London Transport Museum
Ladies and gentlemen.
This is your driver speaking.
The next station is Covent Garden, and we’re strongly urging anyone with a penchant for knowledge to disembark.
Because here you’ll find the London Transport Museum, set in a huge, light-flooded conservatory-style building on the Covent Garden piazza that bears more than a passing resemblance to one of London’s big rail stations. One of the more unusual museums in London, it’s dedicated entirely to the history of transport in the city over the past two centuries, and the stories of the people who work on it.
And as a sort of meta museum, we’ve collected, polished up, and listed everything you need to know about the London Transport Museum right here. Enjoy.
JUMP TO: The Museum | What’s On | Hidden London Tours | The Depot
This venerable collection of vehicles, signage and transport-related ephemera began back in the 1920s, when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve some (then merely ‘retro’) Victorian horse buses for posterity.* Over the past century it’s grown to a stonking collection of 450,000+ curios, around a quarter of which you can see here.
There’s ancient restored buses, trams and tube carriages for your uninhibited perusal (complete with unnerving, period-costumed mannequins); fancy high tech displays about the future of London transport; galleries of iconic designs, posters and photographs; and some serious nitty gritty about the huge feats of engineering that have allowed the city’s network to keep expanding (which has some quite literally riveting details).
And of course, as anyone knows, the best part is always the museum shop – and here you can get hold of pretty much anything you can imagine, only transport-themed. Expect coffee table books, quirky souvenirs, roundel lightboxes, vintage posters, and – for the real enthusiast – a full-size sofa covered in London Underground moquette (the official term for that fuzzy seat material; decades of other people’s grime not included).
WHAT’S ON – NOVEMBER 2018
Aside from the permanent collection, there’s also rotating exhibitions, late night openings and one-off events taking place throughout the year. Here’s what’s coming up:
Poster Girls: A Century of Art & Design
In the 1930s, the various independent travel networks in the city were brought under the umbrella of London Transport. The man heading it all up, Frank Pick, was convinced that good design was crucial to the efficiency and united identity of the new company. Ever since, graphic design has been an intrinsic part of the city’s transport system, and this collection of over 150 prints and posters highlights the contributions of female artists and designers – from relative unknowns to Zandra Rhodes – to the company’s visual branding over the past century.
Details: Until January 2019 | Included in admission ticket | Talks on 11th October & 8th November – FIND OUT MORE
Late Debate: A Race For Space
Make space in your diary for this late night event with thinkers, planners and engineers for open discussions and ‘quick-fire’ talks on how to make more space and plan for the future.
Details: 22nd November, from 6.45pm | £15
Museum Makers: Christmas Trimmings with London Craft Club
Printing – it always makes an impression. So the LCC are helping you to make a good first one with their evening of crafting inspired by the patterns of London Underground tiling. You’ll make printed coasters, Japanese wrapping cloth, ribbons and greetings cards – festive cocktail in hand, of course.
Details: 6th December, from 6pm | £49
Christmas Lights & Sights Tour
Try your hand at some festive crafts or just knock back a cocktail or two, before jumping on an old Routemaster bus for a whizz around London’s best Christmas lights and more aesthetically blessed landmarks.
Details: 21st & 22nd December | £16
There are at least 40 stations on the Underground that are no longer used for travel. Some ran out of money before they could open (like ‘West End’), some were cut off because of competition with nearby stations (‘Tower of London’), and some are haunted by the ghosts of Ancient Egyptian mummies (‘British Museum’). It’s previously been very difficult to get access to abandoned stations, but the London Transport Museum are finally running regular – but extremely small and in-demand – tours of some of the most enigmatic. You can walk underneath Trafalgar Square and see the disused Jubilee platforms at Charing Cross (now used in films like Skyfall and Paddington); explore the labyrinth of old tunnels at Euston; tour London’s “offensive” first skyscraper, the London Underground former HQ; and enter the relatively unknown Down Street station, where Winston Churchill sheltered during air raids. Dates and ticket prices vary, but you can find out more HERE.
While the London Transport Museum is very conveniently planted in Central London, its location (and size) means that it’s fairly difficult to use it to display and store things like, say, trains. Which is why they also have the Depot; a sprawling 6,000 sq m space in Acton that stores the 320,000 artefacts, vehicles and memorabilia that don’t fit in the Covent Garden spot.
It’s usually closed to the public, save for three open weekends a year (usually in April, July and September – 2019 dates TBC), when you can nose around the entire collection, listen to talks and take part in themed design workshops. But there’s also regular guided tours, which cover everything from the iconic London transport typeface, to opportunities to get into the driving seat of old tube trains. You can find out more and book ahead HERE.
Mind the gap.
NOTE: The London Transport Museum is open daily from 10am-6pm (last entry 5.15pm). Kids go free, while adult entry costs £17.50 and will net you unlimited visits for the whole year. You can get a small discount, and find out more, on their website HERE.
London Transport Museum | Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB
Main image: Wei-Te Wong
Feeling peckish after all that learning? Check out the best restaurants in Covent Garden