Tag Archives: Museum Collections

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!

Celebrating 20 years of our Museum Depot

by Keith Raeburn, Depot Logistics Supervisor and Mike Dipre, Depot Manager

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of London Transport Museum’s remarkable store, our Acton Depot in west London.

When the Museum Depot first opened on its rail-connected site on 14 October 1999, it was pioneering – the first museum store in the UK to be specifically designed with regular public access in mind. Part warehouse, part rail depot, part workshop, part education space, the Depot is home to over 90% of our vast and diverse collections. For anyone wanting to dig a little deeper into London’s rich transport and design heritage, a visit to the Depot is a must!

Trains in Acton Depot
Some of the trains in the Depot

In the 20 years since we opened, we have continued to expand the work we do at the Depot. Acton Depot is much more than a static store, it’s a working building where our curators, conservators and volunteers record, manage and restore our collections.

Maintenance and restoration of our historic vehicles, both road and rail, also takes place here – the Depot plays a vital role in ensuring that London Transport Museum’s visitors can not only see historic buses and underground trains, but experience the sights and sounds of riding on them as well!

Volunteers working on the Q stock at the depot

In the past year alone, the Museum has brought steam trains back to the District line, Art Deco heritage tube stock to Central London, as well as a 99-year-old London bus (and bus shelter) to Salisbury Plain.

The Depot has played its role as the operations base for these specialist operations, allowing us to reach new audiences far beyond our Covent Garden home.

As we look to the future, the experiences that London Transport Museum offer are becoming more numerous and varied every year – and the Depot plays its part. We’ve always offered guided tours to dig deeper into our collection – these have grown in number and diversity and we now offer five different options, including one for younger visitors and families. 2020 will see over 40 days dedicated to the various guided tours, which run alongside group visits and the Learning sessions Mind the Gap and Inspire Engineering.

Primary school pupils discovering the world of transport at one of our Mind the Gap sessions

Our popular Open Weekends allow visitors to truly explore according to their own agenda. They have grown so popular that as of 2017 we have added a third weekend to the programme, and we now welcome 15,000 visitors each year.

While our 2019 Open Weekends are now over, we have a great programme planned for next year. Sign up to our enewsletter to find out when new Open Weekends is available.

Also at the depot is the London Transport Miniature Railway, a working miniature railway based on real London Underground locomotives, carriages, signals and signs. Maintained and run by volunteers, you can take a ride on it during the Open Weekends. On 26 October, we’re running a family volunteering session. Find out more on our Volunteers webpage.

We are certain that the next twenty years will see our Acton Depot playing an even more central part in the Museum’s programme!

To celebrate the Depot’s birthday, we’ve pulled together 20 of our favourite objects at the Depot. Check them out on our Google Arts & Culture story!

Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile

By Georgia Morley, curator

I have been very fortunate to work as Project Curator on ‘Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile’ from 2017-2018. This project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has given us the opportunity to look into the use of moquette on the transport system since the 1920s.

Assisted by two Young Freelancers, Elizabeth Clark and Marie Stewart, we have uncovered many fascinating stories behind the design, manufacturing and use of moquette through the ages.

History 

Moquette – which means carpet in French – is a tough woollen fabric that is used in upholstery on public transport all over the world. The fabric is produced using a weaving technique known as jacquard, and is typically made of 85% wool, 15% nylon mix, with a cotton backing. Before the use of moquette on public transport vehicles, seats were either unpadded timber seats and benches or upholstered in rattan, leather, leathercloth, cotton or silk velvets.

Men working in a shop. One is fitting a moquette.
Trimming shop at Acton Works, fitting ‘Chesham’ moquette design by Marion Dorn, 1954

Research and collection

London Transport Museum’s collection holds over 400 samples of moquette from the 1920s to the present day. We conducted in depth research at many different institutions and collections that hold moquette across London and the UK. By meeting some of the specialist project partners we have gained an insight into why this fabric is so iconic to the life and soul of London and its transport system for over 100 years.

black and white image of people on a train.
‘Caledonian’ moquette design by Marion Dorn on proposed Amersham (Metropolitan) line, 1946

During the research we conducted oral histories with key figures, collected new moquette designs and photographs of moquette in use today. We uncovered a new design by the iconic designer Enid Marx and discovered a new designer of moquette from the 1930s.

We worked in partnership with St Mungo’s, a charitable organisation which supports those who are homeless or have experienced homelessness. A ten-week course at ‘St Mungo’s Recovery College’ was run by a freelance educator and artist practitioner celebrating the design and history of moquette.

Three people on a stage, one is holding a mic and speaking.
Speakers at the ‘Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile’ symposium, 2017

Visitors gained an insight into moquette through a wide range of public events at London Transport Museum and Acton Depot including; Urban Fabric (Friday Late), London Uncovered (Depot Open Weekend), Design Connections: Robert Elms in conversation with Wallace Sewell and Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile (Symposium). The events brought together the project partners along with a varied audience of practitioners, lecturers, historians, museum professionals, volunteers, students as well as the public.

We are now sharing all our new discoveries with the public on our Collections Online website.

What is Contemporary Collecting?

By Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

When Southgate station was renamed ‘Gareth Southgate’, when Transport for London‘s staff members took part in Brighton Trans Pride, and when the tube driver Harvey Mitchell stopped his train to pay tribute to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, London Transport Museum’s Documentary Curators were at the ready to follow and record these stories and to bring them into the Museum’s collections.

Gareth Southgate roundel
Gareth Southgate roundel

These news-worthy events are one side of the contemporary collecting work that I do alongside my colleague Susanna Cordner; sometimes we collect the exceptions – things that don’t happen every day – and sometimes we collect things that seem ordinary now but will be hard to get hold of in a few weeks, months or years.

Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

As well as reacting to unexpected events, there are some projects that we can plan for. Over the next few years we’ll be running a collecting project in places where Crossrail stations are being built, to see how the new line changes the local areas.

OUTBound at Brighton Trans pride event, 21st July 2018, photo © Andy De Santis, used with permission
OUTBound at Brighton Trans pride event, 21st July 2018, photo © Andy De Santis, used with permission

Working with groups like OUTbound (TfL’s LGBT+ Staff network) means that sometimes we can find and record stories that wouldn’t be shared elsewhere.

Trans pride roundel, in the curators’ offices at London Transport Museum, 20th August 2018, photo © London Transport Museum
Trans pride roundel, in the curators’ offices at London Transport Museum, 20th August 2018

Our aim is to collect objects and stories that tell us about the times we are living in. This can be difficult because sometimes the ‘real’ object has been destroyed through use and we might only be able to get hold of related material – for instance, the designs or plans for a piece or project. There are some new things that we are still learning to collect: for example, we have a lot of old tickets, but maybe it’s time we collected oyster and contactless journey data.

When we find a suitable object, we propose it for review by the Museum’s Collections Development Group. If the group agree it’ll be a good addition to the collection, is in manageable condition and fits our collecting policy, then the Museum will preserve it alongside the rest of its objects. Sometimes these things get out on display straight away, but most are kept in the stores, for future fruition.

Harvey Mitchell, 24th July 2018, photo © London Transport Museum
Harvey Mitchell, 24th July 2018

Although we are usually free from discussions about repatriation and the questions that other museums must face about human remains, we still need to think about how we collect responsibly. It’s important that we are inclusive; work respectfully with the people who donate their stories and objects to the museum, and ensure that the acquisitions represent London’s diversity. If we don’t, then we aren’t telling the true story of transport in London at all.

I love working to collect the stories of transport in London today, there is so much to learn and so many fascinating things to discover. We couldn’t do it without everyone taking part and sharing their stories. If you have a contemporary object or story that you would like to share, please send us an email at documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk.