London Transport Museum
Whether you are a train fanatic, a map enthusiast, a lover of vintage advertising posters, or just want to have a picture of yourself driving a big red bus, the London Transport Museum is sure to delight. Its main hall is full of old buses, trams, and trains — many of which you can board and explore inside — and its galleries present the fascinating history of London’s public transportation network.
The gallery entrance is reached by a futuristic ramp covered in a medley of world underground maps — contextualising London as a world city, and also highlighting its place of honour as pioneer of the underground railway. The galleries are then reached by a lift — something which struck me as odd in a museum that from its design makes visitors feel like they’re in a tube station. I suppose I expected a novelty escalator — however, there is a fantastic model of one in the lower gallery that explains how this modern development was essential to underground travel. From here onwards, the galleries are organised chronologically, and provide an evolutionary view of London’s ever-expanding system.
The Victorian transport section is by far the most interesting. With life-sized examples of sedan chairs, hackney cabs and popular song sheets about George Shillibeer’s first horse-drawn omnibuses, the development and industrialisation of London’s transport network becomes a fascinating, animated history. Despite being heavier on text than the newer, flashier, interactive displays downstairs, this section gives an exhaustive account of the railway boom of the 1830s and 1840s, the expansion of the railway into London’s city centre, and the development of the world’s first underground. It’s by no means a dusty and dry gallery — there are shouting cabbies, clip-clopping horse noises, and model trams to be pulled along rails.
The lower galleries cover a later time period — the expansion of suburbia, the replacement of horses by electric trams and motor buses, and the effects of the Second World War on public transport. There is vintage memorabilia in abundance, including many instructional posters about how to behave on the tube, and air-raid notices appealing to a bygone sense of machismo — to “Be a Man” and leave the shelters to women, children, and the infirm. A few unusual displays are also worth looking out for here. One is a wall-box contaiПing some of the items left in Transport for London’s Lost Property — including everything from jewellery to wallets to dolls. Another strange one is a series of strap-hangers used for advertising campaigns, their handle ends shaped like Cadbury Creme Eggs or deodorant bottles.
One thing to bear in mind about the London Transport Museum is that, much like public transportation in reality, it can be noisy. From the shouts and clattering of hooves of nineteenth century carriages to the singing of a Thames Waterman; from the constant chugging sound of engines in the main hall to the 1920 ditty “My Little Metroland Home” playing on repeat, this museum is far from a place for peaceful, quiet contemplation. In fact, if you are a regularly-harried London commuter, this may be the last place you want to go on a weekend off: you will be inundated with signs in Transport for London’s trademark typeface Johnston Sans, an unending stream of tube maps, and flashing lights.
For visitors to London, all of the above will no doubt be entirely charming — and it has to be said, it provides a clear and thorough history of public transportation and the underground. Clear text, interactive displays, and loads of antique trains make a visit here a worthwhile afternoon.
London Transport Museum Kate Mason reviews the London Transport Museum. 4
Date reviewed: Thursday 14th June 2012