All posts by London Transport Museum

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

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.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jul/06/bryan-avery-obituary

https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/tributes-paid-to-thinking-mans-architect-bryan-avery-1944-2017/10021390.article

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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

In the Shadow of War

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How do we, as social historians, attempt to unravel and understand the general mood or atmosphere that existed in a massive city like London at any moment of time? Whilst significant historical events are often extensively recorded and reported often more problematic is our ability to comprehend the atmosphere of day-to-day life in the capital.

As a Museum curator my role is to interpret and make sense of history through visual and material culture and the creation of atmospheric displays.  Similarly my talk at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front, will attempt to reveal the mood and atmosphere in London prior to the outbreak of World War I.  Using images of objects, photographs and paintings held in the Museum of London and other collections the talk will give both a broad overview of London in 1914 as well as analysing the minutiae of life at street level.

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As the shadow of war began to draw more heavily over the capital what were Londoners getting up to – what was their day-to-day life like, what was happening on the street, what was popular, what were Londoners talking about, were they aware of the impending threat and, more significantly, was the mood on the street being obviously affected by the threat of imminent war?

Written by Beverley Cook, Curator of Social & Working History, Museum of London (Speaker at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front)

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

London’s First Air War, 1915-1918

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Bus after Zeppelin raid, 1915

Air raids on London by Zeppelin airships were expected from the moment war was declared. Early precautions included a blackout at night and the installation of guns on prominent buildings and in the parks. Even so, raids finally began from the end of May 1915, provoking a mix of responses among the Londoners from sangfroid to blind panic.

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Zeppelin raid in The War Illustrated, April 1915

When the air cover by fighter aircraft became more effective against Zeppelins during 1916, the Germans switched to the use of heavy bombing planes, which proved generally immune from attack by London’s air defences. The civilian authorities’ response to the air attack was lacklustre throughout the bombing campaign. Scores of thousands of Londoners huddled in the tubes, in the cellars of industrial buildings thought to be safe, or fled the city altogether. The ‘Harvest Moon Raids’ of autumn 1917, marked one of the low points of morale in London during the war.

Written by Professor Jerry White, Birkbeck College, University of London (Speaker at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front)

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

1920: King George V and Ole Bill

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King George V in conversation with Lord Ashfield, chairman of the ‘Combine’, with ‘Ole Bill’ driven by James Melton and veterans in the background

This weekend has seen a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday today. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

In February 1920, a group of LGOC drivers from the Middle Row garage, Kensal Green, who had seen service overseas as drivers were presented, with their B type bus B43, to King George V at Buckingham Palace.  This momentous event was reported in the staff magazine:

“His Majesty shook hands with the men and had a friendly talk with them as His Majesty shook hands with the men and had a friendly talk with them as he passed down the line when they formed up for inspection, and afterwards examined the ‘bus. He remarked that this was the first time he had boarded an omnibus, although he had travelled before on a tramcar of the L.C.C. …There was an appreciative crowd outside the Palace to cheer the old ‘bus and its gallant passengers as they left.”

The bus’s appearance was recorded in a Pathé newsreel, and “thrown on the screen at many picture theatres”.

B43 had been built by AEC at Walthamstow for the LGOC in 1911 and ran on the 8 and 25 routes out of Mortlake garage until requisitioned by the War Department and sent to France in September 1914. Driven by volunteer drivers who joined up, the bus did a huge mileage carrying troops and supplies up to the line and bringing back wounded soldiers. In 1919 it was repurchased by the LGOC and first put back into emergency service still in khaki and then in red to Dalston on the 8 and 9 routes. By the time it was presented to the King, B43 had acquired a small bronze plaque commemorating its passage through the war:

1914 – Antwerp, 1915 – Ypres, 1916 – Ancre, 1917 – Somme, 1918 – Amiens, 1919 – Home

To mark this special occasion, the bus was decorated and became a mobile war memorial. A brass shell was mounted on the dashboard, ornate brass plates for the numbers on the bonnet sides and a brass bust of ‘Ole Bill, the cartoon figure created by Bruce Bairnsfather, formed the radiator cap. This association with the hugely popular cartoon character was to rapidly give the bus its nickname of ‘Ole Bill, commonly but incorrectly rendered as Old Bill. The title was derived from Bairnsfather’s first cartoon of two Tommies under fire in a shell hole, Bill saying to his companion, ‘If you knows of a better ‘ole, Go to it!’

B43 had been given a new body and overhauled for the Palace in 1920. Battle honours were added to the windows – Antwerp, Ypres, Ancre and Somme – before being handed over to the Auxiliary Omnibus Companies Association. The veterans used it for parades and funerals. At the King’s behest, the bus and veterans from Underground and the General took part in the first Armistice Day parade from 1920. These accounts are from the staff magazine ‘Train, Omnibus, Tram’ in the 1920s:

LGOC veterans march with ‘Ole Bill in the Armistice day parade of 1923
LGOC veterans march with ‘Ole Bill in the Armistice day parade of 1923

After many years in the service of remembrance, ‘Ole Bill was retired to the Imperial War Museum in 1970. Back on home ground, this venerable bus is currently on loan to London Transport Museum and plays a central part in the current ‘Goodbye Piccadilly’ exhibition on London in World War One.

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. Today marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Sunday parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

1919: Battered War Buses back in service

This weekend will see a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday on 9 November. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

Less than a quarter of the 1,185 buses sent overseas by the War Department returned to London. At the end of the war, the capital was short of petrol, drivers and buses. Battered surviving buses were slowly released by the War Department as they returned from overseas, vehicles which had served at home were refitted with bodies which had been in store and the final batch of B-types was completed in April 1919.

LGOC staff inspect a B-type bus
LGOC staff inspect a B-type bus returned from the front, December 1919

250 buses returned from overseas service. They were judged substandard for conveying passengers but shortages of materials for new vehicles led them being pressed back into service in May 1919 as ‘Traffic Emergency’ buses. They were repainted in army khaki with the ‘General’ logo painted in white on the side. Pre-war bus chassis were also returned to service with timber bodies as lorry buses. Licensing regulations were relaxed to permit these temporary solutions to London’s depleted bus fleet.

Lorry Bus at Victoria, summer 1919
Lorry Bus at Victoria, summer 1919; a lorry chassis with crude wooden bus body and rear staircase, running a service from Victoria to Liverpool Street

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ will appear in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. On Sunday marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Day parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.