This month the London Transport Museum based on the
Piazza Covent Garden celebrates 40 years since they first opened their doors to
the public. Currently their doors remain closed due to CVD-19 restrictions but
read on to find out about London’s fascinating transport history and ways you and
your families can currently enjoy their collection.
Every day the London Transport Museum opens its doors to
wide-eyed youngsters who like nothing more than playing with buses and trains.
During term time it is the teachers who lead hyperactive crocodiles of
children, and in the holidays Mum and Dad get to join in the fun too, often the
Dads are even more excited than their kids.
The museum itself covers every aspect of public transport in our great city , from Sedan chairs in the 17th Century to Trevithick’s first steam locomotives right up to Crossrail, as well as looking to the future of how we will be getting around London 50 years from now and beyond.
It is unimaginable that over 200 years ago, if you walked
from Covent Garden for 30 minutes in any direction, you’d end up in open
countryside; these days you’d be doing well to make it out of Zone 1. Indeed,
even if you cheated and used the tube, you’d still not be able to escape the
metropolis in half an hour. Clearly the transport system has had to evolve and
adapt to society’s ever-changing needs and how it has done so is a story
charmingly told by London Transport Museum’s accessible, informative and
interactive exhibits. Scattered amongst are amusing bijoux like the fact that
when the first escalator was launched at Earl’s Court, the underground employed
a porter to go up and down all day, just to reassure nervous commuters that it
While the Museum itself is fairly recent, the building
itself dates back to 1860 when it was erected to house the flourishing flower
market that abutted the more famous fruit and vegetable trade on the Piazza. It
was effectively a working warehouse piled high with domestic and exotic blooms
which were destined for the parlours of posh restaurants and stately homes
across the land. The first building was a ramshackle affair but a series of
improvements were made over the next decade until it began to run as a well-oiled
machine. This flower market was privately owned and it proved very profitable;
so much so that the Bedford family, who owned the Piazza, decided to muscle in
by building their own floral hall (where the Royal Opera House now stands) in
1872. However, customers seemed to favour the original establishment and the
upstart was beset with financial troubles. Another famous Covent Garden
institution also owned its existence to the Flower Market: the flower girls as immortalised by Audrey
Hepburn in My Fair Lady. These girls were very much a fixture on the market for
100 years. When the professional florists had packed up for the day (this would
have been early to mid-afternoon. Covent Garden’s markets always had a very
early start), they would throw out rejected, wilting or otherwise flawed blooms
onto a pile in the courtyard and every day, poor but enterprising girls would
gather to scavenge and salvageable stock. From these they would arrange
delicate buttonholes to sell: a posy for the lady, a nosegay for the gentleman.
Come the evening, they would wait around the Piazza and outside theatres
entreating the wealthy patrons to “buy a flaaah off a poor girl” in the hope of
earning a few pennies a day.
On the first day after the markets left Covent Garden, 9
November 1974, the Piazza had an eerie calmness, one which sent a chill chasing
down the spine of those who had known the early morning frenzy of before.
Various authorities put forward proposals for what to do with the Square but
the integrity of Covent Garden was saved when many of the buildings, including
The Flower Market were conferred with Listed status. It was eventually decided
that this building, with its unusual architecture, would be ideal for the
collection of the London Transport Museum which was then based in Syon Park,
Isleworth. It was clear that the growing automobile collection had outgrown its
former premises and the deal was sealed.
Fittingly, and much like the infrastructure it celebrates,
the collection has had a peripatetic history. It was originally started in a
typically haphazard manner in 1920s Chiswick. From there it moved onwards to
Reigate and in the 1940s the next stop was a garage in Clapham where the
collection was amalgamated with the British Transport Museum. By 1973 it had
moved o again to Syon Park with a depot in Acton to accommodate the inevitable
overspill. The next and final stop on its journey was here in Covent Garden
where it opened amid a fanfare of bells and whistles on 28 March 1980 when the
ribbon was cut to a chorus of cheers.
London Transport Museum has occupied its corner of Covent
Garden for 40 years now, making it a youngster in comparison with some of its
neighbours, but in that short time it has become firmly established as a
favourite destination for locals and visitors. A massive boost was celebrated
in 2003 when the Heritage Lottery Fund pledged £9,500,000 for the upkeep and
development of the collection. As well as the obvious appeal of interactive
exhibits and a spirit of fun, there is also a deal of socio-cultural history to
be discovered. Anyone who loves London will find plenty to divert and enthral
London Transport Museum Today
The doors may be closed but the Museum is still open to
virtual visitors online!
During the Easter holidays you can still enjoy online
exhibitions, quizzes and games, behind the scenes videos and interactive family
activities from self-isolation.
entertained during the Easter holidays with downloadable activities inspired by cartoon character ‘Billy Brown of London
Explore hidden gems from the Museum’s
collection up-close in Google Arts and Culture galleries
Step inside Hidden London: the
Exhibition on a curator led video tour with transport broadcaster Tim Dunn
Take part in quizzes, competitions and games on Twitter and
Browse the Museum’s online shop for fun family games to play at
to the Museum enewsletter for a weekly dose of curious stories, fun facts and
online shop offers
From curating virtual galleries and building an online
hub for its much-loved family fun
activities to compiling transport-themed Spotify playlists, London Transport
Museum is open online and sharing its collection to help people feel inspired
and uplifted while they settle into staying indoors.
families who were looking forward to visiting the Museum in Covent Garden over
the Easter holidays, a new online activity hub will offer fun problem-solving
games, word searches, quizzes and colouring-in pages to help recreate the
experience at home. Available to download from today
are inspired by ‘Billy Brown of London Town’ – a vintage cartoon character who
used playful rhymes to keep passengers on their best behaviour when using
public transport during the Second World War.
Families looking for additional sources of entertainment during the holidays
can enjoy up to 25% off bestselling toys and games from the Museum’s online shop until 26
April, including London Underground Monopoly and a Tube line themed Topple
London Transport Museum is a charity. Every purchase will help the
Museum to reopen its doors and continue its work with children, young people
and communities, igniting their curiosity to shape the future.
its closure, London Transport Museum will continue to bring its collection to
life online for kids and adults alike, by adding new objects and digital
exhibitions to its Google
Arts & Culture site.
the scenes video tour of the Museum’s highly acclaimed Hidden London exhibition
is also available on the Museum’s YouTube
channel , featuring transport historian and broadcaster Tim Dunn
New content will also be shared regularly on the Museum’s website
and across its social media channels: