Category Archives: Collections

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

The Day Before the War

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Underground Day, Charles Sharland, 1914

The brightly coloured poster above by Charles Sharland was issued to promote the August bank holiday of 1914. It declares 3 August as ‘Underground day’ and encourages passengers to make their choice of what to do and where to go from the many destinations available by tube and bus.

However, when the day came, festivities were overshadowed by the threat of Britain becoming involved in the war on the Continent. By the end of the following day, on 4 August 1914, Britain had declared war on Germany.

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Bank Holiday, artist unknown, 1919

The poster for the 1919 bank holiday reflects on the changed circumstances. The ‘short’ war had turned into a four year conflict with millions of lives lost, and many more changed forever. For the first time there had been a home front, with Londoners at risk from aerial bombardment.

The subdued design gently invites passengers to enjoy holidays once more. The emphasis of the trains, buses and trams being at the service of Londoners reminds us of the important role that London transport staff and vehicles played in the war.

Did you know: Originally the bank holiday in August was the first Monday of the month, as dictated by the Bank Holiday Act (1871). This was until the Banking and Financial Dealings Act (1971) decreed a century later that it would fall, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, on the last Monday of the month. Why? One suggestion was that as the latter half of August is cooler the roads would be less busy with the crowds that thronged to the seaside, getting drunk and causing all sorts of mid-Summer mischief!

Find out more about London and World War 1 at London Transport Museum’s current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Homefront to Western Front

Posters and Propaganda

To tie in with our First World War Exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly we’ve focused our current Poster Parade on the use of Propaganda in posters, specifically those used on the Homefront. The 20 posters featured reflect advertising campaigns during both the First and Second World Wars.

The term ‘propaganda’ is not easy to define and all of the posters featured can be interpreted differently. Propaganda messages during this time were included, often surreptitiously, in advertising and other public messages.. At the beginning of the First World War, we can identify an emphasis on encouraging leisure travel and shopping. During the Second World War, we see greater use of patriotic and politically charged imagery. Posters also served to boost morale and provide safety information to the general public. However propaganda is defined, the posters produced in wartime were designed to influence thoughts and promote specific action.

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They shout for joy, they also sing – Flags of Allied Nations, 1944, Austin Cooper

Austin Cooper, a Canadian born artist, moved to London in 1922 and began producing posters for London Transport. Cooper is mainly known for his colourful, abstract style and in the pre-war years produced posters promoting travel by underground to places of heritage and the museums in South Kensington (http://tinyurl.com/cnspj9)

The poster‘They shout for joy, they also sing – Flags of Allied Nations’ (1944) is strikingly different to his other works. The central flags of The Republic of China, The United States of America, The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and Great Britain represent the super powers of the time. The white star and blue background at the top of the poster is reminiscent of the League of Nations, which was formed after the First World War. Is its inclusion intended as a symbol of unity?

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We had difficulty identifying all of the flags, but fortunately Cooper designed a key to illustrate them!

If you want to learn more about propaganda posters during the First World War, why not attend the talk by David Bownes, Assistant Director of Collections at the National Army Museum, at London Transport Museum on Tuesday 2 September.

Written by Hayley Jedrzejewski, Collections Assistant

London at Play

London is endlessly entertaining; brimming with opportunities for pleasure, and play. For over a century the Underground has used posters to increase passenger numbers by promoting pleasure trips and leisure destinations. An amazing array of London attractions have been featured. A closer look reveals the timeless allure of pleasure and the changing face of entertainment.

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Nightly Carnival, by Frederick Charles Herrick, 1924
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Brightest London and Home by Underground, Horace Taylor, 1924

In the 1920’s and 30’s posters promoting London’s theatres and cinemas drew audiences into the West End. The cherubs in James Herrick’s poster, Nightly Carnival, scatter stars beneath their feet creating a sparkling map of well-known theatres. The Underground stations are cast as planets in a clever reinterpretation of the roundel and bar. Brightest London is less subtle but equally seductive. Horace Taylor’s striking design appealed to those who enjoyed dancing, cabaret and dining out. The draw of evening entertainments increased travel after the early evening rush hour.

Amongst the daytime pleasures on offer, shopping played a prominent role. London has long been considered the shopping capital of Britain. Posters enticed shoppers away from their local high streets to the grand department stores of the West End by promoting sales and seasonal shopping. The Underground even experimented with special season tickets for women passengers shopping in the January sales. The indulgence of shopping continues to pull in the crowds.

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Summer Sales Quickly Reached, by Mary Koop, 1925
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Simply indulge, by Charlotte Knox, 2001

Posters promoting sporting events and picnics in the park attracted large crowds to London’s stadiums and open spaces. Before television the only way to see events like the boat race or the cup final was to go along. The Underground produced thousands of small posters to promote sporting events all over London every weekend. A trip to the Zoo became the most publicised leisure destination, offering Sunday outings and evening visits. Posters promoting carnivals, festivals and fairs continue to invite Londoners out to play. The cities buses, trains and tube keep pleasure at the heart of London life.

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Come out to play, by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1936
Come out to play tonight!

Don’t forget to join us this evening for our Carnival-themed Friday Late! http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events-calendar/friday-lates

 

Navigating Eros in 1919

1  1998-88554 Piccadilly Circus traffic scene dominated by B-type buses. Copyright TfL.
Piccadilly Circus, 1919. In the background the Pathé film, J’accuse, directed by the influential filmmaker Abel Gance (1889–1981) is showing at the Pavilion. It was a spectacular success throughout Europe, using innovative filming and editing techniques and real soldiers as actors.

Recently we’ve received a great deal of feedback on the photograph above which seems to show buses ‘circling’ Eros in Piccadilly Circus the wrong way.

Our Curators were as intrigued as you and decided to take a closer look. Upon further investigation it became apparent that the size and layout of the island in the middle of Piccadilly Circus  – not to be confused with a traditional roundabout – has changed several times since Eros was unveiled in 1893. Before the Second World War there was a more complicated road layout with two-way traffic (in 1919 there were not enough vehicles on the road to warrant traffic lights!). In the photograph this gives the illusion of traffic moving the ‘wrong’ way around a roundabout.