London Transport Museum

November 2007

The London Transport Museum, housed in the Victorian Flower Market at Covent Garden, was reopened on the 22nd of November 2007 after a two year refurbishment programme.  I and my wife were fortunate enough to attend the preview day on the 21st and hope that my readers will find a short article about the museum to be of benefit.

I have only visited the museum twice before, once as an invited representative of Logica's Transport Division.  I enjoyed the museum on both those occasions finding much to satisfy my interest.  However the latest refurbishment takes the museum to a new level with both the audio/visual and hands-on aspects and in my opinion a great deal more of the historic reasoning of the development of London's transport infrastructure.

Upon entry (that was fortunately free on the day) I was offered the guidebook for £5.  For a guidebook, this has to be one of the best and most well produced I have seen at any museum.  The only criticism is that it comes in a pinkish or light green colour, neither easy on the eyes in my opinion, but it's only the outside cover.  The content is excellent and worth the fiver.  I chose the green!

We were also given a "stamper ticket" that is a folding card with a plan of the museum and thirteen positions that denote specific areas of the museum.  The idea is to stamp (actually cut-out) the ticket at various "points" around the museum to ensure that you have visited all aspects of the museum and not otherwise miss anything.  The idea is good except that I found it tricky to get the folding card into the stamping machines as it's folded nature tended to get caught - it's just a two handed job and if you are carrying anything in one hand that makes it awkward.  Great for kids though and the machines are placed at child level so my criticism is probably a mute point.

After the preamble of visual aspects of worldwide city transport you enter a lift that instead of having a floor number display has dates in time and as the lift ascends (two floors) the dates go back accompanied by changes in the accompanying sounds of modern day transportation ending up with those of yesteryear, where you find as the doors open, you've been whisked back over two centuries.  A neat idea that sets the scene well and makes you realise the from-to way in which the museum is constructed.

The historic displays, taking the visitor from the sedan chair, early river transport through street buses/trams & railways, are well produced and do give the visitor a good insight into London's historic transport and the lives and times of those who designed it and those who used it.  Personally I found this fascinating and spent much time in this area where computerised displays with embedded video of early film, the latter that in two places unfortunately didn't work, was of great interest.

The refurbished horse drawn carriages & trams are things of beauty but those with less height than I need steps to see through the windows to appreciate the quality of the internal workmanship. No such steps were available on the day.  The area is clearly even more fascinating to those like me with an interest in history and of London in particular and being a Londoner added immensely to the pleasure of it.  Londoner's will identify with the then-and-now feeling.

At the next level down are trains over the ages (don't ask how they got them up there or how they are supported but clearly a lot of structural engineering was involved), again with insight into lives and times.  There is a staffed information area where books, and PC's confined to the museum's internal network, can be used for research.  Although what is available electronically seems no more than what is available from the museum's website.  There's also a kids play area to amuse whilst the grown-ups study.

I'm sure that there is much more that could be done with the early history but such criticism merely shows how greedy I am for it.  Who am I to complain when what has been achieved is excellent.  Anyway there is limited space as the two upper floors are mezzanine and offer views down to the ground level.  

The ground level possesses the "meat" of the displays (areas 6 to 13) and takes you through aircraft (a little), electrification (underground & trolleybuses), trams, buses & cabs and what the future might hold.

There is much to clamber on, including a Routemaster (RM 1737 - 737 DYE October 63), and Underground trains to drive (in simulators) that kids of all ages will find exciting.  My train stopping ability left much to be desired in platform positioning, being short three meters (could do better).  However, it would have been nice if some instructions of how to actually drive an underground train had been displayed.  The simulator seemed to be unresponsive but that was probably my lack of understanding.  I can certainly comment though that in comparison to modern trains the exhibit of the driver's cab of an earlier Underground train demonstrated the arm strength needed to keep the "dead-man's-handle" down.

From tunneling to escalators, electricity generation to ticketing, there is much to see.  There are also displays of the development of London Transport's image from Underground stations to bus stops; and the development of "Metroland".

Having traveled and worked all around London most of my life (including Covent Garden in the 60's) being a Londoner of my age group, many of the exhibits brought back memories of times that have been long forgotten but are not so far back in history; but are historic nonetheless.  Seeing the then and now through maybe only fifty years, to me it was quite shocking how developments in transport have changed so quickly in my lifetime and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to appreciate the museum in this way.

We spent nearly six hours at the museum and we could have stayed longer to enjoy some of the exhibits a second time if our tiring feet could take the punishment.  My only other criticism is that the restaurant is outside the museum exhibit area above the shop. However there is a seating area for consuming brought-in snacks so take a sandwich.

There is a cloakroom for coats etc. and the shop is quite well designed on two levels with much to spend money on.  Although I would have liked to have seen more in the way of museum specific items in particular the videos of yesteryear that are displayed within the museum.

We were of course lucky to attend the preview day as the museum was virtually empty and we could enjoy all the exhibits unhindered by the many other visitors who will flock to it; and right they should.  All done a great visit and I urge all to do so as whatever your particular interest you will no doubt find it fascinating.

Below are some of the images I took.  For expedience I haven't annotated them but just click on an image for a larger one.

If anyone would like a copy of any image, I would be pleased to supply a high quality image for private purposes in return for a charitable donation to  "The Friends of London's Transport Museum" (Registered Charity 285178, Friends Office, London Transport Museum, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7BB).  Please note that I retain copyright and if the image is to be used for commercial and/or public display purposes I would make an additional charge that would go to support the costs of operating this website.