The London Transport Museum features displays of the days when Londoners were transported by horse-drawn cab, to the introduction of the first underground railway, electrified trams and the arrival of motorised transport.
It is an interesting museum that shows how dependent London is on public transport and how the expansion of the underground and the railways defined London’s growth.
The museum also has a second site in Acton, called the London Transport Museum Depot (although this is only open three weekends a year).
What to see at the London Transport Museum
The museum is housed in the building that was originally built in 1871 to house the flower market at Covent Garden.
The museum’s galleries start off 200 years ago in Victorian London when the city was still fairly compact and most people got around town on foot. Initially, the main form of public transport in the Victorian era were riverboats on the River Thames; however, horse-drawn buses and trams became popular during the mid-1800s and the development of the railways meant that a number of railway stations were established around central London.
As the railways became more popular, they created congestion in the streets as people needed to travel to and from, and between, the new railway stations. The world’s first underground railway was built to link three of the new railway stations with the City.
The story of the underground forms a large part of the museum’s permanent exhibits with exhibits that show the history of the underground and the method by which the underground tunnels and stations were constructed.
The Metropolitan Railway locomotive number 23 is on display in the museum. Built in 1866, it is the only surviving steam engine from the London Underground, which provided power for trains on the Metropolitan and Circle lines for 40 years.
Another underground exhibit is the ‘padded cell’, an 1890 carriage that operated on the City and South London Railway.
There are exhibits showing how the growth of underground and suburban railway lines defined the expansion of Greater London.
In addition to exhibits about the city’s railways, the London Transport Museum also has exhibition space devoted to London’s buses and trams.
The London Transport at War gallery has exhibits about the role of London’s transport network during the First and Second World Wars including the role of women keeping the system running at a time when many men were at war as well as the role of tube stations as air raid shelters during the Blitz.
There are also displays about the impact of graphic design including the story of the world-famous London Underground map, designed in 1931 by draughtsman Harry Beck and now recognised as an icon of London itself.
Visiting the London Transport Museum
The London Transport Museum is located right in the heart of Covent Garden. It is a three-minute walk from Covent Garden tube station and less than a ten-minute walk from Charing Cross railway station.
The museum is very popular with school trips and it can sometimes feel overrun with children. It is quite a good museum to visit if you have kids although some adult visitors report that the large number of children that visit the museum ruin what would otherwise be an excellent historical museum.
The museum shop is very popular with people who love trains and buses. You can buy recommissioned luggage racks (railway enthusiasts use these as bookshelves) and cushions and furniture made from the same moquette fabric used on the seats on the London Underground.
Admission is free if you are aged under 17 or hold a valid London Pass and it is a little bit cheaper if you visit after 2pm on weekdays (during term time and summer holidays).
Most people allow 2–3 hours to see everything of interest in the museum.
The museum also runs a programme of Hidden London tours and events at disused stations on the network, which gives you the opportunity to visit places normally off-limits to the public. These tours are expensive (some are over £100) and sell out quickly.
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