Category Archives: Director’s Blog

Toc H: A Refuge from the War

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While at Poperinge, we visited a key site in the story of the British Army in the Ypres Salient, the establishment of a refuge from the war at Talbot House. Rev. Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton became an army chaplain in France and Flanders where, in December 1915, he and another chaplain Rev. Neville Talbot opened “Talbot House”, a club house for soldiers, regardless of rank or status. It became known as Toc H, this being signal terminology for “T H” or “Talbot House”.


With its simple accommodation, garden and chapel in the eaves, Toc H fostered a spirit of friendship across social and denominational boundaries and enabled soldiers to enjoy rare moments of peace and entertainment, a home away from home. After the war, branches were set up across the UK and in several Commonwealth countries.

The Battle bus group were delighted to be given a guided tour around Talbot House in April and a visit there with the bus in September will be essential. The House still has many features surviving from the First World War – the peaceful garden, Clayton’s study, framed aphorisms on the walls and artworks such as the sketches of soldiers by Christopher Nevinson, working as an ambulance driver, who later designed posters for the Underground group.

A full size reproduction of a photograph of soldiers relaxing in the canteen room around the piano occupies the same room today and brings the past of the House vividly to life. It is still possible to stay overnight B&B in Talbot House and exhibitions tell the story of the house and the Ypres Salient.

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London’s Buses on the Western Front

Poperinge WW1

Recently we launched a crowdfunding campaign asking you to help us get our ‘Battle Bus’ back to the Western Front. But what does this really mean, and why is it so significant?

During the First World War London’s buses were to become crucial to the war effort. Our B-type bus, B2723, was one of the 1,200 buses requisitioned by the War Office and used as troop transport, ambulances, lorries and even pigeon lofts. In September, the Museum is taking B2737 back to key sites in Northern France and Belgium to commemorate the Londoners who fought and the busmen who supported them in the early months of the war.

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Back in April we reconnoitred the route and places to visit. We tried to compare postcards and photographs of buses at the Front with those places today. This sometimes possible, such as in the market square at Poperinge in Belgium. In other places, rebuilding after the devastation of the war, as at Bethune, had radically changed the view and such comparisons were not possible.

It is difficult to reconcile the small towns and rolling countryside of the Somme and the wooded Messines Ridge today with the devastation of the wartime photographs, the huge systems of trenches of the aerial photographs, the highly dangerous places like Hell Fire Corner, now a roundabout on the Menin road out of Ypres, or the evocative place names where so many men fell, at Passchendaele, High Wood, Gommecourt or the Hawthorn Redoubt. Visitors need a mental overlay, such as provided by a good guide, in our case, Andy Robertshaw, to ‘see’ the First World War once again in the landscape.

Goodbye Tube150, Hello Year of the Bus!

Shopping by Tube and Bus, Christopher Corr, 1998 (Detail)

The year of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground has been the most remarkable year for London Transport Museum since we opened in Covent Garden over thirty years ago.

The organisation of the associated celebratory events and projects was a massive undertaking. From the planning of a public programme based on a new social history of the Underground, the undertaking of two innovative restoration projects – Metropolitan loco no.1 and Jubilee carriage 353 – and the operation of steam hauled special services within the original London Underground tunnels of 1863  to arguably the Museum’s most extensive special exhibition, Poster 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs, in newly extended galleries. All of this, along with  the opening of the disused station at Aldwych throughout November, was delivered with huge success to record audiences. Indeed, Tube150 provoked broad public interest in London, well beyond the rail enthusiast, and this was echoed by worldwide press coverage. The Underground’s own reputation soared to a new high in January 2013 and throughout the year the Museum experienced record levels of patronage for visits, corporate events, fundraising, retail, online trading and access.

Tube150 Publicity Image, Courtesy of TfL

In December 2013, a remarkable year was crowned by the Heritage Railway Association making its premier award to the Museum and Transport for London (TfL).  That the Peter Manisty Award should be given to the busiest metro in the world is a reflection on just what was achieved in 2013. When did an operating railway, let alone one of the world’s busiest metros, win industry and public recognition for such an enlightened attitude to its heritage? During the year, the steam trains have run over 350 miles and conveyed nearly 10,000ticket holders, guests and staff in a self-funded service with no delays to the travelling public. Only an organisation confident in its abilities and respectful of its unique heritage could have encouraged us to work through the myriad of operational constraints to operate steam amongst service trains.  This was achieved by a team drawn from a number of areas in the Underground – timetabling, line operations, test crew drivers, rolling stock, heritage trains – and to such a professional degree that there was no interruption to the service.

This award-winning year is no flash in the pan. Having built up such momentum and expertise within the Museum and Underground team, 2014 will see another busy programme of steam-hauled events on Underground metals. The Bluebell’s Ashbury set will return in August 2014 for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Hammersmith & City line’s opening in 1864. Met no.1, the milk van, carriage 353 and the Bluebell rake will run on two Saturdays, 2nd and 9th August, from Hammersmith into Moorgate and back. The following weekend, 16 and17th August, steam will take over the Chesham branch for the first time since 1962. Steam services will run from Rickmansworth, with the replacement bus service for the branch being complimented by a heritage bus service.

Tube150 has broadened and deepened support for our Museum. Delighted with the profile of the anniversary, TfL has asked us to similarly programme with them for future years, starting with a Year of the Bus  in 2014, sponsored by Exterion Media. The success of the year has deepened our relationship with sponsors such as Cubic, Siemens and the former CBSO, and funders such as Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council, and created new relationships with over two hundred individual donors. We are translating this support into a new Patrons Circle and aiming it initially towards our Battlebus project, with the restored B2737 to participate in the commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War later in 2014.

New Routemaster at Tower Bridge_CROP

As we move from Tube150 into the Year of the Bus, we can reflect on the power of well planned and meticulously delivered heritage events in central London to engage Londoners and to attract external sponsorship. In June 2014, we will bring a cavalcade of historic buses to Regents Street, a unique gathering of 25 vehicles dating from 1908 to the New Routemaster, to mark the contribution of the motor bus  to London since 1898. We will deliver a range of community events at bus garages around London, present fresh insights into London during the First World War in our Goodbye Piccadilly – from the home front to the Western Front exhibition from May and return our restored B-type bus to Flanders in September and October as part of the centenary commemorations.

Post written by Sam Mullins, Museum Director

To find out more about London Transport Museum’s events programme, including heritage vehicle runs, visit You can also sign up for the Museum e-Newsletter, and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

London Underground Testing of Met 1 and Coach 353: The Director’s Perspective

Test train at Moorgate, 16th December 2012

Back in December, we tested Met 1 and coach 353 from Earls Court to Moorgate to prepare for the celebration. For me, it was a remarkable experience to see both our restored vehicles arrive under steam at Earls Court early in the morning of 16 December. The unlined maroon Met 1 pulled quietly into the platform, the varnished coach glinting in the lights behind, cameras were deployed and then followed the cry of ‘All aboard’. We climbed into the plush red seats of one of the four compartments, lit by the Pintsch patent gas lights (LEDs actually), and the doors were slammed shut. With  journalists, and our donors and trustees, I sat expectantly on the plush bench seat and noted the gilded mirrors, buttoned leather door panels, string net luggage racks and rich lettering. Richard Jones opined that this was one of the best restorations he had ever seen. The guard blew his whistle, was answered by the engine whistle and we lurched forwards as the coupling slack was snatched up. The loud beat of the engine quickened and echoed off the tunnel roof as we pulled away, the view on both sides being obscured by smoke and steam. We let one window down on its notched leather strap to get the full effect of steam coal into the compartment. The engine worked quite hard as it tackled the gradient up to Kensington Church Street. For the first time, we began to get just a hint of what travelling on the Victorian Underground might have felt like, the noise of the engine, the movement of the carriage and the swirl of the steam outside the window. We passed through modern stations such as King’s Cross/St Pancras, a rather  surreal experience looking out from a varnished teak upholstered interior onto a modern functional platform with its bright roundels. Orange-clad station staff and contractors smiled and took pictures as we rattled through brightly lit but empty platforms. An unexpected red signal at Baker Street led to the engine blowing off and bringing down the accumulated dust, soot and dead pigeons of the past 150 years onto the pristine carriage and loco. We nosed into the bay platform at Moorgate to take on water before making the return journey to Edgware Road.

This is the experience I hope many of you have been able to taste on the January commemorative runs. Tickets have inevitably been limited and expensive but this is a one-off event, expensive to mount and unlikely to be repeated. To run a  steam hauled service of original carriages within the normal Met timetable has been a huge privilege and a great event to lead off the celebration of the Underground’s profound influence on the capital over the past 150 years. There will be further opportunities throughout the year to ride behind Met 1; from Harrow to Amersham in May and September, at Quainton Road in August and at Epping-Ongar in June and even a Santa Special in December. Negotiations are in hand to hire the loco and coach to heritage railways in the coming years and spread the Museum’s message through a volunteer supporters group to explain them and illustrate the restoration process to a wider public.

Our two projects for 2013 have been the most significant we have undertaken since the 38-stock restoration nearly ten years ago. It’s the first time we have ventured into steam overhaul and operation and we have the eight to ten year life of the boiler certificate to carry the story of the Met and the world’s first underground railway to locations and audiences within and beyond London. We hope to pair it as much as possible with Met 353, our first Met carriage and seen on the test night as one of the highest quality  restorations of its type. Great tribute is owed to the Friends for backing this work from the offset two years ago, to our contractors at the Ffestiniog  and for the excellent and thoughtful direction of the project by Tim Shields. If you are one of over two hundred individual donors, many thanks from the board and myself.

The Mud Men meet the museum

The Mud Men (DJ and presenter Johnny Vaughan, and Mudlarker Steve Brooker – known by admirers as the Mud God) came to film at the Museum last Friday. They were featuring the history of the underground and so they interviewed me on our 1938 Tube Stock.

They covered an awful lot in a very short space of time and asked some interesting questions covering a broad range of topics relating to London’s underground. These included how it was financed and developed through to Metro-land and whether any monsters were found during construction of the tunnels! I expect a lot of the footage will hit the cutting room floor but it was interesting to get their take on things – Johnny said that they were exploring ‘the evolution of the everyday’; don’t know if that one will make the final cut.

Johnny said that he loves the New Johnston typeface and also that he thought the scale of the vision for the underground was incredible. They both wore Mud Men hoodies with the strapline ‘We dig history’. Their style is pretty light-hearted, very relaxed and fun. I got my own back when I told them that the strap hangers were used by the SAS during the war as coshes. It’s an urban myth but I think they fell for it; it remains to be seen whether or not they include it or edit it out.
The show will be broadcast in January 2013 – the 150th anniversary month of the London Underground.

Restoring Met 353 – LTM Director’s perspective

Carriage 353

My first visit to the Boston Lodge works of the Ffestiniog Railway to see our restoration in progress. The carriage body is now nearly complete, with the teak panelling restored and revarnished. Work has started on fitting out the four compartments with their bench seats. The repairs and filling of gaps and holes has been beautifully done, just discernible from close up but not from  a distance. It is already hard to reconcile the carriage in its present state with the tired body removed from our store at the start of the Project. The two holes for the Pintsch patent gas lights to be dropped into the ceilings can be seen in each compartment. The wooden strakes, window corners and mirror surrounds were seen in the varnish shop ready for addition to the body.

Much work has recently been undertaken on cutting down the ex-BR under frame to fit the body. The Ffestiniog guys have resisted the temptation to go for the 2ft and I can report the under frame is definitely standard gauge! We came away most impressed with the knowledge and workmanship of Norman’s team and our apprentice. Work is on programme and we look forward to 353 taking its place behind Met 1 later in the autumn for running in.

Met 1 on Track

It is our ambition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the world’s first underground railway with a steam-hauled commemorative train. The last time a steam engine hauled a Metropolitan Railway service from Paddington to Farringdon is thought to be 1905, before the conversion to electric traction on the sub-surface railway. Steam hauled engineers’ trains were a feature of the Underground however up to 1971.

A proving run was held early in the morning on 26 January 2012 to test the feasibility of a steam special, with the NRM’s Beattie well tank 30587 (built in 1874) marshalled with ‘Sarah Siddons’ and a coal and water waggon, nurse-maided by two battery locos. If the restored Met No.1 , the Met coach 353 (both under restoration) and the Asbury set of teak coaches were tore-enact the first run to Farringdon in 1863, what effect might a steam engine have on the modern underground? Formed up at Lillie Bridge, the train picked up a stakeholders and potential major donors at Earl’s Court at 1.30am and then ran round the extension of 1868 to Edgware Road where we joined the original section of the Metropolitan Railway to Baker Street, opened to traffic on 10 January 1863.

At Baker Street we paused for 30 minutes to test the effects of the loco blowing off steam which billowed around the brick arched roof, before our train continued eastwards and then pulled back on the westbound road. We were joined at Baker Street by the latest ‘S’ stock train to test for any effects from the steam, which provided a neat contrast between the old and the new. Later we pulled back to Edgware Rd and then back to Earls Court and Lillie Bridge. The run went off without a hitch thanks to meticulous preparations and the programme for 2013 itself is now being planned.

The run did give a sense of the atmosphere of the steam-hauled era from 1863 to 1905. The smell of steam and coal smoke underground and the deafening noise of the safety valves blowing off demonstrated just why coke rather than coal was used to reduce the smoke and condensing apparatus fitted to absorb the spent steam in the Victorian Underground.  The cab view of the twists and curves as we ran up from Earl’s Court, as well as seeing the sharp uphill gradient was a revelation to me. The double track tunnel brickwork is craggy and irregular, punctuated by open sections where we could see the dawn creeping up over west London.

Many thanks to our Underground colleagues, to the NRM for the loan of the loco and to Bill Parker and his crew from the Flour Mill for contributing to a highly successful and atmospheric event.  The success of this test run gives us added incentive to raise the money for the restoration of Met No.1 to head a unique commemorative event in January 2013.