it was never commissioned at opening in 1907, and roughly another third closed as an economy measure in 1914. So for the largest part of its life it was 2/3rds shut. Its sleepy life at the end of a short branch line ensured a lack of investment and refurbishment, as a result of which it’s as good a remnant of the original Edwardian tube as one could hope to find anywhere. Consequently it’s a grade 2 listed monument.

Hence the limited annual opening is a great draw – this year it was sold out on the day that tickets were made available. As you can imagine, opening a closed Underground facility to the public is a major undertaking, so all visitors are guided by museum volunteers. On a cold Friday morning I found myself joining a small group of volunteers planning for the event. Despite its relatively short life the station has a rich history, and it’s a challenge to do it justice in a 45 minute tour.

Just to confuse, some of the features that appear historical are misleading, thanks to the use of the station as a set for films. There’s an example in the photos with this post: can you spot it? We spent a couple of hours checking the tour plan and verifying the contents of the guides’ notes. These are researched and scripted by the volunteers themselves, and evidenced a fund of knowledge of lesser known facts. Inevitably the station’s role as a shelter for both people and the nation’s heritage during both world wars featured large. By lunch all the loose ends had been tied down and we were tour ready. Let’s hope there’s no tricky questions!

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Keeping us all Above Board

The museum has many volunteers, about 140 at the last count, and being the type of people that we are someone needs to keep tabs on them all and the things that they get involved in. Nominally this person is Sam Clift (Volunteer Co-ordinator), but being a very busy man, he has a volunteer who helps with the administration of the volunteers. Who is this saintly figure? Stand forward John Skinner, seen below at the computer screen.

John has museums in his blood, as his father worked at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and prior to volunteering John worked at the London Transport Museum for 12 years – so I think we can safely say that he enjoyed his time with the LTM. Before that his entire career was with Transport for London and its predesessors in both buses and travel information. Having taken early retirement, he has now been volunteering for some 18 months, maintaining that he was initially bullied into it by his former colleagues; I have to say that I somewhat doubt this.

John spends one morning a week in the office with Sam, and above you can see the pair of them trying to work out how the Museum’s CRM (Client Record Management) system works, not with a great deal of success, I have to say. Administering such things as volunteers’ expenses and timesheets are a major part of John’s contribution to the smooth running of the unit, and he also helps with routine e-mails and any statistical work that requires deft manipulation of a spreadsheet.

Why was John unable to tear himself away from Covent Garden? He cited the enjoyable team work and excellent working relationships with colleagues as his reasons, and these were very obvious to me in my time in the office with John. However, I didn’t get offered a coffee at all: nothing personal , I’m sure……..

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Poster of the Week – London Transport – Keeps London Going

London Transport – Keeps London Going, Man Ray, 1938

This week’s post features a double poster; London Transport – Keeps London Going. Produced by famous Surrealist and Dadaist Man Ray in 1938 during a brief residence in London, this image is one of the most well-known in our collection.

Featuring the iconic London Transport roundel in the form of a planet, the original image used in the poster is a photogram. The process, first used in the mid-nineteenth century, involves placing objects onto light sensitive paper and exposing them to light, thereby creating a photographic image without the aid of a camera. Man Ray experimented with this technique by varying the exposure times given to different objects within a single photogram and by moving the objects during light exposure. He then renamed the process a rayograph, after himself.

Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky in America in 1890. His family were Russian Jewish immigrants and changed their surname to avoid further discrimination. Man Ray having demonstrated his artistic skills at school was offered a scholarship to study architecture; he ultimately decided to become an artist.

Man Ray held his first solo show in 1915 and developed an interest in photography with his first notable photographs appearing in 1918. He shunned conventional painting and became increasingly involved in the controversial Dada movement which comprised artists and intellectuals of the radical left who, perturbed by the horrors of World War I, espoused forms of expression that were anti-art, anti-bourgeois and anti-materialism.

In 1921 Man Ray moved to Paris where he became involved with the Surrealist movement, an offshoot of Dadaism. His practice from this point onwards focused primarily on photography and film but also included sculpture and painting. He became involved with important members of the art world including Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Gertrude Stein. Forced back to America for a decade due to the Second World War, he now considered Paris home and returned in 1951. Man Ray remained in Paris until his death from a lung infection in 1976 and was buried in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse where his epitaph reads “unconcerned, but not indifferent”.

Our friends at the National Portrait Gallery are holding an exhibition, Man Ray Portraits, until the 27th May featuring over 150 photographic portraits of fellow artists and celebrities including Catherine Deneuve and Pablo Picasso.

This poster and a selection of products featuring Man Ray’s roundel planet are available from our online shop.

As part of the exhibition, the Siemens Poster Vote seeks to find out what your favourite poster is.

Vote Now

Poster of the Week – Brightest London is best reached by Underground

Brightest London is best reached by Underground, Horace Taylor, 1924

We’re so excited to be back with Poster of the Week, to celebrate our new exhibition, Poster Art 150 -London Underground’s Greatest Designs, which is supported by Siemens and opens today.

This week, we’re looking at ‘Brightest London is best reached by Underground’ by Horace Taylor.

At a time when cinemas still showed black and white films, vibrant posters like this splashed colour into 1920s London. The Underground is presented as bright, popular and extremely fashionable. The three escalators were a notable sign of modernity as in 1924, when the poster was created, Bank station was the only station to boast three escalators together.

When escalators were first introduced onto the Underground at Earl’s Court in 1911, many passengers found the new technology a little disconcerting. A man named William ‘Bumper’ Harris, who had lost his leg in an engineering accident, was asked to demonstrate how safe the escalator was. Londoners soon embraced this new means of getting underground, as can be seen here in Taylor’s poster, where a very smart crowd is heading out for a night on the town.

Horace Taylor’s granddaughter once explained that Taylor often liked to paint himself into his posters. In this poster he is the gentleman with the top hat and the beard on the middle escalator.

Still vibrant almost 90 years after it first appeared to brighten Underground stations, we can only imagine how effective it must’ve been at the time.

As part of the exhibition, the Siemens Poster Vote seeks to find out what your favourite poster is.

Vote Now

The Signalling Team (Part 2)

So, who are these keepers of the dark art of Underground signalling? The first thing to say is that some of the team were not at the Depot when I called by, so this post concentrates on the three that were. Don’t worry though, I’ll be back to catch up with the others before too long.

First up is Mike Crosbie, the team’s designer. Mike did his engineering apprenticeship with Morris Motors in Oxford, and joined London Underground in the early 1970s in response to an advert for signalling engineers. You can see him above checking the wiring diagram for the Elephant and Castle restoration, designed by him from scratch. Having looked at the diagrams I can vouch for the fact that they are very intricate – they give a real feel for the painstaking accuracy required to deliver safe signalling.

Peter Smith (seen with Mike above) is the odd man out, insofar as his career was in television engineering (with the BBC) rather than railways. He has been a volunteer with the museum for some 18 years, and with some modesty describes himself as a “willing pair of hands”. In his time with the museum he has done bus cleaning, enamel sign mounting and restoration work on standard tube train stock.

Bill Collins (above) has signalling in his blood: he has been a volunteer for four or five years now, but started his working life as a fifteen year old office boy in the signalling department at Earls Court, before becoming an apprentice. Subsequently his entire career was in metro signalling (not all with London Underground). Bill became a volunteer because he enjoyed working with signals so much.

What is it that has kept this hard-working team so close? To a man they said it was the camaraderie, coupled with a good sense of humour – essential!

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Designing for the future – 2063

London Transport Museum is running an extremely diverse range of activities in celebration of the Underground’s 150th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, and to complement our upcoming temporary exhibition Poster Art 150 , we recently ran a poster competition in collaboration with the Royal College of Art.

London Underground has a long and very rich history of poster commissioning. For the RCA poster design competition we invited postgraduate vehicle design and visual communications students to reflect on 150 years of Underground promotion whilst also imagining the future of London’s subterranean system. The resulting posters anticipate the Underground’s services and destinations during the 200th anniversary in 2063.

We had some fantastic and incredibly imaginative entries, including promotion of a service that drops you directly to your door, and a transport system where spherical pods carry passengers through an underwater Underground.

Poster designs from the twenty finalists, including the 3 winning entries, are now on display at the Museum. Come take a look!


There’ll be no conflicting movements at the Depot (Part 1)

In my time as a volunteer with the museum I’ve noticed that “the signalling team” is always mentioned in hushed tones as a look of awe spreads over the face. Now my personal view of signals has always been “how hard can it be?” It is, after all, some simple short circuits out on the track and a lot of glorified Christmas lights isn’t it? So I thought I ought to catch up with these volunteer keepers of the arcane art: a few hours with the signalling team in their lair at Acton Depot on Thursday 15th November soon put me straight.

The team have just finished a full working restoration of the old (1932) signal panel and control desk (miniature lever frame, to give the proper title) from Marble Arch station, and are now starting on a similar overhaul of the old (1941) panel and desk from Elephant and Castle station. Below you can see the Marble Arch panel in all its glory and below that the current state of “the Elephant” as it’s affectionately known. As you will observe, the latter has most definitely been completely stripped down!

The two photos above amply demonstrate just how much work goes into a restoration; it’s a complete overhaul of all the component parts, and replacement of those that are time-expired. This is very labour intensive work, requiring a high level of skill and knowledge of the design and manufacture of these complicated pieces of electro-mechanical equipment that are now up to eighty years old. Marble Arch took 18 months of hard work from start to finish.

However, this is only half the job. If the full working of a signal box is to be recreated, then the panels need to be fed simulations of the electrical prompts that they would receive from track circuits in real life as trains moved about, points were moved, etc. So, the team has designed, built, tested and connected a whole rack of relay switches (above) and connected it to a bespoke computer programme on a pc, in such a way that between them they mimic all the different types of train movement one might see at Marble Arch station, and feeds the necessary prompts to the signal box. This is no small feat, and results in an impressive exhibit.

Dave Olney, Volunteer


So That’s How they Keep Them So Clean: Working Party at Acton Depot

Roughly every month there is a volunteers’ working party at Acton Depot, so with keen anticipation I made my way to the depot on the 23rd October to see what one involves. On arrival I tracked down Robert Excell, the Curator in charge of the day’s event. Vehicle cleaning was the order of the day, and I found Grey Green Volvo Ailsa VA115 ready for a thorough sprucing up. Upstairs wielding an expert mop and brush was Jerry Pratchett, burnishing a floor that you could eat your lunch from.

Jerry has been a volunteer for more than 15 years, his interest in transport being sparked by his father who worked on the buses at Hendon. Conversely, downstairs I found a volunteer who had a long career on the buses: Malcolm Bowers, who started his career with London Transport and finished with Arriva. I found Malcolm busy giving the downstairs seats a thorough hoovering.

A clean interior demands a clean exterior. At Acton washing is done by hand as there’s no drive-through washer. Whilst I was inside VA115, Ron Bristow had arrived, and was preparing to start the external clean. A volunteer for 20 years, Ron has been involved with many activities, such as guiding and museum moves. I can tell you that I was starting to feel a bit of a novice at one month’s service.

To prove that it isn’t just about the buses, Robert Bedford was found busy with the vacuum cleaner inside the recently acquired A60 stock car. After 51 years in service it probably needs a good clean! Robert has been a volunteer for about a year, and already has a varied list of interesting activities.  Once again I came away from the depot very impressed by the volunteers’ contribution.

Dave Olney, Volunteer