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 email@example.com
Regular blog readers will be starting to gain an appreciation of just how much of a contribution the volunteers make to the smooth running of the museum and, more importantly, the quality of the visitor experience at both Covent Garden and the Acton Depot site.
So, understandably, the museum hosts an annual “thank you” event for all the volunteers who so freely give of their time, knowledge and expertise to help the museum thrive. This year’s event was at the Acton Depot, and featured a diverse agenda covering many aspects of the museum’s operation. Not only did free beer feature, but also a hog roast, so no need to worry – your scribe was at the front of the queue to attend the event. Rumour has it that there was also an alternative for the vegetarians amongst us.
Before lunch we heard from Sam Mullins, Director of the Museum, who gave us a view of the last year and a taste of what 2014 holds, which I can tell you is exciting!
After this there was the presentation of a number of long service certificates to loyal volunteers (and there are many of them). Next came lunch in the yard, which was excellent and blessed with warm sunshine, followed by the the official opening of the Marble Arch Signal Frame, as featured in my previous posts.
On then to a number of very informative and entertaining updates from various parts of the museum; a bus pit tour, with an opportunity to see the underside of a GS type bus; an update on progress with the restoration of the second prototype Routemaster and a guided tour of tunnelling ephemera. After all this and more I left after five hours feeling amply rewarded for my paltry efforts, not to mention entertained and informed.
Written by Dave Olney, Volunteer
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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