The London Transport Museum is an exciting place for people interested in things that move. There is lots to see and do for all ages; visitors can sit in authentic vehicles, try on outfits, and even participate in driving simulations. The museum focuses on engaging visitors with the history of public transportation in London. Interactive displays and play areas are located throughout the building, and visitors are encouraged to punch a passport at different stations throughout their journey.
The museum takes viewers through the history of vehicles in London, beginning in 1800 and ending with predictions for the future. An elevator whisks visitors to the top floor of the museum, counting down the years until 1800. In the first room, visitors are greeted by many vehicles used in the 19th century, many of which are filled with life size figures of those who lived and worked in the Edwardian and Victorian ages. One of the characters reads a paper and gives an extensive series of lectures on omnibus etiquette, warning visitors “the sound of [one’s] own voice may be music to [their] ears, but not so perhaps to [their] companions”. The other lessons include telling passengers to spit outside the bus, not in it, and to take up less room so other passengers can board.
Reminders of similar rules can be found throughout the museum. As visitors travel through the timeline in the museum into the 1900s (the next floor down), these unofficial rules of etiquette become more apparent. They stand out on bright posters and advertisements for the Tube. These rules were important because the Underground had to be on time, and breaking these rules meant delays were more likely. Examples of transportation etiquette can be seen in the accompanying photos, which display a poem about the ideal passenger from 1927, how to exit the Tube efficiently from 1918, and a reminder about music volume from 1991.
The ground floor of the museum contains even more information the 20th century. Guests can learn about the use of the Underground during the First and Second World Wars, where the aforementioned unofficial rules became important not only to prevent delays but to save lives. For instance, queuing in became an important part of British life during the world wars, because of rationing. Bunk beds, food, and other amenities were placed in many tubes stations so people could stay safe during bombings. Because so many sought refuge in the Underground during the war, reserving spots and queuing was essential to ensure order.
These unofficial rules of London transportation may seem intuitive to many, but Galahad in The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon, struggles with the new etiquette. Moses understands this well: “take it easy […] you can’t learn everything the first day you land” (Selvon 16). Moses teaches him about the importance of not cutting queues and paying efficiently while using public transportation (25, 26). Interestingly, Moses also discourages speaking loudly on the Underground, just as many posters and characters in the London Transport Museum advise (16).
As guests make their way through the last parts of the museum, they learn about current projects and future aspirations for London Transportation. The Elizabeth Line, which will be completed in 2019, is featured in an area that focuses on present day projects. A film and display inform viewers on the cultural and practical significance behind the design incorporated into the new line. Further, guests are asked to think about the future of transportation in London and how it might change with new technology such as self driving cars. With this, one cannot help but wonder how the unofficial rules of public transportation will change as new technologies are implemented.
This museum is a lot of fun because it is so engaging. There is so much to do for all ages, so be prepared for hordes of screaming young children throughout the museum. They have a difficult time containing their excitement with so many activities and experiences catered to them and generally do not grasp the unofficial rules of public transportation. Older visitors can escape these enthusiastic youngsters in the gift shop, the picnic areas, or one of the cafes. It is worth dedicating at least half a day to experience the London Transport Museum, though even that much time barely scratches the surface. Fortunately, tickets allow unlimited entry for a year, so guests can go back many times to fully appreciate all the building has to offer.
The London Transport Museum
Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 7BB
Adult £17.50; Concession £15.00; Children Free
Monday-Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 – 18.00 Friday 11.00 – 18.00
020 7379 6344
~Katherine Jones, ‘18
Selvon, Samuel. The Lonely Londoners. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.