It’s the second week of January, and let me guess, you’re already bored with your winter weekend routine. Darkness cuts off half the day, wind blows you right back to your house before your adventure has even begun, and football season is through. Pity.
Last weekend, trying to jazz up our normal routine of Portobello Market gazing, Hyde Park visiting and holiday cookie baking, the girls and I headed to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum.
LTM houses to-scale versions of early horse and buggies, cars, single and double decker busses, trams and tube cars. The space tells a story about something we do every day: go from one place to another in London. If you have ever taken the tube, or a bus or cab in London, your trip was shaped by the history that is explained here.
At the turn of the 19th century, London’s profile was small compared with its current expansive girth. This is because people could only go so far as they could walk, or pay someone to carry them. True story: people would hire men to carry them around town as they sat in a small wooden box called a sedan chair. The museum has replicas of these, which look uncomfortable for the rider and hired carriers both.
Enter the horse-drawn carriage, a more sophisticated version of the sedan chair. Your child will immediately notice, while perusing the replicas of the horses and their carriages, that these were not the variety of show pony that your child can ride in Hyde Park. Towering and strong, these horses could pull the weight of both a lower and an upper carriage.
This amazes me. By the late 1800s, before electricity and running water were commonplace in London homes, the city already had double decker public busses.
At that time, London’s streets were bumpy and unpaved, and to accommodate the increasing number of people seeking out horse-drawn carriages, engineers built a series of trams set on railroad-style tracks, significantly mitigating the effects of friction.
Of course the engineers forgot the other problem with using horses. The poop. One thousand tons a day. That’s two million pounds of horse poop on Monday, two million on Tuesday, two million on Wednesday. Need I go on? If ever there were an incentive to develop engines suitable for mass transportation, this was it.
We paused to sit on some of the horse trams, which had tight, dangerous circular staircases leading to the upper level (obviously not designed by anyone familiar with American-style plaintiff’s litigators). And of course we visited the railway carriages and locomotive, the predecessor to today’s tube.
My four year-old is nudging me. “The stamps, Mommy. Write about the stamps!” How could I forget. This genius museum offers an Official Visitor Card with designated areas to collect each of 13 stamps at stations located all around the museum. Generally, I’m more of an audio guide person, but in this very tactile and visual museum, collecting stamps was better because it ensured that we visited every nook of exhibit and read each nugget of history. And what child doesn’t love stamps?
The thing about public transportation is that it constantly changes, gets more efficient and faster and cheaper. Have you ever wondered how to get the most out of a city you are visiting or living in? Buy a subway / metro / Oyster card and hitch yourself a ride to somewhere you have never been. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and if you set your compass to Covent Garden you can see the museum’s predictions for public transportation in the next 100 years.