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London Transport Museum (London)
Member Name: duskmaiden
London Transport Museum (London)
Date: 16/03/08, updated on 14/04/09 (151 review reads)
Advantages: child friendly, free to under 18s, something for most people
Disadvantages: static collection, some pointless audio visuals
Transport is in my blood. My father was a bus driver and is obsessed by most things that have wheels and moves. Trains, buses, cars, and lorries, you name it he has videos, books and models of them. I've caught the bug and become a bit of a London Underground junkie being fascinated by the history and development of this much maligned transport system. I have become such a geek I recently took a one day course on the Art and Architecture of London Transport. This was held in the subject for this review, the newly reopened London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.
I have been to a number of Transport museum such as the tram museum at Critch and the Glasgow Transport Museum but the London one had so far eluded me. Housed in the old Victorian Ffower market the museum has had a 22.5 million face lift and relaunch. The museum is a fascinating account of how London transport developed from horse drawn trams to the DLR. I visited on a very busy and noisy Saturday in March.
The London Transport Museum is fairly easy to find. It is in the heart of Covent Garden very near the main marketplace. The easiest way to get to it is via underground. Just get the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden (one of my least favourite stations, as it gets so crowded). You can also get a wide variety of buses to the Strand or Trafalgar Square and it is just a five minute walk from there.
The good news for all parent is that this gem of a museum is free of charge for children. I am not a parent but appreciate days out in London can be very expensive. I would say it is moderately priced for others. Adults are £8 and £6.50 for senior citizens. This might be a lot more expensive than some of the major museums but is a lot cheaper than say Madam Tussuads or the Tower of London.
It is open from 10: to 18:00 everyday except Friday where it also has evening opening hours. Perhaps Friday evening, which would be ideal for those with a more serious interest in the collections or those who want to play without children getting in the way!
On entering the museum you are given a map, which I found fairly useful although I found it difficult to locate specific exhibitions such as the Design Gallery. The map also included a trail for children to follow where they could stamp their map at a number of different pasts scattered around the museum,. This was a nice interactive touch without relying too much on fancy technology.
The museum starts by introducing Public Transport around the World, however that can be skipped quite easily to get on to the more exciting displays. A lift takes you back to the Victorian era and the days of horses and steam complete with train whistles and other sounds of the erra. This level is dominated by vintage horse drawn trams and omnibuses. I was particularly interested to see one of was the London to Greenwich route. I am not sure I would like to have traveled by one of these, as it must have been fairly slow. The actual vehicles really are the stars of the museum and seemed popular with old and young, male and female. Dotted around the vehicles were displays about the rise and fall of other transport such as the railways and river transport.
The museum is arranged chronologically so it was down a flight of stairs to the birth of the underground including the only surviving steam powered underground train complete with a Ladies only carriage. I could not get near it to see how it compared comfort wise with a modern underground train, as families quite happily sat there experiencing an old fashioned trains. On this floor, like in most museums there was also a resource centre with computers and various publications for those interested in doing further research. I could see myself using this to exp;ore the topics I am interested in greater detail.
During the revamp a human dimension was added to the galleries with social history added to the exhibits where possible to get away from pure machinery. This works by adding people's stories and memories of each of the vehicles where possible for those interested in the social side of Transport. Alongside this was a section devoted to the transport network's role in the rise of suburbia and "Metroland". This was interpreted effectively as a 1930s living room complete with old fashioned TV and comfortable coaches with speakers in the headsets. I found this interesting but I'm not sure how many others were sitting there for the information or just resting in between vehicles. I also enjoyed a simple exhibition of advertising posters for the underground, as there are some beautiful ones. There really is something for just about everyone .
The main exhibition space is on the ground floor with a number of iconic vehicles such as the Routemaster bus and more underground trains. Behind these were more specialist areas include the Design Gallery outlining the development of London Transport's identity. This was a ore traditional are with items in cases and was slightly quieter . There was also an exhibition on London Transport during the World Wars. I had a brief look at this gallery but felt I knew a lot about this so quickly left. At the end was a section on recent and possible future developments that rounded up London Transport's story quite nicely.
The museum uses a number of techniques to interpret London Transport's story from the full size vehicles to interpretation boards, pull out drawers and multi media audio visuals. I found the drawers to be very interesting and they were nicely labeled to make you think. I found some of the audio visuals just too much especially a projection of the underground map onto the floor of the design Gallery. I just felt it did not serve a purpose unlike an animated diagram of the Underground map showing the changes throughout the years from the 1860s to the present day.
I would really recommend London Transport Museum to parents, as it is a very child friendly museum. As stated the vehicles themselves will always be the main attraction as you can go inside them. There were also nice dioramas and mock ups of recent underground trains, oyster card machines and a new double decker bus. There's also a nice little section especially for primary school children with dressing up clothes and a interactive where they could drive around the sites of ,London. There were plenty of buttons to press, perhaps to many as I did see children just pressing them without being particularly interested in the message gained from the activity.
One thing I liked about the museum was that it was fairly compact. There is plenty to see and do but not too much to cause museum fatigue. I spent about an hour and a half in th museum looking at the exhibits. I think on a quieter day I would have lingered longer and perhaps tried more of the interactives out.
On exit you find yourself in the museum shop. This can be accessed without visiting the galleries. The ground floor of the shop was dedicated to branded merchandise with the tube map on everything from boxer shorts to mouse mats. There was also a very good selection of model buses for collectors. I know where to go to source presents for my dad in future. Upstairs was the serious side with a vast selection of books and posters. I felt this section was of interest for the transport enthusiast and could see my Dad having a whale of a time finding books and DVDs of things of interest to him.
There are two on site cafes. One of them is on the ground floor of the exhibition site selling prepacked organic sandwiches, wraps and children's boxes (nothing hot and certainly no chicken nuggets and chips). These were reasonably priced at around about the £2 to £3 mark. There is al;o the Upper Deck cafe bar adjacent to the shop. This was pricier with a sandwich roughly about £6. I sat down to get something and walked straight out as it was a bit dear for me.
Parents will also be happy to know there are plenty of toilets facilities that are fairly easy to find and fairly clean. The museum is pushchair and wheelchair friendly a it is equipped with lifts and sloped ramps.
All in all I think the money on the revamp has been well spent. I enjoyed my visit to the museum and felt that if I had children I would certainly take them there as it is extremely child friendly due to the hands on nature of the museum and the fact it is free for under 18s. I am nor sure I will make a repeat visit for a while unless there were any lectures or talks of interest due to the £8 entry fee. It seems to be a fairly static collection with few special exhibitions. But I would be interested in seeing their main archives in Acton where the majority of their collection is held.
39 Wellington Street
London, WC2E 7BB
Summary: The story of all things London Transport
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