London Transport Museum, Covent Garden and
London Transport Museum Depot, Acton, London
A Review by John Zebedee
The views expressed below are those personally made by John Zebedee.and not the BTS.
The museum at Covent Garden reopened just over a year ago after a closure for a major refurbishment. During its closure I was looking forward to the reopening as Part of the refurbishment was also to expand the area of the museum. Externally the museum has not been extended but it has been enlarged by adding another mezzanine floor.
There is a laid out route through the museum and by following this you should avoid colliding with other visitors coming from the opposite direction or getting held up at some bottle-necks. It was difficult to tell how well this works as my visit was in late afternoon on a weekday, when the museum was quiet.
After entering the main body of the museum from the reception/shop area, you follow a walkway, the second part of which slopes up to a set of lifts. Along the walkways are large diagrammatical maps of various underground and metro systems, including London and Paris. There is little else in this area.
The lift automatically takes you up to the second floor and your museum experience really starts from here. Inside the lift, above the doors, where the floor indicator would normally located is a count down display, starting at 2008 and ending up at 1800, as you exit the lift you are in an area displaying London and its transport as it was from 1800. The floor contains therefore the oldest exhibit, being a 1780’s sedan chair. These were in use until around 1820. The floor also has three horse-buses, including a replica of Shillibeer’s original horse bus of 1829, built in 1929 for the centenary of the event.
You can then take the lift or stairs down to the first floor. This houses the 1866 built condensing tank loco, this was used on underground lines up to 1905. There is also an early electric underground loco (1890) and other underground railway coaches. These upper floors only cover a small part of the museum.
The ground floor holds the bulk of the vehicle exhibits. The majority are buses but there is also a northern line underground train of 1938 stock. Along with the buses; which range from a 1911 B type up to a front section of a 2002 Volvo B7TL with Wright Eclipse Gemini. Body; is West Ham Corporation tram, a London taxi and one trolleybus, the K2 class, number 1253. The latter is jammed into a corner. Part of the front is obscured by the tram and several other vehicles are parked at 90˚ to the offside.
What is missing, is the most notable. There is no RT bus, or any example from the RT family. This was the most prolific of all London bus classes and not being represented is a major failing, in my view. There is no example a RF single deck, which served London for 30 years.
There seems to be a number of corridors taking up valuable space and there is a large empty space in the centre of the ground floor. This may have been provided to accommodate groups of school children on educational visits. If not in attendance, it does give you a good opportunity to photograph many of the vehicles on that level.
Generally, I was disappointed by the reduced number of major exhibits, the wasted space and that the only trolleybus was half-hidden in a corner. The revamped museum is geared towards children at the expense of adult transport enthusiasts. However, if it makes children interested in public transport and hopefully using it; then that is a positive point.
Enthusiasts would probably be better off visiting the museum store, at Acton, on one of their open weekends and below is a report of what you can expect to see there.
London Transport Museum Depot
Public openings are now limited to two weekends per annum, one in the Spring and the other in the Autumn. I was able to visit on Sunday, 14th March this year.
The Museum Depot is located in a former Underground Railway depot and works at Acton. The address is 2 Museum Way, 118-120 Gunnersbury Lane, London W3 9BQ and is a short walk from Acton Town tube station. It can also be reached by one of 6 bus routes. E3 to Gunnersbury Lane (Acton Town) or
70, 207, 266, 607, H40 to Gunnersbury Lane/Uxbridge Road junction.
One of the main advantages of this depot that it is still rail connected to the Underground system. Moving railway stock in and out is therefore relatively straight forward.
There is truly a huge collection of items within the Acton depot; 370,000 give or take one or two. Many of these items are posters, photographs and tickets, most of which are not on view. Bigger items comprise of railway signs, ticket machines, uniforms as well as vehicles.
Most of the vehicles are motor buses but there are also a couple of trams and trolleybuses. The largest exhibits are Underground trains or carriages. Because of the existing layout of the tracks in the depot these are well spaced for viewing, access and photography. Most of the buses could be seen and photographed but the trams and trolleybuses are in a more congested area.
The London Transport Museum only has three trolleybuses in its collection. The K2 class, number 1253 is at Covent Garden. The other two are located here. They are the Diddler, No. 1, which is an AEC 663T built 1931 and Q1 class BUT 9614T, built 1948, numbered 1768.
For those with a wider interest in electric traction, the two trams are an E1 class No. 1025 and a Feltham car No. 355.
The main disadvantage of visiting on one of the public open days is that various clubs and societies have model layouts present and there are various traders with their sales stands. This contributes to greater congestion and makes photographing the trolleybuses and some other vehicles almost impossible.
Vintage bus tours lasting about 25 minutes are operated on the public open days, at no additional cost. On my visit on 14th March, RM1 and RTW75 were being used alternately.
Guided tours are available to pre-arranged groups of up to15 persons. It is probably better to attend as part of such a group if you want to have your own photographic record of the exhibits.
Admission can be obtained in person on a public open day or in advance through the website www.ltmuseum.co.uk/visiting or by telephoning 020 7565 7298. Prices are adult: £10; senior citizen: £8; accompanied child under 16 years – free.
The next public open weekend is 16th and 17th October 2010.