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A history of transport which failed to move me
London Transport Museum (London)
Member Name: edinburgher
London Transport Museum (London)
Advantages: Great location, good gift shop, well-prepared but limited exhibits
Disadvantages: Quite small, limited range, expensive for adult travellers without children
The London Transport Museum occupies a prime space in the heart of Covent Garden and is an attractive building that manages to remain true to the historical architecture of the surroundings, while achieving a certain degree of modern and functional design.
We decided to pay a visit as my girlfriend was able to track down free corporate passes to visit this attraction that seemed like a good idea for an afternoon out in one of our favourite parts of London.
Ticket prices were: adults £10; senior citizens £8; students £6.00 and children under 16 get in for free. This is a nice touch, as it means that this is obviously a perennially popular destination for families and rightly so, as the chance to experience the 'olde worlde' charm of London's historic mediums of transport will largely appeal to the little 'uns and adults with an interest in transport systems...
*Arriving at the museum*
The Museum sits in a fairly narrow space, although there are several easily accessible floors that can be reached by lifts (important for visitors with mobility concerns). Once we'd handed over our passes and received our tickets, the (very friendly) staff handed over a map. At first glance a map seems somewhat unnecessary, as the museum isn't that big. Moments later (lost in the gift shop), we decided that maybe it was a good idea after all.
The museum starts with a surprisingly long and uninspiring walk to the lifts, obviously designed to keep pedestrian speed to a minimum for when they're crowded. If they weren't crowded, however, on the Saturday lunchtime of a bank holiday weekend, I wonder when they are? This is a very small gripe and they obviously have to work with the building that they have.
*A top down view of London's public transport past*
The lifts take you up to the second floor, where a small selection of well constructed exhibits themed around 19th century public transport (as it was). There were a selection of covered and open carriages and a horse drawn tram - I couldn't help but pity the poor horses!
There was some interesting social history on display, including a short narrated segment on the tiring life and times of an ageing 19th century 'bus' driver. The current generation of transport workers probably wouldn't strike nearly as often as they seem to in London if they heard what working life was like for this poor chap!
We followed the stairs down and the next floor held a small collection of more modern buses etc. and some interactive games for children, as well as a lot of well presented memorabilia, transport art etc. - all hidden away in slide-drawer cases where a good 50% of visitors probably don't even realise it's available. Minimalism can be a bad thing and I'm sure that there are more creative ways to display this art.
*At last! Some 'real' exhibits!*
Somewhat underwhelmed, we continued down the stairs to the ground floor, where the main collections sit. On this level there are buses from throughout London's past, various train carriages and some fascinating short insights into the past of the London underground. These were fun, as it was amusing to compare and contrast then and now and take photos. Sadly for us for camera battery had died the moment I entered the Museum, which was a shame.
As well as the exhibits, some of which it was possible to explore to an understandably limited event, there was a hearty collection of poster art, several generations worth of signage from the railways and some fairly comprehensive writeups explaining the development of public transport in London (as well as a small cafe).
While this was all well and good, it only takes a few minutes to sit in some carriages, admire the art deco posters and think to yourself 'oh-kaaay, another underground sign....'
I suspect that children (bar the most precocious) might enjoy the exhibits for a short spell, but would no doubt be less interested in the signs etc. and wouldn't give a hoot about the actual history of the vehicles. In addition to this, the fact that there is limited access to the vehicles might frustrate the very young.
Various children were taking part in short exercises (tracing the history of the underground, for example), but it seems that there's a very limited age group who would fit into this category.
The gift shop was well stocked (if transport is your thing) and items ranged from the cheap and cheerful to ridiculously expensive souvenirs, small pieces of furniture and 'collectables' (although in my highly subjective opinion I'm not sure how many people get a thrill from collecting die cast bus models!) There were certainly some nice gifts and without meaning to sound like a philistine, the gift shop was the highlight of the day. We may need to go back and buy some posters...
*Oh how the time (doesn't) fly!*
Leaving the Museum into the bright sunshine of Covent Garden, a mere 40 minutes had passed. Now I will be honest and admit that my girlfriend and I aren't huge museum fans. We are, however, interested in history and take the time to read exhibits and appreciate what's on offer. The fact that we'd 'got through' in such a short space of time makes me think that:
a) There wasn't really that much to see
b) The exhibits failed to hold our attention
Or perhaps a combination of the two? I can't help but feel that the museum is a nice idea, but that the range is somewhat limited. We've enjoyed other transport museums (Glasgow's, for example) considerably more and this felt like a bit of a let down.
If I was a parent with 2 or 3 kids this place might seem like a draw, but if I was an adult who had paid the £10 admission fee I would have been somewhat disappointed and certainly wouldn't be making a return visit.
Summary: Nice idea, but I've seen better
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