London Underground

Amersham, Buckinghamshire: Amersham Museum

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Some of you may best know Amersham as the place where the Metropolitan Line ends, all the way out in Zone 9!  Exciting though it would have been to have taken the Underground all the way out there, we actually drove so as to maximise the number of local museums around Buckinghamshire we could visit (3, as it turns out, due to awkward opening hours).  It’s quite strange to think of the Tube stretching so far out into the country, as Amersham appeared to be a rather quaint little village, full of Tudor buildings, including the museum itself, which is housed in a half-timbered Tudor hall house.

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The Amersham Museum is only open on weekend afternoons between 2-4:30 (and Bank Holiday Mondays), so we had to time our visit carefully.  Admission is only £2, and we received a good introduction to the museum from the volunteer.  We began our visit on the ground floor, which contained a Tudor fireplace, and a case full of objects that had been found buried locally, including some tiles (medieval, and from Penn, not Jackfield).  There’s a timeline of Amersham history hanging from a wall, complete with curious anecdotes, and a back room with a video playing on the history of the Underground in Amersham.

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The first floor provided us with a chance to carefully study the attractive beamed ceiling, and offered a good example of the kind of quirkiness I love to see in local museums.  The first room was fairly open to give you a chance to study the markings carved into the beams, and the fireplace (with lady-mannequin), but had a few children’s activities along one wall, where I learned the names of some Tudor colours.  Goose-turd green was surprisingly pretty, but the greyish beige colour next to it was too dull for my tastes, shame, as I’d quite like to try to order up a can of Dead Spaniard from Farrow and Ball (guess I’ll have to stick with my original plan of arsenic green).  Over by the windows, there was information on the Amersham Martyrs, Lollards who were burned during Henry VIII’s reign, so they pre-dated the Oxford Martyrs (including Cranmer and his self-immolated hand) of Actes and Monuments fame by a good 40 years.

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The next room was absolutely crammed full of glass cases covering every aspect of Amersham history, from pipe-making to chair-making (the most famous Buckinghamshire chairs actually come from Wycombe, of which more in the next post. I bet you can’t wait!) to locally produced toys.  Being the weird Laura Ingalls obsessive that I am, I immediately honed in on the straw hat braiding section, especially a cutter used to split the straws which Laura never mentioned, so I’m left wondering if she simply left it out, as modern machinery might have spoiled the (Rose-influenced) survivalist Libertarian agenda of the books, or if their hats were just really thick and lumpy.

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One of the real gems of the collection was the unnamed stuffed cockatoo pictured above, who became a local hero after alerting guests of the Crown Hotel about a fire which subsequently destroyed the building.  Because of his (her?) warning, everyone escaped unharmed, except for two cats (hmmm, I guess that whole cat/bird animosity thing is true).  The plaque claimed the bird lived to 118, which seems unlikely at best, but it was still a neat story.  My other favourite object was Roald Dahl‘s prescription for glasses.  He lived in Great Missenden, which is only a village or two over, and visited an optometrist in Amersham, who passed the prescription onto the museum.  Of course Roald Dahl’s house is itself a museum, but it always seemed very child-orientated, so I’ve never been willing to take the plunge.  Maybe if they ever host an adults-only evening with George’s Marvellous Medicine themed cocktails, garnished with Mrs. Twit’s glass eye, of course.  Hell, now I’m tempted to throw a Roald Dahl cocktail party myself…

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Back downstairs, there was another room with a case devoted to local industry, which ranged from not only cottage industries like lace and cloth making, but to the Amersham Brewery, Goya toiletries, and Brazil Sausages and Pies, all now defunct.  Make sure you pull open the drawers underneath the case, as you’ll find not only some lovely Victorian bodices, but some hilarious advertising posters for Brazil’s sausages.  There was a small collection of things donated by TFL in the corner – some of those moquette ottomans that cost a fortune, but which I totally want anyway, and a few vintage Tube posters for Amersham.

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There’s an herb garden out the back, which slopes down to the River Misbourne, full of Tudor medicinal and culinary herbs (and a lot of bees and wasps).  On a wall outside there’s a tiled mural made by local children to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first Amersham martyr.  And to think, the only tiles we got to make at my school were some ones that got hung up in the hall across from the gym.  Probably just as well; mine was rubbish anyway due to my complete lack of artistic ability.  Speaking of rubbish, there’s an outhouse at the end of the garden (actually, the toilets are outside as well, but they’re in a different building than the outhouse.  Don’t get them mixed up!).

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Though it was on the small side, I liked the Amersham Museum quite a lot.  Obviously children enjoy it too, judging from the great number of them rambunctiously participating in the many child-friendly activities, including the museum scavenger hunt (they were honestly much too noisy for my liking, but I’ve not yet reached the stage of crankiness where I feel like I can scream at random children, at least, not if their parents are standing right there).  I do think Amersham has made a good effort to appeal to people of all ages, with just enough quirk to pique my interest.  3.5/5.

London: London Transport Museum

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Luxuriating in the plush interior of a Victorian era train. I believe this was actually a second class carriage, but it was still positively opulent by modern standards!

The London Transport Museum has long been beckoning to me from its perch in the middle of Covent Garden (right where I imagine the Georgian ladies of the night featured in Harris’s List did some beckoning of their own).  Massive queues, coupled with a hefty £15 admission fee had kept me away in the past.  However, a few weeks ago, a visiting friend was keen on seeing it, and there was no queue late on a Friday afternoon, so I was persuaded to part with some cash (and received an annual pass for my trouble, which is something I suppose) to gain entrance into this veritable palace of public conveyance.

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Immediately upon entering, we were directed up a sort of gangway which led us into a lift/mock TARDIS, which was, disappointingly, not any bigger on the inside.  As the doors shut behind us, dates began flashing on a screen above our heads, ostensibly sending us back to 1800 (I freely admit I was jumping up and down and clapping my hands with delight the entire time.  Even fake time travel is cool) which took the form of the second floor of the building.  We were greeted by an impressive fleet of omnibuses driven by (squee!) wax figures galore.  I think it was the first time I actually saw an omnibus in real life, and I was quite surprised at how large they were.  It made all the accounts I’ve read of people being run down by them make much more sense, especially as they would have also had giant, scary horses attached to them in real life.  This uppermost floor focused on early 19th century transport, with posters detailing the difficulties of pre-industrial travel lining one side of the room, and the omnibuses dominating the other side.

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Progressing downwards via the stairs (much less exciting than the lift), we jumped forward in history to Victorian London, and the infamous Underground steam trains (one of which I am sat inside at the start of this post).  This floor was quite narrow, and taken up mainly by the huge steam engines, and some information about the planning of the early Underground system (Circle Line), and the subsequent development of the suburbs, which is the basis of my interest in the history of the Underground (I am deliberately not referring to it as the Tube, as purists will tell you that only the deep line tunnels, like the Victoria Line, are actually the Tube proper.  All of the oldest lines, including the District, are mainly cut and cover, with some overground sections).  To understand how London expanded, you really need to know why and when the Underground arrived in the suburbs.  The Transport Museum only offered a bare outline of this process, with no mention of the many squabbles that delayed the growth of the Underground, which are covered in books like The Subterranean Railway and Underground, Overground (both of which, honestly, go into a bit too much detail for my tastes, especially the former title, but my interest in transport history is relatively limited), so judging by this, and the location, I have to say the museum is geared more towards the tourist than the TfL enthusiast.

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I can only guess at the depraved things this man is subjecting his fellow passengers to. Disturbingly, I have encountered similar passengers whilst Inter-railing through Europe some years ago. Oh, the stories I could tell!

Moving down to the ground floor, which was by far the largest floor, took us into 1900-the present day. Half of the space was devoted to the Underground (yet again), as it is obviously the most iconic form of transport in London, and included trains from a number of different decades that you were welcome to sit inside (along with a delightful cast of era-appropriately attired wax people).  I love interactive things like this, and I even took the opportunity, as I was alone, to swing from the bars inside one of the cars, like you see obnoxious children and even more obnoxious drunk people doing from time to time (I have to admit, it is pretty fun). There was quite a large section devoted to transport during the World Wars, which I found very informative, as well as an explanation of the technology that allowed for the creation of the Underground. I also really like the various posters that have been used to advertise the Underground over the years, and there was a small display of them here, along with a bit of information on Harry Beck‘s famous map (though not as much as I would have thought).

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The rest of the floor space was given over to the somewhat less enticing above-ground vehicles, i.e. buses and the tram.  Living in Wimbledon, I am all too familiar with the tram, which goes to such delightful places as Croydon and my personal favourite: Therapia Lane (pronounced the-rape-ia.  Not somewhere I’d want to find myself alone after dark, just in case it lives up to its name…), so I found it hard to summon up much enthusiasm over this part of the museum.  What I did enjoy, perhaps bizarrely, was the design of the bathroom.  They had a different moquette pattern on the back of each stall, made of wallpaper rather than fabric for obvious reasons, and a neat curvy hand-washing trough thing (less gross than it sounds).  Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the difference, and I thought it was a nice touch.  The shop is also fairly impressive, and a good place to pick up unique gifts (you can enter the shop without buying a ticket for the museum).  They have a large selection of the aforementioned TfL posters, along with moquette patterned purses, pillows, and even sofas (I secretly lust after the sofas, even though they are admittedly kind of hideous, but the £1000+ price tag is probably enough to assure that I am never able to turn my living room into my own personal version of the Tube.  I think I’d go for either the Barman pattern, found in new Central Line trains, or maybe the 1947 Roundel, if anyone’s interested.).

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I shall award the London Transport Museum 3/5.  I do think the admission fee is much too high, and the museum doesn’t go into enough depth to appeal to proper enthusiasts, but it was nonetheless a fun museum with just enough information to provide a general history of TfL to tourists and other casual visitors.  And the many things to climb on, and in and out of, ensure that less keen adults (and probably children too) won’t get too bored whilst people like me read all the signage. 5/5 for the mannequins though, they were magnificent! Thus, if you’re debating between visiting here and Madame Tussaud’s, there’s really no contest.  The London Transport Museum is cheaper, has much shorter queues (even in peak times), and I’m fairly certain their wax figures will afford you far more hilarity than anything the Madame can offer up.