All posts by London Transport Museum

Happy 80th birthday Carol Barker

Happy 80th birthday to Carol Barker, illustrator and author 

Written by David Bownes, co-curator of Poster Girls – a century of art and design.

The multi award-winning illustrator and author Carol Mintum Barker turns 80 on 16 February. I first met Carol last year while researching London Transport Museums Poster Girls exhibition, and I’m not surprised to learn that this sprightly artist is celebrating her landmark birthday teaching young women art and design in Rajasthan, India. In fact, Carol has been visiting and working in India since the 1970s, and has helped many women out of poverty and on to university through art education.

Her remarkable career began sixty years ago. Inspired by her artist father, John Rowland Barker, Carol attended Bournemouth College of Art, Chelsea Polytechnic and the Central School of Arts & Crafts. She became a freelance illustrator in 1958, eventually contributing to over 30 books. Until the late-1970s, her work was most closely associated with children’s book illustration, including a collaboration with the comedian Spike Milligan (The Bald Twit Lion, 1968). It was during this period that she designed four posters for London Transport (LT) promoting Fenton House (1966), London Museum (1969), Children’s London (1973) and London’s Museums (1979) – a selection of which can be seen in the current exhibition at Covent Garden. Her designs in pen and ink, watercolour, collage and wax, capture the joyful exuberance of the age, and are arguably among the best posters commissioned by LT at that time. London Museum in particular is a rich visual scrapbook of the Capital’s past, and visitors to Poster Girls are encouraged to compare the original 3D artwork with the printed poster (both on display). My favourite, though, is the Children’s London pair poster, which was praised by the internationally renowned design journal, Modern Publicity (1974) as one of the best British posters of the previous year.

Since 1977, Carol has undertaken several extensive research trips to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Africa, Tibet and elsewhere to produce non-fiction ‘picture-information’ books for children which sympathetically record day-to-day life in other cultures. On one of these trips she was given a rare private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her work, often at the behest of international organisations such as Oxfam and the United Nations, has garnered critical acclaim and achieved worldwide publication.

Children's LondonCarol Barker 60s

David Bownes is the Director of

For more information about Poster Girls – a century of art and design and our public programme of events please visit

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the first women poster pioneers

A Room of One’s Own

David Bownes, co-curator of the Poster Girls – a century of art and design exhibition

90 years ago, the author Virginia Woolf argued that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. This call for a literal and figurative space, free of male control and domestic responsibilities, applied equally to all areas of female creative endeavour. Yet as Woolf knew all too well, women had few opportunities for genuine financial and creative independence in the 1920s. Commercial art, as graphic design was then known, provided one of these opportunities, and London Transport was at the forefront of commissioning female talent. How did this come about?

When Frank Pick took charge of the Underground’s publicity in 1908 the male-dominated advertising industry regarded women artists, at best, as suitable for illustrating ‘feminine’ subjects or children’s books. From the start, Pick took a progressive view towards commissioning irrespective of gender or subject matter. The first poster by a woman appeared on the company’s trams in 1910, and by 1930 over 25% of all Underground publicity was designed by women.  No other British company or government agency took such an enlightened stance or promoted female designers to the same extent.

In finding young artists Pick was greatly helped by a revolution in the teaching of art and design in London, led by the Central School of Arts & Crafts. Women made up a disproportionate number of the students on commercial art courses, and in Pick they found a willing patron able to jump start their careers with the gift of well-paid and high-profile poster commissions.

But it wasn’t a feminist triumph in the modern sense. Male designers were still paid more and achieved greater fame than their female colleagues. And many promising careers were cut short by marriage and the expectations of childcare and running the family home. The names of these female poster pioneers, too, have been criminally neglected by history. Who now has heard of Nancy Smith, Dora Batty, Herry Perry, Margaret Calkin James, or the dozens of successful women designers whose work enlivened the hoardings in the first 50 years of the twentieth century?

On 25th January design historians Oliver Green, Ruth Sykes and Susannah Walker will be exploring these themes in more detail at London Transport Museum’s A Room of One’s Own evening event Starting with the first commissions in the 1910s, the speakers will chart the crucial role of London art colleges and London Transport in providing training and employment opportunities for women designers and ask whether female artists bought a new aesthetic to the male world of commercial art.

Lambourne End

Letter from Santa

Santa has been spotted in our Museum and has written a letter to let all of the children know about his visit, how they can find him and the festive activities they can enjoy.

Ho Ho Hello!

My goodness what a busy time we’re having here in the North Pole! So many letters to read and gifts to wrap, there’s almost no time to sneak off to London Transport Museum. That’s right, you may not ever have noticed before, but tucked away behind old Routemasters and London Taxis is my secret cosy Christmas hideaway. This is where I come to relax, read and try out the latest toys from the elves workshop.

Why not join me? Oh what fun! You can make your own decorations (here’s a video from one of the elves to show you how simple it can be!) and take part in a festive storytime and singalong about travelling in the city at Christmas – which trust me, isn’t easy, especially with such a heavy sack of presents to carry. Some years, I honestly don’t know how I manage to deliver everything on time, not with all the rush hour traffic (thank goodness for public transport!).

I’ve even decided to give the reindeer a couple of nights off and have booked a vintage bus tour of the city’s West End lights. If you’re not doing any last-minute Christmas shopping why not come along on the 21 or 22 December?

Oh, look at the time! I must go and finish wrapping the latest toys from the workshop!

I hope to bump into you at London Transport Museum for some festive fun very soon. If you see me, please do say ho ho hello, I’ll be around every day until 23 December (I have a long standing prior engagement on Christmas Eve).

Merry Christmas!

Santa, Mrs Clause, the elves and all the reindeer

Santa's hideout

Connecting London’s Past and Present

The Museum’s extensive range of learning programmes, which includes work with families, schools, communities and young people, provides exciting opportunities to make connections between transport’s past and the present-day lives of Londoners.
None perhaps more so than the Battle Bus Project. Since the restoration of the B-type bus number B2737in 2014 the Museum’s Learning Team has been delving deeper into the story of London’s buses during the First World War, working with young people in Tottenham and Camberwell to bring the story of the Battle Bus back to the communities and streets of London where it all began. Vicki Pipe, who is our Family and Community Learning Manager, describes the projects in more detail.

Focus on Tottenham
In 1914 Emily Lee Graves married William Ely. During the war years Emily worked as a Clippie (a female bus conductor) on London’s B-Type buses. It was the first time women were allowed to work on the buses, and Emily was one of 3,500 females who took up the role. In May 1917 William was tragically killed fighting in France. Emily continued to work as a Clippie, raising a small child at the same time and later marrying a local tram driver Hubert Pearson.

Students from Northumberland Park Community School in Tottenham who learnt about Emily’s story visited the grave of William Ely during a trip to Fosse No. 10 Communal Cemetery in France. Maggie Bonfield, William and Emily’s granddaughter who grew up in Tottenham, met with student Serkan Ahmed after their journey to find out more about the group’s experience and to thank them for sharing William and Emily’s story with others.

Focus on Camberwell
When war broke out in 1914 1,000 buses were requisitioned by the War Office from across London, including Camberwell Bus Garage.  Life on the home front in Camberwell, as with all parts of the country, was challenging. Everyone was expected to contribute to the war effort including children, who were even encouraged to give up their pocket money to help. Young people worked hard during the war knitting scarfs and socks for soldiers, with some as young as 12 taking jobs in factories or on farms. Approximately 600,000 children went to work instead of going to school.

Young people from Lyndhurst Primary School in Camberwell worked with an artist, actors and the Battle Bus Learning Team to discover what life was like growing up as a young person during the First World War. They shared the stories they discovered through the creation of  artwork inspired by children’s comic books from the time. Their work is now on display in Camberwell library, where more young people will learn about the ‘Home Front Heroes’ of London from 100 years ago.

Young people from Camberwell

Young people from Camberwell get up close to the Battle Bus whilst finding out about their Homefront Heroes

You can find out more about the Battle Bus project, and where and when it can be seen via the link below

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

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

Bryan Avery – an appreciation by Sam Mullins, Director of London Transport Museum

Bryan Avery, late architect of the new museum

I am sad to report on the death of architect Bryan Avery, who led the design team for the extension and refurbishment of the Museum at Covent Garden which was launched in November 2007. We chose Bryan  because of his skillful use of awkward space under Waterloo Bridge, for the creation of the Museum of the Moving Image in 1988 (which closed in 1999), for the glazed exterior of the IMAX at Waterloo (1999) and the brilliant performance and support spaces at RADA (2000).

A primary consideration for London Transport Museum was a new glazed screen entrance to give the Museum a light and attractive face onto the bustling east piazza of Covent Garden.  Our brief also included a new basement space now known as the Cubic Theatre, a comfortable 120 seat space for lectures, corporate hire, music and film, with great acoustics and moquette fabric covered seating. The third major element was to introduce an independently supported mezzanine floor high in the west transept of the grade two listed Flower Market building of 1871, with access by stairs and lifts at both ends. The fourth element was the improvement of the historic building’s performance as a Museum space, controlling light levels and heat gain and loss from what is essentially a cast iron greenhouse. Over-cladding, louvring and the largest installation of solar panels on a listed building to supplement the reinstatement of natural ventilation was deftly incorporated into the Avery design, with specialist input from Max Fordham.

Bryan worked on our scheme from 2001 to enable a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We worked intensely together to incorporate our vision of the new Museum and its narrative of transport shaping London, past, present and future, into the wonderfully located Flower Market. The tight space within demanded that every square foot worked for that vision. Bryan’s questioning of visitor flow and accessibility led to an optimal final design that has served the Museum very well since 2007, with visitor numbers rising from 210,000 to 400,000, and facilities for evening events, school visits, retail and cafe, promoting support from Transport for London,  funders, stakeholders and visitors. Bryan’s work has proved crucial to the Museum’s success, working within a range of constraints to create colour, light and movement within a historic structure.

The Museum’s former Assistant Director, Systems and Infrastructure, Rob Lansdown reminded me of how “when you talked to Bryan about space or form he was driven to pull out one of his blank index cards and a classic black Pentel Sign fibre-tipped pen (beloved of architects since the 1960s) and sketch his understanding for explanation and later reference”. His sketches of buildings and ideas were wonderfully concise and I hope plans for their exhibition and publication come to fruition.

Bryan remained a close friend of the Museum and had been consulted on our new Cafe extension project shortly before his death. We understand there is to be a memorial event in October.

Khadija Saye 1992 – 2017

khadija_1Two weeks ago the Learning team at London Transport Museum were waking up to the news of the fire in Grenfell Tower, and the realisation that one of our team lived in the tower and was now missing.

Khadija Saye joined the team in August 2016 as a Young Freelancer, a year-long post that offers support, training and paid opportunities for young people. The scheme aims to enable them to gain the knowledge, skills, and experience required for roles in art and cultural sectors. This is part of a wider programme of work with young Londoner’s funded by Arts Council England.

In our reflective practice sessions, Khadija talked with us about her life-journey, the challenges she faced, her art and her desire to work with and help people. Khadija worked on many projects in our Learning and Public Programmes teams, including using her amazing photography skills, giving tours, delivering events for families, supporting our pre-employment courses and engaging and supporting young people to become part of our apprentice programme. Khadija wanted to continuously learn, grow and develop and the paid opportunity allowed her to support the photography she was so talented and passionate about.

Khadija was all about people: whether assisting frantic set-up for a workshop, or guiding a participant on a course, caring for the elderly, or talking to a colleague struggling with work, Khadija was never short of time to listen. On meeting Khadija for the first time, her kindness shone through.  Extremely humble to the point where her discussion about being chosen to display work at the Venice Biennale came across, at first, as a small admin project!


Dhikshana, Khadija’s line manager

The last time I saw Khadija was just before she left for Venice, mapping her journey so far as part of a session reflecting as a Young Freelancer.  Charting worries, and things she needed to plan for, control and if possible contain; we ended knowing she would have many tales to tell us from Venice, how she took all these challenges head on and the great time she would have.

She would return and we would be in the final months of her time with us, seeing how far she came, having yet another string to her bow, and more people to add to her journey.  Khadija was returning to work alongside her peers to bring in our next set of Young Freelancers, sharing her journey and supporting and inspiring another group of young people. 

As I said goodbye to Khadija that day, I told her not to forget me when she reached the top and make sure I had VIP tickets to her exhibitions. She promised and with a naughty chuckle, she said she would make sure there was plenty of tea and cake for me.

Thank you, Khadija for being part of our team. We are so proud to have worked with you, we hope you learnt from us as much as we learnt from you.

Learning team
London Transport Museum

Every picture tells a story – the TOT Alphabet


As we continue to remember the First World War 100 years ago and think about the men recruited from London’s transport workers who fought in it, we have an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the less well-known objects in the Museum’s collection connected to this human story. One such item is An alphabet of TOT produced by the TOT Mutual Aid Fund at the end of 1915 (TOT stood for Train, Omnibus, Tram) which is in our library collection.

At the start of the war the TOT Mutual Aid Fund was set up to support the struggling families of men from the bus, rail and tram companies who were serving in France and elsewhere. The alphabet was one of many fund-raising initiatives undertaken by the organisers.

At first sight, this book intended for small children seems nothing out of the ordinary. Closer inspection though reveals a lot more. The beautifully crafted illustrations, inspired by public transport and drawn by the well-known poster artist Charles Pears, reveal a wealth of intriguing details about London’s public transport at a time of transition between old and new.


I have a favourite letter myself – ‘O’ for otter. This illustration tells several stories. The image shows a stuffed otter in a glass case being admired by a lady and her enthusiastic young companion. The text reads ‘O the ozone which improves ventilation. And also the Otter at Mansion House station.’

Ozone was quite a new thing in 1915, used as part of attempts to improve air quality on the Underground. Ventilating plants could inject 60,000 cubic feet of fresh air into tunnels and passages every minute. Before pumping, the air was cleansed of impurities, mixed with ozone and brought to the correct humidity. The motion of passing trains then circulated the air into the lower passages.

Exhibition at Mansion House station of stuffed animals including several owls and a female otter, c1925

The inscription on the otter’s case in the drawing is indecipherable in the drawing, but we know the picture is a true representation, because we have a photograph to prove it. The photograph is of an exhibition of stuffed animals (including several owls and the otter) caught on Underground property. These were then displayed on the platform at Mansion House station. The picture shows the otter in its case and when the image is enlarged, you can clearly see the plaque says ‘Female otter caught at Acton Town station 4 April 1911’. The exhibition moved to Charing Cross (now Embankment) Underground station in 1929.

The illustrations for all the other letters in the Alphabet have similarly interesting historical details in them, so in 2015 we produced a facsimile of this alphabet as part of the Museum’s commemorative activities marking the centenary of the First World War. Illustrated alphabets have always offered a great way to encourage lively discussion between young and old whilst children learn their letters, and this example is no exception. For older readers interested in London’s transport history the detailed pictures provide hours of pleasurable scrutiny.

Get the book

You can buy a copy of this limited edition publication and support the Museum’s charitable objectives by going to our online shop or visiting the Museum shop in Covent Garden.

Written by Caroline Warhurst, Information Services Manager

Battle Bus: Going back to the Somme

Last week the Museum team made a reconnaissance visit to the Somme to plan out the route for our First World War ‘Battle Bus’ (B2737),  which will be revisiting for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme next year. We worked our way down the rolling hills of the Somme following the jumping off points of the opening attack on 1st July 1916.

B2737 at the Menin Gate, September 2014

Our mission south from Gommecourt to Marincourt was to identify points of departure and arrival for the bus – villages with space to park the mobile display vehicle and offer short trips on the bus and key points at which we could understand what happened one hundred years ago. For example, in the Sunken Lane beneath the Redan Ridge we could arrive by bus, see shots of the ’Battle of the Somme’ film with soldiers in the lane waiting for the attack and the mine being exploded under the Hawthorn Redoubt, read personal accounts from individual soldiers and get a sense of the lie of the land. What was harder to work with was the contrast between the leafy rural landscape today and the blasted and dangerous trenched landscape of 1916. At key points the photographs and diaries help piece together what was the worst single day for the British Army, with over 60,000 casualties sustained.

This was brought home poignantly to us when we attended the reinterrment of three soldiers whose bodies were uncovered recently by road works. After 99 years, these three men, two unknown, one from the Royal Irish Rifles, another from the Cambridgeshire Regiment, and the third identified from his dog tag as Sergeant David Harkness Blakey MM of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had lost their lives in the attack on Thiepval on 1st July 1916 were buried with full military honours in the CWGC Connaught cemetery. In warm autumn sunshine, surrounded by their families, local dignitaries, current members of their regiments, and with the respect of a fusillade, the Last Post and a piper’s lament, they were finally laid to rest alongside so many of their comrades who had also lost their lives on that dreadful morning so long ago.

Connaught cemetery, October 2015

Our bus tour next year will culminate in the centenary commemoration at the Thiepval Memorial on 1st July. Lutyens’ striking arch commemorates the 72,195 soldiers who have no known burial on the Somme. We are honoured to be included in the official commemoration and look forward to our bus and exhibition offering a fresh insight on a key national story.

Sam Mullins, London Transport Museum Director