Magazine article History Today

History Transported

Magazine article History Today

History Transported

Article excerpt

* In the depths of the recently reopened London Transport Museum on the Covent Garden piazza in WC2 a blackbird trills. It is only one surprise to be found in the newly redesigned building, once the Floral Hall of the old market. The previous museum had only been going for thirteen years since the flowers went west, so why did the collection off old vehicles need this new look?

'Several reasons', says assistant director, Helen MacKintosh, as we stand on the upper walk looking over LT route-masters and horsedrawn buses along with chunks of classic tube train. 'We were originally a one-floor museum, yet with lots of upper space in this handsome high building. We could not go down because the Theatre Museum is below us; we could not go up above the glass roof because the building is protected and can not be extended, and there is no space to go sideways. So we created these mezzanine levels. We now have a third more space than we had for displays, as the two new levels have given us room for temporary exhibition halls and viewing galleries.'

'In addition the old museum was not environmentally sound. This is an important listed building and arched glass ceilings and fanlights are features. Unfortunately we had no control over the things most concerning us in the old museum; light and fluctuating temperatures. Both were damaging the collection. Now we have complete ultra-violet light filters and screen that move automatically over the windows as the sun turns yet you can still see the exhibits.'

The new space encompasses three new galleries; one currently houses a cartoon collection, the Ashfield, while another, the Frank Pick, has those nostalgic' London Transport posters of Kew. These are temporary shows, through the Frank Pick moves to Kew in the spring, after a book launch there in March. The third is the Map Gallery where the original tube system map of 1931 by Harry Beck is on permanent display. The redesign also means the museum now has on its main floor a new cafe and a very large shop.

All three new galleries have controls for temperature and light. But aside from technological need for a change in presentation. From the visitor point of view there was a change in what people wanted, 'they loved what they saw', says Helen McKintosh, 'but felt that it wasn't modern. …

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