Ministry logo

Ministry logo

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Hop onboard: a first visit to the London Transport Museum

I have always been a bit reluctant to visit the London Transport Museum because of the high cost of an access ticket and the inability to use a national museum pass to get through – perhaps tight of me but hey – museums wages!  So this is perhaps a bit of a different post for us, usually we only review big central London museums in terms of their current exhibitions. So what’s it like for a museum blogger to visit an institution for the first time?

For one, remember that here at The Ministry we tend to assess museums through museum worker eyes, looking at a few important factors – the unusual display of objects, their conservation and adherence to familiar guidelines, the accessibility of texts and what we find personally humorous or amusing. We’re going to moan about a few things that may seem trivial but as a museum professional could seem like the end of the world.

As I’ve said I have been reluctant to visit the London Transport Museum because of the cost of the ticket £17 with gift aid. As a museum worker almost £17 on a permanent display seems like quite a lot especially when I invest so much money into Transport for London already via my oyster card. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the ticket was a one off payment for the year, a model used by many museums focused around additional access for parents the ticket is scribed with your name and a date and ability to use as many times as you like in one year. Also kids go free.

First off a bit of history the London Transport Museum is situated in the Victorian home of the Covent Garden flower market, the infamous selling space for flowers, herbs, fruit and veg has been well documented in history through literature (My Fair Lady!) in 1980 the site became the home of the London Transport Museum. A collection formed on the preservation of two Victorian Horse buses and an early motorbus by the London General Ominous Company in the 1920’s, the collection grew and the museum had humble beginning in its display in a bus garage in Clapham in the sixties, before opening in 1973 as the London Transport Collection in Syon Park.

Opening in Covent Garden in 1980 and undergoing a major refurbishment in 2005-2007 the museum now operates as the London Transport Museum and its collection fills the site. Upon entering you are invited to clamor into a lift and ‘go back in time’ and excitedly visit and climb on board  the collection of large and small buses trams and steam trains and sit with a whole bunch of creepy mannequins to sense what early transport was like in London.

Quite a bit of the experience of this museum is about finding the unfamiliar in the familiar. The ability to read a history and step back in time by climbing on board a historic tube train does help to give Londoners a perspective on how much things have changed and perhaps it’s a clever device plan  to show us how lucky we are with our current situations. Interestingly the World First Underground gallery on level 1 text panels discuss how people found the underground to be uncomfortable and packed in – sounds familiar? Nonetheless it’s impressive and exciting to read on the history of the underground and fortunate to see and sit upon the only surviving engine from the 1860’s Metropolitan number 23.

The London Transport Museum has so much to offer in terms of discussing the history of London and can almost be a continuous seams of thought trundling through modern London. The social history of transport, the workers, the politics and all intertwined and the museum offers a glimpse into many of these areas.

My particular favourite area is the history of London transports iconic design. Before coming across the temporary exhibition on its history I noticed and loved the hang of the destination roller blinds that replaced the wooden destination boards in the 1920’s.

The temporary exhibition Designology explores the complete and integrated approach to design taken by TFL those Londoners and tourists have grown to love. Mind the Gap and other iconographies are instantly recognisable and widely reproduced on a range of souvenirs, influencing fashion and artists and vice versa. The consistent and strong design was spearheaded by Frank Pick who hugely influenced the clear branding that we see everyday. In 1916 he commissioned the calligrapher Edward Johnstone to design the typeface for the underground often referred to as ‘London’s handwriting’ and even now 100 years later is seen in an adapted from across signage, maps, leaflets, posters in the city.

Visiting the London Transport Museum for the first time I massively enjoyed the familiarity of the history, its low tech interactive displays and some of the high tech ones too - a working map of the underground is pretty astounding. £17 may be a bit steep for entry but it was certainly worth it for the few hours of enjoyment and I can go back again within the year! The London Transport Museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm nearest tube: Covent  Garden (but don't think you can handle the stairs!) 

No comments:

Post a comment