Category Archives: Volunteers

Station Staff Make Wood Green Open Day A Success

To add to the many special events taking place this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, staff at Wood Green station on the Piccadilly Line organised a highly successful Open Day on Saturday, August 31.

The Open Day, the first to be held at the north London station, proved extremely popular with visitors of all ages who were taken by staff on an hourly guided tour covering both the outside and inside of the building.

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Designed by Charles Holden, Wood Green station was opened on September 19, 1932 as part of the first section of the Cockfosters extension from Finsbury Park to Arnos Grove. It is now a Grade II listed building.

After learning about the design features of the exterior facade and the spacious booking hall, visitors went down to the platforms and then into restricted areas not normally open to the public. These included a narrow maintenance tunnel which runs between the Eastbound and Westbound platforms and the machine room housing the vital escalator mechanisms.

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At the end of the tour visitors were treated to coffee and biscuits in an upstairs rest room, where staff had displayed old photographs showing the construction and development of the station. They were also given an illustrated book on the history of the Piccadilly Line extension.

The success of the Open Day was due to all the enthusiasm and hard work shown by the station staff team consisting of supervisor Ombretta Riu-Tubl and customer services assistants Nigel Buckmire and Jane Bennett. They were assisted by Steve Dagsland, supervisor at nearby Manor House station which held its Open Day – believed to be the first on the Underground network – earlier in the year.

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“We decided to hold the Open Day because we wanted to show off all parts of this historic station to our many customers who regularly use it,” said Ombretta. “The staff were very keen on the idea and on the day Nigel turned out to be a first class tour guide despite his initial nervousness.”

Following the popularity of the Wood Green and Manor House Open Days similar events may now be held at other stations along the Piccadilly Line.

Written by Stephen Barry, Volunteer

353 Goes Far East!

353 goes far East? Well certainly about as far East as it could and still claim London Underground legitimacy. The restoration of Metropolitan carriage no.353 to its former glory was a significant investment, and the Museum was helped out by a generous grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund. In recognition of this help, the carriage has been used at a number of events in 2013 at which the public can both see it and take a ride in its stunning first class interior.

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Hence on an early Saturday morning in July I found myself stood next to 353 on the platform of North Weald station of the heritage Epping and Ongar Railway, which was until 1994 part of London Transport’s Central Line. The Epping and Ongar Railway had organised an Underground 150 event as its contribution to this year’s celebrations.

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Truth be told, in my concern not to be late, I actually arrived a bit too early, just as the station was opening. Consequently I was treated to a happy hour or so watching while the trains for the day were formed up; it was a highly nostalgic image of what I would imagine a sleepy early morning in the summer on a steam secondary line must have been like.

The nostalgia quotient was piled on as a brace of Country Area RTs and a couple of RFs arrived on the apron outside the station, ready to run the shuttles bringing passengers from Epping station.

However, I wasn’t in deepest Essex to wallow in the past. For a change I was actually making myself useful and I spent the day acting as the steward on 353. This meant looking after the carriage, to make sure that nothing untoward happened to it. Just as importantly, I was also on hand to ensure that the public safely enjoyed their day and were able to understand a little bit about the history and restoration of 353. At this point I also have to mention the Epping and Ongar’s volunteers, who I found to be immensely friendly and helpful.

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So I spent a very happy day trundling to and fro through the summer countryside, in a train consisting of Metropolitan loco no. 1, carriage 353 and a “Dreadnought” carriage. I think it would be a fair reflection to say that a good time was had by all! (But especially me……)

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Royal Academy at the Depot

It will be apparent to most of you familiar with the Museum and this blog that posters are an important part of the Underground150 celebrations. It will also be apparent to regular readers of the volunteers’ blog that the vast majority of the Museum’s collection is actually kept at the Acton Depot. This is especially true for posters, with tens of thousands dating back over 100 years or so to the early part of the 20th century. Also at Acton Depot is a smaller collection of original artworks that were created in the production of the posters; however this numbers in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

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Recently I was lucky enough to join a private tour of the two collections organised for the Friends of the Royal Academy, guided by two of the Museum’s volunteers, Tom Cavanagh and John Dodd. I had keenly anticipated the event, being very interested in the poster collection myself. I also expected some illuminating questions and conversation, given the knowledge and interests of our guests.

I wasn’t disappointed on either count. Both John and Tom gave well informed and interesting tours of both collections, visiting them in turn with a group of ten or so. They entertained us with an excellent knowledge and understanding of the collection, and were able to pull out relevant and interesting items that engaged the groups. I was particularly impressed with John’s discourse on lithography! Not all the original artwork is painted – the collection includes collage, mosaic and stencil as well as the water colours, oils, etc. that one might expect.

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It was also interesting to note that none of the visitors had a particular interest in transport; proof (if it were needed) that the Museum’s collections can appeal to a surprisingly wide audience. And what better way to learn about it than in the hands of an enthusiastic volunteer?

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Riding Shotgun on Met 353

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that the restoration of Metropolitan Railway carriage no. 353 by the Museum has been one of the highlights of the Underground 150 celebrations. Dating from 1892, 353 has been the centrepiece of the show, and has appeared a number of times on the recent steam runs on the Underground.

Late in May came the ‘Steam on the Met’ event (if you missed it there’s another similar run in September!), giving the opportunity for members of the public to ride behind a steam loco on the main line in a variety of old rolling stock, hauled by a steam engine. A British Rail 0-6-0 pannier tank built in the early 1950s, 9466, did the honours. No. 353 formed part of the train, and museum volunteers were fully involved with Underground staff in stewarding the event and making sure that all passed off well for the customers.

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Electric loco ‘Sarah Siddons’ and diesel 20 189 in its London Transport red livery were also in the train – no way were we going to be allowed to breakdown and block the line! Your humble scribe was pressed into action as a steward, and very enjoyable it was too. A freezing cold day found me joining the team at Harrow-on-the-Hill station for a full briefing prior to doing two round trips to Amersham. After joining the train our customers got on as well, and we were treated to a surprisingly fast run out to Amersham.

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The atmosphere in the carriage was wonderful, with steam pouring past the windows, the Victorian ambience and the shared enjoyment of travelling first class in deep red plush seats on the Metropolitan Line.

Everything passed off smoothly, other than the cold, wet weather: time was kept, and all passengers thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They also had the opportunity to chat about the history of 353 with the volunteers, who had received background notes from Dave Taylor (volunteer). Between the two trips we had a chance to retire to a pub in Harrow for a very late lunch, which was very welcome; strictly no alcohol though.

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353 will be out and about quite a bit in 2013, and not just on London Underground lines, so there will be a chance to sample its delights at a number of different heritage railway events. Keep a lookout on the Museum’s Vehicles on the Move page!

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Semi Detached Holden?

London’s transport heritage isn’t just about the vehicles; there is also a lot of very important legacies in the network infrastructure. Perhaps one of the better known parts is the architectural work of Charles Holden. I thought I knew it – until I was lucky enough to join the trial run of a new walking tour that the Museum offered to the public as part of the London Festival of Architecture summer programme, which ran throughout June.

Ten of us met at Oakwood station, at the outer reaches of the Piccadilly Line, including our guide for the tour, David Burnell, a long standing Friend of the museum and, more recently, volunteer. David started us off with a knowledgeable discourse on the history of the roots of Holden’s involvement in Underground architecture and the styles that influenced him. Next was a very informative and discerning explanation of the result, using both the interior and exterior of Oakwood to demonstrate the story.

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What did I learn? Well, art deco isn’t a type of architecture; it’s the design features. The architectural style is generally described as ‘British Modernism’.  And Holden only designed one half of his stations, the street level elements. The rail level design was the responsibility of Stanley Heaps, London Transport’s in house architect. They certainly gel well.

From Oakwood we caught a Piccadilly Line train one stop south to Southfields station, another Holden masterpiece, to my eye reminiscent of something from a Buck Rogers comic strip. Under David’s expert eye we also took a 15 minute walking detour via a fine selection of Edwardian suburbia.

Back at Southfield, we again took a train to Arnos Grove, the third in our trio of Holden’s, featuring a rectangular street building as at Oakwood. David again gave us an excellent overview of the main features of the building.

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Ever a glutton for punishment, I stayed on for the optional one hour walk through Arnos Park to Abbotshall Avenue, to see a fine row of 1930s Modernism houses, not to mention a detour to see the Arnos Park viaduct of the Piccadilly Line, an imposing brick edifice.

Dave Olney, Volunteer

A Big Day at the Depot – Part Two

Inevitably there was so much going on at the recent Acton Depot open day that I couldn’t fit it all in  to one post. Last time I covered the “outdoor” activity, so now it’s time to move indoors. A popular feature of the open days is that many activities are laid on, both to bring the exhibits to life and also provide the opportunity for visitors of all ages to interact with the exhibits and people who know a bit about them. Often this can work both ways, as inevitably some visitors are able to add to the understanding of a particular object or its history.

Readers of this blog will know by now that object handling is always a popular activity at the Covent Garden site, so it’s no surprise that it also featured at the open day. Over the course of the Sunday I found various volunteers such as Ash Ketchum and Peter Brown helping out at the object handling stall, Gibson ticket machines racing away.

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I have blogged previously on the work of the signals team in restoring old Underground signalling control panels. The value of their painstaking work was brought home to me by the amount of interest in their work at the open day. It would be no exaggeration to say that they were besieged by interested visitors at times through the day, as can be seen in the photos. Somewhere in the scrum is Peter Smith, explaining the finer points of the Elephant and Castle station control panel.

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It’s always great to see the sheer variety of people that attend the open days. The cloakroom is always well-used, and I think the number of buggies shows just how many children were present. A demonstration to the contribution of the museum’s volunteers to the open days is the fact that there were some 14 different activities that they were responsible for over the course of the day, not to mention the activity of your humble scribe – although whether I contributed to anyone’s enjoyment might be a moot point!

Dave Olney, Volunteer

A Big Day at the Depot – Part One

Open Weekends at the Acton Depot of the LTM –  held twice a year, they are a fabulous opportunity for the public to see “behind the scenes” of the Museum. It would be true to say that the vast majority of the museum’s collection is actually held at Acton. To some extent this is down to space available in the main Covent Garden building; there are also considerations of restoration, preparation and overhaul of exhibits, all of which are done at the Depot. So it’s a treasure trove!

As the sharper-eyed amongst you may have spotted, this year is the 150th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first underground railway, from Edgware Road to Farringdon. Inevitably this meant that the open weekend had an “Underground 150” theme. In the yard at the rear of the Depot could be found Metropolitan Railway No. 1, stationary but in steam, together with recently restored Metropolitan Carriage No. 353 and a milk van. Joining No. 1 on a short stretch of 1 foot 11½ inches gauge track laid especially for the event was Ffestiniog Railway steam loco number 2 “Prince” providing engine rides.

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Depot Open Days could not function without a tremendous amount of support from the museum’s volunteers. Many of them were to be found in the yard helping with stewarding the huge numbers of visitors wanting to get “up close and personal” with the special displays. My photos were taken on the Sunday of the event, which was busy enough, but I’m told that the Saturday was the busiest open day ever.

You can also see that Metropolitan Electric Loco No. 12 ”Sarah Siddons” was on display, and while not as popular as the steam locos the opportunity to visit the driver’s cab was still quite a draw. Again, volunteers were to the fore in helping the public get the best from their visit.

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Finally, as part of the 150 theme, a number of London-themed model railway layouts were on display. Who would have thought it would be possible to model Metropolitan No. 1 or “standard” tube stock so accurately from the ubiquitous bricks?

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Dipping a toe in the TfL archives

One of the many benefits of being a London Transport Museum volunteer is that from time to time one gets invited to events that aren’t normally open to the public. Recently the Corporate Archives Unit at Transport for London ran an internal event at 55 Broadway as part of the Underground 150th anniversary celebrations. Invitations were kindly extended to London Transport Museum, who included their volunteers amongst those notified. In all, about ten volunteers attended over the two days that it ran.

After not reading the invitation properly and consequently presenting myself at not just one, but two wrong reception areas I arrived a mere 15 minutes late. However, thanks to the help of a very kind receptionist (or maybe she just took pity on an obvious idiot) I was still able to gain access. 55 Broadway is, of course, an art deco treasure in its own right, but I won’t dwell on that here.

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On arriving at the exhibition I was presented with a guide and spent a very happy hour or more browsing the materials on display. The TfL archives are very large and as a rule are stored deep underground in a Cheshire salt mine which provides the ideal cool and dry environment for preservation of historic documentation. So the displayed material was the tip of the iceberg – and very tantalising it was too. Among my favourites were a staff record book from the Metropolitan and District Railway, dated 1907, and a collection of original track diagrams covering the Circle Line. The former recorded, in meticulous copperplate handwriting, all the information that would be kept in a HR system today, whilst the latter was constructed from the flimsiest pieces of tracing paper, with many crossings out, much glue and tape. It’s a miracle that it has survived.

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All the main aspects of the Underground’s history was covered in a variety of ways, from files of internal memos (speedometers on tube trains took up a lot of management time in 1957) through to a full set of Metropolitan Railway station rubber stamps, presumably for use on tickets. Finally it’s worth mentioning that volunteers play an important part in the work of the unit, being involved in producing guides and indices, and also protecting material.

Dave Olney, Volunteer

A Happy Museum? Of Course!

Museums are not just about their contents, important though the exhibits are. It’s increasingly recognised that museums have an important part to play in the well-being of people generally, and not just that of their normal visitors. London Transport Museum keenly supports this view and is working to develop its services in less conventional ways. Indeed its very successful volunteer programme is an excellent example of an activity that benefits both the museum and the individual.

Hence the “Happy Museum”: a programme that has been developed with a number of other museums (such as the Godalming Museum and the Story Museum, Oxford) to explore the opportunity for increased sustainability through wider and deeper engagement with all potential audiences. Funding for the “Happy Museum” has been provided by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England, amongst others. One result of LTM’s engagement with the “Happy Museum” has been a project with St. Mungo’s, the homelessness charity, aiming to help excluded people engage positively with society.

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A number of potential volunteers for the project were identified by St. Mungo’s, and they met with LTM staff at an Open Day in late 2012. As a result a group of St Mungo’s clients have been engaged in voluntary work at the museum, working closely with the curators. I met Chris Daniels at the Acton Depot one day recently, where he was busy cleaning a train of 1938 tube stock inside and out in preparation for the Acton Open Weekend. Chris also volunteers with St Mungo’s itself, and has been busy gardening; he confided in me that he was very glad to be working indoors on this particular (very cold) day. So was I!

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Chris told me that he had enjoyed his 3 months volunteering with LTM, and had been involved in bus cleaning as well for the open weekend.  Although his working life had been in the water industry, he has always liked transport. In his own words, “I’ve enjoyed working here as volunteering people are family. It helps my state of mind, and it’s nice to meet other people.” A sentiment that I think many volunteers would echo.

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Plenty More Room On Top

Our volunteers at the museum regularly put their shoulders to the wheel to help make sure that our visitors have a memorable experience. One of those experience s in ‘Object handling’ which is always popular – an opportunity to play with stuff, hands on. These sessions often have a bus theme, and on the day that I called in the guys were in full swing with fare tables, caps and various ticket machines.

For someone of – ahem – my vintage, it can come as a bit of shock to realise that bus conductors will be a distant memory for anyone under the age of ten, and probably unknown to those under eight. So it’s no longer safe to assume that our younger guests have any conception of why there were conductors and what they got up to. A significant part of the experience is therefore an initiation into the daily work of the ladies and gentlemen collecting fares on the RT, trolleybus or tram.

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I found volunteers Peter Brown, John Campbell and Joe Ross accepting this challenge. As you can see, our heroic trio were under various states of siege on the day, and not just from the younger patrons. The desire to handle a Gibson ticket machine obviously runs deep in the population at large, so it’s just as well that there were two to hand on the stall. I’m not ashamed to admit (well not much) that I had a go myself with one, and you’d be surprised by just how heavy they are.

Joe is the novice of the team, having some 3 months under his belt as a volunteer, but he was in safe hands with the experienced pair of John and Peter. Both have volunteered for a number of years, and been involved in many activities to support the work of the museum. Peter is also active with the London Bus Museum at Brooklands, so I think we can safely say that he has the bug badly.

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You can also see in the accompanying photos two trainee conductors I met, Uma and Niyam Shah – I think a couple of weeks at the Chiswick training school and they’ll be ready to apply to the Traffic Commissioners for their badges. I can’t help but think that Uma might have the edge on her brother if they find themselves on the 15. And hurry up, it’s my turn with the cap…….

Dave Olney, Volunteer