Celebrating 150 years of the District line with our new Poster Parade

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Throughout 2019, Transport for London and the London Transport Museum are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the District line. As part of the celebrations we are featuring twenty District line related posters from our outstanding poster collection in a new Poster Parade on display from 28 June to 19 September 2019.

Map of the District line in 1871

The District line opened in December 1868. Then known as the Metropolitan District Railway, it was the second underground passenger railway in the world after the Metropolitan line. Initially running only between Sloane Square and Westminster, seven more stations opened during the first year. The intention was to join up with the Metropolitan line at either end, forming an ‘Inner Circle’ linking all London’s mainline termini. However, rivalry between the two railways meant that the Circle wasn’t completed until 1884.

The District expanded its services to the western suburbs during the steam era to Hammersmith, Hounslow, Ealing and Wimbledon. But when the American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes first took an interest in the railway in 1899, it was in poor financial shape. Yerkes took over the District in 1901, and through his influence the Inner Circle and District were electrified.

The poster Light, power and speed by Charles Sharland features one of the new trains that were introduced during the electrification of the line. Electrification greatly improved conditions in the sections running underground, and the company promoted their new trains as offering comfortable, modern and technologically advanced travel.

Light, power & speed, by Charles Sharland, 1910

In addition to the District line, Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) owned many other underground railways, including the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Hampstead (now part of the Northern line) and Central lines. To encourage off-peak travel the UERL used posters to promote destinations which could be reached by their expanding network. For the western section of the District line this meant attractions which are still popular today, such as Richmond and Kew Gardens. At the time Sudbury Town and South Harrow were promoted as rural destinations, easily reached in time to see a gorgeous sunset. Though originally served by the District line, these stations were transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.

Kew Gardens, by Irene Fawkes, 1923

At the eastern end of the District line, services from Whitechapel to Upminster opened in June 1902. The District Railway also ran through trains to the popular seaside resort of Southend. The Upminster Windmill and the Canvey Lady in Southend were both familiar local landmarks at the time, and whilst the Canvey Lady was pulled down after the Second World War, the windmill survives and is now a listed building. The process of electrification was slower at this end with Upminster served by steam until 1932, and Southend until after the Second World War.

Upminster The mill, by M A Carter, 1924

Today the District line is being transformed once again, with air-conditioned, walk-through trains introduced on the line in 2014, and the Four Lines Modernisation programme due to deliver a new signalling system by 2023.

Check out our online exhibit on Google Arts & Culture to learn more about the history of the District line, and visit the Poster Parade (28 June – 19 September 2019) at the Museum to see our stunning posters up close.

#MyJourneyToPride – Collecting LGBT+ experiences

By Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

London’s transport brings people together, especially for major events like the Pride weekend, which this year is taking place on 6-7 July. As part of a new collecting project, we are looking for people to document their journeys to Pride in London and UK Black Pride 2019. We are inviting video diarists to record their feelings and thoughts throughout their journeys, and we are also encouraging people to take part in the project by sharing their photos and videos on social media using the hashtag #MyJourneyToPride and by tagging @ltmuseum in the videos, photos and text that you want to share.

Ride with Pride vehicles, 2015

If you’re making your way to Pride or UK Black Pride then let us know what is exciting about your journey. How does the atmosphere change as you get closer to the events? Are you seeing more people heading the same way as you? What does it mean to see more flags and rainbows and banners in London? We want to record the social side of the story that objects don’t convey by themselves.

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Rainbow crossing, 2015 

The stories that you record and that we collect will help enrich some of the material we already have in our collection like banners, posters and the first ever rainbow crossing. A great deal of material we have in the Museum that represents the LGBT+ experience is focused on the stories of members of staff, and we would like to invite passengers, pedestrians and participants to make their lived experience a part of the history of transport in London too. The experiences of non-binary and transgender people are under-represented in the Museum’s collection at the moment and we would particularly welcome material that is more inclusive of all genders.

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Ride with Pride poster, 2015

This year it is as important as ever to take to the streets to take a positive stance against violence and discrimination targeted at the LGBT+ community. London Transport Museum will offer space to preserve and record the thoughts, feelings and experiences of people travelling to Pride in London in 2019.

Please consider a few things if you are keen to take part in the project by tagging content for the Museum to see:

  • Crowd shots and groups are fine to film or photograph with verbal consent, but please don’t film or photograph individuals close-up. This especially applies to young people and children
  • Please don’t share and tag footage that might enable people to locate your home
  • Stay safe, please don’t put yourself in danger and only film/photograph when you feel comfortable

Travel safe, have fun and be proud! 🌈

Social Stations – A contemporary collecting project

By Susanna Cordner, Documentary Curator

When I first told friends that my new job at London Transport Museum would involve seeking out social stories about transport, a common response was to ask, Can you find out who keeps the plants at Kew Gardens station so neat? Or Who writes the ‘Thought of the Day’ board at Oval? and other questions along those lines.

I could see there was a strand here: a set of social stories based on the individuals or groups who, through projects and interventions great and small, are making the most of spaces at stations, and making an impact on the staff and passengers who pass through.

A lot of the narrative around transport tends to focus on the means, modes and methods of travel. Before any discussion on what form of transport you use and where it allows you to go, comes a place, a stop or a station. These stops and stations act as both defining pillars of the local area and gateways to a wider world. This makes them a particular breed of public or community space, ripe with opportunities to engage and relate to local need.

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Customer Services Assistant Glen Sutherland with a poster ‘Thought of the day’ at Oval station, 2012. Photo by Stephen Berry from London Transport Museum’s collection. Ref. 2012/56080

I set up our Social Stations Documentary Curator collecting project to celebrate the ways in which these community and grassroots projects are reclaiming, or re-calibrating, spaces at stations for public and/or environmental benefit. Whether simply boosting the mood of passers-by or actually contributing to the local economy and culture, these projects link local people to a local need, and make the most of previously underestimated public spaces which are experienced every day. They can also contribute to your sense of space and community even when you’re en-route.

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Energy Garden’s community gardening at Overground stations
Some of the most exciting moments as a curator come when you can give a new understanding to an object in a collection, and in so doing use it to tell a different story. Through contemporary collecting, you have the opportunity not just to help shape how the present will be remembered once it becomes the past, but also to make people reassess the world around them now. As a result, contemporary collecting involves a lot of conversations, consultation and observation. This means that some of the sources contemporary curators use to gauge a subject and its significance are a little more informal, and perhaps more social, than you’d expect.

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Mural by Aliza Nisenbaum depicting Victoria line staff at Brixton station

For this project I’ve spent a lot of time on messaging boards and social media feeds hunting out the truly local projects that don’t get the credit they deserve on wider platforms. I found the majority of examples we’ve explored because someone had shared a post or comment saying the difference a detail like this makes to their day.

We look forward to sharing some highlights from this collecting project with you soon, and invite you to get in touch with us if you know of a local project you think we should capture, by emailing us at documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk.