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.


K04: Tiffin School, London Road

K04 banner

The History of London Road (Part 1) – From Tiffin School to Clarendon House

These photos were taken of the north side of London Road, Kingston on a sunny day in March 2015. Looking at the variety of buildings you can see remnants of Kingston’s past – in the physical structures, but also in the types of businesses (undertaker, garage, restaurant, offices) and even in the names of some of them, which have survived for longer than the 213 bus has been running.

Using the Kelly’s Street Directories for Kingston editions of 1922,  1925, 1930, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1956, 1960, 1966 and 1971, and a variety of resources available in Kingston’s Local History Collection, the following is a collaged together history of London Road, no. 117 to 151 from 1921. It isn’t intended to be comprehensive, nor would such a history be possible to write – there is so much to tell even along this short section of road.

Lovekyn Chapel or the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene

Founded in 1309 by Edward Lovekyn and largely rebuilt in 1213 sweeps past the Lovekyn Chapel352 by his son John (a saltfish merchant, and four times Mayor of Kingston), it is now Grade II* listed and one of few remaining freestanding chantry chapels in England. Edward VI dissolved chantry chapels in 1547, and his sister Elizabeth I decreed the chapel and endowments to a free grammar school (Kingston Grammar) in 1561. Classes were held there until 1878 when the school moved to new purpose built premises. It was used as the gymnasium from 1904 to 1937 (see fabulous photo in Butters (2013, page 338)) and latterly as the  Carpentry workshop. It was restored in 1999 and opened as an arts and music venue

No.115 London Road

Also called Walnut Tree House, Elmfield was previously Chapel Farm, on the estate of the Lovekyn Chapel, but it ceased as a working farm in 1737. The Chapel Farm included the main house of brick, stables, coach houses, barns, other outbuildings, a dove cote and 9 acres of land. Most of the house was rebuilt in 1754, and much of the surviving building is original including a fanlight over a first floor door, staircase and some fireplaces. In 1851 is was a school for girls, in 1861 it was The Elms, a private home.

The site was briefly the home for the School for Physically Defective Children. This first opened in October 1905 at Church Road, then moved to Fairfield South in December 1912 and to the Elmfield site in March 1922 but had to vacate it in 1929 when Tiffin School moved there. Kingston Local History collection hass a souvenir pamphlet about the official opening of purpose built premises on Grange Road in 1931, describing the building which is now Bedelsford School.

Tiffin School

‘Bricks and mortar may not be all that is required to make a school, but a dignified, well-designed structure may go a long way towards scholastic efficiency and the promotion of the right atmosphere’  letters page, Surrey Comet 2nd November 1929.

Tiffin Boys School moved to the Elmfield site in 1929, to a new school building which including land purchase and furnishings cost Surrey County Council approximately £50,000 (land was £5,800 for 5 acres). It was officially opened on October 31st 1929 by Lord Ashcombe, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, in the attendance of: the Mayor of Kingston, Bishop of Kingston, Chairman of Surrey County Council, Chairman of Maldens and Coombe Urban District and a whole load of other officials and prominent Kingstonians including Mr R H Turk (of Turks Steamers), Mr V Knapp (publisher of Comet) and Mr L H Bentall (of Bentalls).

The Building comprised of 14 ‘light and airy’ classrooms, 5 science laboratories, an art room, a special room for geography, a library and ‘in the house which was being reconditioned’ [presumably Elmfield] a music room, dining rooms and a kitchen. It was designed to accommodate 600 boys. Reported in the Surrey Comet at the time, salaries amounted to £11,000 per year total. 130 boys entered examinations for a scholarship each year, of which 14 were awarded in 1929, and although 98% were ‘fit to enter a secondary school’, only 10% went on to accept a fee-paying place.

In Kingston District in 1929, 1200 children were being education at Kingston Grammar and the Tiffin Schools; 250 were in Junior Technical Schools, 240 in Day Commercial School, and approximately 1750 taking evening classes at the Technical College.

The Tiffin brothers were wealthy brewers in the 17th century who left a sum of £150 for the education of poor boys and apprentices, which in turn led to the establishment of the Tiffin Schools by Kingston Corporation for lower middle class children. The school opened in January 1880 with 36 boys and 46 girls at what is now St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School on the Fairfield. By the end of the 19th century, the school had 700 pupils and 1899 saw the girls vacate to premise on St James Road. In the 1918 Education Act, all children to be educated to 14; which increased demand for school places. In 1929 there were 486 pupils at Tiffin, and the Fairfield site didn’t have an assembly hall big enough to address the whole school, so it was quite a momentous occasion to move to their new home.

The Queen Elizabeth Road building of 1929 now has lots of additions – South Building (1986), Chester Centre (1991), Sports Centre (1996), Dempsey Centre (2004). School now has over 1000 pupils.

No.119 London Road

G52 - Powell Undertakers

Powell, Albert Percy is listed as undertaker there in 1922 Now Greenwood, an independent, family run funeral directors. (left is a bill for a funeral which is part of our ephemera collection)




No.121/127 London Road

Fulford Garage (K1-2363)

Fulfords of Kingston: Fulford Garage, described as a Coachworks in 1922, was established in 1877. In the Street directory of 1966, they are described as motor body repairers and collision refinishers. They are still in business today.



No.135 London Road

Tram Depot (K1-2155)London Transport Executive (Tramways) Sub-station was built in 1906 by Courtney and Fairbairn at a cost of £1669 to house three 500kW rotary converters and 10 200Ks transformers to power the borough’s tramways.

Electric trams were seen as an alternative to horse-drawn omnibuses (‘holty-jolty things’). The metal lines needed better quality roads and overhead cabling. The 32 miles of tramline were begun on 3rd April 1905 and involved the work of over 100 men. Many buildings were demolished for the necessary road widening but they still managed to official open on 1st March 1906. Kingston Corporation had proposed its own scheme in 1900 but after debate in parliament, it was London United Tramways, chaired by Sir Clifton Robinson a Hampton resident, who provided the network. Trams were replaced by Trolleybuses on 15th June 1931, which in turn were withdrawn in May 1968

 No. 137 London Road

H Taylor and Co. (K1-6724)Originally the site of the (Three) Jolly Sailors a large inn dating back to at least 1768, which closed in 1913. It has been the premises of Taylor, H and Co. Cycling shop and later Motor Car Agents, then Kwik Fit tyre dealers


No.141 London Road

Vine House was built in 1737 by gentleman of means, Richard Garbrand. Between
1921 and 1933 it was the dental surgery of Frank Bevan, but it lost its front garden during street widening and the windows of the basement were bricked up as the road was raised. Converted to shops in late 1930s, the frontage was restored in 1966, and interior restoration by Haslemere Estates completed in 1979.

No.145 London Road

Hepworth Iron Co. (K1-2002)This was a complicated site, including the building, left – which still survives and was used by Hepworth Iron Co. Ltd. There was also a huge factory on the site, which housed at one time Micro Precision Products.


In 1930, no.145 was home to the Surrey Group Anti-aircraft Searchlight Companies, Royal Engineers (TA) and 316th (Surrey) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company HQ. By 1938, Perring, John Ltd ‘complete house furnishers’ had a “bright modern store” there.


Perring War Effort - Imperial War Museum collection“You’ll fine style you can be comfortable with at Perring’s”

Set up in 1892 by two brothers, John and William, with premises at Richmond and Paddington, the businesses expanded to Twickenham, Putney and Tooting and Harlesden and Willesden. By 1938, John’s chain had 20 branches and William’s had 13. Shops in Kingston, Sutton and Guildford converted in World War Two to factories led by volunteers producing 8.5million armature coils (electrical equipment for planes radios). Perrings had the most outworkers employed by a single organisation during the war effort. It was an all female staff, highly skilled, manipulating 450 miles of wire per day which was not much thicker than human hair under the directorship of Sir Ralph Perring. In 1992 the company still had premises at Eden Street and Head Quarters at Avenue House, Malden Road, Worcester Park, but they went into receivership in 1994.

No.145a was Hickman and Bishop estate agents, also Nash and Thompson Ltd aka Archie Frazer Nash, sports car designer and manufacturer, inventors of the FN Gun Turret – an hydraulic powered machine gun turret dated 1929 and later fitted to Hawker airplanes.

No.145b was McMurdo Instrument Co. Ltd electro-mechanical engineers and Mirco-Precision Products Ltd photographic Equipment Manufacturers. Their parent company, Celestion, started in Hampton Wick in 1924 as the Electrical Manufacturing and Plating Company. They built loud speakers – becoming Celestion Radio Co. and Celestion Ltd in 1927 manufacturing radios and gramophones. Production at their factory on the site was badly hit by the recession of the ‘30s, but from 1940 to 1945 the sole factory output was W-type loudspeakers for radios. Production moved to Thames Ditton in 1948.

Micro Precision Products started in 1940/1 by Patrick de Laszlo – owner of Celestion Ltd. and McMurdo was a subsidiary. MPP was the selling agent for their products. Alfred James Dell was an instrumental figure in the company – involved in design, manufacture and financial management for almost the entirety of the company’s existence. McMurdo originally made petrol cigarette lighters from brass, moving on the photographic equipment such as enlarges, tripods and projectors. Eventually MPP duplicated German style camera manufacture of twin lens reflex. 300 employees at the London Road site, but they moved to 22 High Street, Kingston in 1961, and the business failed in 1982. Croner House is now there, the base of Wolters Kluwer UK tax and accountancy Products and Services.

No.147 London Road

Rawlplug House (K1-3374)Sergeants James W, builders merchants, were founded in 1880 and moved in 1920 to London Road where they stayed until 1963, claiming to have invented the humble breeze block there.

Now the site of Clarendon House which was  built as Rawlplug House. Rawlplug were originally plumbers who then became engineers and building contractors, and made their millions when they invented the Rawlplug – a small insert to fill a hole into which you want to screw, now common place in all our walls in the extruded plastic variety (if you’ve ever drilled into a crumbling wall you will have used a Rawlplug). They had their headquarters at Kingston from 1966-70 and then again in 1988 until (possibly) 1999.

Did you know?

London Road was previously called Norbiton Street


  • Bunker, B (1980) Tiffin school Centenary: the first 50 years
  • Butters, S (2013) ‘That Famous Place’: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston: Kingston University Press
  • Curtis-Brignell, D (1990) The History of Vine House
  • Greenwood, G B – Kingston upon Thames: A Dictionary of Local History
  • Holmes, R (undated) Pubs, Inns and Taverns of Kingston Fairford, Glos.: Wildhern Press
  • Kelly’s Street Directories 1922-1971
  • Mannings, C (2001) Then and Now: Kingston upon Thames Stroud: Tempus Publishing
  • Perring, M (1992) Perring: 100 years of Style and Comfort
  • Royal Borough of Kingston (1931) Municipal Clinic, School and Offices Souvenir
  • Sampson, J (2004) Paintings of a Changing Kingston
  • Sampson, J (2006) The Kingston Book London: Historical Publications Ltd
  • Skinner, B (2004) Micro Precision Products: The MPP Story and the Products Newquay: MPP Publications
  • Surrey Comet – November 2nd 1929 p.10/p.16 (Tiffin School opening) and April 7th 1995 p.19 (article on Tramways by June Sampson)
  • Wakeford, J – Kingston’s Past Rediscovered
  • Ed. Watson, H A J (1979) Centenary Supplemant in The Tiffinian Vol.61


Amy ‘213Bus’ Graham, MA Heritage (Contemporary Practice)

I know I haven’t posted in a while. It is not through lack of trying, I’ve just been doing other things!

MA SubmissionAmy '213bus' Graham MA










Firstly, I realise that I never said a final thank you to everyone who submitted their thoughts, memories and collections to my project during the completion of my Masters degree in Heritage (Contemporary Practice) at Kingston University. I submitted on September 3rd 2013: my essay (or ‘critical reflection’) which was a sort of academic piece on the project and how I completed it, my bus costume, my collection of bus related material and a project diary/book with essay, blog posts and future proposals inside. Please accept my huge thanks for your contribution big or small, I have felt so privileged to meet/make contact with you and represent the 213 bus and what it means to people who use it. In the end, I received the dissertation prize (though no actual prize!) and got a distinction for my degree so am very happy!

Secondly, the reason I have been so busy of late is that my MA degree allowed me to apply for and successfully get the Local History Officer position within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. I now work full time researching Kingston’s local history and looking after our collection of photos, newspapers, books, leaflets and other ephemera. The good news is that I am now is an enviable position in terms of accessing bus related local history materials, the bad news is that I am exhausted from each day at work and can’t quite motivate myself to stay late to research bus stuff! I hope I will gradually adjust to the new timetable and would like to be a bit more consistent in posting from now on.

Thanks for reading, keep your thoughts, memories and questions coming!