Celebrating our 40th birthday

As the Museum celebrates its 40th anniversary, we take a look at the history of our collection and the iconic building the Museum is housed in – the Covent Garden Flower Market.

By London Transport Museum

Tickets to London's transport history (1989) by Tom ConnellLondon Transport Museum

40 years

This year, London Transport Museum is celebrating 40 years in our Covent Garden location.

Thomas Tilling 'Knifeboard' type horse bus (1851) by Thomas TillingLondon Transport Museum

Our collection originates in the 1920s, when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus for future generations.

London General Omnibus Company 'garden seat' type horse bus (1881) by London General Omnibus CompanyLondon Transport Museum

B-type LGOC open top motor bus bonnet No B340 (1911) by London General Omnibus CompanyLondon Transport Museum

The London Transport Collection (1976) by William FentonLondon Transport Museum

Over the years, the Museum has had a several homes: as part of the Museum of British Transport, housed in an old bus garage in Clapham during the 1960s...

The London Transport Collection (1974) by William FentonLondon Transport Museum

...and at Syon Park in west London in 1973 as the London Transport Collection.

See Covent Garden's new show (1980) by Tim DemuthLondon Transport Museum

Covent Garden

In 1980, the collection moved again, this time to our current Covent Garden location, opening as the London Transport Museum. It moved into the restored Flower Market building – a cast-iron and glass building reminiscent of Victorian railway station architecture.

Covent Garden; rhubarb and roses (1965) by John GriffithsLondon Transport Museum

The Flower Market at Covent GardenLondon Transport Museum

The history of the Flower Market

Our stunning building, was originally designed as a dedicated Flower Market by William Rogers of William Cubitt and Company in 1871-2. 

Illustration of the Tavistock Street elevation of the Covent Garden Flower Market (1884)London Transport Museum

Markets were established in Covent Garden by the Earl of Bedford in 1670 selling ‘fruits, flowers, roots and herbs’.

The Flower Market at Covent GardenLondon Transport Museum

In the 1830s, permanent buildings replaced the traders’ stalls in the central square. As the market expanded, additional buildings for specialist trading grew up around the piazza.

Flower Market interior, in useLondon Transport Museum

The Covent Garden Flower Market opened in 1872, and for the next hundred years, this was the heart of London’s wholesale flower business, famously trading every day except Christmas.

Flower Market interior, in use (1970-1980)London Transport Museum

By the 19th century, Covent Garden had become London’s principal vegetable, fruit and flower market.

Traders in the Flower market at Covent Garden (1970-1980) by David ThomasLondon Transport Museum

Flower Market interior by David ThomasLondon Transport Museum

Shoppers at a stall in Coven Garden Market (1991) by Hugh RobertsonLondon Transport Museum

London characters; the flower woman (1920) by Elijah Albert CoxLondon Transport Museum

Flower girls, as depicted on this poster, were a common sight in London, particularly in the streets around the Flower Market at Covent Garden.

Casual labourers at Covent Garden market (1876-1877) by John ThomsonLondon Transport Museum

There were also a hundreds of casual labourers who worked around the Flower Market to transport, distribute and grow the stock that was sold every day.

Interior shot of Covent Garden Flower Market when empty (circa 1979) by H J Hare & SonLondon Transport Museum

In 1974, all the market businesses moved out to modern warehouses at Nine Elms in south London.

Interior shot of Covent Garden Flower Market when empty (1975-1980) by H J Hare & SonLondon Transport Museum

Covent Flower Market standing emptyLondon Transport Museum

After much debate about what should happen to the old market buildings in Covent Garden, they were restored and the Flower Market reopened as the home of London Transport Museum in March 1980.

Artist's impression of the east end of the London Transport Collection in Covent Garden Flower Market (circa 1978) by Bob MillerLondon Transport Museum

Reopening

The newly-refurbished Flower Market, shown here in artist’s impressions from 1978, was over three times the size of the old Syon Park site. It was intended to transform the collection into a ‘proper’ museum, one that actively cared for its collection, promoted public transport as a theme and actively encouraged schools to visit.

Artist's impression of the London Transport Collection in Covent Garden Flower Market (circa 1978) by Bob MillerLondon Transport Museum

Entry of Loco 23 into covered way (1979) by Edna LumbLondon Transport Museum

Vehicles were painstakingly moved into the building on temporary rails for display in the new Museum, as depicted in these watercolour paintings by artist in residence Edna Lumb.

Positioning of the Feltham Tram by Edna LumbLondon Transport Museum

Photograph of Edna Lumb wearing a hard hat, painting the building work and installation of exhibits for the London Transport Museum (1979-1980) by Jennifer BeestonLondon Transport Museum

Artist Edna Lumb at work in the Museum.

Entrance to London Transport Museum, pre 2000 (Between 1980-2000)London Transport Museum

The Museum was seen as a ‘place builder’ for Covent Garden when it opened in March 1980. It opened four months before the rest of the piazza opened as a shopping centre.

Princess Anne at the opening of London Transport Museum (1980-03-28) by Paul ProctorLondon Transport Museum

The Museum was officially opened on 28 March 1980 by Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne.

Princess Anne in the C&SLR carriage (1980-03-28) by Chorley HandfordLondon Transport Museum

Plaque commemorating the opening of the London Transport Museum (1980-03-28)London Transport Museum

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