I’ve dug out a few photos from the London Transport Museum archives so we can have a tour of Enfield West (now Oakwood) Underground station on the Southgate extension of the Piccadilly line, in 1933 – at the time of opening.
We have taken the train today, and we start our architectural tour on the platforms just as our train departs. The station was designed by Charles Holden and C H James in 1933, and our train is quite new too. Concrete shelters for the platforms are supported by concrete pillars, and wooden bench seating has been incorporated into the pillars supporting the shelter.
Looking further down the platforms, now we see:
Those integrated lamp-posts and poster display boards were quite extraordinary, and similar ones were found throughout the Southgate extension. There were a couple of variants.
The platform panels aren’t the only minutiae of note, though.
Upstairs, the booking hall is glorious in both day…
But particularly at night…
Moving out towards the street, we look back:
That light tower was quite something: Holden did like light fittings integrated with other things.
And bringing us right up to date, you’ll be pleased to know that not only is Oakwood station still very well preserved, but that mast sign with light tower is too.
As we continue to remember the First World War 100 years ago and think about the men recruited from London’s transport workers who fought in it, we have an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the less well-known objects in the Museum’s collection connected to this human story. One such item is An alphabet of TOT produced by the TOT Mutual Aid Fund at the end of 1915 (TOT stood for Train, Omnibus, Tram) which is in our library collection.
At the start of the war the TOT Mutual Aid Fund was set up to support the struggling families of men from the bus, rail and tram companies who were serving in France and elsewhere. The alphabet was one of many fund-raising initiatives undertaken by the organisers.
At first sight, this book intended for small children seems nothing out of the ordinary. Closer inspection though reveals a lot more. The beautifully crafted illustrations, inspired by public transport and drawn by the well-known poster artist Charles Pears, reveal a wealth of intriguing details about London’s public transport at a time of transition between old and new.
I have a favourite letter myself – ‘O’ for otter. This illustration tells several stories. The image shows a stuffed otter in a glass case being admired by a lady and her enthusiastic young companion. The text reads ‘O the ozone which improves ventilation. And also the Otter at Mansion House station.’
Ozone was quite a new thing in 1915, used as part of attempts to improve air quality on the Underground. Ventilating plants could inject 60,000 cubic feet of fresh air into tunnels and passages every minute. Before pumping, the air was cleansed of impurities, mixed with ozone and brought to the correct humidity. The motion of passing trains then circulated the air into the lower passages.
The inscription on the otter’s case in the drawing is indecipherable in the drawing, but we know the picture is a true representation, because we have a photograph to prove it. The photograph is of an exhibition of stuffed animals (including several owls and the otter) caught on Underground property. These were then displayed on the platform at Mansion House station. The picture shows the otter in its case and when the image is enlarged, you can clearly see the plaque says ‘Female otter caught at Acton Town station 4 April 1911’. The exhibition moved to Charing Cross (now Embankment) Underground station in 1929.
The illustrations for all the other letters in the Alphabet have similarly interesting historical details in them, so in 2015 we produced a facsimile of this alphabet as part of the Museum’s commemorative activities marking the centenary of the First World War. Illustrated alphabets have always offered a great way to encourage lively discussion between young and old whilst children learn their letters, and this example is no exception. For older readers interested in London’s transport history the detailed pictures provide hours of pleasurable scrutiny.
Get the book
You can buy a copy of this limited edition publication and support the Museum’s charitable objectives by going to our online shop or visiting the Museum shop in Covent Garden.
Written by Caroline Warhurst, Information Services Manager
Our friends at the Postal Museum are working hard to prepare a section of the Post Office Mail Rail at Mount Pleasant for passenger rides in 2017: previously it famously carried post and parcels beneath London on electrified narrow gauge tracks.
But what is lesser known is that for a short while, London’s Underground was also used for the delivery of parcels.
In the years leading up to the First World War, the Central London Railway (CLR, now Central line) ran a parcels delivery service known as the Lightning Service Express. This originated at Post Office station (now St. Paul’s) where the General Post Office was situated.
Wicker hampers, as seen in the photo above, were used to convey parcels between the surface and the platform. The parcels were then whisked off to other stations along the line and then taken by young employees on tricycles or on a horse and cart to their final destinations, depending on size, distance or importance. The rolling stock used was the day-to-day 1903-Central London multiple unit tube stock, but rather incredibly from 1911 there was a compartment built in aboard for a parcels porter to sort the mail as the train went along. That made it rather like a localised version of the Night Mail and Royal Mail Trains which operated on the main line railways above ground.
According to 20th Century London, the Lightning Service Express was a profitable side-enterprise but was discontinued because of labour shortages in the First World War – and it never resumed.
It’s interesting to note that TfL has more recently forged partnerships with parcel collection and delivery companies, so the Underground is once again being used as infrastructure in Britain’s mail distribution network.
The journey, it is said, is often as important as the destination. I’m a transport historian, so naturally I agree (and I do enjoy a good diversion): the processes, experiences, pauses, stops and occasional wrong-turns in any journey are crucial in defining where we actually end up.
Deep in London Transport Museum’s archives there are a lot of places where designers, engineers, marketers, operators or technicians paused, noted down their ideas, and then either retreated or took that idea further forward.
These places where people paused are fascinating, because that’s documentary evidence of something that didn’t quite make it in that format, or that style, or in that way. It’s a depiction of something we never saw fulfilled. What might have been is often more interesting than what actually was. The reasons for failure are often more telling than the reasons for success.
A great example of the design process (not necessarily failure, but a different direction that was taken) is on display now in the London Transport Museum Designology exhibition. It’s the “Barman” moquette, where on the wall are examples of London’s Underground moquette that never quite made it into the public realm.
The namesake of this moquette is Christian Barman: as London Transport’s publicity manager he commissioned the first moquette fabrics for London’s Underground in 1936 and it was felt apt to commemorate his impact upon today’s travelling experience. The “Barman” fabric was created in 2010 by textile design studio WallaceSewell, comprising the talents of Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones.
Here to enjoy are some of the designers’ pauses, developments and explorations: and of course some of the moquette designs that never quite made it on to the Underground network…
If you, like me, enjoy seeing unbuilt, non-constructed, never-was design, then the Designology exhibition is an ace place to start to understand what could have been, and what we now have.
But we’ve needed to get around London whatever the weather since time immemorial, and the Underground saw this as a selling point early on. The Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd was a master of identifying its customers’ needs in publicity: in 1925 it commissioned Kathleen Stenning to produce a series of simple but striking panel posters. These were displayed in Underground car interiors, as well as on the inside and outside of buses and trams. Because they did not have to fit a standard frame or wall space, they are smaller than other poster formats and vary slightly in size.
To coincide with the opening of the new Tate Modern extension on 17 June, Art on the Underground and Tate Modern commissioned artist Michael Craig-Martin to design a “reimagined” London Underground roundel at Southwark station.
The roundel is pretty funky: I skipped down there this morning and quite a number of commuters on the platforms seemed to notice that something wasn’t as per normal, although your correspondent was (unsurprisingly) the only one taking photographs and that act seemed to cause more interest than the roundel itself. It is, however, only temporary: it will be taken down and replaced by the standard Southwark station roundels at the end of this weekend.
What makes this roundel interesting is its rarity: whilst there are several replicated along the platform walls, experimenting with the icon that is the London Underground roundel is not something that is sanctioned often. Since introduction in 1908 (and there is a full history of its design story here) there have been design tweaks in its gradual evolution, but it’s rare to find vastly different variations, especially at platform level.
I’ve dug out a few that I’ve seen: if you know of other intriguing ones, do get in touch with the team on Facebook or Twitter.
Every three months a new Poster Parade is installed for visitors to enjoy at London Transport Museum (LTM). The themes of the poster parades are often selected to either showcase a particular strength of the LTM poster collection, coincide with an exhibition or celebrate national or international events such as the Olympic Games. The poster parades are usually curated by young museum professionals such SOCL trainee curators or University of Leicester Museum Studies Interns. A SOCL trainee curator is a traineeship position provided by Cultural Cooperation in partnership with London Transport Museum through their Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme which encourages greater diversity in the Museum workforce.
As a current SOCL trainee at LTM I had the privilege of curating the current Poster Parade, Literary London, which explores the ways in which designers have engaged with the subject of literature in posters commissioned by London Transport and Transport for London. The display also celebrates National Storytelling Week (30 January – 6 February 2016) and World Book Day (3 March 2016).
Selection and Design Process
The theme for the exhibition was chosen because literary references are a recurring theme in London’s transport posters, from the early 20th century to the present day. The posters displayed in the exhibition were chosen because they are prime examples of four ways posters engage with books and literature and they are arranged in four sections to reflect this. The sections are called Country Walks, Children’s Book Illustrators, Poems and Prose and Today’s Commute – Read all about it. Posters from the Country Walks series were chosen because they are an example of a London Transport publication. A section about children’s book illustrators was chosen because many poster designers in the collection were also children’s book illustrators or come from an illustration or graphic design background. Poems were an important addition to the Poster Parade because the Museum holds a large collection of posters from the Poems on the Underground series. The last section Today’s Commute – Read all about it contains posters with literary references from the contemporary poster collection.
The order of the posters was chosen to reflect the sections and look visually appealing. This process was aided by a creation of a virtual model on SketchUp Make software which allows Curators to move the posters around and visualise what they would look like once they were installed without the physical objects. This was advantageous in regard to selecting the best posters and order for the display. Please see below for an example of a mock up:
Interpretation material was written in accordance with the Museum’s editorial guidelines which detail for example, how TfL and its predecessor institutions should be referred to and that written material should provide neutral accounts of historical or political events. The curator writes the introduction panel and labels. The interpretation material is edited by the senior curator and librarian to ensure the guidelines are adhered to and the text is written to the best standard possible. Once the editing process has been completed it is given to the design department for formatting and printing. The labels are printed in NJ TfL Book (16 point) typeface which is the house style and digital version of the Johnston typeface which is used across TfL from signage to publications. This is a clear san-serif font like Helvetica which is favoured by publishers and designers for its clarity which makes it suitable for a museum audience to read.
The Poster Parade can be found on Mezzanine Level 1 of the Museum and is on display from 29 January – 29 April 2016.
*Links to external websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by London Transport Museum of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organisation or individual. London Transport Museum bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external website or for that of subsequent links.
Alongside the restoration and conservation of Battle Bus (B-type B2737) London Transport Museum is also running an in-depth learning and engagement programme. Throughout the centenaries of the First World War, the programme will work with different groups of volunteers to investigate new perspectives of the Battle Bus and bring to life the stories of those affected by war and the role of transport within it.
In 2015 our focus was the experiences of women. At the outbreak of war in 1914 thousands of men from the transport industry volunteered to take on military roles. The industry lost a significant proportion of its workforce, and it wasn’t long before women were called upon to fill the roles that men had left behind. In the bus industry, one of the roles undertaken by women was as conductors, ‘clippies’ or ‘conductorettes’ as they were sometimes called. They received mixed reactions from the public, simultaneously a symbol of women’s important contribution to the war effort as well as a target for derision by those who felt that women were not capable of carrying out such responsible jobs.
Working with over 40 female professionals currently employed in the transport industry we explored the stories of these first ‘conductorettes’ in more detail. We looked at the experiences of these women and how they contrast to that of women working in the bus industry today, how the role of women has changed over time, as well as asking if women today still face the same prejudices as counterparts from 100 years ago.
This film is taken from the exhibition. Sarah Liles, a Bus Driver, and Liza Maddocks, an Employee Relations Assistant, talk about their experience of working in the bus industry today.
The stories all contributed to a final exhibition, ‘A Driving Force: 100 years of women in transport’. As well as the film shown above the exhibition included oral history interviews, artwork and a timeline of key milestones in the story of women in transport from 1915-2015. In the Summer and Autumn the exhibition toured cultural and community venues throughout London, including Catford Bus Garage, London Transport Museum Depot in Acton, Westminster Music Library and Victoria Coach Station.
Last week the Museum team made a reconnaissance visit to the Somme to plan out the route for our First World War ‘Battle Bus’ (B2737), which will be revisiting for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme next year. We worked our way down the rolling hills of the Somme following the jumping off points of the opening attack on 1st July 1916.
Our mission south from Gommecourt to Marincourt was to identify points of departure and arrival for the bus – villages with space to park the mobile display vehicle and offer short trips on the bus and key points at which we could understand what happened one hundred years ago. For example, in the Sunken Lane beneath the Redan Ridge we could arrive by bus, see shots of the ’Battle of the Somme’ film with soldiers in the lane waiting for the attack and the mine being exploded under the Hawthorn Redoubt, read personal accounts from individual soldiers and get a sense of the lie of the land. What was harder to work with was the contrast between the leafy rural landscape today and the blasted and dangerous trenched landscape of 1916. At key points the photographs and diaries help piece together what was the worst single day for the British Army, with over 60,000 casualties sustained.
This was brought home poignantly to us when we attended the reinterrment of three soldiers whose bodies were uncovered recently by road works. After 99 years, these three men, two unknown, one from the Royal Irish Rifles, another from the Cambridgeshire Regiment, and the third identified from his dog tag as Sergeant David Harkness Blakey MM of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had lost their lives in the attack on Thiepval on 1st July 1916 were buried with full military honours in the CWGC Connaught cemetery. In warm autumn sunshine, surrounded by their families, local dignitaries, current members of their regiments, and with the respect of a fusillade, the Last Post and a piper’s lament, they were finally laid to rest alongside so many of their comrades who had also lost their lives on that dreadful morning so long ago.
Our bus tour next year will culminate in the centenary commemoration at the Thiepval Memorial on 1st July. Lutyens’ striking arch commemorates the 72,195 soldiers who have no known burial on the Somme. We are honoured to be included in the official commemoration and look forward to our bus and exhibition offering a fresh insight on a key national story.
How do we, as social historians, attempt to unravel and understand the general mood or atmosphere that existed in a massive city like London at any moment of time? Whilst significant historical events are often extensively recorded and reported often more problematic is our ability to comprehend the atmosphere of day-to-day life in the capital.
As a Museum curator my role is to interpret and make sense of history through visual and material culture and the creation of atmospheric displays. Similarly my talk at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front, will attempt to reveal the mood and atmosphere in London prior to the outbreak of World War I. Using images of objects, photographs and paintings held in the Museum of London and other collections the talk will give both a broad overview of London in 1914 as well as analysing the minutiae of life at street level.
As the shadow of war began to draw more heavily over the capital what were Londoners getting up to – what was their day-to-day life like, what was happening on the street, what was popular, what were Londoners talking about, were they aware of the impending threat and, more significantly, was the mood on the street being obviously affected by the threat of imminent war?