London Transport Museum is one museum a number of Londoners have not been before and they have good reasons not to. As a nation which thrives on the obsession of collecting and preserving bits and pieces of its history, there are countless museums, heritage and historical sites all over the UK, and as the capital, London is the home to many museums. A good number of them do not charge an entrance fee, the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, British Museum and the London Museum are just some of the major ones. Each one of them is so extensively stocked that one could spend hours just going through each exhibit.
The London Transport Museum, on the other hand, sits right in the centre of Covent Garden piazza. The casual visitor distracted by the performances and shops at Covent Garden Market and the nearby Neil Street wouldn't probably even cast the London Transport Museum a second glance. That not even taking the London Transport Museum's entrance fee of £8 (add £2 for Gift Aid) into consideration.
That's a pity, really. For never has something so fundamental to the development of industrial Britain being so comprehensively covered in so compact a space. To be honest, I was quite disappointed when I flipped through the brochure, which accompanied the ticket. The layout of the museum was much smaller than anticipated. Obviously, that was a hasty judgement passed - I was still in the museum three hours later and had to rush through several exhibits as the it was near closing time.
The London Transport Museum visitor is ushered into a lift to the 2nd storey and is transported back to 1800 when transportation became a key factor influencing the development of London's commerce. Take note of the lift indicator, which rolls back from 2009 till 1800. I thought that was a nice touch.
What greeted me was the sedan. Yep, you heard that right. Never have I thought that the sedan, which is quintessentially Chinese, was popular in London as well. Horse drawn carriages were reserved for the well heeled until the horse drawn 'trams' came along and that brought the cost down by quite a bit. In a bid to bring that experience alive, there are lifesize models of vehicles and even voice overs depicting characters from all walks of life - from the horse manure remover to the tram drivers and the passengers.
As the visitor move on to the first and ground floor, he is transported (no pun intended) to the 20th century and the present day where trains and buses have become part and parcel of our lives. There is quite a fair bit on the challenges that the ageing system currently faces, which I missed as I hurried through the last bit.
£10 for more than three hours and some education on what makes London ticks. A bargain indeed.
Covent Garden Piazza
London, WC2E 7BB
tel: +44 (0)20 7379 6344