So, it’s official, 2014 is the Year of the Bus (in London anyway). There’s at least three reasons: it’s 100 years since B-types took troops to the Western Front, 75 years since the RT first appeared on the streets of London, and 60 years since the first Routemaster made its debut at the Commercial Motor Show. As you can imagine, a significant programme of major events is planned to celebrate.
Amongst many other things we can look forward to a number of Bus Garage Open Days through the summer, a major two day Routemaster rally in July, a restored B-type being adapted as if going to France in 1914 and a unique bus rally in Central London, also in June. The programme is noteworthy for being delivered by the many different organisations and individuals which either own heritage London buses or are involved in providing services today. Inevitably this means a major contribution from the Museum, owning as it does many historic buses. If the Museum is to make the fullest contribution to the Year of the Bus a significant volunteer effort will be required to support event delivery.
To help muster the necessary forces, the museum and the Friends of the Museum held a joint volunteer recruitment event at the Acton Depot at the end of March. I went along to cast a discerning eye over the opportunities available – and there are some good ones! Before events buses need cleaning, preparing and driving (only by the properly qualified, of course). At the events there’s a lot of stewarding of people and vehicles required, a large element of which concerns providing context and history to the public.
The Underground hasn’t been forgotten: following the hugely successful Underground 150 anniversary celebrations in 2013, a small number of steam outings are planned on the network for 2014, requiring volunteer support. The architectural and design legacy hasn’t been forgotten either in the public programme, for example with further tours of Aldwych station. You’ll be delighted to know that I put my hand up for a number of activities!
Post Written by Dave Olney, Volunteer
To get in touch with London Transport Museum about volunteer opportunities this year contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Every year the London Transport Museum with the help of Transport for London runs a short programme of public tours of the disused Underground station at Aldwych. Originally opened as Strand station in 1907, it closed in 1994, never having achieved the passenger numbers expected. Of the entire facility as originally constructed, about one third of it was never commissioned at opening in 1907, and roughly another third closed as an economy measure in 1914. So for the largest part of its life it was 2/3rds shut. Its sleepy life at the end of a short branch line ensured a lack of investment and refurbishment, as a result of which it’s as good a remnant of the original Edwardian tube as one could hope to find anywhere. Consequently it’s a grade 2 listed monument.
Hence the limited annual opening is a great draw – this year it was sold out on the day that tickets were made available. As you can imagine, opening a closed Underground facility to the public is a major undertaking, so all visitors are guided by museum volunteers. On a cold Friday morning I found myself joining a small group of volunteers planning for the event. Despite its relatively short life the station has a rich history, and it’s a challenge to do it justice in a 45 minute tour.
Just to confuse, some of the features that appear historical are misleading, thanks to the use of the station as a set for films. There’s an example in the photos with this post: can you spot it? We spent a couple of hours checking the tour plan and verifying the contents of the guides’ notes. These are researched and scripted by the volunteers themselves, and evidenced a fund of knowledge of lesser known facts. Inevitably the station’s role as a shelter for both people and the nation’s heritage during both world wars featured large. By lunch all the loose ends had been tied down and we were tour ready. Let’s hope there’s no tricky questions!
Dave Olney, Volunteer
So, who are these keepers of the dark art of Underground signalling? The first thing to say is that some of the team were not at the Depot when I called by, so this post concentrates on the three that were. Don’t worry though, I’ll be back to catch up with the others before too long.
First up is Mike Crosbie, the team’s designer. Mike did his engineering apprenticeship with Morris Motors in Oxford, and joined London Underground in the early 1970s in response to an advert for signalling engineers. You can see him above checking the wiring diagram for the Elephant and Castle restoration, designed by him from scratch. Having looked at the diagrams I can vouch for the fact that they are very intricate – they give a real feel for the painstaking accuracy required to deliver safe signalling.
Peter Smith (seen with Mike above) is the odd man out, insofar as his career was in television engineering (with the BBC) rather than railways. He has been a volunteer with the museum for some 18 years, and with some modesty describes himself as a “willing pair of hands”. In his time with the museum he has done bus cleaning, enamel sign mounting and restoration work on standard tube train stock.
Bill Collins (above) has signalling in his blood: he has been a volunteer for four or five years now, but started his working life as a fifteen year old office boy in the signalling department at Earls Court, before becoming an apprentice. Subsequently his entire career was in metro signalling (not all with London Underground). Bill became a volunteer because he enjoyed working with signals so much.
What is it that has kept this hard-working team so close? To a man they said it was the camaraderie, coupled with a good sense of humour – essential!
Dave Olney, Volunteer
Roughly every month there is a volunteers’ working party at Acton Depot, so with keen anticipation I made my way to the depot on the 23rd October to see what one involves. On arrival I tracked down Robert Excell, the Curator in charge of the day’s event. Vehicle cleaning was the order of the day, and I found Grey Green Volvo Ailsa VA115 ready for a thorough sprucing up. Upstairs wielding an expert mop and brush was Jerry Pratchett, burnishing a floor that you could eat your lunch from.
Jerry has been a volunteer for more than 15 years, his interest in transport being sparked by his father who worked on the buses at Hendon. Conversely, downstairs I found a volunteer who had a long career on the buses: Malcolm Bowers, who started his career with London Transport and finished with Arriva. I found Malcolm busy giving the downstairs seats a thorough hoovering.
A clean interior demands a clean exterior. At Acton washing is done by hand as there’s no drive-through washer. Whilst I was inside VA115, Ron Bristow had arrived, and was preparing to start the external clean. A volunteer for 20 years, Ron has been involved with many activities, such as guiding and museum moves. I can tell you that I was starting to feel a bit of a novice at one month’s service.
To prove that it isn’t just about the buses, Robert Bedford was found busy with the vacuum cleaner inside the recently acquired A60 stock car. After 51 years in service it probably needs a good clean! Robert has been a volunteer for about a year, and already has a varied list of interesting activities. Once again I came away from the depot very impressed by the volunteers’ contribution.
Dave Olney, Volunteer
As promised I’m returning to the topic of the Acton Depot Open Weekend, but this time concentrating on some of the volunteer activities. Well, where better place to start than meeting and greeting? Maintaining a steady flow of new LTM Friends and volunteers is essential to the continuing work of the museum. So, strategically placed at the entrance to the Depot, I found volunteers Paul Fox and Eva-Maria Lauenstein giving no guest the opportunity to get in without understanding the many benefits of being more closely involved with the LTM. Before you run away with the impression of “running the gauntlet”, let me reassure you that it was done with great skill and the best humour, making for a very friendly welcome to the event.
Inside the Depot, having deposited bags and coats at the cloakroom, one of the first teams that one encountered was the signalling team, proudly demonstrating the newly completed Marble Arch signal frame installation. Whilst no expert, I think I can safely say from observation that our visitors tested to destruction the failsafe nature of the interlocking system.
Moving on, the handling trolley in the bus exhibits area soon came into sight, where volunteers Ken Healey, Ash Ketchum and David Berwick looked to be having a great time, with the Tickets Please! theme proving very popular with our younger visitors. The opportunity to have a genuine Gibson or Bell Punch ticket was obviously an immense draw…
Of course, an important role for volunteers on an open day is straightforward answering of visitor questions (most vital of all “Where are the toilets?”) and ensuring that guests respect the exhibits and cordoned off areas. Keeping an eye on the buses were Ian Dolby and Norman Argent, both long standing volunteers.
Staying with buses, I mentioned last week that the opportunity to ride on RM1 was very popular. Helping the crew to marshal visitors at the rear platform I found James Wake, who was expertly handling of the crowds, who were, dare I say, not as skilled at boarding back loaders as Londoners were when RM1 first graced the capital’s streets.
I also found these volunteers lurking at the back of the depot, looking very preoccupied…
Dave Olney, Volunteer