Category Archives: Museum’s 40th Anniversary

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!

London Transport Museum’s Ruby Anniversary

London Transport Museum is turning 40 years old in March 2020!

To celebrate its ruby anniversary, we’re taking a brief look at the origins of the Museum and its collection. We are also reliving the first days of operations through the first-hand memories of former members of staff, starting with Mike Walton, who was working in the Museum shop when it opened on 28 March 1980.

Our collection counts over 500,000 items, from heritage vehicles to signs and maps, posters and ephemera that document 200 years of London’s transport and social history . But it all started with two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus. In the 1920s, the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) decided to preserve these vehicles for future generations to enjoy.

A yellow carriage with three passengers, being hauled by two brown and white horses
Horse bus c.1875

In the 1960s, our growing collection was housed in an old bus garage in Clapham, south London, and referred to as the Museum of British Transport. In 1973 it was moved to Syon Park, west London, taking the name of London Transport Collection. Between 1979-80, the public display moved to its current home, the old Victorian Flower Market, a Graded II-listed building in Covent Garden. London Transport Museum as we now know it was born!

Black and white photo of an old building with high ceilings. metal framed windows ans market stalls
The old Victorian Flower Market in Covent Garden

The Museum was officially inaugurated by Princess Anne on 28 March 1980, and opened its doors to the public the following day.  Mike Walton, Poster Art Commissioner for Transport for London and London Transport Museum, recalls:

“Prior to the Royal Opening on 28 March, work to prepare became increasingly frantic. Staff were recruited, or better transferred from other teams within London Transport, and the shop was filled with many products from London Transport’s Publicity Office which was simultaneously closing its long-established retail outlets.

On the day of the opening all Retail and Admission staff lined up in the shop area as Princess Anne and London Transport Officials arrived and toured the Museum. I disgraced myself by curtsying to Princess Anne by accident much to her amusement. The assembled officials were less amused!

Princess Anne and London Transport officials at the Royal Opening of the Museum

The day went very smoothly and was deemed a great success, but the official event left us with little time to prepare for the public opening the following day. The Museum opened its doors to its first visitors at 10:00 on Saturday 29 March 1980. Unsurprisingly, the queues around Covent Garden Piazza lasted all day. An Adult ticket cost £1.40 with various discounted tickets available for children, students and pensioners.

The tickets were dispensed from an old Underground ‘rapiprinter’ and customers passed through a then standard Underground automatic ticket gate, a system which caused much unreliability for staff and considerable confusion for customers. Our supposed plentiful supply of change had run out by midday and someone was delegated to tour local Tube stations begging for spare change!

At the end of the first enormously successful day’s trading, cashing up had to take place. With endless piles of £1 notes, no credit cards and no counting machines, the task was completed at 23:00. My working life had changed for ever!”

Celebrate the Museum’s 40th birthday throughout the month of March 2020 with us. Share your fondest memories of the Museum on social media with the hashtag #LTMLove.