Today I went to the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden. I’ve been in touch with their curatorial team already and hope to search their database once I can get some time to visit the library. Before that, I wanted to dedicate a few hours to looking around the museum itself, and there is certainly a lot to see!
My first experience of the LTM was nearly 2 months ago when I found myself with an hour spare in town and went to see the ‘Poster Art 150’ exhibition. This is a great collection of posters advertising the Underground from way back in the late 19th century to present day. There are some beautiful designs and the graphic style varies greatly even when keeping distinctive elements such as the ‘Underground’ lettering and symbol, so everyone should find a few to be particular favourites.
The admission charge for the Museum is quite steep at £15 but the great thing for Londoners (and repeat visitors to London) is that the ticket allows entry for a year. So I rocked up today and went straight in. My major piece of advice is follow the chronological sequence laid out for you, the museum displays make a lot more sense this way! I’m not sure if there is an adults’ map for the museum, but I was using ‘The Stamper Trail’ to do so and it was fun punching holes in cardboard like a Clippie (Female bus conductor).
The permanent displays begin at the top floor. These detail the initial development of the railways, the decline of water travel, and the development in the 19th century of horse drawn buses and trams. There are three vehicles on this level: an omnibus (horse drawn, single deck bus), a horse bus (double deck, upper level exposed), and a horse drawn tram. Bus travel in the early days was pretty expensive, and not in high demand as most of London’s population lived within walking distance of work. However, ‘Omnibus’ is Latin for ‘for all’ and this development in transport really was the beginning of what is now a very impressive public service – the London Transport Network.
The major restriction on bus development was that is relied upon horse power. Increased bus use led directly to demand for horses, leading also to the need for horse feed, which was finite. By the mid 19th century, Parisian bus companies had merged to reduce prices, London followed and by late 1856 the ‘London General Omnibus Company’ (LGOC) had acquired 75% of London’s buses, becoming the largest bus company in the world.
The middle level is about the early Underground and the railway network, with full scale locomotives and carriages to sit in. There are also drawers with ephemera such as tickets, leaflets and postcards which are fascinating. It details the basically uncontrolled development of the suburbs in the 1920s which was part driven by, part facilitated by the rise in public transport, and only ceased by the Second World War. This is also the floor where you start the Posters exhibition, and the library and an interactive zone are also located here.
My favourite objects were the unfurled bus ‘blinds’, the things buses use to display where they are going to. I hope to reconstruct one for the 213, or ask Sutton Bus Garage whether they can show me what destinations it should have (It needs Kingston, Sutton Bus Garage, North Cheam, New Malden The Fountain, Norbiton, the one it uses when it terminates next to Coombe Girls ??, and ??? you tell me!).
The ground floor is vast, illustrating the development of the Underground to the present day, and the change in bus design over the 20th century. There are lots of historic bus types, but the main builder was the AEC (Associated Equipment Company). London Transport began existence in 1933, and at that time inherited 6,000 buses and coaches from LGOC (above) which had been operating 95% of London bus routes. There is an RT type bus, a Routemaster and a number of earlier types too to which vistiors have limited on board access.
Some bus-y facts for you: on average, one bus can transport 95 passengers (imagine the lack of traffic if people didn’t use cars!), the bus is the most used form of transport in London, there are 6 million passenger journeys a day on over 700 bus routes, and the London bus network is the greenest in the UK.
First World War bus use: buses were used to transport troops to and from the battlefield. They originally retained their livery and signage but were later painted khaki green. Some buses were rebuilt as lorries, ambulances and mobile carrier pigeon lofts due to the massive shortage of function vehicles.
Second World War buses: still no women drivers (indeed none until 1974 equality legislation), the key bus travel accessories were gas masks, and something white to be seen in the black outs when waiting at your stop. Transport was in high demand during the war and apparently services were very overcrowded. Windows were fitted with anti-blast netting, blacked out and vehicle lights dimmed or shaded at night.
My bathroom break was delightfully accompanied by wallpaper based on 1940’s moquette from an RT-type bus. I am currently making a cardboard person-sized RT which were used on the 213 route from 1963 to 1972. The easiest way I’ve found to tell RTs from Routemasters it to look at the radiator grills on the front, the former are taller and thinner, the later squatter and wider. My boyfriend is now convinced I have become an anorak, and to be honest, I probably am.