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London Transport Museum

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published March 3rd 2013
Sedan Chairs, Hackney Carriages, Omnibuses, Tubes and Buses
As Londoners, we take the Tube, plus all of London's other modes of transport for granted. A visit to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden will teach you about the past and present of travel in and around London, and will also look to the future. When I revisited recently, the place was full of visitors from locations far away from the capital, just proving that this fascinating museum is not exclusively for Londoners.

Once you get through the initial introduction, that locates London as a major city, and understand how its transport systems have influenced other world metropolises, you become a virtual time traveller when you take the lift up to 1800, where it all began. Before you can understand about the underground and overground systems that convey travellers around the city, it is imperative to learn about the history behind the transportation systems, and the growth of the famous Tube, as well as the development of the red buses and water buses.

London Transport Museum
London 1800

You are reminded of earlier ways of getting around: by sedan chair; the heavy use of the Thames as a major waterway; the first railways and the debts owed to Trevithick and Stephenson; horse drawn carriages and hackney carriages; omnibuses and motor buses; trams and trolleybuses; the reintroduction of water buses; and of course the iconic Tube, the world's first underground railway.

All the exhibits are accompanied by models, full size or otherwise, of the various forms of transport. There is a host of information throughout the museum, carefully explaining the origins and history of practically everything you see. There are many interactive displays and peep holes of varying heights so that you can see in detail, however tall you are. You can understand how Pearson first advocated a connection between the train termini and the City, and how this developed into the beginnings of the Metropolitan Line in 1863. This was followed by the City and South London Railway, later the Northern Line, the world's first electric tube, that was bored through and under the city, whereas the Met Line had been constructed using the cut and cover method.

Some of the older exhibits are off limits and can only be looked at, whilst others are partly open to curious visitors, who can also experience 'driving' a Tube train and a London bus, the RV1. If you feel inspired I do recommend that you travel on the actual RV1, a route that runs from Covent Garden, the Aldwych, over Waterloo Bridge, past the National Theatre and close to Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe, Borough High Street, London Bridge Station and then along the river and across Tower Bridge, finishing at Tower Gateway. Of course you can travel in the opposite direction, but this bus is a fascinating introduction to some old and interesting parts of London. And of course you probably never even wondered about the origins of the bus routes, and the debts owed by them to men like Shillibeer and Tilling.

London Transport Museum
Shillibeer Omnibus

You can climb upstairs on some of the buses, and step into tube train carriages, where everything is frozen in a time warp, and furnished with mannequins in period costumes. And you can also take note of the projections for London's future, although not in the flying machines envisaged by Man Ray in his 1938 Rayograph.

London Transport Museum
The Twopenny Tube Circa 1890

London Transport Museum
Inside a Ladies Only Carriage on the Metropolitan Line 1920/1930

London Transport Museum
Inside a 1960s London Bus

London Transport Museum
On the Northern Line in the 1970s

The London Transport Museum is a fascinating place, full of the history of London's transport systems, but it also serves as a social historical museum, charting London's past. If you can't manage to get to Covent Garden, there is a host of information on the website, with many downloadable pictures to give you an idea of what you are missing. Additionally there is always a host of events and workshops, details of which can be found on the website, so check it out before planning your visit.

London Transport Museum
A Trio of London Buses

If you visit between now and the end of October you will also be able to view 150 of the advertising posters chosen by the museum for Poster Art 150, marking the 150th anniversary of the London Underground; you will also be able to cast your vote for your favourite poster. You may even choose this design by John Hassall from 1908.

London Transport Museum
No Need to Ask a P'liceman (Image Courtesy of the London Transport Museum)
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Why? To learn about the history of London's transport systems
When: nday-Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 - 18.00, Friday 11.00 - 18.00
Where: The London Transport Museum, Covent Garden
Cost: 15, but concessions are available and your entry ticket is valid for one year
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by Sandra Lawson on 08/08/2011
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