Tag Archives: Director’s Blog

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!

Uncovering Hidden London

by Sam Mullins OBE, London Transport Museum’s Director

Abandoned stations and lost underground tunnels have long exerted a special fascination. As Londoners hurry on their well-beaten paths through the modern metro, they pass the locked doors and lost entrances which lead to a secret world of redundant lift shafts, cavernous ventilation ducts and redundant platforms. The Tube is an ever-expanding system, which in its need to carry even more passengers, has left in its wake hidden places and spaces. Shrouded in mystery this lost subterranean world has given rise to a good deal of urban myth and speculation, from secret government installations to the home of ghosts, aliens and flesh-eating troglodytes.

A man and a woman shining a light down an abandoned tunnel
An abandoned tunnel at Aldwych station.

The truth is often more prosaic than this. The Museum’s Hidden London tour programme uncovers the flotsam and jetsam cast aside by the Underground’s continuous response to the incessant demands to keep the city on the move. Guided tours open up the lost worlds of London’s Underground and give fresh insights into the city’s history.

A richly illustrated book based on new research and unprecedented access to these lost worlds has shone new light into the Cold War bunker beneath Hampstead Heath, Churchill’s secret refuge from the Blitz at Down Street, the world’s first underground terminus at King William Street and lost tunnels at Euston and Piccadilly Circus.

A new immersive exhibition opens in the Museum’s Global Gallery  on 11 October 2019. Hidden London: the Exhibition will take you on a journey of some of London’s most secret spaces in the oldest subterranean railway in the world. These ‘forgotten’ parts of the Tube network have incredible stories to tell about Britain’s wartime past; such as the Plessey aircraft underground factory which had 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, working in two 2.5-mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line during the Second World War.

Factory workers at Plessey Underground factory, 1941 © TfL

Visiting the exhibition you’ll be able to enjoy – some for the very first time – the largest number of rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations that have been brought together in one location. You’ll be able to see what sheltering was like for Churchill in a recreation of the secret dining room at Down Street station, where he was served the best caviar, champagne, brandy and cigars, courtesy of the railway hotels.

Black and white photo of the entrance of Down Street station
Down Street station, 1907

You can also explore other iconic locations featured in the book which we’re recreating in our Global Gallery, including the historic abandoned ticket hall at Aldwych station with an original 1930s ticket booth, and its famous Leslie Green tiles, the modernist Hampstead High Level abandoned station and the sights and sounds of Hidden London.

Hidden London: the Exhibition opens on Friday 11 October 2019. Join us on the opening night at the first of our Hidden London themed Museum Lates.