In Covent Garden, is the world’s best museum of public transportation. This is the London Transport Museum. We can be sure of this, because London holds a series of world firsts; the first underwater tunnel for mass-transit purposes in 1840, the earliest underground railway in 1863, the earliest electrified underground line in 1890 and the most rail termini in the world (twelve stations in London by 1890) . There are many original examples of the carriages and vehicles used at the time. Our favourite is the only surviving underground steam locomotive along with it’s carriages.
Commercial transportation in London started in the 1780’s with the Sedan Chair, carried by two footmen – only for the wealthy. By 1800 horse-drawn Hackney carriages (carrying 2-3 passengers) were popular – again among the wealthy. This was followed by greater capacity ‘Omnibuses’ (e.g. Schillibeer’s) pulled by three horses – there were 620 of these by 1839! A lighter and larger capacity horse-drawn bus (e.g. Tilling’s) was introduced in 1845 – leading to chaos as companies would race to the next stop for the fares! All the separate companies were merged in the 1850’s to create the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC). LGOC soon introduced the horse-drawn tram, pulled by two horses and conveyed on rails. Capacity was fifty people – and for the first time, public transportation was priced for the masses.
Before long London’s streets were highly congested and another solution was required. In 1863 the world’s first underground service commenced operation. This was the Metropolitan Line operating between Paddington and Farringdon in London, followed by the District Line five years later (a commuter route between Kensington and Westminster). Both used steam powered locomotives. The first electric trains started operating on the Northern Line in 1890 – and the rest is history….
Back on the surface, in 1901, horse-drawn trams gave way to electric trams – powered by overhead cables. And in 1930, the electric trams gave way to electric buses (‘trolleybuses’) – again powered by the same overhead cables. In 1950, London Transport decided to use diesel engines and world famous London bus (the ‘Routemaster’) was introduced – the earliest type was the ‘RT’. (Centre in the photograph above).
The museum has rare exhibits of the above and continues the journey into road based transportation up to the modern day. It’s a major attraction for young families – encouraged by the museum’s policy of allowing us all clamber over many of the exhibits!