London’s transport that never was: Moquette

The journey, it is said, is often as important as the destination. I’m a transport historian, so naturally I agree (and I do enjoy a good diversion): the processes, experiences, pauses, stops and occasional wrong-turns in any journey are crucial in defining where we actually end up.

Deep in London Transport Museum’s archives there are a lot of places where designers, engineers, marketers, operators or technicians paused, noted down their ideas, and then either retreated or took that idea further forward.

These places where people paused are fascinating, because that’s documentary evidence of something that didn’t quite make it in that format, or that style, or in that way. It’s a depiction of something we never saw fulfilled. What might have been is often more interesting than what actually was. The reasons for failure are often more telling than the reasons for success.

A great example of the design process (not necessarily failure, but a different direction that was taken) is on display now in the London Transport Museum Designology exhibition. It’s the “Barman” moquette, where on the wall are examples of London’s Underground moquette that never quite made it into the public realm.

The namesake of this moquette is Christian Barman: as London Transport’s publicity manager he commissioned the first moquette fabrics for London’s Underground in 1936 and it was felt apt to commemorate his impact upon today’s travelling experience. The “Barman” fabric was created in 2010 by textile design studio WallaceSewell, comprising the talents of Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones.

Here to enjoy are some of the designers’ pauses, developments and explorations: and of course some of the moquette designs that never quite made it on to the Underground network…

A draft “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell
An alternative draft “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell
Developments of the “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell

If you, like me, enjoy seeing unbuilt, non-constructed, never-was design, then the Designology exhibition is an ace place to start to understand what could have been, and what we now have.

Avoid the wet: travel Underground


It’s raining again.

But we’ve needed to get around London whatever the weather since time immemorial, and the Underground saw this as a selling point early on. The Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd was a master of identifying its customers’ needs in publicity: in 1925 it commissioned Kathleen Stenning to produce a series of simple but striking panel posters. These were displayed in Underground car interiors, as well as on the inside and outside of buses and trams. Because they did not have to fit a standard frame or wall space, they are smaller than other poster formats and vary slightly in size.

Incidentally, you can buy this poster online at the London Transport Museum Shop.

Neon tube roundels at Southwark

To coincide with the opening of the new Tate Modern extension on 17 June, Art on the Underground and Tate Modern commissioned artist Michael Craig-Martin to design a “reimagined” London Underground roundel at Southwark station.

The roundel is pretty funky: I skipped down there this morning and quite a number of commuters on the platforms seemed to notice that something wasn’t as per normal, although your correspondent was (unsurprisingly) the only one taking photographs and that act seemed to cause more interest than the roundel itself. It is, however, only temporary: it will be taken down and replaced by the standard Southwark station roundels at the end of this weekend.

What makes this roundel interesting is its rarity: whilst there are several replicated along the platform walls, experimenting with the icon that is the London Underground roundel is not something that is sanctioned often. Since introduction in 1908 (and there is a full history of its design story here) there have been design tweaks in its gradual evolution, but it’s rare to find vastly different variations, especially at platform level.

I’ve dug out a few that I’ve seen: if you know of other intriguing ones, do get in touch with the team on Facebook or Twitter.

Experimental tube roundel at Oxford Circus on the Victoria Line, 1972.
An experimental version of an illuminated station name sign for Oxford Circus on the Victoria Line. The central area of the roundel is coloured yellow in this version, and was not taken forward into further production. (Unknown photographer, 1972 Image no: 600-15-6 Inventory no: 2002/910)


Early solid disc roundel, Covent Garden station
Early solid disc roundel, Covent Garden station (Photographed by Hugh Robertson, 2000 Location: Westminster WC2 Image no: 600-15-5 Inventory no: 2002/17777)
Moorgate Metropolitan Railway Tube Station Roundel
From mid-1914, the Metropolitan Railway introduced its own version of the Underground roundel. This originally appeared as a blue station name plate across a red diamond. This replica is one of several installed at Moorgate for the “Tube 150” celebrations in 2013. (Picture by Tim Dunn).
New Tate Modern tube roundels along Southwark station platforms.
New Tate Modern tube roundels along Southwark station platforms. (Photo by Tim Dunn on 17th June 2016)
New extension of the Tate Modern. Pic: Tim Dunn
The reason for the neon-bright sign is the new extension of the Tate Modern. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, it is approximately 15 minutes’ walk from Southwark tube station. Picture by Tim Dunn, May 2016.