diamond geezer

 Monday, April 25, 2016

10 things you can see at the London Transport Museum Depot

It's in Acton. It's open for a couple of weekends a year. You just missed one.

1) Old tube trains: When old tube stocks die, at least one carriage is normally shunted off to the LTM Depot for safekeeping. The most recent additions are the old Victoria line stock (died 2011), the old Metropolitan line 'A' Stock (died 2012) and the old subsurface 'C' Stock (died 2014). A single District 'D' Stock will no doubt be squeezed in by the end of the year. But there are also some seriously old carriages in the collection, some made of wood, others with pointy windows, and others sheer Thirties luxury compared to what we ride today (although I bet the suspension was worse). The oddest carriage is probably the 1986 Stock Central line prototype, which is green, and was part of a full-scale consultation (with 'red' and 'blue') to see which the public preferred. Red won, but how sleek our journeys might have been if green had triumphed.

2) Old tube maps: Upstairs on the mezzanine you'll find a selection of tube maps that once graced platforms in days gone by. Some of the earliest are enamelled geographically accurate beauties, often part-eroded, while some of the postwar bunch are ugly angular concoctions best hidden away in an archive. If you're a Londoner, obviously the first thing you do each time is hunt down the section of the map where you live, but a much more enjoyable quest is to track down lines since closed and stations since renamed. Clapham South was nearly called Nightingale Lane, who knew?

3) Old tube signs: Rather more of the mezzanine is taken up by station signs of all kinds, from roundels to line diagrams to those long thin nameplate things that run across the top of platforms, saved here to preserve the vast variety of types and styles generated over the years. The roundels come in all sizes and fill at least four gangways, hence a much-repeated activity at Acton is to hover around the end of one of the gangways waiting for it to clear of people so you can take a photo. The line diagrams are often more interesting, especially if they're for lines that were never built, or contain stations long since renamed, or even have a ghastly error (which it was hard to fix in the era of costly hand-created enamel). There's probably an old sign from your local station (I eventually found a Croxley, though not a Bow Church), but also dozens you'll never have imagined existing.

4) Old Overground signs: Not every old sign is worth keeping, so several traders turn up at these depot open days with the intention of flogging old stuff to the punters, and this weekend their haul included frshly-removed vinyl-covered signs from the outer reaches of the New Overground. A whole stack of Hackney Downs, Silver Streets and Bush Hill Parks were up for grabs, at a not entirely unreasonable price, made redundant in their original locations by the provision of bespoke orange enamelled replacements. And by golly they were selling well, despite their enormous size, presumably because train fanatics living up the Lea Valley hadn't previously had much in the way of TfL signage to acquire before the Overground arrived. I was very interested to see if any Theobalds Groves were available, this being the station where I caught contractors last year erecting a spelling mistake, but alas seemingly no.

5) Acton Miniature Railway: It's only rarely open to the public, when Depot Open Days permit, but this short miniature railway is seven and a quarter inches of ride-on pleasure. A ride from Depot Approach up towards Ealing End costs only a quid, and it's not only for children (although most of those on board either were or had recently sired some).

6) A spiral escalator: Several large-ish objects have ended up at the Depot, from generator panels to signalling systems, and old lightboxes to yellow ticket gates. One particular oddity is the remains of the experimental spiral escalator installed around the circumference of the second lift shaft at Holloway Road station in 1906. It had two separate helical tracks, one up and one down, and unsurprisingly didn't work, indeed its operational lifespan is believed to have been measured in hours rather than days or weeks. Swiftly scrapped, a brief section was later recovered from the bottom of the shaft, and this symbol of misplaced technological optimism now rests on a pallet near the Depot entrance for visitor perusal.

7) Station models: Before a new station, or station feature, is created, somebody often feels the need to knock up a model to explain to everyone else what it'll look like. They're often big models too, hence take up quite a bit of room, for example that for the installation of the Bank Travelator, or the entrance piazza for Canary Wharf. One particularly whopping example is for Oxford Circus, with all the intertwined passageway tunnels faithfully reproduced, another created for the post-fire inquiry at King's Cross, and (my favourite) a scale model of the Stratford area before the Olympics were even dreamed of showing where the new-fangled Channel Tunnel Rail Link might go.

8) Lego tube trains: Danish plastic blocks are very 'in' at the moment, if indeed they ever went away. So it was no surprise to find at least two exhibitors had knocked up some splendid railway-based Lego exhibits, the most impressive from @Cheshambricks who had not only a model 55 Broadway with a station underneath, but also a full Baker Street style cutaway with with two layers of railway below and a streetful of different type of buses above. Their pile of £20 four-carriage Lego tube trains sold out very quickly.

9) The poster store: Out the back, in the bit that most visitors never see, are various rooms for the storage of small and paper-based items. One of these is a large L-shaped room in which TfL's poster archive is stored, tucked away in a variety of drawers, and with a select few on display around the wall. But it was possible to get in if you joined one of this weekend's special taster tours, this with an Edward Johnston theme as the depot celebrated the centenary of his font and all things lettered. While our guide pointed at something the curator thought relevant, but not necessarily exciting, my eyes were spinning round the entire room to soak in the other typographical beauties on display. Full hour-and-a-bit tours of the poster store are available, at other times, for those who'd like to dig further.

10) The Big Steam Print: Meanwhile out the back, near the food trucks, this weekend's special attraction was a steamroller wheeled in from Sussex. The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft have an Edward Johnston exhibition on at the moment (I've been, you should too), and used their giant press to print a variety of arty posters and etchings by rolling heavily over the top. Hell, why not?

» I last visited the Depot in 2007, and shared 20 photos. This time round I've added 25 more. Not much has changed. Here's the full 45, as a gallery and as a slideshow.

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