Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile

By Georgia Morley, curator

I have been very fortunate to work as Project Curator on ‘Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile’ from 2017-2018. This project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has given us the opportunity to look into the use of moquette on the transport system since the 1920s.

Assisted by two Young Freelancers, Elizabeth Clark and Marie Stewart, we have uncovered many fascinating stories behind the design, manufacturing and use of moquette through the ages.

History 

Moquette – which means carpet in French – is a tough woollen fabric that is used in upholstery on public transport all over the world. The fabric is produced using a weaving technique known as jacquard, and is typically made of 85% wool, 15% nylon mix, with a cotton backing. Before the use of moquette on public transport vehicles, seats were either unpadded timber seats and benches or upholstered in rattan, leather, leathercloth, cotton or silk velvets.

Men working in a shop. One is fitting a moquette.
Trimming shop at Acton Works, fitting ‘Chesham’ moquette design by Marion Dorn, 1954

Research and collection

London Transport Museum’s collection holds over 400 samples of moquette from the 1920s to the present day. We conducted in depth research at many different institutions and collections that hold moquette across London and the UK. By meeting some of the specialist project partners we have gained an insight into why this fabric is so iconic to the life and soul of London and its transport system for over 100 years.

black and white image of people on a train.
‘Caledonian’ moquette design by Marion Dorn on proposed Amersham (Metropolitan) line, 1946

During the research we conducted oral histories with key figures, collected new moquette designs and photographs of moquette in use today. We uncovered a new design by the iconic designer Enid Marx and discovered a new designer of moquette from the 1930s.

We worked in partnership with St Mungo’s, a charitable organisation which supports those who are homeless or have experienced homelessness. A ten-week course at ‘St Mungo’s Recovery College’ was run by a freelance educator and artist practitioner celebrating the design and history of moquette.

Three people on a stage, one is holding a mic and speaking.
Speakers at the ‘Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile’ symposium, 2017

Visitors gained an insight into moquette through a wide range of public events at London Transport Museum and Acton Depot including; Urban Fabric (Friday Late), London Uncovered (Depot Open Weekend), Design Connections: Robert Elms in conversation with Wallace Sewell and Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile (Symposium). The events brought together the project partners along with a varied audience of practitioners, lecturers, historians, museum professionals, volunteers, students as well as the public.

We are now sharing all our new discoveries with the public on our Collections Online website.

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