The bright young things who put women centre stage

Written by David Bownes, co-curator of Poster Girls – a century of art and design and Director of

Of all the designers featured in the Poster Girls exhibition, none were as glamorous as the Scottish-born sisters, Doris and Anna Zinkeisen, whose precocious talent, beauty, and modernity propelled them into the centre of interwar London’s fashionable art scene. Typically described in the pages of society papers as ‘extremely pretty’ and ‘brilliantly clever’, it would be easy to view the sisters as the epitome of the entitled ‘bright young things’ parodied by Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies (1930). But there was so much more to Anna and Doris than this, as their extraordinary body of work testifies. And as the posters in London Transport Museum’s exhibition show, it was a body of work that put confident, independent, women firmly on the centre stage.

Born in 1898, Doris was the elder of the two by three years. Despite the age gap, they trained together at the Royal Academy Schools and by the mid-1920s were sharing a studio in London. The range of their work was dazzling, including book illustration, publicity for railway companies, murals for the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth ocean liners, and society portraits of the fashionable ‘set’. Doris also developed a hugely successful career as a stage and costume designer for theatre and films, working alongside Noel Coward, Charles B Cochran and Cole Porter.

But it is their depiction of women that strikes the viewer as truly modern. Take, for example, the panel posters produced by Anna for the inside of Tube carriages. These show dynamic, active, women who are not defined by their relationship to men – a far cry from most commercial art of the time. Similarly, Doris’ unpublished poster of female theatre goers (1939) depicts a group of young women enjoying a night out without an obvious male chaperon (shown above). And the subject matter, too, is far removed from traditional ‘feminine’ commissions. Anna’s output for the Underground included motor shows, air displays and military parades. There was also something distinctly racy about their portrayal of the modern woman. The scantily clad revellers of Anna’s Merry-go-round poster (1935) would raise eyebrows even today, while Doris’ costumes for the West End play Nymph Errant (1933) were regarded as so revealing that the chorus girls refused to wear them. In the changed circumstance of the Second World War, their work became less frivolous but no less assertive, as their moving depictions of female war workers demonstrates.


Image: Merry-go-round (1935) Anna Zinkeisen

Inspired by the Zinkeisen sisters and their female design contemporaries, London Transport Museum is hosting a very special evening event this Friday celebrating the Golden Age of the 1920s and 30s poster design.  Experience vintage girl power and iconic art movements through curated lectures and workshops and discover Poster Girls after hours. With music, dancing and bars it promises to be a fun night.

Full details can be found here:



Happy 80th birthday Carol Barker

Happy 80th birthday to Carol Barker, illustrator and author 

Written by David Bownes, co-curator of Poster Girls – a century of art and design.

The multi award-winning illustrator and author Carol Mintum Barker turns 80 on 16 February. I first met Carol last year while researching London Transport Museums Poster Girls exhibition, and I’m not surprised to learn that this sprightly artist is celebrating her landmark birthday teaching young women art and design in Rajasthan, India. In fact, Carol has been visiting and working in India since the 1970s, and has helped many women out of poverty and on to university through art education.

Her remarkable career began sixty years ago. Inspired by her artist father, John Rowland Barker, Carol attended Bournemouth College of Art, Chelsea Polytechnic and the Central School of Arts & Crafts. She became a freelance illustrator in 1958, eventually contributing to over 30 books. Until the late-1970s, her work was most closely associated with children’s book illustration, including a collaboration with the comedian Spike Milligan (The Bald Twit Lion, 1968). It was during this period that she designed four posters for London Transport (LT) promoting Fenton House (1966), London Museum (1969), Children’s London (1973) and London’s Museums (1979) – a selection of which can be seen in the current exhibition at Covent Garden. Her designs in pen and ink, watercolour, collage and wax, capture the joyful exuberance of the age, and are arguably among the best posters commissioned by LT at that time. London Museum in particular is a rich visual scrapbook of the Capital’s past, and visitors to Poster Girls are encouraged to compare the original 3D artwork with the printed poster (both on display). My favourite, though, is the Children’s London pair poster, which was praised by the internationally renowned design journal, Modern Publicity (1974) as one of the best British posters of the previous year.

Since 1977, Carol has undertaken several extensive research trips to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Africa, Tibet and elsewhere to produce non-fiction ‘picture-information’ books for children which sympathetically record day-to-day life in other cultures. On one of these trips she was given a rare private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her work, often at the behest of international organisations such as Oxfam and the United Nations, has garnered critical acclaim and achieved worldwide publication.

Children's LondonCarol Barker 60s

David Bownes is the Director of

For more information about Poster Girls – a century of art and design and our public programme of events please visit

Browse the Poster Girls shop range

the first women poster pioneers

A Room of One’s Own

David Bownes, co-curator of the Poster Girls – a century of art and design exhibition

90 years ago, the author Virginia Woolf argued that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. This call for a literal and figurative space, free of male control and domestic responsibilities, applied equally to all areas of female creative endeavour. Yet as Woolf knew all too well, women had few opportunities for genuine financial and creative independence in the 1920s. Commercial art, as graphic design was then known, provided one of these opportunities, and London Transport was at the forefront of commissioning female talent. How did this come about?

When Frank Pick took charge of the Underground’s publicity in 1908 the male-dominated advertising industry regarded women artists, at best, as suitable for illustrating ‘feminine’ subjects or children’s books. From the start, Pick took a progressive view towards commissioning irrespective of gender or subject matter. The first poster by a woman appeared on the company’s trams in 1910, and by 1930 over 25% of all Underground publicity was designed by women.  No other British company or government agency took such an enlightened stance or promoted female designers to the same extent.

In finding young artists Pick was greatly helped by a revolution in the teaching of art and design in London, led by the Central School of Arts & Crafts. Women made up a disproportionate number of the students on commercial art courses, and in Pick they found a willing patron able to jump start their careers with the gift of well-paid and high-profile poster commissions.

But it wasn’t a feminist triumph in the modern sense. Male designers were still paid more and achieved greater fame than their female colleagues. And many promising careers were cut short by marriage and the expectations of childcare and running the family home. The names of these female poster pioneers, too, have been criminally neglected by history. Who now has heard of Nancy Smith, Dora Batty, Herry Perry, Margaret Calkin James, or the dozens of successful women designers whose work enlivened the hoardings in the first 50 years of the twentieth century?

On 25th January design historians Oliver Green, Ruth Sykes and Susannah Walker will be exploring these themes in more detail at London Transport Museum’s A Room of One’s Own evening event Starting with the first commissions in the 1910s, the speakers will chart the crucial role of London art colleges and London Transport in providing training and employment opportunities for women designers and ask whether female artists bought a new aesthetic to the male world of commercial art.

Lambourne End

Letter from Santa

Santa has been spotted in our Museum and has written a letter to let all of the children know about his visit, how they can find him and the festive activities they can enjoy.

Ho Ho Hello!

My goodness what a busy time we’re having here in the North Pole! So many letters to read and gifts to wrap, there’s almost no time to sneak off to London Transport Museum. That’s right, you may not ever have noticed before, but tucked away behind old Routemasters and London Taxis is my secret cosy Christmas hideaway. This is where I come to relax, read and try out the latest toys from the elves workshop.

Why not join me? Oh what fun! You can make your own decorations (here’s a video from one of the elves to show you how simple it can be!) and take part in a festive storytime and singalong about travelling in the city at Christmas – which trust me, isn’t easy, especially with such a heavy sack of presents to carry. Some years, I honestly don’t know how I manage to deliver everything on time, not with all the rush hour traffic (thank goodness for public transport!).

I’ve even decided to give the reindeer a couple of nights off and have booked a vintage bus tour of the city’s West End lights. If you’re not doing any last-minute Christmas shopping why not come along on the 21 or 22 December?

Oh, look at the time! I must go and finish wrapping the latest toys from the workshop!

I hope to bump into you at London Transport Museum for some festive fun very soon. If you see me, please do say ho ho hello, I’ll be around every day until 23 December (I have a long standing prior engagement on Christmas Eve).

Merry Christmas!

Santa, Mrs Clause, the elves and all the reindeer

Santa's hideout

Connecting London’s Past and Present

The Museum’s extensive range of learning programmes, which includes work with families, schools, communities and young people, provides exciting opportunities to make connections between transport’s past and the present-day lives of Londoners.
None perhaps more so than the Battle Bus Project. Since the restoration of the B-type bus number B2737in 2014 the Museum’s Learning Team has been delving deeper into the story of London’s buses during the First World War, working with young people in Tottenham and Camberwell to bring the story of the Battle Bus back to the communities and streets of London where it all began. Vicki Pipe, who is our Family and Community Learning Manager, describes the projects in more detail.

Focus on Tottenham
In 1914 Emily Lee Graves married William Ely. During the war years Emily worked as a Clippie (a female bus conductor) on London’s B-Type buses. It was the first time women were allowed to work on the buses, and Emily was one of 3,500 females who took up the role. In May 1917 William was tragically killed fighting in France. Emily continued to work as a Clippie, raising a small child at the same time and later marrying a local tram driver Hubert Pearson.

Students from Northumberland Park Community School in Tottenham who learnt about Emily’s story visited the grave of William Ely during a trip to Fosse No. 10 Communal Cemetery in France. Maggie Bonfield, William and Emily’s granddaughter who grew up in Tottenham, met with student Serkan Ahmed after their journey to find out more about the group’s experience and to thank them for sharing William and Emily’s story with others.

Focus on Camberwell
When war broke out in 1914 1,000 buses were requisitioned by the War Office from across London, including Camberwell Bus Garage.  Life on the home front in Camberwell, as with all parts of the country, was challenging. Everyone was expected to contribute to the war effort including children, who were even encouraged to give up their pocket money to help. Young people worked hard during the war knitting scarfs and socks for soldiers, with some as young as 12 taking jobs in factories or on farms. Approximately 600,000 children went to work instead of going to school.

Young people from Lyndhurst Primary School in Camberwell worked with an artist, actors and the Battle Bus Learning Team to discover what life was like growing up as a young person during the First World War. They shared the stories they discovered through the creation of  artwork inspired by children’s comic books from the time. Their work is now on display in Camberwell library, where more young people will learn about the ‘Home Front Heroes’ of London from 100 years ago.

Young people from Camberwell

Young people from Camberwell get up close to the Battle Bus whilst finding out about their Homefront Heroes

You can find out more about the Battle Bus project, and where and when it can be seen via the link below

Bryan Avery – an appreciation by Sam Mullins, Director of London Transport Museum

Bryan Avery, late architect of the new museum

I am sad to report on the death of architect Bryan Avery, who led the design team for the extension and refurbishment of the Museum at Covent Garden which was launched in November 2007. We chose Bryan  because of his skillful use of awkward space under Waterloo Bridge, for the creation of the Museum of the Moving Image in 1988 (which closed in 1999), for the glazed exterior of the IMAX at Waterloo (1999) and the brilliant performance and support spaces at RADA (2000).

A primary consideration for London Transport Museum was a new glazed screen entrance to give the Museum a light and attractive face onto the bustling east piazza of Covent Garden.  Our brief also included a new basement space now known as the Cubic Theatre, a comfortable 120 seat space for lectures, corporate hire, music and film, with great acoustics and moquette fabric covered seating. The third major element was to introduce an independently supported mezzanine floor high in the west transept of the grade two listed Flower Market building of 1871, with access by stairs and lifts at both ends. The fourth element was the improvement of the historic building’s performance as a Museum space, controlling light levels and heat gain and loss from what is essentially a cast iron greenhouse. Over-cladding, louvring and the largest installation of solar panels on a listed building to supplement the reinstatement of natural ventilation was deftly incorporated into the Avery design, with specialist input from Max Fordham.

Bryan worked on our scheme from 2001 to enable a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We worked intensely together to incorporate our vision of the new Museum and its narrative of transport shaping London, past, present and future, into the wonderfully located Flower Market. The tight space within demanded that every square foot worked for that vision. Bryan’s questioning of visitor flow and accessibility led to an optimal final design that has served the Museum very well since 2007, with visitor numbers rising from 210,000 to 400,000, and facilities for evening events, school visits, retail and cafe, promoting support from Transport for London,  funders, stakeholders and visitors. Bryan’s work has proved crucial to the Museum’s success, working within a range of constraints to create colour, light and movement within a historic structure.

The Museum’s former Assistant Director, Systems and Infrastructure, Rob Lansdown reminded me of how “when you talked to Bryan about space or form he was driven to pull out one of his blank index cards and a classic black Pentel Sign fibre-tipped pen (beloved of architects since the 1960s) and sketch his understanding for explanation and later reference”. His sketches of buildings and ideas were wonderfully concise and I hope plans for their exhibition and publication come to fruition.

Bryan remained a close friend of the Museum and had been consulted on our new Cafe extension project shortly before his death. We understand there is to be a memorial event in October.

Khadija Saye 1992 – 2017

khadija_1Two weeks ago the Learning team at London Transport Museum were waking up to the news of the fire in Grenfell Tower, and the realisation that one of our team lived in the tower and was now missing.

Khadija Saye joined the team in August 2016 as a Young Freelancer, a year-long post that offers support, training and paid opportunities for young people. The scheme aims to enable them to gain the knowledge, skills, and experience required for roles in art and cultural sectors. This is part of a wider programme of work with young Londoner’s funded by Arts Council England.

In our reflective practice sessions, Khadija talked with us about her life-journey, the challenges she faced, her art and her desire to work with and help people. Khadija worked on many projects in our Learning and Public Programmes teams, including using her amazing photography skills, giving tours, delivering events for families, supporting our pre-employment courses and engaging and supporting young people to become part of our apprentice programme. Khadija wanted to continuously learn, grow and develop and the paid opportunity allowed her to support the photography she was so talented and passionate about.

Khadija was all about people: whether assisting frantic set-up for a workshop, or guiding a participant on a course, caring for the elderly, or talking to a colleague struggling with work, Khadija was never short of time to listen. On meeting Khadija for the first time, her kindness shone through.  Extremely humble to the point where her discussion about being chosen to display work at the Venice Biennale came across, at first, as a small admin project!


Dhikshana, Khadija’s line manager

The last time I saw Khadija was just before she left for Venice, mapping her journey so far as part of a session reflecting as a Young Freelancer.  Charting worries, and things she needed to plan for, control and if possible contain; we ended knowing she would have many tales to tell us from Venice, how she took all these challenges head on and the great time she would have.

She would return and we would be in the final months of her time with us, seeing how far she came, having yet another string to her bow, and more people to add to her journey.  Khadija was returning to work alongside her peers to bring in our next set of Young Freelancers, sharing her journey and supporting and inspiring another group of young people. 

As I said goodbye to Khadija that day, I told her not to forget me when she reached the top and make sure I had VIP tickets to her exhibitions. She promised and with a naughty chuckle, she said she would make sure there was plenty of tea and cake for me.

Thank you, Khadija for being part of our team. We are so proud to have worked with you, we hope you learnt from us as much as we learnt from you.

Learning team
London Transport Museum

Prize for Illustration 2017: the winners!

This week, London Transport Museum hosted the ceremony for the Prize for Illustration 2017 awards. The competition was open worldwide, was run in partnership with the Association of Illustrators and the ceremony was attended by a number of the shortlisted artists. I was lucky enough to attend as well.

The artists were invited to respond to the theme of Sounds of the City and capture sounds heard in our UK cities in a single illustration – from loud and frenetic urban noise to the more quiet and relaxing sounds of nature.

100 of the illustrations, which were shortlisted from over 2,000 entries by an independent panel of judges, are now on display at London Transport Museum until 3 September 2017. Each of the illustrations is accompanied by a short description about the inspiration behind their work. I do hope you get to come and see them! Exhibition details.

The winning illustrations will also be displayed on London Underground poster sites during the summer and each winner will be getting a cash prize. The three winners:

• Bronze Prize was awarded to: Paul Garland, for Sound of the Underground
 Find out more about Sounds of the Underground here
• Silver Prize was awarded to: Julia Allum, for Surprise City Sounds  Find out more about Julia’s work.
• Gold Prize was awarded to: Chiara Ghigliazza, for Solo Find out more about the Gold Winner here.

The announcement on 24th May 2017 was relayed live on my Periscope & Twitter account – watch it again.

Paul Garland, Sound of the Underground
Paul Garland, Sound of the Underground
Julia Allum's Surprise City Sounds
Julia Allum’s Surprise City Sounds
Chiara Ghigliazza - Solo
Chiara Ghigliazza – Solo (Gold winner)

The 1951 Festival of Britain showcase of new London Transport R49 stock

I have just realised that today, 3rd May, is the anniversary of the opening of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The Festival was a showcase of the best of British design and technology, including fascinating transport exhibits representing a new future.

By the end of the Second World War, like the people it served, London’s transport system had been exhausted. Steel was not readily available, so the designers used aluminium for the new District Line trains instead. Keen to show off their new trains, London Transport exhibited a prototype (car 23231) at the Festival of Britain site on the South Bank, and it is shown here being shipped in and only partially painted – just two days before the site opened to the public. In their final production versions, the train exteriors were left as bare unpainted metal, a feature of several post-war Underground stock types.

In the background, the Dome of Discovery (one of the main Festival of Britain exhibition spaces) and the Skylon structure can be seen. More than 8.5 million people visited the South Bank site for the Festival, and many of them will have seen this new London Transport design proudly on display.

Here’s another image of the car transported by Pickfords Road Services roadtrailer from Metro-Cammell at Birmingham, set to be offloaded at the Festival of Britain site on 1st May 1951.


These trains, known as R49 stock, finally went into formal public service in 1953, were stalwarts for 30 years and were eventually replaced by the D-stock and C-stock. All had left service by 1983.


I take the tube at least twice a week somewhere in town. Predictably I spend rather longer on it than I should: I find myself trying to get a gap in the crowds; a pause in the orderly chaos.

That’s because I’m so often attempting to take a shot that is comparable with the archive shots of yesteryear: those that feature just the architecture and engineering, rather than shots of those who are using it.

Sometimes it can be really quite pleasant to stop to one side, avoid the rush – and for a fleeting moment – experience the #EmptyUnderground.

I’ll be looking out on Twitter for more #EmptyUnderground so do snap some, upload to Twitter with that hashtag and I’ll make a blog post of them in a couple of weeks’ time.

Warren Street, January 2017
Charing Cross, December 2016
Southwark, July 2016
Through the 1980s King's Cross Thameslink foot tunnel (still open 0700 - 2000 weekdays) with its huge SMILE prints mid-way) but on this Saturday visit was eerily quiet
King’s Cross Thameslink, December 2016
Southwark, July 2016
Camden Town, December 2016