The Art Fund Prize 2008 - London Transport Museum

By Narelle Doe | 12 March 2008
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A photograph of an early horsedrawn London bus with two mannequins.

© London Transport Museum. Photo: Andy Paradise

VOTE! The judges have already started their deliberations over the ten longlisted museums for the Art Fund Prize 2008, but who do you think should win the coveted prize? Don't forget to cast your vote in the 24 Hour Museum's People's Vote.

24 Hour Museum continues its alphabetical round-up of the museums and galleries on this year’s longlist by looking at the redeveloped London Transport Museum.

The £100,000 Art Fund Prize is awarded to the museum or gallery whose project demonstrates the most originality, imagination and excellence, and the London Transport Museum, one of the capital’s best-known attractions, hope their recent £22m transformation will net it the prize.

Staff say it is a museum for us all: transport in the capital, whether we live there, work there or just visit, affects millions. The redeveloped museum, in particular, explores the vital link between transport and the growth of the city of London, its culture and society since 1800. In revealing this aspect of the capital's history, it also brings to life the fascinating stories of Londoners over the last 200 years.

photograph of a museum interior with a bench in the cnetre of the floor that has the Hammersmith Underground sign on it

The Design Gallery explores how transport has helped to define London’s cultural identity. © London Transport Museum

The museum reopened after its major redesign in November 2007, with new exhibition themes including transport art and design heritage; public transport at war; and a gallery comparing London's transport system to other world cities'.

As well as looking at the past and present state of the tubes and bendy buses, the museum looks to the future, engaging visitors in thinking about the pressing issues and opportunies faced by the growing metropolis and the needs of its people in the age of congestion charges and St Pancras International.

Historically, the museum goes back to the 1920s, when a collection was started with two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve for future generations. The collection now contains more than 80 road and rail vehicles.

Other examples of rare early vehicles include the only surviving locomotive from the world's very first underground railway. Dating back to 1866, it is also the oldest loco in the museum, adapted for use underground with special apparatus to condense it's steamy exhaust underground.

Engine No.23, as it is known, was finally withdrawn in 1948 and restored to its 1903 condition for the Underground centenary celebrations in 1963.

A photograph of the interior of a museum with a collection of London buses.

More space on the ground floor allows for better and more informed displays. © London Transport Museum

Other attractions include a horse tram, South London Tramways No. 284, which was originally ordered and imported from the United States in 1884. The museum also owns B-type bus No. B340, which was built in 1911 - the year the London General Omnibus Company replaced the last of its horse buses with the successful new motors. The B-type was London's first reliable, mass-produced motor bus.

London once boasted the world's largest fleet of trolleybuses. Electric buses were first introduced in 1931 at a time when trams had fallen out of favour. Trolleybus No. 1253 is typical of the standard 70-seat trolleybuses built for London Transport in the 1930s, fed by overhead power cables. This specimen ran from 1939 to 1961 on routes in north London from Hackney depot.

Original artworks and posters that promoted the city's transport over the last century are seen too, from the early days of mass tourism - to 'letting the train take the strain'. The museum has over 15,000 photographs, 5,000 posters and 700 original poster artworks in its collection.

Special events and activities and a changing programme means that no two visits to the museum will ever be the same. Family activities run throughout the school holidays where children can create artistic masterpieces or build a bus. Costumed characters wander the galleries, giving visitors a chance to speak to a Victorian policeman or a London trolleybus conductor.

A photograph of the interior of a museum with a lit stylised map of the London Tube.

© London Transport Museum. Photo: Andy Paradise

But will London Transport Museum drive off with the prize? Among the nine other exhibitions and projects on the longlist, the museum is competing with brand new developments like The Lightbox in Woking and groundbreaking exhibitions such as Sacred at the British Library.

Following judges’ visits, four museums and galleries will be shortlisted and announced in early April. The winner will be announced on Thursday May 22 at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London during Museum and Galleries Month 2008.

Before then we would like to know what you think in our People's Vote. Do you think London Transport Museum should win the 2008 Art Fund Prize? Vote for this museum or any others on the longlist here

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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