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In pictures: the London Transport Museum Depot in Acton

In pictures: the London Transport Museum Depot in Acton

As most Londoners know, the London Transport Museum’s pretty fab. Buffed-up engines, tube simulators, the capital’s geekiest bookshop. What’s not to love? But trains and buses need space – lots of it, and there’s only so much that be squeezed into the former Covent Garden market hall. So that’s why the museum has an extra storage facility in Acton, a vast warehouse stuffed with 370,000 more goodies. It's the sort of place Willy Wonka would’ve conjured up had public transport been his thing.

Here’s a peek at some of the items I discovered on one of the depot’s rare open days.

Robert Lordan

Omnibus

Horse-drawn omnibuses were the Routemasters of their day. Each route was colour coded – pretty vital in the days when many folk were illiterate and a system which lives on in today’s tube map. This particular wagon first hit the cobbles in 1885 and trotted the yellow line from Baker Street to Waterloo until 1911. 

Robert Lordan

Wooden Metropolitan line carriage

They may not have boasted bright lights and air-con but the early wooden carriages on the nineteenth century Metropolitan line were still pretty classy – where would you see a logo of this calibre nowadays? 

Robert Lordan

Freight on the Met

For many years the Met carried freight as well as commuters. Here’s a glimpse into an old goods wagon complete with churns that would’ve ferried fresh milk straight into the metropolis. 

Robert Lordan

Tram

Standing beside an old-school tram gives you a sense of just how mighty they were. This beauty was crafted in Motherwell, Scotland in 1908 and clattered through London until 1952. 

Robert Lordan

Vintage buses

If buses are your thing then you’re spoilt for choice at the Acton depot. This grand pair were built between the two world wars.

Robert Lordan

The Battle bus

Known as a ‘B-type’, this was one of London’s first motor buses and began running between Barnes and Liverpool Street in 1914. When WWI erupted in August of that same year many London buses – including this one – were commandeered for use on the Front Line to act as ambulances and troop transporters. This old warrior was restored in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of that appalling conflict. 

Robert Lordan

Tunnel section

These hefty iron segments were forged in the 1890s to line the tunnel of the City and South London Railway – the world’s first deep-level tube which now forms part of the Northern line. 

Robert Lordan

Roundels

Want tube roundels? Acton’s got rakes of 'em, stretching as far as the eye can see…

 

Robert Lordan

Signs

There are many other signs too: big, small, round, square, all giving off a great retro buzz.

Robert Lordan

Waterloo and City line

Now here’s a peculiarity. For many years the Waterloo & City line was controlled by British Rail meaning its trains were a little different to those on the rest of the Underground network. This unit dates from 1940 and was decked out in a variety of colours during its lifetime – including green and blue. Its current paint job represents the old Network South-East livery; the coat it wore upon retirement in the early '90s. 

Robert Lordan

Wooden escalator

It’ll sound improbable to younger Londoners, but for many decades tube escalators were made of wood. They were phased out following the King's Cross fire in 1987. 

Robert Lordan

London taxi

As a cabbie I’ve got a particular soft spot for this item – the Beardmore taxi which populated the capital’s streets in the 1940s and '50s.

Robert Lordan

American Indian

This American Indian chief was the mascot of ‘Guy Motors’, a manufacturer based in Wolverhampton. He's on top of a Greenline bus that was built in the 1950s and based at a garage in Amersham.

Robert Lordan

Trolleybus

What do you get when you cross a bus and a tram? Why a trolleybus of course, a vehicle powered by overhead wires but free from the constraints of rails. Trolleybuses operated in London between the 1930s and '60s. 

Robert Lordan

Vintage extinguisher

Once a common sight inside tube carriages these fire extinguishers had rather unique instructions. No giggling at the back, please. 

Robert Lordan

Clutter

There are no airs and graces at the Acton Depot. Much of it feels like an attic where various bits and bobs have been bundled to gather dust.

Robert Lordan

Mini tubes

Open day at the depot isn’t just about historic artefacts. Market stalls are open too where enthusiasts can buy and sell merch and showcase their hobbies. Models of wee tube trains are particularly popular.

Robert Lordan

Architectural models

Sticking with small things, there are plenty more little representations of our city at the depot in the form of original architectural models. Such as this mock-up of Bank station. 

Robert Lordan

And this design for Canary Wharf... 

Robert Lordan

Humpty and hooligans

An unusual juxtaposition of posters from the late '60s/early '70s advertising Humpty on ice and a strongly worded warning to wannabe troublemakers. Nowadays they just tell you CCTV’s watching. 

Robert Lordan

Ticket machines

Oyster cards and contactless have made shelling out for your ride a cinch. Back in the day, however, you would’ve had to grapple with these cumbersome contraptions which are more akin to the controls from Dr Who’s Tardis. 

Robert Lordan

1983 tube carriage

The funky interior of a 1983 tube carriage complete with wooden floors and orangey-yellow decor. This particular design ran on the Jubilee line until 1998. Two of its cousins can now be seen perched high above Great Eastern Street where they form part of Shoreditch’s Village Underground

Robert Lordan

Prototype tube

This ultra-rare tube appeared in 1986 as a prototype for a new Central line train along with two other designs which Londoners were invited to judge. If you’re a regular on the Central line today, you’ll know that this pastel green number wasn’t the winner. 

Robert Lordan

A royal ride

It was in this old stalwart that Queen Elizabeth famously hitched a ride during the official opening of the Victoria line in 1969. The train remained in service until 2010. 

Robert Lordan

Map with Aldwych

Like London itself, the tube map is a constantly evolving. This old Piccadilly line diagram shows the peculiar branch to Aldwych which closed in 1994. Now a ghost station, Aldwych remains a popular destination for film and tv crews. 

For more fun transport-y facts, check out 25 things you (probably) didn't know about the London Underground.

Or, take a look at the complete history of Paddington station. 

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