The London Transport Museum, as most people know, is based in Covent Garden. But like most museums, space is limited and a lot of good gear needs to be stored elsewhere. In the case of LTM, this is Acton Depot, which has two open weekends each year, in March and October.
Acton Depot is simply a large warehouse immediately across the road from Acton Town tube station. It is an Aladdin’s cave of old tube trains, buses and all the associated paraphernalia: ticket booths, electrical control boards, signalling gear, ticket machines, posters, advertisements, architectural models, safety equipment and so forth. Unlike the main museum, it has an oily rag quality to it and one can almost hear the ghosts of passengers and staff of days gone by.
One is struck by the hardiness of the old buses and tube carriages. Many vehicles which entered service in the 1930s were only decommissioned in the 1980s and 1990s, coaches that we may have travelled on. Even the earlier ones are familiar to us from interwar and post-war black and white movies. There are ticket-machines and platform shops that all of us can remember using.
Many of these artifacts populated the public spaces of our youth and most of them would be familiar to our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. They represent massive change over a relatively short period: they played their part in transforming London from a smelly, horse and cart city of centuries standing to a modern metropolis. Yet in their way, they are unquestionably archaic. One finds oneself stroking the shiny black mudguard of an old bus as if it were as much a living thing as the horse it replaced. Leaning on the worn bare metal of the 1930s Westinghouse control panel from Bond Street tube station, decommissioned just 10 years ago. And that’s the joy of a museum which celebrates the 20th Century: it’s history with a very powerful dose of nostalgia.
In addition to the two open weekends in March and October, London Transport Museum hosts guided tours of the Acton Depot on the last Friday and Saturday of each month. More information here.