All posts by London Transport Museum

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

Celebrating London’s tramways past and present

By Georgia Morley, Curator

We are starting the new year with a celebration of London’s tramways in our new Poster Parade on display at the Museum from 10 January to 26 March 2020.

Drawing of a fleet fo red trams running in the nightime

London’s Tramways, unknown, circa 1929 

The first horse trams in London were introduced in the 1860s, operated by private companies. Although banned from operating in the City and West End, which were still dominated by the omnibus, an extensive tram network developed across the rest of the city.

The arrival of the electric tram in the early 1900s brought cheap transport to the masses. Trams could carry twice as many people as motor buses, and in greater comfort. They were cheap to run, so fares were low, and they were quick and frequent. Despite competition from the first motor buses, the number of passengers using trams grew.

Drawing of a woman holding coloured balloons at a regatta along the river

By Tram from Hammersmith, Wimbledon or Shepherd’s Bush, by Fred Taylor, 1922

London United Tramways (LUT) began London’s first electric tram service in July 1901. They electrified lines between Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, Acton and Kew Bridge. By 1906, ten municipal systems had been set up and by 1914 London operated the largest tram network in Europe. At their peak, over 3,000 trams carried a billion passengers a year over 366 miles of track.

After the First World War tramways began to decline as the motor bus competed for passengers. By the late 1920s, the new buses offered higher standards of comfort, while the pre-war trams were shabby and in need of modernisation.

When London Transport took over all bus, tram and Underground railway operation in the capital in 1933, a massive tram to trolleybus conversion programme began. The tram system was in poor condition with trams increasingly being seen as noisy, dangerous to road users and expensive.

Trolleybuses were cheaper to run and soon attracted more passengers than the trams. Within three years, over half of London’s tram routes had been converted.

Poster showing the drawing of blue and red trolley bus

By trolleybus to Kingston, by F Gregory Brown, 1933

Ironically, the Second World War brought a temporary reprieve for the tram, as the work on the trolleybus conversion was interrupted. Necessary repairs and maintenance were done to keep the tram system running to help the war effort.

After the war however, the remaining trams were replaced by diesel buses. In July 1952, the last tram left Woolwich for New Cross amidst scenes of great sadness. Many trams were scrapped, but some were sold to Leeds where they ran until 1959.

Poster depicting a ticket superimposed on the drawing of a tram

Gone but not forgotten, by Tim Demuth, 1977

Trams were re-introduced into London in 2000, originally run by Tramlink but now owned by TfL. The tram network has 39 stops along 17 miles of track serving Croydon and surrounding areas of south London.

London’s tramways Poster Parade explores the history of trams in London and the rise and fall of the largest tram system in the world. Visit our Poster Parade, at the Museum from 10 January to 26 March 2020 to see our stunning posters up close.

Exploring the past and shaping the future

By Sam Mullins OBE, London Transport Museum’s Director

At London Transport Museum we care about making a difference, and we want to reach out and inspire people to shape a better city for the future.  Our core purpose is the inspirational educational work that we do to promote youth engagement with the transport network, to help young Londoners realise their potential and to access all that London has to offer.

As a charitable institution, we have made significant progress on many fronts this year. We have extended the reach of the STARS (Safer Travel, Sustainable, Active, Resilient) programme, and plan to reach all Year 6 children in London in 2020.

Three teenage girls look at an exhibit in the Museum depot
Pupils at a session at the Museum Depot.

We have welcomed an ever growing number of visitors at Covent Garden, encouraged by new interactive exhibitions such as Untangling the Tracks, and thanks to our award-winning Visitor Services team.

Our Hidden London programme continues to grow and embrace new sites and experiences such as Piccadilly Circus, launched in July this year, and Moorgate coming up in February, as well as old favourites Down Street and Clapham South. The programme of tours is supported by a handsome book and the immersive Hidden London: the Exhibition.

Two women look down a disused tunnel at Piccadilly Circus
Disused tunnel at Piccadilly Circus station.

In June, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the District line with a final weekend of steam hauled services on the Underground in central London. The sight of teak Victorian carriages and Met 1 in steam weaving through one of the busiest metro networks in the world delighted and amazed today’s customers. We also operated heritage buses at events across the Capital as well as the unique Imberbus day in the middle of Salisbury Plain.

Our Museum Depot at Acton celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a record attendance at three Open Weekends, as well as school visits, guided tours and skills sessions which use our rich collections. The London Transport Miniature Railway carried record numbers of passengers, and its operations were improved with new carriage sheds and works on the tracks during a family volunteering day in October.

A man driving a miniature rail train with two children and one other adult on board.
London Transport Miniature Railway at the Acton Depot.

The Depot is still nearly unique as a publicly accessible store, enabling public access to our extensive collections, hosting a raft of significant volunteer projects such as the restoration of the Q stock and the Victoria line automatic train exhibit, a base for heritage bus and rail operations, and a secure store for posters, artworks, ephemera and the whole spectrum of our collections.

Interior view of the Q stock train
1930s Q stock car.

We can only produce such a busy programme thanks to wonderful volunteers, corporate support and London Transport Museum Friends working with our creative staff group. You too can support us as a volunteer and with your visit. Every purchase made in our shop in Covent Garden and online helps us deliver our charitable work, so you can even support us by wearing our moquette socks!

Close up of a leg with the mountain of Mavhu Picchu in the background
Sam and his Routemaster moquette socks in Machu Picchu.

Next year our visitors can look forward to a new London at War gallery in the Museum, celebrations of TfL’s 20th anniversary, a refreshed holiday activity offer for our younger visitors, three Open Weekends at the Acton Depot and more Hidden London tours.

Sign up to our enewsletter and follow us on social media to keep updated. It’s one step at a time towards 2020.

Family Volunteering at the Museum Depot

By Sam Clift, Volunteer Resource Manager

This year we have been striving to reach out to wider audiences with volunteering and provide interesting and meaningful ways for people to get involved with the Museum.

On Saturday 26 October, we hosted our first family volunteering day at the Museum Depot in Acton. The event was hosted in partnership with The Family Volunteering Club, as part of a wider pilot series of events aimed at families in London.

The day provided families with an opportunity to visit our Museum Depot on a weekend afternoon, and spend some recreational time together supporting the Museum. The day focused on working with our London Transport Miniature Railway team, who spend a large part of the year maintaining and investing in the miniature railway from track repairs, to signal upgrades and everything in between to prepare the railway for providing public rides at Depot Open Weekends.

Children and adults sweeping leave off a miniature rail track

Despite the weather being wet and gloomy, everyone arrived with bags of enthusiasm. The group were welcomed in the Depot lecture theatre by Keith Raeburn, Depot Logistics Supervisor, Maddy Mills, founder of The Family Volunteering Club and myself, before heading outdoors to see the miniature railway. Families got stuck in with tidying up the grassy areas, clearing leave from the track (yes that happens on miniature railways too!) and loosening screws on the track ready to be replaced.

A child and an adult wearing a hi-vis jacket screw bolts into the tracks of a miniature rail.

As the rain continued we took some respite by heading into the lecture theatre for tea and coffee and to make use of the soft play facilities. The children enjoyed the down time and it gave time for more informal conversations, with one youngster expressing his enthusiasm for 20th century EMU recognition!

Three cildren play with a wooden train model while sitting on soft mats

The volunteers were rewarded for their efforts with a ride on the miniature railway at the end. All the families enjoyed their time with us, and everyone left with beaming smiles on their faces. Some parents commented:

A patient team who made sure each child had a good experience.

My son asked lots of questions and everyone was lovely and friendly to him. Great experience.

Keep an eye on our website for more volunteering opportunities coming up in 2020!

Santa’s got a new sleigh! Christmas at the Museum

By Stephanie O’Neill, family Learning  Officer

And just like that, we’re near to the end of the year and it’s Christmas time! We’ve had a lot of fun with our family visitors at the Museum during 2019 celebrating women in transport, getting creative with inspiring illustrators, designing and testing uniforms, coding traffic light sequences, and playfully searching for Where’s Wally around the galleries. Not to mention our second ever Family Depot Open Weekend, and running lots of Singing and Stories sessions for our littlest of visitors. But we’re not finished just yet!

Starting on Saturday 30 November and running every day until Sunday 5 January 2020 (excluding 24, 25 & 26 December) families will be able to visit Santa’s Hideaway. That’s 34 days of festive transport fun to be had!

In the foreground, a sign reading 'You Found Santa's Hideaway. come on inside'. In the background a cosy seating area with Christmas lights and decorations.

Outside Santa’s Hideaway, a twinkly, magical, winter forest will be planted, filled with books and toys for you to play with. It’s a cosy, comfy space within the Museum where your family can chill out. The man himself (Santa!) will pop in throughout the day to meet you! He’ll be heading back to the North Pole after Christmas, just so you know, if you visit on or after 27 December.

A dad and his two children read a book while sitting in a mock up forest with Christmas lights, trees and a tepee.

We will also be running seasonal sing-a-long and stories sessions twice a day outside of Santa’s Hideaway. The sessions will be led by one of our enthusiastic educators, and song requests are encouraged, so make sure you come along with suggestions for your favourite songs that we can all sing together.

A group adults and children smiling and dancing in a mock up forest with Christmas lights and trees.

Inside of Santa’s Hideaway will be bunting and winter decorations for your families to create together. Think tracing around steam train and roundel templates, cutting, hole punching, lots of collage, stickers, glitter and tying up with colourful, festive ribbon; perfect for jazzing up your home for winter and to remember your families’ visit to the Museum.

Christmas bunting with two gold pine trees and a red double decker bus with elves.

It’s very important to us that our family offer at the Museum is inclusive for all families. That is why on Saturday 14 December, we’ll be opening from 8:30 to 10:00 for families with additional needs who would benefit from the Museum being quieter. With gallery sounds turned off (including hand dryers in the loos), a caped number of tickets so it remains quiet, and sensory bags available to aid exploring, we hope this will be an opportunity for families to spend some seasonal time together, and even get to meet Santa in a quiet atmosphere.

For something extra special, and an adventure out of the Museum, we will also be running Christmas Lights and Sights tours. Climb aboard our cosy original RT bus and experience the wonder and excitement of the city at Christmastime. But be quick with booking, as these tours are nearly sold out!

A man, woman and two children looking at at red double decker bus parked on a street with Christmas decorations.

We very much hope that you choose to visit us as part of your family’s quality time spent together over the winter season; we look forward to welcoming you and providing lots of fun and joy for the end of 2019!

All our family events in the Museum are free with your annual admission ticket. Remember to book online to save. Kids go free!

Our Q stock story: one year on

By Jullian Urry, Project Manager Q stock Restoration

It’s been a year since London Transport Museum launched the Q stock restoration fundraising appeal to get the last-remaining 1930s Q stock cars running again. It’s time to update you on the progress we have made thanks to your support and the great work of our dedicated volunteers, and look at what lies ahead.

As Project Manager I’ve been dealing with the commercial and financial aspects of the restoration, whilst under the technical leadership of Geoff Thorne, the volunteers have completed most key aspects of the electrical and body restoration to the interior of car 4417, the 1938 driving motor car.

A man standing in the driving cab of a vintage train
Geoff Thorne in our Q stock’s driving cab

Meanwhile, Katarina Mauranen (Curator of Vehicles and Engineering) and a group of Research volunteers have identified the role of the Q stock during the evacuation of school children throughout the early stage of World War Two.  Their research  revealed changes in the fashions worn by Q stock passengers between the 1930s and 1950s, the pay of train guards, and timetable alterations.

Black and white photo of people on a station's platform boarding a train
Q38 Stock at Charing Cross now Embankment station, 1956

In October, the 1938 driving motor car and the 1935 trailer car were pushed out of the Acton Depot’s shed, enabling the wooden milk van to be shunted behind the Museum’s A Stock exhibit. The re-positioning of the 1938 driving motor car allowed us to better evaluate the condition of the underframe equipment.

Colour photo of a brown wooden milk van. Tin milk containers are visible inside
Metropolitan Railway milk van No. 3, 1896

Car 4416 also saw some light of day when the tarpaulin was lifted to allow a more thorough examination. We have commenced an inventory of equipment and components on the car, as well as determined the tasks and repairs to be undertaken.

During 2019, the Museum has held three open days at the Acton Depot and the Q stock received a great amount of footfall.  The strap hangers, once fitted to all London Transport trains, were remarked on by many of the visitors.  After much work by the Q stock volunteers, the saloon doors are operational, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the duty of the train guard, opening and closing one of the sets of double doors – a role that has since been withdrawn over 20 years ago.

Inside of a train with black metal straphangers
Straphangers on Q Stock car

A great deal of work is still required to bring Q stock back to its former glory; if you would like to join the restoration team, please email us at opportunities@ltmuseum.co.uk.  We meet every Thursday and on the last Saturday of every month.

You can also make a donation to help us keep our Q stock restoration project on track!

Stay up to date with this restoration project and other heritage vehicles related events by signing up to our enewsletter.

Farewell, Baker Street – TfL’s Lost Property Office is on the move

Guest blog by Paul Cowan, Manager at TfL’s Lost Property Office

Nearly ten years ago, I took up position as Manager at Transport for London’s Lost Property Office (LPO). The first time I ventured into the cavernous basements at 200 Baker Street, I thought I’d stumbled upon some long-lost treasure hoard, plundered by pirates of the Northern Line or a number 97 bus maybe. Although slightly less dramatic, the truth turned out to be no less fascinating.

A man and a woman look through a shelf full of umbrellas.
Lost property Office at 200 Baker Street, 1933.

The LPO was set up in November 1933, subsequent to the commencement of the London Passenger Transport Board. It is estimated that over the following 86 years, more than 15 million items of property have been processed here and stored on the famous green shelves. Anything that passengers have been able to carry on our services, they have been able to lose on our services – and this has included a staggering array of clothing, bags, work and personal items and, more lately, electronic gadgets which we now take for granted. All of these have been dutifully catalogued and stored for a period of three months, pending their hopeful restoration to grateful owners.

Have you left anything behind? by P Gates, 1951. Collection ref. 2003/29705

200 Baker Street has been our only home and has become synonymous not just with the Lost Property department, but of the people and culture that support it. There is something quintessentially British about the way items are neatly stored, accompanied by the ever-present lost property label on a piece of string. Around every corner of the three-storey subterranean labyrinth is another nook or cranny filled with an assortment of the mundane or the bizarre, the quirkiness of the building layout adding to the overall romance of the site. Artefacts and mementos of time past are dotted throughout – a reflection of the care and love poured into the operation by staff.

As much as we like the place, though, the reality is that it is no longer fit for purpose for the running of a modern, high-volume warehousing operation. We need to adapt to the changing environment in which TfL operates, so are taking up short-to-medium term residence in TfL premises at Pelham Street, South Kensington, whist we consider the longer-term options for the LPO.

It may take a while for the new location to feel like home, although I suspect the distilled essence of things London passengers have lost and reclaimed over so many years will almost certainly follow us wherever we go; it’s in our DNA and always will be.

Lost property ’roundel’ on display at the Museum in Covent Garden.

Should you ever need our services, simply visit the website at tfl.gov.uk/lostproperty to find out how we can help. Of course, we’d prefer if you didn’t lose things in the first instance, so do keep an eye on your possessions when travelling on the network!