All posts by London Transport Museum

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!

by Geoff Rowe, Assistant Director of Operations and Visitor Services
Everyone at the Museum is looking forward to welcoming you back. The Museum thrives on life and people being inside. Whether it’s being a bustling flower market with traders buying their stock, or the best museum of urban transport, people should be in the building. We want to see people in the Museum learning about London and how transport has shaped our great city and see our friends enjoying themselves again.
Inside London Transport Museum looking down over the vehicles from the first floor

Since we closed, we have not stood still and have been cleaning every part of the Museum and that will continue. Being open non-stop for 13 years makes it difficult to have a real crack at cleaning some areas that might require more attention, so the temporary closure has been a great opportunity to do this work. Glen and Ruben have been working diligently to ensure the place looks great when we all return. Apparently taking 13 years of polish off the floor is a tough task!

Inside London Transport Museum shop, with a focus on the clean floor tiles with four covered stands of shop products.
We are also busy planning for re-opening and this is throwing up a number of new considerations we have not had to think about before in an operational environment.  We have four over-riding key principles we are taking into account in order to welcome you back. These are:
  1. Numbers – how many visitors can safely visit with social distancing guidelines in place?
  2. Cleanliness – the Museum has to be safe for staff and our friends who visit
  3. Social distancing – what is the new visitor experience like?
  4. Reassurance – achieve the recognised kitemark standard on cleanliness and communicate what we are doing

We will ensure that we have listened to feedback from multiple sources such as the government, public surveys, colleagues from outside attractions who are opening now and retailers, so we can deliver a comfortable and confidant visit for you.

We are also learning from TfL and the measures they are putting on across their network to keep us all safe.  We will have enhanced day to day cleaning measures in place and increased cleaning at high touch point areas with high performance disinfectant. On top of this, we are looking in to implementing a sanitising regime every 21 days, where the Museum is cleaned with a surface sanitiser that will kill bacteria for 28 days.  We will also look at what other new technology is available, learning daily about what is possible with the goal of ensuring everyone enjoys their visit in a safe environment.

Cleaning products including two mops and buckets, a blue, red and green bucket sitting next to a table with cleaning rotas
There may also be an exciting opportunity to open the Depot in Acton, so more people can see this Aladdin’s cave. More details on this to come…
We will keep working on getting the building and team ready to deliver on your expectations. We hope to welcome you again soon.
Picture from inside the Museum looking through the shutters out onto Covent Garden Piazza. Two people can be seen outside in the Piazza

A Visit to Covent Garden

By Sam Mullins OBE, Museum Director

It really was time to get out from behind the laptop; two months on from suspending our operations at Covent Garden and beyond it was time to go and make sure for myself that the Museum was still there. A brisk five-mile cycle ride on a sunny afternoon would be just the ticket, a slice of lockdown London from Hackney to Westminster. Pumped up the tyres, oiled the moving parts, dug out my helmet and hi-vis jacket and I was soon rolling past De Beauvoir Square with its socially distanced families enjoying the sun, residential terraces, Wilmington Square with children playing, through streets empty of people but houses and flats full of activity.

The City Road was nose-to-tail traffic, construction site on Pitfield St was back to work, vans delivering and joggers and purposeful walkers out on the quiet side streets. Buses passed with a few separated passengers. I passed a string of closed museums; the Postal Museum and Mail Rail, Dickens House and the British Museum itself, all like us wondering when and, in some cases, how they would open again. As I approached Covent Garden, the city became noticeably more empty; no shops to service, no hotels open, just a few solitary individuals marvelling at the emptied out metropolis, one solitary couple eating ice creams on the Piazza; ‘where did they get those from?’ I wondered.

Outside of London Transport Museum in Covent Garden

The London Transport Museum is in suspended animation; the lifeblood of its visitors, sounds and videos frozen, its shop just waiting for the footstep of a customer to spring back into life, those polished buses and trains awaiting the next passenger to be engaged and tell the stories of transport in London, the Hidden London exhibition itself hidden away.

View from second floor looking down over buses inside London Transport Museum. Maintenance man walking across Museum floor

In the shop, the merchandise was under wraps, the tills open and empty, the screens at the entrance desk flickering blankly. But our ABM cleaning team have deep cleaned the entire museum and ten years of wax removed from the floors which makes them as good as new again.

View from first floor looking into London Transport Museum Shop. All shop products covered with dust sheets

Toy monkey covered in dust sheet

The Piazza had metaphorical tumbleweed blowing across it, despite a golden sunny afternoon; shops all closed, bars and pubs blanked up. Security guards patrolled in pairs, rubbish bins emptied, a scatter of fellow sightseers shared the unaccustomed peace and quiet. It was awe-inspiring to see the usually frantic Piazza free of people.

Covent Garden piazza with no people

But in workrooms and box rooms, on kitchen tables and desks across London, the Museum is very much alive. Working remotely, the ‘bare bones’ Museum team are planning our future. Online trading has nearly doubled in lockdown as gifts and games are despatched, while home educational materials and new digital content such as the Hidden London hang-outs and Poster Power have also kept the LTM flag flying. We are now taking in research insights and experience from European transport museums on what our customers will need when they return to us; enforced social distancing, visible cleanliness, signage and floor markings to name but a few but above all a warm welcome back. We will issue guidance on walking and cycling to Covent Garden, offer online timed tickets, contactless payments, hand sanitisers and no queues in the not too distant future.

So, we get creative, plan and then change our plans as the situation develops, as government and mayoral advice and public sentiment moves on. Our earliest hope is to offer something at Covent Garden and maybe Acton Depot for some part of the summer holidays. This Welcome Back blog will keep you in touch with our thinking and plans, and respond to your questions and suggestions. And it goes without saying, we are very keen to be welcoming you back just as soon as possible. Watch this space.

Sam Mullins taking a photograph of himself in a mirror, positioned in Canteen

Poster Power – The way for all

By Nick Gill, London Transport Museum Friend and Volunteer Guide

London Transport has a long tradition of commissioning established and emerging artists to design advertising posters for the transport network. London Transport Museum’s collection holds around 15,000 between posters, prints and original artworks, the majority of which are housed in our Art and Poster store at the Museum Depot in Acton. As part of our Poster Power online celebrations from 25 April to 3 May 2020, we have asked Nick Gill, London Transport Museum Friend and volunteer guide for 17 years, to tell us about his favourite poster in the Museum’s collection.

My favourite poster in London Transport Museum’s collection is The Way For All by Alfred France (1911), both for the stunning visuals and the powerful statement about travel for all on the newly-formed Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL).

The Way For All, Alfred France, 1911. Collection ref. 1983/4/124 London Transport Museum

The Way For All is among a number of posters commissioned between 1909 and 1912 by Frank Pick. Before becoming London Transport’s first Chief Executive, Pick was Marketing Director of the UERL, having been appointed in 1906.  A great visionary, he commissioned artists and graphic designers to create artwork for the UERL’s intense poster campaigns, and quite significantly he did so irrespective of gender, thus bucking the trend prevalent at the time.

Frank Pick (1878-1941). Collection ref. 2008/652 London Transport Museum

The central figure in Alfred France’s poster represents a middle-class woman who could be a member of the Suffragette movement, highly topical at that time.  The poster’s message is that women should feel safe to travel alone on the new Underground.  The backdrop depicts silhouettes of people from all social backgrounds who can use the classless Underground for business or pleasure, with just one level of fare. The choice of the colour green is a nod to the booking hall tiles typical of Leslie Green’s station design.

Booking hall kiosk window from Russel Square station, 1906. Collection ref. 1993/127 London Transport Museum.

Leslie Green’s design was heavily influenced by the contemporary Art Nouveau and Art & Crafts movements and complimented the modernity of the world’s first underground railway.  The frieze in the poster alludes to the ornamental green dado friezes in Green’s design.

Leslie Green’s tiles at Hampstead station, 1907. Collection ref. 1982/64 London Transport Museum

The story around the original artwork for the poster is quite interesting; the UERL Board considered the central character to be somewhat lacking in colour and bearing an air of intimidation in her stare. They also found the backdrop to be cold and uninviting. The lithographers were therefore requested to bring more colour into the poster and adjust the lady’s stare to a gentle distant gaze.

Alfred France’s original artwork, 1911. Collection ref. 1995/4110 London Transport Museum

There is a strong feminist tone to the poster’s message which proclaims no social boundaries on the Underground.  The poster also represents a strong link with the contemporary design of the newly-formed UERL which soon became known as the Tube.

To me, this poster sums up everything Frank Pick believed in when it came to design: beauty, utility, goodness, truth, immortality, perfection, righteousness and wisdom.

The golden age of urban attractions

By Zorian Clayton, Assistant Curator (Word & Image) at the Victoria and Albert Museum

During this unprecedented time of global lockdown, the following selection of posters from London Transport Museum and V&A poster collections showcases a golden age of illustrative graphic design in the UK. Originally compiled for the Poster Power Open Weekend at the Museum Depot, it has been reorganised as a virtual trip down memory lane, looking forward to the time when we can get back to enjoying the rich cultural offerings of city life.  Join us on a nostalgic look at the history of urban attractions and the advertisement of days out to museums, cinemas, and shows in London and beyond.

Coloured poster depicting people sat in a cinema hall looking at a projection on the wall
Curzon Hall, Birmingham, Albert Morrow circa 1902. Collection ref. E.3312-1932 © V&A Museum

This charming poster by Irish artist Albert Morrow depicts an audience dressed up to the nines for an evening out to enjoy the new pastime of cinematic entertainment. From 1896, variety theatres and music halls in Britain started to show the novel art form of moving pictures, spawning a whole new genre of poster art in the process.

By bus to the pictures tonight, by Tom Eckersley and Eric Lombers, 1935. Collection ref. 1983/4/9728, London Transport Museum

The most valuable and widely collected posters of all time advertise films of the 1920s and 30s.  This 1935 gem by design duo Tom Eckersley and Eric Lombers advertises bus services to go out to cinemas.  They worked together from 1934 to 1940 after both studying in Salford School of Art. The actress on the big screen resembles the star of the decade, Jean Harlow, with pencil thin eyebrows and large blue eyes.  There is a surreal cheekiness in the superimposing of her face onto the plain everyman in the audience.

Sunday Concerts, Fred Taylor, 1912. Collection ref. 1983/356 London Transport Museum

This sumptuous interior view depicts the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place, home of The Proms before the venue was destroyed in the London Blitz, never to be rebuilt.  However, the message again is the mode of transport to attend evening events by Tube, so is not a recommendation for any single concert or artist.

Artist Fred Taylor (1875-1963) was one of the favourite designers for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), London Transport, and other travel companies from 1908 to the 1940s. He was one of the first ten designers who were conferred with the title Designer for Industry (DI), considered the highest accolade in the UK. Best known for posters highlighting train travel to cathedrals and castles up and down the United Kingdom, he fell into this style rather by accident, starting out as a figure artist. After 30 years of working in the same vein, in 1938 he said he longed for a change.

Ausstellung Englische Graphik, 1923. Collection ref. E.3707-1923 V&A Collection

In just over a year, change and tragedy was thrust upon the entire world at the outbreak of World War II.  Taylor moved to work on naval camouflage, a tactic of dazzle design invented by Norman Wilkinson during World War I.  An example of it can be seen in this poster designed by Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949) advertising an exhibition on English graphic design at the Kunstsalon Wolfsberg in Zurich.

Wadsworth was an official dazzle artist himself, aligned with the short-lived Vorticist group of artists who launched in 1914 and broke up shortly after war broke out.  It was also around this time that the Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917, first opening to the public in 1920 at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham Hill.

Souvenirs: Imperial War Museum, Austin Cooper, 1932. Collection ref. 1995/4071 London Transport Museum

This sombre poster marks the souvenirs of war as tanks, bombs and destruction. A bold and hard-hitting design choice by Austin Cooper (1890-1964), he was a Canadian-British artist who created posters for many of the London museums.  Note the South Kensington address, the IWM was then housed in the Imperial Institute on Exhibition Road before moving to its current home on Lambeth Road, 1936.

The South Kensington area has been a museum hub since the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Science Museum and the V&A were once part of the same institution called the South Kensington Museum. In 1909, they split into separate museums with science and technology on one side of Exhibition Road and art and design on the other.

Bicyclism: The Art of Wheeling, Austin Cooper, 1928. Collection ref. 1983/4/2563 London Transport Museum

Cooper’s multi-faceted style was put to excellent use by the Underground Group for 22 years. This jaunty example advertises historic bicycles in the Science Museum collection, nostalgically looking back to the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, by B Swiderska, 1967. Collection ref. 1983/4/7649 London Transport Museum

This similarly fun poster of 1967 by Barbara Swiderska sports some opulent historical fashions to advertise the Victoria and Albert Museum. Little is known about this illustrator except that she continued to work throughout the 1970s as a cover designer for a number of children’s books. The poster text describes the museum as a sort of Aladdin’s cave to be explored at your whim, inviting audiences to put themselves in the picture:

 ‘… these are showcases, brilliantly illuminated and filled with figures from nearly 400 years of fashion’s pageant, from Jacobean gallantry via Georgian magnificence, Victorian upholstery, Edwardian confectionery and the twenties to Dior’s ankle-flapping New Look. Imagine your own choice of outfit – yesterday’s trend is often tomorrow’s…’.

Museum of Natural History, South Kensington, Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1924. Collection ref. E.96-1924 V&A Collection

The final behemoth of the South Kensington area is of course the Natural History Museum, superbly represented here by the woolly mammoth beneath an eye-catching rainbow motif by Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954).  The Natural History Museum was originally an offshoot of the wide-ranging British Museum collections, the two institutions separating completely in 1963.  The NHM as we know and love it today has been in its present home on Cromwell Road since 1881.

Dubbed ‘The Poster King’, this extraordinary Montana born artist emigrated to the UK aged 25 and promptly became a graphic design tour de force.  Weaving avant-garde and dynamic motifs into advertisements for airlines and department stores, it is his work for the London Underground which is the most celebrated.  From his arrival in London in 1915 until his return to the USA in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, around 140 of his poster designs brightened up the city under the commission of Frank Pick and the Underground Group.

The treasure house of London, by Freda Beard, 1921. Collection ref. 1983/4/1184 London Transport Museum

This swirling dragon piece summarises the South Kensington museums, the British Museum, and the London Museum (a precursor to the Museum of London) all promising a dry and comfortable indoor experience on rainy days.  It is by Freda Mildred Beard (1897-1984) who designed for the Underground Group between 1921 and 1926.

She was born in Clapham and besides working for the Tube poster campaigns, she designed advertisements for foodstuffs including many brands still going today like Jacob’s cream crackers, Cadbury’s chocolate, and Hartley’s jam.  This poster drew high praise in ‘Advertising and British Art’ (1924) saying that Beard had adapted ‘the astonishing sea serpent’ from a Japanese cloisonné vase and that this creature was imbued with more imagination than was present in most modern British branding.

South Kensington, by John Banting, 1936. Collection ref. E.124-1961 V&A Collection

This rather naïve butterfly design by John Banting (1902-1971) is another summary of some of the South Kensington Museum transport links and shows an African Emperor Moth. This is actually an entire genus of moths in the Saturnia family of many varieties of evocative names such as the Cavorting Emperor, the Pallid Emperor, and the Confused Emperor!  This one is commonly known as a Bulls Eye Silk Moth and perhaps was chosen by the artist due to the markings resembling a tube stop and the yellow Circle line.

For the zoo, by Dorothy Burroughes, 1922. Collection ref. 1983/4/1346 London Transport Museum

Some of the liveliest posters to advertise attractions include animals, and in urban areas that usually means circuses or zoos.  Many of the best posters for the London Zoo were done by female artists of the 1920s and 30s.  Dorothy Burroughes was one such artist who achieved her first commercial break with a London Underground commission in 1920 depicting a trio of primates playing on a tree branch.   Her second in 1922 was one of the most popular of the time, with requests pouring in for reproductions.

While her name will forever be synonymous with zoo posters, in an interview with Drawing & Design (1923) she spoke at some length over her sadness at seeing animals in captivity.

David Bownes, previously Head of Collections at London Transport Museum, wrote an excellent article on Burroughes which you can read here.

For the zoo; sealion, by Ruth Sandys, 1925. Collection ref. E.1019-1925 V&A Collection

Another of my favourites is Ruth Sandys (1884-1941). These 1925 designs precede John Gilroy’s famous seals utilised for the Guinness posters by a decade.

Ruth was the daughter of the artist Frederick Sandys who had ten illegitimate children with the actress Mary Jones.  Many of them were trained in artistic pursuits and include the portraitist Winifred Sandys. Ruth was active between 1912 and 1940 but it is this poster commission for the London Underground which remains her most well-known work.

This is of course just a tiny taste of our poster collections. While we are all unable to visit the museums in person at the moment, we hope you enjoy delving into London Transport Museum’s and V&A’s  online catalogues to discover more until we are all able to get out and about into our cities once again.

Contemporary Collecting: An Ethical Toolkit for Museum Practitioners

By Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

Keeping records of the times we are living through is part of the work of many museums. Collecting the here and now brings up all sorts of questions. It is a complicated process working out what stories, objects and experiences can or should be added to museum collections. There are lots of ways to decide and lots of decisions that need to be made.

Over the last year, we’ve been finding advice for how to approach this work from a group of museum workers. We began discussing some of the challenges during a workshop for the Contemporary Collecting Group at London Transport Museum in spring 2019. Then we carried out an online survey for further discussion. In summer the contemporary collecting toolkit was published by Museums Development North West, and we began producing a document which could sit alongside the 2019 toolkit and shed light on some of the complex ethical issues that come up.

We found five important themes:

  1. Balance, both sides and hate
  2. Decolonisation
  3. Climate emergency
  4. Trauma and distress
  5. Digital preservation

We knew we needed a strong set of contributors to share their experience and started contacting people we’d like to hear from on the range of subjects the workshop and consultation had identified. Working together, we’ve produced a toolkit for ethical contemporary collecting which is ready and live now. It has contributions and case studies from some fantastic and fascinating projects – including museums collecting Snapchat content and Extinction Rebellion protests, as well as museum workers collecting around subjects like homelessness and responses to terrorist attacks.

You can find downloadable versions of the toolkit on our website.

The idea is that this version of the toolkit will continue the conversation. We’d like museum workers, researchers, collaborators and students to use this toolkit and also let us know what they’d like to see in a future edition. Do you think you will find it useful? What advice, topic or case studies stand out to you? What would you like to have further information on? Who else do you want to hear from? What other topics, within the overarching subject of the ethics of contemporary collecting, would you like to address in the future?

We are keen to encourage the use of the toolkit to prompt discussion, collaboration and support across the sector, and hope that, as practice and dialogue on the topics included evolve, that the toolkit can evolve, too.

If you would like to arrange a meet-up or connect to a reading group meet-up, then please send an invitation or email to the Contemporary Collecting Group mailing list.

Shaping London since 1980

By Sam Mullins OBE, Museum Director

When London Transport Museum opened 40 years ago in the old Victorian Flower Market in Covent Garden, it was an anchor development in the revival of the area. The Flower Market had moved out in 1974, but when we opened our doors on 28 March 1980, hoardings still surrounded the Central Market Hall and many of the historic buildings had yet to be restored. Over the past four decades the area has been transformed, with the Museum contributing to the personality of this vibrant quarter of London.

Traders in the Flower Market in Covent Garden © David Thomas Photo Reportage Ltd, 1970s

The relocation of the Museum to Covent Garden from Syon Park was of profound significance. Being part of a newly renovated area of central London with a strong identity and a rich cultural, dining and retail offer, enabled the Museum, its collection and charitable mission to flourish.

The collection has grown from around a thousand objects in 1980 to over 450,000 items, many transferred directly from London Transport. Today our collection is designated of national importance and covers the rich spectrum of transport and society in London; from heritage vehicles to maps and signs, photographs, poster art and architecture as well as audio-visuals and oral histories.

Watercolour darwing of the museum showing the collection of red buses and trolleys
London Transport Collection by Bob Miller ca. 1978

Our charitable work reaches well beyond Covent Garden, across every London borough; our STARS programme teaches every 10-11 year-old Londoner about the safe use of the public transport network. We inspire young people to consider a career in engineering and transport through our Enjoyment to Employment and Inspire Engineering programmes. Our popular Hidden London programme of tours of disused stations and sites of heritage significance further extended our reach and audiences.

In our first year in 1980, the Museum attracted nearly 250,000 visitors. Today we engage almost 400,000 visitors annually. That’s nearly 10 million visits in total since 1980. With some justification, we can boast of being the world’s leading museum of public transportation!

View of London Transport Museum from Covent Garden Piazza by Luca Sage, 2020

The choice of location in 1980 has proved to be inspired. The Museum was placed in Covent Garden to help create a destination that has proved to be very popular. This has enabled the development of a highly successful heritage museum, a key institution for London, an educational charity which uses the story of London and its transport to ignite curiosity and shape the future.

We are marking the Museum’s 40th anniversary with a whole weekend of birthday fun, starting with a special, free Museum Late on Friday 27 March. Find out more here and join us for the celebrations!

London Transport Museum’s Ruby Anniversary

London Transport Museum is turning 40 years old in March 2020!

To celebrate its ruby anniversary, we’re taking a brief look at the origins of the Museum and its collection. We are also reliving the first days of operations through the first-hand memories of former members of staff, starting with Mike Walton, who was working in the Museum shop when it opened on 28 March 1980.

Our collection counts over 500,000 items, from heritage vehicles to signs and maps, posters and ephemera that document 200 years of London’s transport and social history . But it all started with two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus. In the 1920s, the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) decided to preserve these vehicles for future generations to enjoy.

A yellow carriage with three passengers, being hauled by two brown and white horses
Horse bus c.1875

In the 1960s, our growing collection was housed in an old bus garage in Clapham, south London, and referred to as the Museum of British Transport. In 1973 it was moved to Syon Park, west London, taking the name of London Transport Collection. Between 1979-80, the public display moved to its current home, the old Victorian Flower Market, a Graded II-listed building in Covent Garden. London Transport Museum as we now know it was born!

Black and white photo of an old building with high ceilings. metal framed windows ans market stalls
The old Victorian Flower Market in Covent Garden

The Museum was officially inaugurated by Princess Anne on 28 March 1980, and opened its doors to the public the following day.  Mike Walton, Poster Art Commissioner for Transport for London and London Transport Museum, recalls:

“Prior to the Royal Opening on 28 March, work to prepare became increasingly frantic. Staff were recruited, or better transferred from other teams within London Transport, and the shop was filled with many products from London Transport’s Publicity Office which was simultaneously closing its long-established retail outlets.

On the day of the opening all Retail and Admission staff lined up in the shop area as Princess Anne and London Transport Officials arrived and toured the Museum. I disgraced myself by curtsying to Princess Anne by accident much to her amusement. The assembled officials were less amused!

Princess Anne and London Transport officials at the Royal Opening of the Museum

The day went very smoothly and was deemed a great success, but the official event left us with little time to prepare for the public opening the following day. The Museum opened its doors to its first visitors at 10:00 on Saturday 29 March 1980. Unsurprisingly, the queues around Covent Garden Piazza lasted all day. An Adult ticket cost £1.40 with various discounted tickets available for children, students and pensioners.

The tickets were dispensed from an old Underground ‘rapiprinter’ and customers passed through a then standard Underground automatic ticket gate, a system which caused much unreliability for staff and considerable confusion for customers. Our supposed plentiful supply of change had run out by midday and someone was delegated to tour local Tube stations begging for spare change!

At the end of the first enormously successful day’s trading, cashing up had to take place. With endless piles of £1 notes, no credit cards and no counting machines, the task was completed at 23:00. My working life had changed for ever!”

Celebrate the Museum’s 40th birthday throughout the month of March 2020 with us. Share your fondest memories of the Museum on social media with the hashtag #LTMLove.

New discoveries at Clapham South’s deep-level shelter

Siddy Holloway, Hidden London Engagement Manager

At the southern end of Clapham Common stands a rather peculiar, circular structure that many Londoners walk past every day without thinking much of. Very few people would know it to be the entrance to a Second World War bomb shelter located beneath the Northern line, but that is precisely what it is.

A circular concrete building in the middle of a green area
The entrance to Clapham South’s subterranean shelter, 2018

Clapham South’s deep-level shelter totals over a mile of tunnels and has had an incredibly varied life: originally opened as a wartime shelter in 1944, it was turned into temporary accommodation for thousands of people coming to Britain to visit or live after the Second World War, and it’s now one of our Hidden London sites.

When the Hidden London team first visited the shelter with the aim of doing tours there, it had recently been an archive and racking was covering the walls of the entire site, stretching for over a mile. We cleared most of the racking and started to run tours in 2015.

A an walks between rows of bunk beds in an underground shelter
Archive racking along the walls of the shelter.

The shelter itself is divided into 16 sub-shelters, all named alphabetically to help those who stayed there to remember where in the colossal structure they were bedding down for the night. Every sub-shelter had been used for archive purposes and the original bunk beds in the shelter were converted to archive racking by raising the top bunks up slightly.

Close-up of the top of a wooden bunk bed
Bunk beds converted into archive racking.

While designing the tours back in 2015, we decided that we would take people into seven of the 16 sub-shelters, so that visitors would get a good sense of the place without having to walk for over a mile. We focused on the selected shelters, clearing them up and getting them back to their authentic state, but that meant that the other nine shelters were left largely untouched, awaiting the day we would have the capacity to explore the shelter further.

A sign with arrows and names of the sub-shelters listed in alphabetical order.
An original wayfinding sign in Clapham South directing visitors to different parts of the shelter. Each sub-shelter was named in alphabetical order.

Over the last two years, we have had the opportunity to start clearing out the remaining racking in the shelter and what we found was astounding: hundreds of different messages written on the walls of the shelter by people who had stayed there between 1944-1953. Everything from names and addresses, to the purpose of their visit, and even a few love letters, were all unveiled when we cleared away the racking.

Graffiti on a wall
The history of the shelter written on its walls.

These messages and notes have helped us fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the people who came to stay in the shelter after the Second World War. We knew the shelter had been used as a hostel for Windrush migrants in 1948 and for visitors of the Festival of Britain in 1951, but discovering these graffiti really highlighted the role that Clapham South had played in London’s history during and after the War.

Due to the devastation of the Second World War, with over a million homes destroyed or damaged, anyone looking for accommodation in the Capital had very few options available, and that’s where Clapham South came to use. The shelter housed thousands of people during the War, but even more after it, providing a haven for those who needed it, whilst the country was being rebuilt.

A concrete staircase leading on to a tunnel
The central staircase in Clapham South c. 1942. Since the 1960 that staircase had been filled with racking for the storage of archival materials.

Although the areas we recently cleared are not accessible to the public just yet, removing the archive racking has also restored the main staircase to its former grandeur, to the delight of visitors of the Hidden London tour of Clapham South: Subterranean shelter.

Visit our website for more information about the tour and to book.

Exploring London’s Signs and Symbols

By Stephanie O’Neill-Winbow, Family Learning Officer

It feels like Christmas was just here, but already it’s February half term! If you’re looking for somewhere fun to play and explore during this school holiday, visit the Museum from 15 to 23 February.

We’ve got something very special planned for you:  we are sending you and your family on a mission to explore our galleries and discover the signs and symbols that make London’s transport system the most recognisable in the world. It’s amazing to see how even the littlest of children are able to recognise the roundel as the symbol for the Underground. We’ll be celebrating these visual, familiar and accessible areas of transport through dressing up, role play, object handling, colouring in and problem solving.

In the Transportorium on the ground floor, families will be able to take part in fun games – think party games with a transport twist: you have probably played Simon Says before, but what about the ‘Sign Says’? We’ll also be playing Bingo with symbols instead of numbers. We promise it’ll be quite the laugh! These Transport Games will be running six times a day, every day from 10:45 for about 20 minutes each, so there’s plenty of opportunities for families to join in.

All Aboard play zone

Alongside these special activities, we have our two dedicated All Aboard play zones for children under 7, and our big red buses, trains and a tram that you can climb aboard. Our Customer Service team are friendly, helpful and always ready to share lots of knowledge about the history of London’s transport.  There’s also our Hidden London exhibition, an engaging and exciting glimpse of what goes on underground in London, particularly appealing to older children and adults in your family group.

A child and his mother pretend to use a phone exchange from the 1940s
Hidden London: the Exhibition

As usual for each of our school holidays, we will also run an Explorer Event for families with children with additional needs, on Saturday 22 February from 8:30 to 10:00. During this time, half term activities will be available while all the sounds around the galleries are turned off or turned down, and extra sensory resources are available. If this sounds like the right event for your family to visit the Museum, do make sure to book your place here.

February half term is a busy and energetic time for the Museum – every year we are so lucky that lots of lovely families choose to pay us a visit. This time around, we’re hoping to welcome even more of you!

Museum Late: Night on the tiles

Our Museum Late: Night on the tiles is all about the history of London’s rich nightlife from Victorian music halls and night clubs, to subcultures which have influenced London and the world. Guests can party like the Victorians with Lee Jackson of Victorian London, explore LGBTQI nightlife spaces with Ben Walters of Not Television, and get crafty at workshops with artist Nick Murray and creative producer Christina Tubb.

The Museum of Youth Culture will also be joining us to talk about their latest collecting project, Grown Up In Britain. The museum is a non-profit collection of over 100,000 photographs, ephemera and objects celebrating 100 years of being young in the UK.

Lisa Der Weduwe, Cultural Projects Assistant at the Museum of Youth Culture said:

Everyone has stories about being young and their experiences growing up, from first loves to school days, and the events that shaped who we are today. The Museum of Youth Culture is working to pull together all these incredible stories and build a picture of what it was like growing up in Britain over the last 100 years. 

Launched in November 2019, Grown Up In Britain is a crowd-sourced project that asks a simple question – show us your youth. Whether you have one photograph, some flyers from your favourite gigs or an amazing story to tell, we want you to be part of the Museum of Youth Culture. 

You can submit your photographs and ephemera here.

A carousel of black and white pictures of young people through different eras
A small selection of photographs from the Museum of Youth Culture’s collection.

The Museum of Youth Culture team and our Documentary Curators will be welcoming you at our Museum Late and be on hand to show you some of the items in the Museum of Youth Culture’s collection, and to collect your stories of going out in London and travelling on the night bus or night Tube.

We invite you to bring an item or photo that reminds you of a special night out to show and tell, and celebrate our history together.

Visit our website to see the programme highlights and to book your tickets to our Museum Late: Night on the tiles on 28 February 2020