A new discovery

One of the major strands of our new display Digging Deeper, supported by Biffa Award, is to celebrate the contribution of the Victorian engineer James Henry Greathead to the development of tube tunnelling worldwide. New research during exhibition work sometimes presents opportunities to find out more about objects in our care, and can reveal exciting new information. I’m happy to say this is one of those times.

We have had this demonstration model of the first circular tunnelling shield in the world in the collection for many years, but we didn’t know much about it. We know that Greathead designed and built the shield that it represents – the one that built the Tower Subway in 1870 – but we couldn’t be sure of a link between this model and the inventor, until now. By looking into the history of the donor I have discovered that the model had been passed down through the family of another engineer who worked with Greathead in the 1880s, establishing a direct link to the great man himself. Now it is not just a model, it’s a part of world tunnelling history, and will be on display for the first time, when the gallery re-opens in March 2018.

Shield Model

Here we see the shield’s six screw-operated rams and representation of two complete tunnel lining rings, which workmen would construct one at a time as the shield moves forward.

Shield in use

In this picture the men are turning the screws which force the tubular shield forward by the width of a tunnel lining ring.

Simon Murphy, Lead Curator, Digging Deeper project 2017

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An original London pirate: 1924 LB5 Chocolate Express

Before the age of Oyster cards and contactless payments, Over 250 pirate buses ruled the streets of London, bringing chaos to the roads as each operator tried to sabotage on another.

The 1924 Chocolate Express, now on display at London Transport Museum represents this epic era in London’s Transport story when an explosion of independent pirate operators challenged the monopoly of the London General Omnibus company in the roaring twenties.

With its distinctive livery and old-fashioned adverts the Chocolate Express demonstrates that London buses have not always been red or green.  The bus earnt the reputation of running a reliable service and spotless appearance inside and out.

The Chocolate Express Omnibus company was compulsorily purchased with the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board, the organisation responsible for public transport in London, England, United Kingdom, and its environs from 1933 to 1948. By 1934 Pirate buses were legislated off the roads of London bringing an end to a colourful era.

In 1984, the Chocolate Express bus was discovered, derelict on a farm near Norwich by the highly regarded Leyland bus restorer Mike Sutcliffe MBE. Mike spent three painstaking years researching and rebuilding the bus to its former glory and went on to win several awards.

The Chocolate Express bus will be the only pirate bus in the London Transport Museum collection to represent this period of time. You can help us safeguard the future of this beautifully restored bus by supporting out campaign. Visit The Leyland buses appeal to find out more.

If you’d like to discover more about the 1924 LB5 Chocolate Express, Mike Sutcliffe MBE will be giving a talk and tour on its intriguing journey from being discovered derelict in 1984 to full restoration. Find out more about the event and book your ticket.

Traffic-scene                      Chocolate Express