Tag Archives: tour

Royal Academy at the Depot

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.

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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.

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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

Semi Detached Holden?

London’s transport heritage isn’t just about the vehicles; there is also a lot of very important legacies in the network infrastructure. Perhaps one of the better known parts is the architectural work of Charles Holden. I thought I knew it – until I was lucky enough to join the trial run of a new walking tour that the Museum offered to the public as part of the London Festival of Architecture summer programme, which ran throughout June.

Ten of us met at Oakwood station, at the outer reaches of the Piccadilly Line, including our guide for the tour, David Burnell, a long standing Friend of the museum and, more recently, volunteer. David started us off with a knowledgeable discourse on the history of the roots of Holden’s involvement in Underground architecture and the styles that influenced him. Next was a very informative and discerning explanation of the result, using both the interior and exterior of Oakwood to demonstrate the story.

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What did I learn? Well, art deco isn’t a type of architecture; it’s the design features. The architectural style is generally described as ‘British Modernism’.  And Holden only designed one half of his stations, the street level elements. The rail level design was the responsibility of Stanley Heaps, London Transport’s in house architect. They certainly gel well.

From Oakwood we caught a Piccadilly Line train one stop south to Southfields station, another Holden masterpiece, to my eye reminiscent of something from a Buck Rogers comic strip. Under David’s expert eye we also took a 15 minute walking detour via a fine selection of Edwardian suburbia.

Back at Southfield, we again took a train to Arnos Grove, the third in our trio of Holden’s, featuring a rectangular street building as at Oakwood. David again gave us an excellent overview of the main features of the building.

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Ever a glutton for punishment, I stayed on for the optional one hour walk through Arnos Park to Abbotshall Avenue, to see a fine row of 1930s Modernism houses, not to mention a detour to see the Arnos Park viaduct of the Piccadilly Line, an imposing brick edifice.

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

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.