Category Archives: Collections

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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The 1951 Festival of Britain showcase of new London Transport R49 stock

I have just realised that today, 3rd May, is the anniversary of the opening of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The Festival was a showcase of the best of British design and technology, including fascinating transport exhibits representing a new future.

By the end of the Second World War, like the people it served, London’s transport system had been exhausted. Steel was not readily available, so the designers used aluminium for the new District Line trains instead. Keen to show off their new trains, London Transport exhibited a prototype (car 23231) at the Festival of Britain site on the South Bank, and it is shown here being shipped in and only partially painted – just two days before the site opened to the public. In their final production versions, the train exteriors were left as bare unpainted metal, a feature of several post-war Underground stock types.

In the background, the Dome of Discovery (one of the main Festival of Britain exhibition spaces) and the Skylon structure can be seen. More than 8.5 million people visited the South Bank site for the Festival, and many of them will have seen this new London Transport design proudly on display.

Here’s another image of the car transported by Pickfords Road Services roadtrailer from Metro-Cammell at Birmingham, set to be offloaded at the Festival of Britain site on 1st May 1951.

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These trains, known as R49 stock, finally went into formal public service in 1953, were stalwarts for 30 years and were eventually replaced by the D-stock and C-stock. All had left service by 1983.

Frank Pick: BEAUTY < IMMORTALITY

Frank Pick died 75 years ago this week. You’ll know his work; you’ll know his style. Your life is probably better because of him.

Arriving at the Undergound Group from a stint at the North Eastrn Railway at York in 1906, he was made Commercial Manager in 1912. First came pressing matters of fare structures, network consistency and development of some of the earliest travel posters; and by 1915 Pick had commissioned Edward Johnston to create a new, easily legible typeface. Upon that design’s completion he commissioned Johnston again: this time it was to redesign the early “bullseye” station nameboard device – and it became something more akin to the “roundel” we know today.

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Pick and a few of the works he can claim a hand in

It could be said that by 1916 Pick had already become a patron of public works, commissioning a visual identity that is known and trusted worldwide today still. Pick’s philosophy on design was that “the test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.”

Charles Holden was his next great appointment. The contract for seven new stations on the Piccadilly Line extension to Morden was Holden’s proving ground from 1925: Piccadilly Circus, also a Holden creation, opened in 1928. A showpiece for the Underground, it was lavishly decorated and many early features survive today including wood panelling, integrated lighting and the famous World Clock.

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The World Time Today clock in Piccadilly Circus station. Photo: Tim Dunn

As of the 75th anniversary of Pick’s death, 7th November 2016, Piccadilly Circus, that hub of London’s buzzing underground network, is now also home to the permanent Frank Pick memorial. The memorial has been installed on the outer wall of the booking hall, where telephone kiosks once stood.

Another 30 Holden-designed stations followed the development of Piccadilly Circus (in my next blog, we’ll be revisiting some of Pick and Holden’s work). Posters were commissioned from Man Ray, Paul Nash and others; Marion Dorn was briefed to create stunning seat fabrics which still stand the test of time.

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Southgate station: designed by Holden, commissioned by Pick. It opened in 1933. Photo: London Transport Museum collection.
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Marion Dorn’s “Colindale” seat fabric moquette

Pick was a customer champion. He believed that London and London’s transport should be better, and that it could be better. Having commissioned, briefed and ensured so much that went towards achieving that aim, he later became chairman of the Council for Art and Industry (forerunner of the Design Council) in 1934, and an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

You can read more about his life and selected achievements on the main London Transport Museum website. But if you, like me, occasionally stop on your travels around London’s Underground and  wonder at the great works of a true visionary, perhaps you might like to contribute towards the Frank Pick memorial too.

You can donate here.

Archive Architecture: Enfield West (now Oakwood)

I’ve dug out a few photos from the London Transport Museum archives so we can have a tour of Enfield West (now Oakwood) Underground station on the Southgate extension of the Piccadilly line, in 1933 – at the time of opening.

We have taken the train today, and we start our architectural tour on the platforms just as our train departs. The station was designed by Charles Holden and C H James in 1933, and our train is quite new too. Concrete shelters for the platforms are supported by concrete pillars, and wooden bench seating has been incorporated into the pillars supporting the shelter.

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Screens shelter the ends of the benches and a poster has been incorporated on the side of the nearest one. The lighting and a clock are attached to the ceiling of the shelters. Photographed by Topical Press, Apr 1933

Looking further down the platforms, now we see:

View of the end of the platform showing a combined station name roundel, lamppost and poster panels, a signal (no K. 10) and the track and surrounding countryside. Photographed by Topical Press, Jul 1934

Those integrated lamp-posts and poster display boards were quite extraordinary, and similar ones were found throughout the Southgate extension. There were a couple of variants.

View along the platform from the edge of the Northbound side beyond the concrete canopy, with a stationary train at the Southbound side. The station building is in the background, whilst one of the combined lamppost, station name roundel sign and poster sites panel is in the foreground. The platform is clean and empty, with one waiting passenger visible in the background. Photographed by Topical Press, 10 Apr 1933.

The platform panels aren’t the only minutiae of note, though.

Platform seat, Southgate Urban District Council (UDC) coat-of-arms, and partially obscured station name roundel at Enfield West (Oakwood) (now Oakwood) station, Piccadilly line. In the background is a poster advertising Oxo. The Southgate UDC coat -of-arms bears the motto “Ex Glande Quercus”. Photographed by Topical Press, Aug 1934

Upstairs, the booking hall is glorious in both day…

View of the booking hall. View shows the interior of the high box type structure designed by Charles Holden and C H James. Brick building with concrete roof. Full height steel windows are prominent; note roundel incorporated into window on right. A passimeter stands in the middle of the concourse; two automatic ticket machines can be seen in rear view next to the passimeter. A tobacconist’s is situated on the right of the shot. Photographed by Topical Press, 23 Mar 1933

But particularly at night…

Night shot of booking hall showing clearly box-like structure, with brick walls, full height windows, and concrete coffered ceiling. A passenger is purchasing a ticket from the clerk in an illuminated passimeter. Photographed by Topical Press, 28 Apr 1933

Moving out towards the street, we look back:

A tobacconist’s shop is situated beside entrance, foreground left. A passimeter and two automatic ticket machines can be seen on the concourse. Photographed by Topical Press, 23 Mar 1933
Enfield West station on the Piccadilly Line. (now known as Oakwood). Shelter, mast sign and light fittings. Photographed by Topical Press, May 1933

That light tower was quite something: Holden did like light fittings integrated with other things.

Closeup of Enfield West station on the Piccadilly Line. (now known as Oakwood) shelter and mast sign. Photographed by Topical Press, May 1933

And bringing us right up to date, you’ll be pleased to know that not only is Oakwood station still very well preserved, but that mast sign with light tower is too.

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Refurbished seat and station sign with lamps. The original sign had the actual name of the station, but was replaced a few years ago with this standard Underground sign. The edge of the Oakwood Station building can be seen on the right. Pic by Christine Matthews on Wikipedia, reproduced under Creative Commons best practice.

Further reading and image link for Wikipedia.

Thanks for coming on this archive tour: I’ll dig out another one soon!

Tim Dunn

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

London’s other Underground Mail Rail

Our friends at the Postal Museum are working hard to prepare a section of the Post Office Mail Rail at Mount Pleasant for passenger rides in 2017: previously it famously carried post and parcels beneath London on electrified narrow gauge tracks.

But what is lesser known is that for a short while, London’s Underground was also used for the delivery of parcels.

In the years leading up to the First World War, the Central London Railway (CLR, now Central line) ran a parcels delivery service known as the Lightning Service Express. This originated at Post Office station (now St. Paul’s) where the General Post Office was situated.

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Wicker hampers, as seen in the photo above, were used to convey parcels between the surface and the platform. The parcels were then whisked off to other stations along the line and then taken by young employees on tricycles or on a horse and cart to their final destinations, depending on size, distance or importance. The rolling stock used was the day-to-day 1903-Central London multiple unit tube stock, but rather incredibly from 1911 there was a  compartment built in aboard for a parcels porter to sort the mail as the train went along. That made it rather like a localised version of the Night Mail and Royal Mail Trains which operated on the main line railways above ground.

According to 20th Century London, the Lightning Service Express was a profitable side-enterprise but was discontinued because of labour shortages in the First World War – and it never resumed.

It’s interesting to note that TfL has more recently forged partnerships with parcel collection and delivery companies, so the Underground is once again being used as infrastructure in Britain’s mail distribution network.

London’s transport that never was: Moquette

The journey, it is said, is often as important as the destination. I’m a transport historian, so naturally I agree (and I do enjoy a good diversion): the processes, experiences, pauses, stops and occasional wrong-turns in any journey are crucial in defining where we actually end up.

Deep in London Transport Museum’s archives there are a lot of places where designers, engineers, marketers, operators or technicians paused, noted down their ideas, and then either retreated or took that idea further forward.

These places where people paused are fascinating, because that’s documentary evidence of something that didn’t quite make it in that format, or that style, or in that way. It’s a depiction of something we never saw fulfilled. What might have been is often more interesting than what actually was. The reasons for failure are often more telling than the reasons for success.

A great example of the design process (not necessarily failure, but a different direction that was taken) is on display now in the London Transport Museum Designology exhibition. It’s the “Barman” moquette, where on the wall are examples of London’s Underground moquette that never quite made it into the public realm.

The namesake of this moquette is Christian Barman: as London Transport’s publicity manager he commissioned the first moquette fabrics for London’s Underground in 1936 and it was felt apt to commemorate his impact upon today’s travelling experience. The “Barman” fabric was created in 2010 by textile design studio WallaceSewell, comprising the talents of Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones.

Here to enjoy are some of the designers’ pauses, developments and explorations: and of course some of the moquette designs that never quite made it on to the Underground network…

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A draft “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell
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An alternative draft “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell
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Developments of the “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell

If you, like me, enjoy seeing unbuilt, non-constructed, never-was design, then the Designology exhibition is an ace place to start to understand what could have been, and what we now have.

Avoid the wet: travel Underground

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It’s raining again.

But we’ve needed to get around London whatever the weather since time immemorial, and the Underground saw this as a selling point early on. The Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd was a master of identifying its customers’ needs in publicity: in 1925 it commissioned Kathleen Stenning to produce a series of simple but striking panel posters. These were displayed in Underground car interiors, as well as on the inside and outside of buses and trams. Because they did not have to fit a standard frame or wall space, they are smaller than other poster formats and vary slightly in size.

Incidentally, you can buy this poster online at the London Transport Museum Shop.

Museum Handling Trolley

This year it’s all about buses with Transport for London’s Year of the Bus. To celebrate we’ve been busy creating a brand new handling trolley at the Museum that has been out and about at our garage open days, meeting and inspiring audiences all over London. Now it’s back in Covent Garden and ready to be part of the Summer Family Fun offer here at the Museum

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There is often a notion that museum collections are there to be seen and not touched, but here we believe that physical engagement with Museum objects can enhance the visitor experience and help them learn more from our collections.

Our contemporary handling trolley has multiple height surfaces to ensure that it is fully accessible and ‘fit for purpose’ for all sizes, ages and abilities. Its surfaces provide ample space to explore our unique objects with all the family. It also offers an array of interactive options that create a fun sensory experience.

The trolley’s traffic light is another area for exploration, currently displaying our latest handling objects with an ‘On the Bus’ theme, especially for Year of the Bus. Each ‘light’ is home to an object focused on one sense; sound, touch and smell. What’s that smell? Does it feel familiar? Can you guess what’s inside?

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The trolley has been inspired by iconic London Transport design, including our much loved roundel and Johnston font quoting transport favourites in 3D lettering which lends itself to be explored through touch.

The trolley will be home to 4 handling themes on rotation throughout the summer period. ‘On the bus’, ‘Finding Your Way’, ‘Signalling’ and the family favourite ‘Tickets Please’, which will give our visitors a chance to discover a wide range of London Transport stories in a variety of new and fun ways. These collections span from tube signalling, to 19th century ticket machines, to 20th century uniforms and 21st century contemporary designs. All are delivered by our wonderful museum staff and volunteers, who are looking forward to sharing their stories with you.

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The Trolley will be out on Wednesday/ Thursday/ Friday 11-4pm from August 6-29 and will feature ‘Tickets Please’.

The wheels of war

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The first London buses to arrive in France, September 1914

A specific chain of events led to the outbreak of war in 1914, but the international tensions behind it had been building for many years. As early as 1908 the army had tested the suitability of London buses for troop transport. It was recognised that reliable motor vehicles would be crucial in any future war, as horses had been in earlier conflicts. In 1912, the government assessed a range of commercial motor vehicles for potential military service, and came to an arrangement known as the Subsidy Scheme; in the event of war the government would pay civilian businesses for their lorries and buses. The London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), was one of the biggest contributors to the scheme.

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LGOC buses converted to ambulances, 1914

On 1 August, 30 of the LGOC’s new B-type buses were requisitioned, and converted into ambulances on the home front. In September the first buses went to France as part of a hastily arranged Royal Naval Division mission to relieve parts of Belgium. Some arrived with their original destination boards and adverts still intact. Soon afterwards the first of the green Army Service Corps B-type buses arrived, followed by hundreds more buses and their drivers, mobilised to transport troops and supplies to and from the trenches of the Western Front for the next four years.

Find out more about London buses at war and the effects of the conflict at home at our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front