Tag Archives: collection

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.


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!


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


The Signalling Team (Part 2)

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

There’ll be no conflicting movements at the Depot (Part 1)

In my time as a volunteer with the museum I’ve noticed that “the signalling team” is always mentioned in hushed tones as a look of awe spreads over the face. Now my personal view of signals has always been “how hard can it be?” It is, after all, some simple short circuits out on the track and a lot of glorified Christmas lights isn’t it? So I thought I ought to catch up with these volunteer keepers of the arcane art: a few hours with the signalling team in their lair at Acton Depot on Thursday 15th November soon put me straight.

The team have just finished a full working restoration of the old (1932) signal panel and control desk (miniature lever frame, to give the proper title) from Marble Arch station, and are now starting on a similar overhaul of the old (1941) panel and desk from Elephant and Castle station. Below you can see the Marble Arch panel in all its glory and below that the current state of “the Elephant” as it’s affectionately known. As you will observe, the latter has most definitely been completely stripped down!

The two photos above amply demonstrate just how much work goes into a restoration; it’s a complete overhaul of all the component parts, and replacement of those that are time-expired. This is very labour intensive work, requiring a high level of skill and knowledge of the design and manufacture of these complicated pieces of electro-mechanical equipment that are now up to eighty years old. Marble Arch took 18 months of hard work from start to finish.

However, this is only half the job. If the full working of a signal box is to be recreated, then the panels need to be fed simulations of the electrical prompts that they would receive from track circuits in real life as trains moved about, points were moved, etc. So, the team has designed, built, tested and connected a whole rack of relay switches (above) and connected it to a bespoke computer programme on a pc, in such a way that between them they mimic all the different types of train movement one might see at Marble Arch station, and feeds the necessary prompts to the signal box. This is no small feat, and results in an impressive exhibit.

Dave Olney, Volunteer



So That’s How they Keep Them So Clean: Working Party at Acton Depot

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


Acton Depot Open Weekend Oct 2012 – It Couldn’t Happen Without Them

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.

James keeping an eye on RM1’s timekeeping

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


Acton Depot Open Weekend Oct 2012 – First impressions of a new volunteer

As Sam Clift (Volunteer Coordinator) put it to me, what better way to ease my way into writing the volunteer blog than to attend the Acton Depot on the first day of the Open Weekend in October? So on Saturday 6th I reported at 10:30am sharp (having spectacularly underestimated how long it would take the Piccadilly line to deliver me to Acton Town), just in time for the volunteers’ briefing by Barry Le Jeune (Friends Chairman). I was surprised by the number of visitors already waiting for entry when I arrived, probably more than 50.

The amount of care and effort that had gone into the organisation of the event was impressive. I understand that these open days have been running for a few years now, which must help in their planning and execution. A large level of high quality volunteer activity was very obviously essential to the successful delivery of the Open Weekend, to the extent that this first blog post will concentrate on the overall feeling of the Open Weekend and next week’s will look more closely at some of the individual activities and contributions.


At 11 o’clock the doors opened, and immediately there was a rush on the LTM stand, not to mention the Friends’ stand and also quite a few of the other stalls as well. The better organised visitors obviously like to get their purchasing done early in order not to miss any rare items. Most noticeable was the large selection of A60/A62 stock artefacts and memorabilia for sale, and in the course of the day I saw many people carrying around luggage racks. Speaking for myself, I very nearly bought a destination screen unit, but consideration of how this might be received when I proudly unveiled it once back at home weighed against it in the end.

The depot soon started filling up with visitors, and by 12 o’clock it was looking really busy in some of the more popular areas. Obvious crowd pleasers were the bus rides, particularly (but not surprisingly) RM1, although RT1700 from London Bus Company also did sterling service; the taxi display and cab rides organised thanks to the significant presence and contribution of the London Vintage Taxi Association; the Acton Model Railway attracted a long queue of passengers as the day progressed, and the children’s activities on the mezzanine area was also noticeably busy.


Walking around the depot site I had the opportunity to speak to a number of volunteers and it immediately became apparent that they all have a great interest in the work of the museum, and a deep commitment to it. All were busy cheerfully dealing with the public, answering questions on every imaginable topic (I certainly surprised myself when I was able to help one man with his question about a Gardner bus engine). I’m quite sure that the unfailing helpfulness of the volunteers contributed greatly to giving the whole event its friendly and welcoming feeling – there was a great buzz in the air from start to finish.

Saturday was blessed with blue skies and warm sunshine, so many visitors ate outside at the back of the depot building in the rear yard, and a long queue soon developed at the hot snack van. I also saw several volunteers grabbing a quick tray of chips…!

Our visitors covered a diverse range, and a gratifyingly high number of families with children were present. It was very noticeable that in some the older family members were busy reminiscing, whilst in others, a youngster would be explaining an arcane point of detail to a bemused adult!

From about 4pm onwards visitors started to make their way home, the view along the entry road resembling the retreat of a victorious army as people carried home their prized purchases of all sorts, shapes and sizes. I had to remind myself that for many of the volunteers, the show would happen all over again tomorrow.

Dave Olney, LTM Volunteer


Accessioning Tickets

At the Museum Depot in Acton Dilwyn Rees and David Clark regularly accession ephemera into the Museum’s collection.  Their main focus is on tickets – from bus, rail and tram to trolleybus tickets, spanning the decades as far back as the early 1900’s.  Recently we caught up with them to find out what they were working on:

“Just thought our readers would like to know that we have recently selected in route number order, Gibson long and short tickets for Central bus including Trolleybus and Country bus that Graham Page (volunteer sadly passed away in 2010) had put away for safe keeping.  Where there is more than one route number we select the best copy, finishing up with two bundles – one for accessioning which includes checking for size and then mounting in plastic sleeves, and duplicates which are for disposal to the LTM Friends stall.  We did find an example which was issued from a special batch of Gibson held at Epping Garage which had provision of the issue of return tickets and inclusion of date.  We are still in the process of selecting Bell Punch tickets between 1949-1951, which is on-going at present.”

David Clark (volunteer)


Sense the City: Meet the Photographer Q&A – Danielle Houghton

This Q&A is part of the Sense the City Flickr Project. For background on this project see Sense the City – Flickr Project.

Tube story by Danielle Houghton
Tube story by Danielle Houghton, 2011


Tell us about the inspiration behind your photo
My inspiration behind the photograph was simply to capture the feeling and look of London.  As a visitor to London I always enjoy the vibrant diversity of people and the buzz about the place, I never tire of observing people.  I was quite taken with the ladies clearly at the beginning of their night out as they were having an animated conversation with lots of oohs and aahs.  In contrast beside them caught up in the technology we all enjoy was somebody whose look I thought was very ‘London’ I loved his ring shades and vest and I could not resist documenting that moment.

How long have you been involved with photography?
It first excited me as a teenager over 20 years ago and has remained a passion ever since.  In the years where I did not have access to a camera I immersed myself in photography books so I always stayed connected.

What equipment do you use?
At the time I took the photograph I used a Nikon D70 DSLR which alas is now in need of repair.  Currently I either use a Nikon Coolpix 5400 or a Canon EOS 1100D.

What inspires you?
In terms of who inspires me there are many photographers I follow and enjoy, to name a few – Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Stephen Gill, Rinko Kawauchi, the Street Photographers in In-Public and many contacts I have made through using flickr.

In terms of what inspires me, it is mainly the excitement I get from human observation and the thrill of trying to capture interesting people and unique, funny, or surreal moments.

What is your preferred subject matter?
Besides photographing my children my closest affiliation is to Street Photography, i.e. capturing strangers in a candid way in public places, though occasionally I am happy to shoot anything that catches my eye be it an animal or architecture etc. People in essence are unique and  provide endless opportunities to photograph. I find myself drawn to oddities and humor, connections and clichés.  I hope to reveal the fun and fascination and even sometimes sadness of life.  I try to present moments and coincidences in a visually pleasing manner.

Plans for the future?
To keep on taking photographs no matter what.  I would like to develop a few different series – for example I can’t wait to return and take more shots on the tube.  I also like the idea of taking random bus journeys and seeing what unfolds, maybe even leaning towards a social documentary series.   Ultimately I would like to build up a strong portfolio of Street Photographs and publish a book one day.

Describe your photography in one word.

Further information



Access to Art tour

On Wednesday 30th November one of our esteemed volunteers, John Campbell, gave a tour of the museum’s Depot in Acton.  The tour was given to a group of students who are using our collection as a starting point for learning English and improving their confidence with travelling on London Transport.  Having given tours on the museum’s collection for a number of years, this was the first time John had given a tour to a group to whom the majority had English as a second language.  This made the tour quite different from the usual, as John became quite animated in describing the history of some of the vehicles, and regularly asked questions to the group to keep them engaged.  The group became so comfortable with the tour that it turned very quickly into a Q&A session led by the group!

John also spent time showing the group our extensive art and poster collection, which everyone was very keen to see.  As part of their course the group were studying a number of our posters, so it was a great opportunity for them to get a first-hand view of the works whilst being able to ask their guide any questions they had about the collection.


Depot Discoveries

The Museum’s depot in Acton Town is a brilliant place. It’s full of fantastic objects, from trains to hat badges, posters to taxis. The Depot is a working museum store housing over 370,000 objects, and as such the number of labels and text panels we have on display needs to be limited. Objects are moved in and out of the store on an almost daily basis, and work is done by the Museum’s curators and volunteers throughout the year, resulting in objects changing their location regularly.

The Museum opens the Depot up to visitors for guided tours on a monthly basis, and twice a year we open the entire space up to the public during our Open Weekends. At present there are only a few pieces of interpretation around the store, so often visitors are left to guess what some of the items they are looking at are, or reply on staff and volunteers to advise them.

At London Transport Museum we have a fantastic group of Museum Friends and volunteers, each with their own incredible knowledge and opinions on items in our care. Some are involved with heritage outings, and others spend many hours carefully restoring objects to their former glory. Many of the Friends have a history of working for London Transport in some way, and as such can offer invaluable insight into the history of an object – how it worked, what it was used for, and why it was eventually decommissioned.

In the summer of 2011, a new trial project was launched in partnership with some Friends and volunteers. Called Depot Discoveries, this is a film based project which involves capturing the knowledge and stories the Friends have about objects in our collection on camera. The volunteers were trained in how to make films, so work both behind and in front of the camera, and so far seven short films have been made (they are in the editing process at the moment). One of these features our volunteers Dilwyn speaking about the vast ticket collection we have at our store. The films are all shot in situ with the objects they are referring to, allowing for viewers to gain an insight into how they work, what they represent and when they were used.

The plan is for new labels to be created in the coming months, each featuring a link to the films on YouTube. Visitors to the Depot will then be able to access these stories on their smart phone devices, using the Depot’s wifi network, thus bringing these objects to life. If it’s a success, we may even look to getting some devices for people to borrow, but we shall see!

It’s early days at the moment, but there has been a lot of enthusiasm for the project so far. Are you a Museum Friend or volunteer? Would you like to speak on camera about an object at our Depot? Please contact Jen Kavanagh at jennifer.kavanagh@ltmuseum.co.uk if so!

For more information about visiting our Depot, head to http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/guided-tours