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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in July we partnered up with museum freelancer Sacha Coward and invited people to use the #MyJourneyToPride hashtag to document and share their stories of travelling to Pride in London and UK Black Pride on social media. We also asked some people to record video diaries of their journeys in order to create a picture of the lived experience of a group of people from the LGBT+ community in London in 2019.
This film is a glimpse into the experiences our diarists had over the weekend. How did they feel about their journeys? Did they feel safe travelling to the events? Did they ‘de-rainbow’ for the journey home?
When we asked people to record their stories we sought a full picture, not just the positive, and were thankful to be entrusted with accounts than included good and bad. Alongside the moments of celebration and connection there are incidents of abuse and examples of people feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. One of the clips towards the end of the film shows how walking home alone in the dark can feel unsafe. It’s all part of the story that we wanted to record.
We didn’t know whether trying to collect these stories via a hashtag would work, but we were pleased to see that over the weekend the hashtag was pretty active, being shared around 500 times. We’re now in the process of approaching people to ask permission for rights to preserve their content within the Museum’s collection.
These stories will enrich our collection and give these experiences a place in the history of transport in London. They will sit alongside physical objects that we collected in recent years which you can learn about on our website, including posters, badges, oyster wallets and the first rainbow crossing. We hope to preserve the poster series that TfL installed at Green Park station as well. We will continue to work to build our LGBT+ collections in the future, and hope to do more to learn about the history of LGBT+ communities and their transport experiences.
We want to thank everyone who supported this collecting project. We are very grateful to be entrusted with caring for these stories, objects and experiences. We are currently working on ways to display and interpret this material in the Museum itself, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated!
If you shared material but have not heard from us yet or if you have material from Pride weekend which you haven’t shared yet but would like to tell us about, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
The District line opened in December 1868. Then known as the Metropolitan District Railway, it was the second underground passenger railway in the world after the Metropolitan line. Initially running only between Sloane Square and Westminster, seven more stations opened during the first year. The intention was to join up with the Metropolitan line at either end, forming an ‘Inner Circle’ linking all London’s mainline termini. However, rivalry between the two railways meant that the Circle wasn’t completed until 1884.
The District expanded its services to the western suburbs during the steam era to Hammersmith, Hounslow, Ealing and Wimbledon. But when the American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes first took an interest in the railway in 1899, it was in poor financial shape. Yerkes took over the District in 1901, and through his influence the Inner Circle and District were electrified.
The poster Light, power and speed by Charles Sharland features one of the new trains that were introduced during the electrification of the line. Electrification greatly improved conditions in the sections running underground, and the company promoted their new trains as offering comfortable, modern and technologically advanced travel.
In addition to the District line, Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) owned many other underground railways, including the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Hampstead (now part of the Northern line) and Central lines. To encourage off-peak travel the UERL used posters to promote destinations which could be reached by their expanding network. For the western section of the District line this meant attractions which are still popular today, such as Richmond and Kew Gardens. At the time Sudbury Town and South Harrow were promoted as rural destinations, easily reached in time to see a gorgeous sunset. Though originally served by the District line, these stations were transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.
At the eastern end of the District line, services from Whitechapel to Upminster opened in June 1902. The District Railway also ran through trains to the popular seaside resort of Southend. The Upminster Windmill and the Canvey Lady in Southend were both familiar local landmarks at the time, and whilst the Canvey Lady was pulled down after the Second World War, the windmill survives and is now a listed building. The process of electrification was slower at this end with Upminster served by steam until 1932, and Southend until after the Second World War.
Today the District line is being transformed once again, with air-conditioned, walk-through trains introduced on the line in 2014, and the Four Lines Modernisation programme due to deliver a new signalling system by 2023.
Check out our online exhibit on Google Arts & Culture to learn more about the history of the District line, and visit the Poster Parade (28 June – 19 September 2019) at the Museum to see our stunning posters up close.
When I first told friends that my new job at London Transport Museum would involve seeking out social stories about transport, a common response was to ask, Can you find out who keeps the plants at Kew Gardens station so neat? Or Who writes the ‘Thought of the Day’ board at Oval? and other questions along those lines.
I could see there was a strand here: a set of social stories based on the individuals or groups who, through projects and interventions great and small, are making the most of spaces at stations, and making an impact on the staff and passengers who pass through.
A lot of the narrative around transport tends to focus on the means, modes and methods of travel. Before any discussion on what form of transport you use and where it allows you to go, comes a place, a stop or a station. These stops and stations act as both defining pillars of the local area and gateways to a wider world. This makes them a particular breed of public or community space, ripe with opportunities to engage and relate to local need.
I set up our Social Stations Documentary Curator collecting project to celebrate the ways in which these community and grassroots projects are reclaiming, or re-calibrating, spaces at stations for public and/or environmental benefit. Whether simply boosting the mood of passers-by or actually contributing to the local economy and culture, these projects link local people to a local need, and make the most of previously underestimated public spaces which are experienced every day. They can also contribute to your sense of space and community even when you’re en-route.
Some of the most exciting moments as a curator come when you can give a new understanding to an object in a collection, and in so doing use it to tell a different story. Through contemporary collecting, you have the opportunity not just to help shape how the present will be remembered once it becomes the past, but also to make people reassess the world around them now. As a result, contemporary collecting involves a lot of conversations, consultation and observation. This means that some of the sources contemporary curators use to gauge a subject and its significance are a little more informal, and perhaps more social, than you’d expect.
For this project I’ve spent a lot of time on messaging boards and social media feeds hunting out the truly local projects that don’t get the credit they deserve on wider platforms. I found the majority of examples we’ve explored because someone had shared a post or comment saying the difference a detail like this makes to their day.
We look forward to sharing some highlights from this collecting project with you soon, and invite you to get in touch with us if you know of a local project you think we should capture, by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link. Our project LGBT+ Linking Lives aims at collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital.
In this blog Gonzalo de Ana Rodríguez – Transport for London employee and member of OUTbound , TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network – shares how London transport has shaped his relationships and experiences.
As a transport planner and TfL employee, London’s transport network is the main theme of my career. But London is also the city where I have forged my identity as a gay man, and its transport system has been the silent witness to that personal journey. The staff network group OUTbound is the vehicle I use to reconcile those two elements of my identity and to reflect on the role that transport plays on people identity journeys.
I have numerous memories of London’s transport in key moments of my (gay) life. The day after I realised I was gay – at age 24 – I got on the Piccadilly line at Turnpike Lane to go to university like any other morning. It had been a surprise, but it did not change who I already was.
It was a bus journey in London that started a deep friendship that is now the most important in my life. My friend and I got on a bus at Regent Street to go to a dance ball. During the journey, I told him about my bittersweet experience of coming out to my family, while he sat and listened attentively. At the time, he had not gone through that himself yet, but months later not only did he tell me that my story had inspired him, but it was also obvious for both of us how important that journey had been for our eternal bond.
It was a Tube journey that took me down to Highbury & Islington for my first same-sex ballroom dance class, which completely turned my life upside down. Since then, ballroom dance has become central to my life and my identity.
Another very special and exciting moment was when I came across Olympic diver Tom Daley on an eastbound Jubilee line train at Canada Water station. His mediatic coming out a couple of years earlier had coincided with my own realisation of being gay, and he was very inspirational to me at the time. In fact, I took the opportunity to thank him for that then and there! Funnily enough, a few months ago I saw him again on the Jubilee line.
London transport interacts with my queer identity in many more ways. This is the network that takes me to dates and nights out; to LGBT venues; to the parade formation area to join my OUTbound colleagues on the TfL float at every Pride parade.
But the Tube also takes me to work every day, where I can give something back to this network which is so important to my identity and to others. Thanks to OUTbound, I can even do so from a place of authenticity and bring my whole self to work, because TfL strives to make every customer and employee feel safe, and we are encouraged to be authentic on our network and in our offices.
Documentary Curators at London Transport Museum want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in people’s experience in London. You can submit your stories to us by emailing email@example.com.
Frank Pick, appointed Publicity Manager for the Underground Group of companies in 1908, quickly set about applying high standards of advertising content, presentation and display on the stations. Pick recognised that low standards of adult literacy, static passenger revenue and station environments overcrowded with poor quality signage and advertising were destroying clarity. Good design in all its forms would help build a brand that symbolised quality and reliability, and of course stimulate more passenger usage.
Pick presided over commissioning art and design posters for use on London Underground and (from the formation of London Transport in 1933) on buses and trams. The images commissioned were primarily intended to inform passengers of events, places to visit, safety and behaviour messages as well as sometimes to add interest and intrigue to entertain and educate the travelling public.
The variety of artists and designers commissioned, their artistic style, their experience, their gender and their reputation were of lesser importance than their response to the brief they were set. In a period where the only accessible media were posters, newspapers and magazines, the poster reigned supreme as a mean of mass communication and there was nowhere better for posters to be displayed and their simple messages understood by millions than on Underground stations.
It is acknowledged that the ‘golden age’ of posters ran between 1920 and 1939 (the period between the First and Second World Wars) and so many fantastic images by internationally renowned artists such as Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Freda Lingstrom, Abram Games and Edward McKnight Kauffer were posted on the Underground.
During the 1960s the importance of the art poster declined. More people owned cars and televisions which in their different ways replaced the use of public transport for visiting cinemas, dance halls, shopping and days out in London or the countryside. There were more pressing priorities for the use of funds than producing ‘pretty’ images.
The art poster largely fell out of use from 1976 until 1986, when a new and enlightened Director of Marketing, Dr Henry Fitzhugh, was appointed and he revived the art programme with some stunning commissions including Tate Gallery by Tube and Highgate Ponds.
With various intervening twists and turns of fortune, I was invited to carry on the tradition in 1998. I am a passionate believer in great poster art and its power to please, annoy or be hated, but never to be ignored!
We have a limited budget for poster commissioning, so it is with great care that we choose artists and subjects. The annual list of subjects reflects what are important objectives for London Transport Museum, Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Artists and designers we employ are drawn from the huge array of illustrative and design talent that London hosts. Photographic commissions are largely avoided to differentiate the overwhelming output of that medium from the far less used illustrative approach.
Once a topic and appropriate artist is agreed, meetings take place to explore ideas, formats, budgets and timescales for delivery and display and a full written brief is issued. The chosen artist is invited to submit a series of rough sketches and suggested colour palette and a further meeting takes place to explore the final options for production. When the artwork has been delivered, the next steps are to employ in-house designers to format the artwork into a poster with the approved text and logos ready to submit to Transport for London and City Hall in time for approval.
Continuing the great tradition of commissioning art posters, we also host the biennial Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition, in parternship with the AOI. This year’s exhibition, London Stories, is on display at the Museum until 14 July 2019. The winning poster, London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood, will be displayed across the Underground network.
Art posters still engage millions of London Underground customers and doubtless persuade some to take additional journeys to featured destinations. These posters are sold in London Transport Museum’s shop to raise revenue to support its charitable objectives, and as we purchase appropriate copyright in perpetuity, we can assure these images will be available for the public to enjoy, and the Museum to use, for ever.
I am so proud to help maintain this ancient, honourable, but still wonderfully relevant job!