Category Archives: Director’s Blog

Shaping London since 1980

By Sam Mullins OBE, Museum Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Uncovering Hidden London

by Sam Mullins OBE, London Transport Museum’s Director

Abandoned stations and lost underground tunnels have long exerted a special fascination. As Londoners hurry on their well-beaten paths through the modern metro, they pass the locked doors and lost entrances which lead to a secret world of redundant lift shafts, cavernous ventilation ducts and redundant platforms. The Tube is an ever-expanding system, which in its need to carry even more passengers, has left in its wake hidden places and spaces. Shrouded in mystery this lost subterranean world has given rise to a good deal of urban myth and speculation, from secret government installations to the home of ghosts, aliens and flesh-eating troglodytes.

A man and a woman shining a light down an abandoned tunnel
An abandoned tunnel at Aldwych station.

The truth is often more prosaic than this. The Museum’s Hidden London tour programme uncovers the flotsam and jetsam cast aside by the Underground’s continuous response to the incessant demands to keep the city on the move. Guided tours open up the lost worlds of London’s Underground and give fresh insights into the city’s history.

A richly illustrated book based on new research and unprecedented access to these lost worlds has shone new light into the Cold War bunker beneath Hampstead Heath, Churchill’s secret refuge from the Blitz at Down Street, the world’s first underground terminus at King William Street and lost tunnels at Euston and Piccadilly Circus.

A new immersive exhibition opens in the Museum’s Global Gallery  on 11 October 2019. Hidden London: the Exhibition will take you on a journey of some of London’s most secret spaces in the oldest subterranean railway in the world. These ‘forgotten’ parts of the Tube network have incredible stories to tell about Britain’s wartime past; such as the Plessey aircraft underground factory which had 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, working in two 2.5-mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line during the Second World War.

Factory workers at Plessey Underground factory, 1941 © TfL

Visiting the exhibition you’ll be able to enjoy – some for the very first time – the largest number of rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations that have been brought together in one location. You’ll be able to see what sheltering was like for Churchill in a recreation of the secret dining room at Down Street station, where he was served the best caviar, champagne, brandy and cigars, courtesy of the railway hotels.

Black and white photo of the entrance of Down Street station
Down Street station, 1907

You can also explore other iconic locations featured in the book which we’re recreating in our Global Gallery, including the historic abandoned ticket hall at Aldwych station with an original 1930s ticket booth, and its famous Leslie Green tiles, the modernist Hampstead High Level abandoned station and the sights and sounds of Hidden London.

Hidden London: the Exhibition opens on Friday 11 October 2019. Join us on the opening night at the first of our Hidden London themed Museum Lates.

Picking up speed in 2019

by Sam Mullins OBE, London Transport Museum’s Director

With Santa’s hideaway and all our Christmas decorations packed away for another year – not to mention all those festive jumpers – our thoughts at London Transport Museum turn to a packed programme in the year ahead.

London Stories by artist Julia Allum

With our Poster Girls exhibition now closed, the Exterion Gallery will stage The Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, brought to you in partnership with The Association of Illustrators. Opening on 8 February 2019, London Stories will bring together 100 remarkable and personal illustrations, each capturing a different story inspired by life in, and love of, London. Uncover some of London’s more unusual historic tales, learn about voyages of travel and romance, and unearth the secret signs that can be discovered across this great city. On the opening day of the exhibition, we will also be hosting one of our popular Friday Lates where we keep the doors open until 10pm. With music, bars, hot food, talks, quizzes, and craft activities, a Friday Late is a great way to discover the Museum as well as get an early preview of our newest exhibition.

Hidden London – Clapham South deep-level shelter

Following on from London Stories, our next major exhibition, Hidden London, opens in October 2019. We will open up the hidden world of disused stations in a series of immersive experiences based on film, sounds, photos and objects. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fabulous illustrated book containing new photography and fresh research into the ghost stations and tunnels of Hidden London. This exhibition will complement our already popular Hidden London tour programme which we will continue to enhance and expand.

family Open Weekend at Acton Depot, July 2018

We will open our Depot at Acton three times this year in April, July and September, allowing you to go behind the scenes at the Museum’s ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. The London Transport Miniature Railway will once more be in action, take a ride on a historic bus, children can enjoy various craft and play activities as well as short talks and tours. Each weekend is themed, with our first weekend in April called ‘Love Your Line’ celebrating the District, Victoria, Jubilee and Overground lines. Staying with Acton, the restoration of three 1920/30s ‘Q’ stock cars is well under way, while the 1914 charabanc is being prepared for an active year.

As always, I would like to extend my thanks to all the staff and volunteers whose never ending passion and drive help us to deliver such an extraordinary programme of events and experiences at the Museum in Covent Garden and beyond. We look forward to you joining us for some, or all, of these fantastic events in 2019.

Battle Bus: Going back to the Somme

Last week the Museum team made a reconnaissance visit to the Somme to plan out the route for our First World War ‘Battle Bus’ (B2737),  which will be revisiting for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme next year. We worked our way down the rolling hills of the Somme following the jumping off points of the opening attack on 1st July 1916.

B2737 at the Menin Gate, September 2014

Our mission south from Gommecourt to Marincourt was to identify points of departure and arrival for the bus – villages with space to park the mobile display vehicle and offer short trips on the bus and key points at which we could understand what happened one hundred years ago. For example, in the Sunken Lane beneath the Redan Ridge we could arrive by bus, see shots of the ’Battle of the Somme’ film with soldiers in the lane waiting for the attack and the mine being exploded under the Hawthorn Redoubt, read personal accounts from individual soldiers and get a sense of the lie of the land. What was harder to work with was the contrast between the leafy rural landscape today and the blasted and dangerous trenched landscape of 1916. At key points the photographs and diaries help piece together what was the worst single day for the British Army, with over 60,000 casualties sustained.

This was brought home poignantly to us when we attended the reinterrment of three soldiers whose bodies were uncovered recently by road works. After 99 years, these three men, two unknown, one from the Royal Irish Rifles, another from the Cambridgeshire Regiment, and the third identified from his dog tag as Sergeant David Harkness Blakey MM of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had lost their lives in the attack on Thiepval on 1st July 1916 were buried with full military honours in the CWGC Connaught cemetery. In warm autumn sunshine, surrounded by their families, local dignitaries, current members of their regiments, and with the respect of a fusillade, the Last Post and a piper’s lament, they were finally laid to rest alongside so many of their comrades who had also lost their lives on that dreadful morning so long ago.

Connaught cemetery, October 2015

Our bus tour next year will culminate in the centenary commemoration at the Thiepval Memorial on 1st July. Lutyens’ striking arch commemorates the 72,195 soldiers who have no known burial on the Somme. We are honoured to be included in the official commemoration and look forward to our bus and exhibition offering a fresh insight on a key national story.

Sam Mullins, London Transport Museum Director

1920: King George V and Ole Bill

king george
King George V in conversation with Lord Ashfield, chairman of the ‘Combine’, with ‘Ole Bill’ driven by James Melton and veterans in the background

This weekend has seen a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday today. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

In February 1920, a group of LGOC drivers from the Middle Row garage, Kensal Green, who had seen service overseas as drivers were presented, with their B type bus B43, to King George V at Buckingham Palace.  This momentous event was reported in the staff magazine:

“His Majesty shook hands with the men and had a friendly talk with them as His Majesty shook hands with the men and had a friendly talk with them as he passed down the line when they formed up for inspection, and afterwards examined the ‘bus. He remarked that this was the first time he had boarded an omnibus, although he had travelled before on a tramcar of the L.C.C. …There was an appreciative crowd outside the Palace to cheer the old ‘bus and its gallant passengers as they left.”

The bus’s appearance was recorded in a Pathé newsreel, and “thrown on the screen at many picture theatres”.

B43 had been built by AEC at Walthamstow for the LGOC in 1911 and ran on the 8 and 25 routes out of Mortlake garage until requisitioned by the War Department and sent to France in September 1914. Driven by volunteer drivers who joined up, the bus did a huge mileage carrying troops and supplies up to the line and bringing back wounded soldiers. In 1919 it was repurchased by the LGOC and first put back into emergency service still in khaki and then in red to Dalston on the 8 and 9 routes. By the time it was presented to the King, B43 had acquired a small bronze plaque commemorating its passage through the war:

1914 – Antwerp, 1915 – Ypres, 1916 – Ancre, 1917 – Somme, 1918 – Amiens, 1919 – Home

To mark this special occasion, the bus was decorated and became a mobile war memorial. A brass shell was mounted on the dashboard, ornate brass plates for the numbers on the bonnet sides and a brass bust of ‘Ole Bill, the cartoon figure created by Bruce Bairnsfather, formed the radiator cap. This association with the hugely popular cartoon character was to rapidly give the bus its nickname of ‘Ole Bill, commonly but incorrectly rendered as Old Bill. The title was derived from Bairnsfather’s first cartoon of two Tommies under fire in a shell hole, Bill saying to his companion, ‘If you knows of a better ‘ole, Go to it!’

B43 had been given a new body and overhauled for the Palace in 1920. Battle honours were added to the windows – Antwerp, Ypres, Ancre and Somme – before being handed over to the Auxiliary Omnibus Companies Association. The veterans used it for parades and funerals. At the King’s behest, the bus and veterans from Underground and the General took part in the first Armistice Day parade from 1920. These accounts are from the staff magazine ‘Train, Omnibus, Tram’ in the 1920s:

LGOC veterans march with ‘Ole Bill in the Armistice day parade of 1923
LGOC veterans march with ‘Ole Bill in the Armistice day parade of 1923

After many years in the service of remembrance, ‘Ole Bill was retired to the Imperial War Museum in 1970. Back on home ground, this venerable bus is currently on loan to London Transport Museum and plays a central part in the current ‘Goodbye Piccadilly’ exhibition on London in World War One.

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. Today marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Sunday parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

1919: Battered War Buses back in service

This weekend will see a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday on 9 November. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

Less than a quarter of the 1,185 buses sent overseas by the War Department returned to London. At the end of the war, the capital was short of petrol, drivers and buses. Battered surviving buses were slowly released by the War Department as they returned from overseas, vehicles which had served at home were refitted with bodies which had been in store and the final batch of B-types was completed in April 1919.

LGOC staff inspect a B-type bus
LGOC staff inspect a B-type bus returned from the front, December 1919

250 buses returned from overseas service. They were judged substandard for conveying passengers but shortages of materials for new vehicles led them being pressed back into service in May 1919 as ‘Traffic Emergency’ buses. They were repainted in army khaki with the ‘General’ logo painted in white on the side. Pre-war bus chassis were also returned to service with timber bodies as lorry buses. Licensing regulations were relaxed to permit these temporary solutions to London’s depleted bus fleet.

Lorry Bus at Victoria, summer 1919
Lorry Bus at Victoria, summer 1919; a lorry chassis with crude wooden bus body and rear staircase, running a service from Victoria to Liverpool Street

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ will appear in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. On Sunday marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Day parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.