On Diversion: To Kingston (upon Hull)

Yesterday I went to Kingston upon Hull.

Hull is the UK’s City of Culture this year and I was really happy to see so many great cultural activities and trails, venues and events advertised. My positive impression of the city was possibly influenced by the glorious sunshine – albeit also a little windy – and the fact I was off work for a day! Whoop! (Though arguably, the day was nothing other than a bus man’s holiday [a phrase which Wikipedia says dates back to 1893, a mind-blowing surprise to me as it seems so ‘modern’!]).

Bus operations in the city seemed to be run by Stagecoach with their distinctive blue and orange swiggly livery and East Yorkshire buses with what looked like vintage branding livery of cream and maroon. I saw lots of them about because I had buses on the brain.

I found myself in Queen Victoria Square and confronted by the giant artwork ‘Blade’ – a huge wind turbine blade, 75m long, produced by the local Siemens factory. I then walked along the marina, through cobbled streets and pedestrian ways of the Old Town, passed Holy Trinity Church and industrial buildings. I loved seeing all the statues of local people including poet Philip Larkin at the station, passing the Town Hall and Sessions Courts, along the High Street. The Museum of Clubbing was closed but I found myself in the Museums Quarter with an hour or two to spend. This was very enjoyable and I managed to quickly whizz around the Hull and East Riding Museum (highlights being the Roman mosaics and glassware and a giant ancient wooden boat), the Streetlife Museum (more below) and the Wilberforce Museum (which is a beautiful house telling the horrifying story of slavery and how social and political action has fought against the still prevailing trade in human life).

Treats for my next trip: the Fish Trail and the Ale Trail, hopefully with some friends.

Streetlife Museum of Transport

This museum recreates the streets of Hull from the 1940s, with associated shops and vehicles. There are examples of an ice cream van, a Regal III bus in dark blue livery, tramcars and road vehicles dating back 200 years including a rare three-wheeler Hackney Carriage. I particularly enjoyed seeing inside an old fashioned cycling shop and also how a railway signal box operated. It was fun to be surrounded by shop frontages, signage, streetlights and vehicles. Visitors ranged in age from pre-school to retirement age and it seemed to be engaging for all. It was quite refreshing to not be bombarded with huge amounts of signage and information panels and a major success for me was the opportunity to just enjoy the environment and learn from looking at the actual objects. Another display I particularly enjoyed was the recreation of Hull Museum’s first Director’s office in the entrance way, complete with a rather grizzly item – his waste paper bin made of an elephant’s foot!


P.S. Last night I delivered a talk about Saxon Kingston – Kingston so called because it was a royal estate, much like Kingston upon Hull (though that wasn’t named Kingston until 13th century)! I’ve decided I should start collecting ‘Kingstons’ and am happily looking for a benefactor to send me to Canada and/or Jamaica. Applicants need only comment in the section below and I will carefully consider your proposal! HA HA HA.



Designology at London Transport Museum

me-at-the-london-transport-museumA few weekends ago, Mum came to stay and I decided to take her to London Transport Museum. I’ve visited the Museum a few times (and wrote a blog about it once upon a time) but it was so exciting to be back! All the red shiny vehicles, signs in the distinctive New Johnston font and moving models are engrossing, and I wore my metaphorical anorak with pride and a broad grin throughout the visit!

Designology Exhibition

The present temporary display is all about London Transport Design. The upper floor has a series of objects on display, from bus stop flags to handrails and ticket barriers, a favourite exhibit being a collection of seat moquette and a video about how they are made. If you are interested in that too, there should a number of free drop in events as part of ‘Weaving Futures’ pop-up studio which will run 21st November to 18th February 2017.

Down the spiral stairs takes you to a ‘design studio’ of sorts which attempts to explain the design process for projects both realised, scrapped and for the future. I particularly enjoyed learning about how designers tested the effectiveness of the wayfinding mini- and monoliths (Legible London) using a full scale mdf and paper replica. I remember the real things being installed in Worcester Park and then Kingston a few years ago, a sort of proof that we are in London, despite what my ‘city’ friends might say about us ‘suburbians’!  The other half of downstairs is a space dedicated to designing, where a large table invites you to get stuck in and where the drop-in events are held.

This exhibition emphasises how integrated good design is with our everyday lives: ‘design that is often hidden by its familiarity’. It therefore connects quite well to my own interest in transport – the potential connections between place, heritage and everyday life – with these themes touched upon and celebrated in the display.

Designology is part of a wider project called ‘Transported by Design’ being run jointly by the Museum and TfL.

Gallery Activities

The design theme continued in a variety of wonderful gallery and visitor activities including: The Unfinished Bus, Make your own Oyster Card, Design your Own station and Create your own Bus! Definitely worth a visit, something fun for everyone and one of my favourite museums.




Coventry Transport Museum

The leaflet says “transport yourself somewhere different” and that’s what I did this weekend, visiting Coventry Transport Museum as part of my trip to the Midlands and back up to the Toon for Easter.

Coventry, much maligned, is really worth visiting if you want to understand how cars have changed British cityscapes for better and for worse. It is also in my experience full of very friendly people who like what they like, and want you to be you, which is really nice. As well as the Transport Museum, I also visited the Herbert Art Gallery, museum and local history centre, only arriving 20 minutes before closing time. Along with the Cathedral, these three are the main tourist attractions of the ‘Phoenix City’.

What follows is an account of my experience at the Transport Museum and also a bit about the history of the town presented there.

History of Coventry told through Transport

From ribbon weaving, timepiece manufacture and a small sewing machine industry, to cycles and finally cars, Coventry is clearly full of engineers, makers and practical problem solvers, people who can think stuff up and then make it with their own hands. The museum tells this story through a chronological presentation and by dividing the available space into ‘zones’ such as zone 02: “A new motor industry 1900-1914”.

On entry, it smells beautifully like engine oil, produced by the tractors in the temporary exhibition, but perhaps off-putting for cafe goers. It took me back to sometime in my dad’s garage where he was messing around with engine bits from his Coventry made 1959 Alvis saloon, happy and nostalgic.

There is a big ramp and stairway up to the entrance desk and then you are straight into the first ‘zone’. I learnt how Coventry used to make silk ribbons from 1700 to 1860s, which employed half the town. By the 1850s, watch-making and some sewing machine manufacture were the primary industries. I learnt this from a number of key industrialists who speak to you as you go by and are quite attractively illustrated. There are also videos throughout the museum which explain the wider changes taking place, narrated by one female voice and presented very clearly.

The first transport themed display is a timeline of bicycle development which became Coventry’s main source of employment in the second half of the 19th century. The first British bicycles were based on the French ‘velocipede’, but called Hobby Horses after the children’s toy because you moved them much in the same way, i.e. by shoving off the ground with your feet. Between 1868 and 1895, Coventry became the cycling capital of the world, with 30 factories at the end of the  period, employing skilled engineers. Between 1870 and 1885, the front wheel of the cycle increased in size towards what we call the Penny Farthing. This was primarily for athletic young men because it was all about speed and required physical strength to control. A whole raft of other machines were invented for less athletic men and for women including the 1881 Singer Challenge Tricycle which had space at the back for women’s billowing gowns, later developed into the Safety Bicycle with dropped frame, guards, gears, brakes and comfortable saddles for men and women. My favourite bit was the explanation and debate about Rational Dress which allowed women to wear practical knickerbockers instead of dresses to cycle in and was debated at the Museum (and in the 1880s) by men writing letters to newspapers. You can hear two opposing views with the best quote being: “If practical female dress is developed from cycling, I’m all for it”.

After the cycling boom, at the turn of the 20th century, Coventry became the centre for the motorcar industry. I really enjoyed the 1910 ‘Trip to London’ installation which saw the train, car, motor bike, pedal cycle and horse and cart race for the capital and arrive in that order. I found my favorite vehicle – the green 1913 Swift Cyclecar which was a hybrid of car and motor bike, lighter and cheaper than many of its contemporaries. Swift were one of 20 car manufacturers in Coventry at that time making a quarter of all British cars, the need for skilled workforce driving up the town’s population before World War One and producing lighter cars intended for mass consumption. There is then a small display about how these factories contributed to the war effort and what sort of things they made from ammunitions to knapsacks.

After the First World War, the production line principle reduced the need for skilled labour, leading to cheaper products and over 2 million private cars on the road by 1939. There is an explanation of how the shape of cars changed to reflect the art deco style, and you can design your own with tracing paper and light box templates provided. Some of the cars were simply enormous!

During the Second World War, there were 9 ‘shadow’ factories, called so because they were set up by the national government pre-war copying existing factory production lines. I played a game of ‘spot the enemy aircraft’ and got 8 out of 10 (unfortunately, accidentally shooting down two friendly craft, but one was a Spitfire so I don’t feel too guilty – long live the Hawker Hurricane!). The presence of so many factories made Coventry a prime target of the Luftwaffe and led to the destruction of most of the medieval town during bombing in 1940 (and particular the night of 14th November). There is a section of the gallery where you can go through the ‘Blitz Experience’.

Coventry’s medieval street pattern was considered too narrow for modern use even before the war. At that time, the City had the highest car ownership in Britain and roads were being widened through demolition. After World War Two, the city had to decide whether to rebuild as was or take the opportunity to try something new. It was re-planned  using modernist architecture principles by city architect, Donald Gibson. The idea was to encircle the new town centre, with its high-rise blocks and central retail precincts with a primary ring road for motor cars. The museum presents the debate of history versus progress, restoration versus innovation, comparing with the German city of Dresden which has rebuilt its historic fabric after destruction during Allied raids and subsequent Communist rule and blocky architecture. The ring road really is divisive, I hate having to negotiate crossing underneath it to get into the centre of town, but also really appreciate being able to walk everywhere within the centre, and personally quite like the shopping precincts. To create this architecture, it must have been an incredibly optimistic time in the 1950s, when they thought that things would always get better, unable to predict they cycle of recessions we have since experienced, which has left Coventry and many other city centres around Britain with a perpetual half-finished feeling. You can vote for rebuilding or the future at the Museum.

Peak car production was between 1962 and 1964. Fast-forward to the 1980s and you can experience what it was like during the closures of Coventry’s car factories due to recession (Between 1974 to 1982, British employment fell by 27%, Coventry’s by 46%). There is a picket line, which calls out “scum, don’t you cross the line!” as you do so. There is also a reconstruction of the board room of Peugeot Company where you can listen to the debates between managers and the union representatives of the workers. This was the last car factory to close in 2006. The friendly woman explains how the prosperity of Coventry was far too dependent on this one industry, how communication broke down between union leaders and managers, leading eventually to the demise of the industry as wages sky rocketed, production slowed and the quality and development of the product stalled.

The Museum is massive. I was pretty tired by the time I reached a general gallery showcasing a variety of vehicles from funeral hearses to caravans and police cars. There is also a collection of dinky toys (the TIATSA model world). Upstairs includes a section on future technologies e.g. environmental design, aerodynamic innovations, plus the Jaguar interactive experience and Coventry Champions section. Back down a pokey stairwell to the supersonic machines section – it’s all very sci-fi and quite scary to me – giant land speeders with a pay to ride experience. I wasn’t much interested in these galleries.

As the Museum’s leaflet points out, it “isn’t just for transport enthusiasts; it’s for storytellers and escapists; speed freaks and thrill seekers; history buffs and culture vultures”. All in all, it really is successful at proving that transport history is actually social history and worth all of us paying a little bit more attention to. Worth a visit if you can.

100 Years of Merton Bus Garage

Sunday 17th November 2013

Last Sunday I hopped on a 93 towards Putney Bridge, alighted at ‘Morden Road / South Wimbledon’ bus stop and walked into my first bus themed heritage event – the centenary of Merton Garage.

Organised by Trevor Johnson (General Manager at Merton and Sutton Garages) and his colleagues, the event included stalls, tours of the garage and historic buses to board. They were fundraising for charity Mencap, who provide support to people with learning disabilities and their families.  For the garage, it was also business as usual on the day – so there were bus drivers trying to get on with work when we were poking our noses into their Output (a new definition for me – the room where drivers sign on and off).

One of the buses on display included the new Boris Bus. This was the first time I’d been on one, I’m not so sure about the colour choices but otherwise it’s alright isn’t it? I almost bought a Central area bus map from 1934 but decided against it, instead picking up an 1950s picture of an OK Bus, Country Durham for my dad.

Met up with my 213 friend Roger and he paid for me and him to go through the bus wash (on a bus, I’d add – otherwise a bit rough and wet!). We also went on a tour around the garage which including standing underneath a single decker to look at the engine. Mentioned quite a few times was ‘Adblue’ (cow’s urine) used to clean the engine exhaust fumes (I think , ah… apparently ammonia reduces the nitrous oxide emissions from diesel engines). There was quite a bit of discussion on the restrictions involved in bus provision and TfL’s targets etc. I’m surprised there is any money in it at all to be honest! Each bus is serviced 12 times a year, so every 28 – 35 days and the maintenance team service 25 buses a week. A bus is expected to last for around 5 years and it’s engine power is tempered down using the gear box to ensure a smooth-ish travel experience.

On my way home, I boarded an RTL bus from Merton Bus Garage to Wimbledon Village. The Underground sign of South Wimbledon glowed warmth in the twilight; a male clippy in modern dress gave us a ticket from whirring machine then came round with a bucket for donations; I was slightly concerned that the engine might give up the ghost when going up the hill to Wimbledon Village as it got very slow and you could hear it chugging along. When I got out, I had to walk to the front and shout a thank you to the driver as he was isolated in his little driving booth. The bus looked so beautiful when lit up at night, emitting a warm light rather than the blue tinged glare of modern buses. 

Another highlight was the 50p cupcake – yummy!

The actual anniversary was the 20th November. Originally opened in 1913 by London General Omnibus Company, the garage was modernised in 1960 and again in 1991. It is responsible for the maintenance of vehicles also kept at Sutton Garage – so any poorly 213s come here. The 213 (as 113) was allocated initially to Merton Garage in 1921 for 2 months only before transferal to the newly completed Kingston and Sutton garages.

On diversion… (44/44A from Newcastle to Dinnington)

As a slight diversion from all things 213, I thought it might be fun to tell you about buses in Newcastle.

Buses in Newcastle are not as good as buses in London. When I lived in Newcastle (which I did for 19ish years on and off), I avoided buses. In fact, I only used them because my boyfriend always lived away from the Metro system we have here, first in a little place called Dinnington and then in the east end of the city, Heaton. (As a second aside, the Metro is super cute with only 2 lines!). I’m sad to say that nearly all buses in Newcastle smell of McDonald’s chips. The other main problem is, they don’t tell you anything once you get on the bus, so if you don’t know where you are going you have to do a guess-timate of where to get off or hope your driver is friendly. This makes bus travel a bit of a hazard, and I only get them up here because my folks won’t put me on their car insurance (a sensible decision, I am blonde and occasionally very ditzy)

The Dinnington bus is run by Arriva. It used to be a 45, but now it’s a 44 or a 44A. It used to run every quarter of an hour, going to half hourly after 7pm. Now it’s half hourly, with one an hour after 7pm. This isn’t good. It also costs £2.20 for a single trip from where I lived to Dinningston, £2.70 from the centre of town. There isn’t an Oyster card system so you have to have cash. They are quite empty, and because they move faster than London buses (less congestion), they are noisy! They do however come in fun colours, Arriva’s buses are turquoise-ish and cream usually, but I also boarded a red ‘United’ double decker this time, which is apparently a modern bus, repainted in celebration of 100 years of the company. Another bus has a huge painted zip on the side, half in red, half in Arriva’s modern colours. You can find out more here: http://www.arrivabus.co.uk/100-years-of-service/ which also tells you about a cool school project to collect stories and poems from the bus. And shamelessly, I’ve nicked the photo from http://northeastbusnews.wordpress.com/.

This is my favourite poem, by Daniel, aged 8:

The Bus Poem
Buses are comfy
Buses are great
Buses are fantastic
Buses are the best
Buses are big
Buses are cool
Buses are warm
Buses are lush
Buses are spectacular

I have also been on a 10A from Ryton to Newcastle run by GoNorthEast (the northern version of Go Ahead London who run the 213 route). They come every 20 minutes even late at night and the driver let me change a tenner with him so that was good, even if the ticket cost over £2.50.

Did you know that Britain (excluding London) is the only country in the world with an entirely privatised / deregulated bus service? More to come on that once I’ve read up a bit.

London Transport Museum

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.

The London Bus Museum

I visited the London Bus Museum a few weekends ago. Although the history of buses (types/vehicle development) is only tangentially related to my project – which is more about social and local history – this place is absolutely invaluable as a place to meet people who understand values and meanings surrounding bus travel, routes and the social experiences we have on buses.

The Museum itself shares a site with Brooklands Museum. Admission is pretty steep at around £10 for the whole site. On the other hand, if historic vehicles are your kind of thing, there is plenty to see. I went during a classic car testing event where people drove their Pre-WW2 cars around various courses, but there are also permanent displays of planes and racing cars.

The London Bus Museum‘s website is an excellent resource for people wanting an introduction into the history of the London Bus.

London Bus Museum Leaflet

The Museum itself is within a big shed (can’t think of a better word!) with huge printed vinyl partitions creating the exhibition space – presumably to provide flexibility, moving buses about requires a lot of space! The display is a chronological narrative of the history of the London Bus from the first horse drawn carriages to the Routemaster types (the famous standardised red double-decker). I was super excited because the bus in the entrance was a 1920’s 213 (technically a 113 at this time) and to be honest I didn’t pay enough attention to the overall display as I was so concerned about finding more 213s!

See the photos section for the pictures I took of all the wonderful buses. They have all lovingly been restored by the Museum which is run completely by volunteers of the London Bus Preservation Trust. What is wonderful about this place is it lives up to its tagline ‘A living heritage ‘. This is a working space, most of the buses proudly display their up-to-date tax discs and actually work! There is evidence in plain view of the restoration work taking place behind the scenes for example, buses displayed in various stages of restoration, spare parts left in the Museum environment.

I was lucky enough to meet Kevin, Operations Manager and Alan, a retired bus driver and volunteer, who were really enthusiastic about my project and even took me into the Restoration and Maintenance Workshop immediately behind the Museum. This is where I got my photo taken behind the wheel of a 213. They had just finished its restoration, and luckily they didn’t show me where the start button was until after I’d tried the accelerator pedal! Talking to these guys was the first time I felt that this project really had substance, it gave me confidence that at least some people would appreciate the work I was about to undertake and be interested in the result – Thanks you!

My favourite bit of information from talking to Kevin and Alan was an insight into the subculture which is bus driving. Did you know that a ‘Steering Wheel Attendant’ is long hand for ‘Bus Driver’? With this in mind, what do you think a ‘Steering Wheel Polisher’ is? Answers on a postcard or below!

They suggested a few sites to look up regarding the history of the 213 so that’s what I’ll be doing next, along with an update on my local history research.