London’s complex transport system has its origins in horse bus services established in the early 19th century, and the slightly later ‘cut-and-cover’ underground railways, the first of which, the Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon was opened in 1863. In the latter part of the 19th century tramway networks proliferated, and in 1900 the City and South London Railway, the first of the deep underground lines called tubes, made possible by the excavation shield designed by James Henry Greathead (1844-96), was opened to traffic. The Metropolitan District Railway took over the London General Omnibus Co in 1912, and absorbed various tubes two years later.
In 1933 all the underground railway, motor bus and tramway companies were brought together under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board, which under the inspiring management of Frank Pick (1878-1941) became one of the best urban transport systems in the world. Pick was concerned to established high standards of design and studied best practice in Germany and the Netherlands. He was responsible for the creation of a new typeface used in all forms of communication, he introduced destination blinds on buses and concrete bus stop signs with panels for the display of timetables. He brought in automatic ticket machines at underground railway stations, and carefully designed bifurcation systems that avoided the worst excesses of pedestrian congestion. Pick employed the architect Charles Holden (1875-1960) to design underground stations, in a Modernist style derived from the work of the Dutchman, Willem Marinus Dudek (1884-1974), and more than 40 stations on the underground system are now listed buildings.
The London Transport Museum has been located since 1980 in a former flower market building of 1871 in Covent Garden. It was re-opened after extensive refurbishment in October 2007. Its outstanding exhibits include No 23, a 4-4-0 tank locomotive built by Beyer Peacock in 1863, which was fitted with condensing equipment for working on sub-surface lines, but spent its last working years until the 1930s on the rural parts of the Metropolitan Railway system. The collection also includes a horse tram imported from the United States in 1884, a B-type motorbus of 1910 and a trolleybus of 1931. Frank Pick had a sophisticated approach to marketing and public relations, and the museum holds a collection of more than 5,000 posters that advertised transport services in London. One display shows the influence of railways, tramways and bus services in the development of suburbs.
The museum has a very large annex close to Acton Town underground station in West London where some 370,000 items are stored, including many road vehicles and some complete underground trains. It is open to visitors on advertised dates several times a year.