Tag Archives: London Transport Museum

The bright young things who put women centre stage

Written by David Bownes, co-curator of Poster Girls – a century of art and design and Director of twentiethcenturyposters.com

Of all the designers featured in the Poster Girls exhibition, none were as glamorous as the Scottish-born sisters, Doris and Anna Zinkeisen, whose precocious talent, beauty, and modernity propelled them into the centre of interwar London’s fashionable art scene. Typically described in the pages of society papers as ‘extremely pretty’ and ‘brilliantly clever’, it would be easy to view the sisters as the epitome of the entitled ‘bright young things’ parodied by Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies (1930). But there was so much more to Anna and Doris than this, as their extraordinary body of work testifies. And as the posters in London Transport Museum’s exhibition show, it was a body of work that put confident, independent, women firmly on the centre stage.

Born in 1898, Doris was the elder of the two by three years. Despite the age gap, they trained together at the Royal Academy Schools and by the mid-1920s were sharing a studio in London. The range of their work was dazzling, including book illustration, publicity for railway companies, murals for the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth ocean liners, and society portraits of the fashionable ‘set’. Doris also developed a hugely successful career as a stage and costume designer for theatre and films, working alongside Noel Coward, Charles B Cochran and Cole Porter.

But it is their depiction of women that strikes the viewer as truly modern. Take, for example, the panel posters produced by Anna for the inside of Tube carriages. These show dynamic, active, women who are not defined by their relationship to men – a far cry from most commercial art of the time. Similarly, Doris’ unpublished poster of female theatre goers (1939) depicts a group of young women enjoying a night out without an obvious male chaperon (shown above). And the subject matter, too, is far removed from traditional ‘feminine’ commissions. Anna’s output for the Underground included motor shows, air displays and military parades. There was also something distinctly racy about their portrayal of the modern woman. The scantily clad revellers of Anna’s Merry-go-round poster (1935) would raise eyebrows even today, while Doris’ costumes for the West End play Nymph Errant (1933) were regarded as so revealing that the chorus girls refused to wear them. In the changed circumstance of the Second World War, their work became less frivolous but no less assertive, as their moving depictions of female war workers demonstrates.

  

Image: Merry-go-round (1935) Anna Zinkeisen

Inspired by the Zinkeisen sisters and their female design contemporaries, London Transport Museum is hosting a very special evening event this Friday celebrating the Golden Age of the 1920s and 30s poster design.  Experience vintage girl power and iconic art movements through curated lectures and workshops and discover Poster Girls after hours. With music, dancing and bars it promises to be a fun night.

Full details can be found here: https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/friday-lates

 

Volunteer Thank You Event

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

Aldwych Goes Public

I arrived at Aldwych on another bitterly cold Friday in good time for the final briefing and safety check; as a disused station is not maintained as a public environment, so every eventuality has to be anticipated and planned for.  Arrival of the first public visitors immediately confirmed the great enjoyment these visits give people: a row of 40 smiling faces, drinking in the sight and ambience of the station booking hall (and probably also warming up, truth be told).

First things first, the visitors have to be fully safety-briefed before being given an overview of the station’s history by their volunteer tour guide.  Then, in line with the standard pattern of the tour, a couple of minutes for personal exploration and photos before moving to the next site – which involves descending 161 stairs to the lower level of the station. Keeping to time is a major consideration:  there are a number of tours on a given day, and these are tightly timed to a length of 45 minutes so as to offer as many tours as possible to the public. Next it’s the lower lift landings, followed by the two platforms. The western one was in public use until closure of the station in 1994, and was complete with a train of 1972 Northern Line stock.

From there it’s smartly over to the eastern platform (decommissioned in 1914) all the while watching for trip hazards.  This platform features a stretch of track laid in 1907. Note how there’s no suicide pit, a 1920’s innovation. Throughout the benefit of the careful preparation by the volunteers pays off, not just in their set pieces but in answering the many questions, covering every conceivable aspect of the station and much else about the underground system.

Finally, all photos taken and every question answered, we set off for the surface again, up the 161 steps (being so many, one is apt to count!).

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Preparing to Deliver Tours at Aldwych Station

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

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

Half Term Object Handling

School half term is a great British institution, and as we all know no half term holiday is complete without a visit to London Transport Museum. So half term always produces a spike in visitor numbers, and the museum’s volunteers put their shoulders to the wheel to help maximise the activities on offer.

So on Thursday 1st October 2012 in the galleries of the museum I found Ash Ketchum preparing the object handling stall in anticipation of the rush, and she was soon joined by Ken Richards. The stall had a bus theme and was designed around bus ticketing through the ages.  Ash has been fanatical about London buses since she was a young child, and has a family history around public transport in South East London. She has only been a volunteer with the museum since August 2012, so very much a new recruit. On the other hand, Ken has been a volunteer since 1998, originally joining up when he saw an appeal for volunteer guides in ‘On the Move’, the Underground staff magazine at the time; Ken was a Booking Clerk prior to retirement. Since then he has been involved in a range of activities, most recently delivering the ‘Finding the way’ object handling theme.

Later in the day came the rush – inevitably youngsters can’t resist the opportunity to produce a ticket for themselves and try on a hat. Ash and Ken were kept very busy – all I can say is that I hope that the museum has a very large cache of old tickets for future use.

Two young visitors fascinated by the stall were Tatyana De Freitas (above) and Frankie Newman Smith (below), both shown here getting stuck in. Frankie has London Transport history in her family, so perhaps a volunteer in the making..?

Dave Olney, Volunteer