Certainly, a new experience for me, as I’ve never visited before. Having thoroughly enjoyed the National Railway Museum in York a few years ago I thought I may enjoy this as well. And I wasn’t wrong! It is so much fun, especially for someone who lives in London, as it all becomes personal. All the weird transport adventures come back to the fore, as one gets to know also the history behind our everyday experience.
London Transport Museum is based in a bit of unexpected place, not in a railway or bus depot, but in Covent Garden. Right on the Plaza. To be fair they do have a secondary site in Acton that is a depot, but this is only open on scheduled visitor days.
One thing that changed a bit during the pandemic is that majority of the museums would like you to book a ticket in advance, even if entry is free. I am not a fan of this solution, because it takes away from the spontaneous decision to just go to a museum. Now everything has to be planned. That said, most museums will also let people in without the booking, but in London Transport Museum the booking really makes sense. I made a strategically bad decision to visit on a Saturday with my Bigger Half. Below you may see why it was a mistake.
Our visit started with very welcoming staff. People working there genuinely care about you making the most of oyur visit. But the next thing we saw was the buggy parking, which was a sign of things to come. As instructed we went to the top floor and from there started making our way down. The museum collection starts with the arbitrary beginning of London transport in 1800 and goes all the way to 2022.
The best thing about the museum is that it caters to children with the actual carriages, trams, busses, and trains, but also it provides a ton of interesting information to adults with the information boards, visualizations, and all additional material. So while the children run around and touch everything the parents can have a good time too.
The display is very interactive, nearly everything is touchable, and what is not probably has a replica that is. But the museum does not only deal with the means of transport or the network. It also touches on all the aspects surrounding our experiences in public transport, such as maps, visual identification, advertising, or tickets.
One of the most interesting parts for me personally was about how the Tube was constructed. Starting with digging a hole and then basically constructing a tunnel, all the way to the huge machines that were used in building the Crossrail aka Elizabeth line. The evolution is just stunning. Similarly, the animation of developing transport network over the 200 years is just staggering, so many stops added in some years, as the system was exploding in line with the growing population.
Another interesting part was the collection of art associated with London Transport. The posters are absolutely fascinating. It is amazing to see how the style evolved over the decades and yet kept the visual consistency. Then of course we have a whole room dedicated to visual identification of the TfL as we know it now, the roundel, the typography.
The history of London transport would not be complete without the part of the museum devoted to WWII and the crucial role transport fulfilled then. And the secondary role of the Tube system as a shelter during bombings. Despite the serious circumstances the ‘casual shelter ticket’ did make me chuckle.
The only thing I regret is that I didn’t get the chance to use the simulators. The museum gives you an opportunity to drive the Tube and a DLR, and even get behind the wheel of a real bus. But all of those on Saturday would require a physical fight with a mob of children. So if you are planning to go and don’t have kids avoid Saturdays. The museum is fun even on a Saturday, but I’m pretty sure you can get more out of it on a weekday.
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