London: Transport Museum

“Do your job the best way you know how. It is willingness to do work cheerfully that counts.”
Lord Ashfield 1925.

The London Transport Museum is in the same complex as the Covent Garden markets which has the inscription: Erected John Duke of Bedford 1830. The history of the site as markets goes much further back in time to at least 600AD with a Roman market there. The Bedford’s owned the site from 1552, putting up the main building in 1830. All of this information was garnered from the internet, thanks to a simple google search of the inscription on the building. The Transport Museum is housed next to the main market building in a large warehouse with a typical Victorian ceiling with arched steel beams and glass panels.

The museum takes visitors on a walk through London from 1800 at the start of the industrial revolution, with a few basics of horse transportation, but mostly focusing on the beginnings of train transportation in the city. There is a whole floor dedicated to the transition from horse drawn omnibus to horse drawn tram, and finally to motorized bus. And for each era there are real vehicles, some of which you can climb into, which gives an excellent understanding of scale and size. There are some notes on river transportation, with a small segment on Brunel’s tunnels under the Thames on this floor. The Victorian era is covered on its own floor, with the beginnings of the Underground in 1863 (building started in 1854) and was built using the cut and cover method. Basically, you dig a big hole, build the tunnel walls, then cover them up again. This method destroys everything above the future tunnel, so this methodology was quickly overtaken by less invasive methods of tunnel building.

The famous Circle Line opened in 1884, so was four years old when Marie and Gordon from In Pursuit of a Bluestocking arrive in London. The first bombing occurred in 1883 and 1885 when Irish nationalists bombed the circle line. A total of three bombs were used on these two occasions, one of which injured more than 60 passengers. The museum has excellent displays demonstrating the mechanisms of the first escalators, and first elevators used in the Underground. There are also a multitude of stories about the people connected to the train system over the years, including the story of Lord Ashfield, who rose up from a delivery boy in the USA, where he became the General Manager of the New Jersey Tramways at just 29, before being headhunted to the UK where he become the savior of the nearly bankrupted Underground Group in 1907, successfully making it profitable again. For this, and other services, he was given the title of Lord Ashfield.

The view down the very steep stairs for the omnibus. You wouldn’t want to do this in a crinoline!

The final floor of the Museum is dedicated to the post-Victorian London transport system, with a big focus on the artworks in their advertising. There are several buses of different eras to climb into, making this a lovely interactive museum.

We went to the Nags Head pub for lunch, a gorgeous old pub dating 1825, with a very similar name to Harry Potter’s Hogshead. The traditional downstairs was full, so we ventured upstairs to the lounge which had cool lights, and clocks with times from around the world. The only southern hemisphere clock was Sydney, and this was hung upside down (to the fascination of the children).

The food was different to other pubs we’ve been to – could it be true that we had stumbled across that rare beast? An independent pub! Over lunch we debated whether Mr Engineer should buy the London tube map Fender from the Transport Museum shop. Only 100 made, and since he’d already decided he wanted to buy a guitar while in England, it was a simple decision to get one that was both a good quality guitar and decorated in a unique fashion.

Any musician reading this will understand that this decision then led to the absolute necessity of going to a proper music shop to get accessories! And thus completed our days adventure.

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