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The London Transport Museum is housed in the former Flower Market building in Covent Garden, and I gave it a visit on my trip to London in October 2019 (yes, I am VERY behind on these writeups).
LTM's history started with one of the London bus companies preserving some horse-drawn omnibuses in the 1920s, and the museum today very much reflects this. I'd gone in assuming that it would predominantly be about the Tube, but a significant proportion of the displays - and especially the big displays, like the vehicles - are old buses and trams, and even hansom cabs.
The exhibition starts at the beginning and sort of goes forward in time, so you get the history of all the original horse-drawn vehicles, the first crossings of the Thames, the arrival of steam trains and the early cut-and-cover Tube lines, the later deeper Tube lines, busification of trams, dieselisation of buses and electrification of trains.
An early Metropolitan Line steam train, with its steam condenser pipe (via Loz Pycock)
Something that's always fascinated me was how they ran steam trains underground in those early days. The early lines were very close to the surface and they had a lot of ventilation shafts and so on, and they did have a few technical tricks up their sleeves to reduce the soot and steam emitted by the engines, but there's no doubt it would have been a pretty unpleasant experience - particularly for the drivers!
The museum touches on the phenomenon of Metro-land, which was an early - and very systematised - version of urban sprawl. Tube companies would essentially acquire large amounts of land out on the fringes of London, build the train lines out to serve those communities then sell the land, and pitch it all as a way of buying into the commuter lifestyle - so they could make money both on the property speculation, and on the train tickets for the foreseeable future, as the new residents commuted into central London for work every day. They had very clear visions for what these suburbs would look like - doing their best to recall rural village idylls with the architecture of the houses, as well as the train stations.
The museum has a huge collection of posters and similar memorabilia through the years. The British just seem to do railway advertising really well - the mainline operators through the years seem to have a similarly good record to the Tube - and LTM has a number of these posters and bits and pieces on display.
One of the things I admire the most is the diagrams of station layouts that they have - showing how the train tunnels for different lines duck and weave around each other, and how the pedestrian access tunnels fit around all of these. They really are rabbit warrens sometimes, and it's fascinating to see them visualised like this.
Another thing they seem to do really well is advertising public transport or good urbanism more generally. The above poster from 1965 is a brilliant example of this, and it's a concept I've seen recreated in a bunch of memes, decades later.
They also have a bunch of exhibits on the moquette patterns through the years - the fabric patterns on the seats of the trains. Many of these are really iconic designs, which have earned a lot of affection from Londoners - and you can buy a bunch of stuff in the LTM gift shop with the moquette patterns, from clothes to furniture. I really love how they celebrate their own public transport network, and will sell merchandise for it - it's crazy that nobody official is doing this in Australia, because there is a clear market for it (as proven by the people selling unofficial train and tram moquette face masks and ublic" target="_blank">t-shirts and jumpers).
Many people took shelter in Tube stations during the Blitz (source)
One exhibit I really loved was the Hidden London exhibit, which was about transport - especially the Tube - during World War II. (It had the feel of a temporary exhibit, but
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onvnBHq01bE it was still in place a year after my visit, so who knows.) There was an extensive recreation of the underground spaces that were adapted from abandoned Tube stations to be used as bunkers during the Blitz - things like medical facilities for the general public during air raids, and dining rooms for the relatively high-ups, which given the constrained space in the tunnels were designed by the railway staff along similar lines to dining cars.
I was expecting a bit more focus on the Tube and less focus on other aspects, but overall the museum was very interesting and well worth the visit.
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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