Wednesday 27 April 2022

London Transport Museum Depot, Acton

 A day out by train, seeing historic trains, buses and equipment

Knowing that we have quite enough possessions (apart from model railway kit, that is: no-one can ever have enough of that), my kind family tends to buy me either consumables (wine, chocolate and whisky being favourites) or experiences as gifts. This year for my birthday my son Ed in London took me on a day visit to one of the London Transport Museum Depot's open days: it was some weeks after my actual birthday, but the invitation came in time. Included were a brunch before the visit and pint afterwards, and very good weather was thrown in as well!

My day began with a walk down to Stamford station for the 09:03 Cross Country train for Peterborough, dressed in a shirt and jacket, no jumper or coat but a scarf and gloves against the coolness of an April morning. The idea was that I could stow the scarf and gloves when I was in London, with the expected warm, sunny weather, and they would be available if needed when I came home. For a trip like this my only luggage would normally be my camera bag, but the trip was complicated (as mine so often are!), this time with a basket of Easter gifts for the family and a birthday present for my granddaughter. I was quite pleased with keeping hold of all this stuff through the change of trains at Peterborough (smooth and on time) and alighting at London Kings Cross. Having had plenty of notice I travelled First Class from Peterborough with LNER and had to remind myself not to indulge in too much of the complimentary breakfast on board as I would be treated to brunch at the German Gymnasium on arrival in London. Coffee, orange juice and a pain-au-chocolat did nicely on the train. 

I arrived at Kings Cross a few minutes before Ed and waited in the glorious sunshine between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. This really is a very pleasant place now, totally different from the cramped and dirty place it used to be. It is still busy, of course, and there is still a building site adjacent to Kings Cross station, but there is plenty of space to sit and enjoy the space. There are even trees!

I had never been to the German Gymnasium before, but I had read about the conservation of the building and had seen that it had become a German-themed restaurant. The name pre-dated the use, the building having indeed been a gymnasium used by German sportsmen and been rescued as part of the St Pancras International rebuilding works a few years ago. I had the GG Breakfast from the menu, with sausages, of course. Packed with calories (now compulsorily printed on restaurant menus!) it would keep me going all day - or at least until a snack at tea time. As the weather was so good and the outdoor seating was on the sunny side of the building we sat outside and enjoyed our meal in the sunshine.

We took the Underground and just had time to drop off the Easter and birthday gifts at the family's home before we travelled on to Acton Town for the Museum Depot. For travel within London (apart from buses which I now get free of charge with my pensioners' pass!) i use an Oyster Card. Although it is now possible to use any contactless charge card to pay for travel in London (as in many other places) and TfL will still cap your fare at the daily Travelcard rate, for Senior Railcard holders an Oyster is still valuable as it can be linked to the railcard and give a reduction on TfL fares as well as railway fares.

We arrived at Acton Town and followed the signs to cross the road and enter the Museum Depot. This is where exhibits are kept which are not currently in the Museum itself, which is in Covent Garden, and where exhibits come for repair and servicing, but it is spacious enough to cope with visitors and open days are held from time to time. There was even an extensive gift shop, a second-hand model shop and an opportunity to volunteer to help at the museum, and most of the many people on duty there were volunteers.

We saw Underground trains, trams, buses and trolleybuses of various vintages and explored the development of transport in London. On a mezzanine level is a huge collection of signage of all sorts, mostly from the Underground railway, and below it a display of station and signalling equipment. Much was reminiscent of how I remember things from the last sixty years, and much was even older.

We took a break for tea and cake and then returned for an introduction to the enormous poster collection upstairs. Apparently specific day tours of the poster collection are held from time to time, and perhaps this may have to be a future trip objective. Finally we visited the gift shop and I came away with a London Transport puzzle book which I thought would keep us entertained on some of our longer continental train rides or if life at home ever became boring!

And so back to the real Underground for a train to Hammersmith - this is only one stop on the fast Piccadilly Line trains from Acton Town - and we repaired to a very pleasant pub there for a pint or two of (Cornish) ale, again, sitting out in the sunshine. This is one thing I hope will be a "Covid keep," outside tables and seating at pubs, restaurants and cafés. Ed and I both have a keen interest, only academic in my case, in urban development and we spent some time agreeing with each other about it over our drinks ... After a brief visit to the family home it was time for me to take the Underground one last time and make my way home. When I arrived at Kings Cross I had a few minutes to spare and waited in the First Class Lounge until the train was ready. I was surprised to find it was one of the remaining "Electra" sets of Mk4 coaches rather than the new "Azuma" trains; I rather think this was a change of plan because the seat reservations were not shown, which is a sign that a different type of train is in use than the one expected when the seats were allocated.

I allowed myself a final glass of wine and a wrap on the way back to Peterborough, followed by a chocolate pot, but there was not time for coffee. I had timed the trip home so that at Peterborough I would be able to make the connection into the one East Midlands Railway service per day that travels via Stamford. this reduced my connection time to about twenty minutes (and the train was already there and loading so I did not have to wait on the platform or in a chilly waiting room), and in the event that my train from London had been late (which is was not), there was the back up of the next Cross Country train a bit later. And so to home, my luggage now consisting only of the puzzle book, scarf and gloves along with my camera bag. A great day out, and lot of gratitude to my son for the treat! The London Transport Museum Depot is somewhere I had vaguely been thinking of visiting "one day," but having the visit planned and paid for had made me bring it forward to the top of the list. One very happy Dad!

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