Category Archives: Collections

Commissioning art posters for the Underground

By Michael Walton, Poster Art Commissioner for Transport for London and London Transport Museum since 1998. Michael was one of the judges for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration competition.

Transport for London and its predecessor organisations have been commissioning art posters since 1908, the first acknowledged art image being No need to ask a P’liceman by John Hassall.

No need to ask a p’liceman, by John Hassall, 1908

Frank Pick, appointed Publicity Manager for the Underground Group of companies in 1908, quickly set about applying high standards of advertising content, presentation and display on the stations. Pick recognised that low standards of adult literacy, static passenger revenue and station environments overcrowded with poor quality signage and advertising were destroying clarity. Good design in all its forms would help build a brand that symbolised quality and reliability, and of course stimulate more passenger usage.

Pick presided over commissioning art and design posters for use on London Underground and (from the formation of London Transport in 1933) on buses and trams. The images commissioned were primarily intended to inform passengers of events, places to visit, safety and behaviour messages as well as sometimes to add interest and intrigue to entertain and educate the travelling public.

Say it Underground with a poster, by Christopher Greaves, 1933

The variety of artists and designers commissioned, their artistic style, their experience, their gender and their reputation were of lesser importance than their response to the brief they were set. In a period where the only accessible media were posters, newspapers and magazines, the poster reigned supreme as a mean of mass communication and there was nowhere better for posters to be displayed and their simple messages understood by millions than on Underground stations.

It is acknowledged that the ‘golden age’ of posters ran between 1920 and 1939 (the period between the First and Second World Wars) and so many fantastic images by internationally renowned artists such as Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Freda Lingstrom, Abram Games and Edward McKnight Kauffer were posted on the Underground.

Power – the nerve centre of London’s Underground, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1931

During the 1960s the importance of the art poster declined.  More people owned cars and televisions which in their different ways replaced the use of public transport for visiting cinemas, dance halls, shopping and days out in London or the countryside. There were more pressing priorities for the use of funds than producing ‘pretty’ images.

The art poster largely fell out of use from 1976 until 1986, when a new and enlightened Director of Marketing, Dr Henry Fitzhugh, was appointed and he revived the art programme with some stunning commissions including Tate Gallery by Tube and Highgate Ponds.

The Tate Gallery by Tube, by David Booth of the agency Fine White Line, 1987

With various intervening twists and turns of fortune, I was invited to carry on the tradition in 1998. I am a passionate believer in great poster art and its power to please, annoy or be hated, but never to be ignored!

We have a limited budget for poster commissioning, so it is with great care that we choose artists and subjects. The annual list of subjects reflects what are important objectives for London Transport Museum, Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Artists and designers we employ are drawn from the huge array of illustrative and design talent that London hosts. Photographic commissions are largely avoided to differentiate the overwhelming output of that medium from the far less used illustrative approach.

Once a topic and appropriate artist is agreed, meetings take place to explore ideas, formats, budgets and timescales for delivery and display and a full written brief is issued. The chosen artist is invited to submit a series of rough sketches and suggested colour palette and a further meeting takes place to explore the final options for production. When the artwork has been delivered, the next steps are to employ in-house designers to format the artwork into a poster with the approved text and logos ready to submit to Transport for London and City Hall in time for approval.

Continuing the great tradition of commissioning art posters, we also host the biennial Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition, in parternship with the AOI. This year’s exhibition, London Stories, is on display at the Museum until 14 July 2019. The winning poster, London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood, will be displayed across the Underground network.

London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood

Art posters still engage millions of London Underground customers and doubtless persuade some to take additional journeys to featured destinations. These posters are sold in London Transport Museum’s shop to raise revenue to support its charitable objectives, and as we purchase appropriate copyright in perpetuity, we can assure these images will be available for the public to enjoy, and the Museum to use, for ever.

I am so proud to help maintain this ancient, honourable, but still wonderfully relevant job!

Love your line – Museum Depot Open Weekend

By  Georgina Dobson, Public Programmes Manager

It’s all hands on deck as we gear up for our Museum Depot Open Weekend – Love Your Line on 27 and 28 April.

We are very proud of our Museum Depot in Acton, a huge building spanning over 6000m2 which serves many purposes. It houses 98% of our collection, sees groups of volunteers working on vehicle restoration projects, and it’s where our curators keep our heritage bus fleet operational, manage collection acquisitions and maintenance, and oversee the movement of trains for heritage vehicle outings.

Three times a year we throw the Depot’s doors open and invite visitors of all ages to come in and explore what we like to call our treasure trove. Our Open Weekends are best described as mini-festivals, offering a huge variety of fun and interactive activities, and opportunities for London lovers, transport enthusiasts and design geeks to spend an enjoyable, informative day out and have a good ‘nose around’ the 300,000+ objects in our collection.

April’s Open Weekend it’s all about tube lines, specifically the Victoria, Jubilee, District and Overground lines. What’s there to know about a tube line? Well as it turns out, quite a lot! Three of these lines are celebrating (rather important) birthdays: the Victoria line its 50th, the Jubilee its 40th, and last but not  least, the star of the show – the District line, who turns 150 this year!

You might ask how the Overground made the cut, being the youngest by far, and not technically a tube line. As with many things in London, as soon as you delve a little deeper you find there’s a rich history to discover. For instance, the Thames Tunnel built by Sir Marc Brunel is the first ever tunnel successfully constructed under a navigable river. The Overground running through it it’s a vital connection between north and south London. The tunnel celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2019, and guest speaker Robert Hulse, Director of the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, will be on hand to tell us more about this remarkable tunnelling project.

Ask people what’s their favourite line and they will not only give you an answer, but also a catalogue of reasons and often, quite movingly, the memories that lie behind them. The same goes for those who have spent their lives working on the lines. We are delighted to be welcoming some of these people to speak at our Open Weekend.

There are also many stories to be told from the periphery of the lines, in themselves places of opportunity. Mathew Frith from the London Wildlife Trust will talk about the animals and flora that thrive on seemingly inhospitable urban linesides; Agamemnon Otero of Energy Garden will speak of the communities who create flourishing gardens around Overground stations.

It’s not all talks however.  Colour psychology specialist Karen Haller will make you look at the tube map in a different way with association games, and Geoff Marshall will host a live World Cup of Tube Lines competition.

For those looking for a more hands on exploration of the lines, there are creative activities for our younger visitors in the Family Zone – with special mini tours of the Depot, badge making, dressing up, and soft play. Not to mention the chance to ride on a heritage bus or feel like a giant on our special miniature railway.

Visit our website to see the full programme and book your tickets, and see you soon at our Museum Depot!

District line: a history in maps

The District line has turned 150 years old, and we are celebrating its past, present and future throughout 2019, as part of TfL’s District 150 celebrations. In this first blog installment, our curator Simon Murphy unravels the history of the District line through maps from London Transport Museum’s collection.

Westminster Bridge station on the first section of the Metropolitan District Railway, 1868

Ref. 2019/680

The oldest part of what is now the District line opened on 24 December 1868, from South Kensington to Westminster. This map was hand-drawn as an exact record of the railway and where it ran. It was standard practice well into the 20th century to use existing, commercially produced street maps of London and simply print the railway line on top, usually in red. Maps of this period were large and functioned as street maps as well as railway maps, but as they got smaller they had to be simplified.

Extension of the Metropolitan District Railway from Blackfriars to Mansion House, 1871

Ref. 2009-11501

As the title in the top left suggests, in the early years the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railway companies worked closely together. Four Metropolitan directors sat on the District’s board, and trains for the District were initially provided by the Metropolitan. It was expected that the two companies would merge on completion of the Circle line, but relations between the two companies soon soured, and they became bitter rivals.

District Railway map of London, 1876

Ref. 1984-51-761

The bright colours and bold sans serif typeface of this map make it look quite modern, despite its age. When unfolded, these maps could often be more than a metre wide, but they were still considered ‘pocket size’. Note how the river and a tangle of local railways is bursting out of the left-hand side of the frame! The company’s operating name no longer includes the word ‘Metropolitan’, but has been shortened to the District Railway.

Improved District Railway map of London, 1884

Ref. 1992-658

After much rancour, and with Government intervention, the District and Metropolitan Railways eventually co-operated over closing the gap between Aldgate and Mansion House to complete the circle. On top of the feud between the two directors, James Staat Forbes and Edward Watkin, both companies were struggling financially at the time. They were more interested in tapping profitable suburban traffic than in collaborating to provide an intensive urban service. Nevertheless, the ‘Inner Circle’ finally opened for public service on 6 October 1884.

Cover of the pocket District Railway map, Jubilee edition, 1887

Ref. 1984-51-760

The District Railway was a prolific publisher of London maps in the 1870s and 1880s. For Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, they replaced the usual images of local landmarks with a royal portrait and scenes of Britain’s glorious Empire. Benjamin Franklin’s maxim ‘Time is money’ features around the tunnel entrance at the bottom.

District Railway miniature map of London and environs, 1900

Ref. 1996-5849

Despite being half the width of the earlier folding maps, the District’s first ‘miniature’ maps were still quite cumbersome. This series of maps was originally designed by W E Soar in 1887. Additions and extensions were added to the design as they were built.

District Railway poster map, 1908

Ref. 1996-5849

This map is about the same size as the full-size Tube maps seen on stations and platforms today. Large maps like this were displayed outside District Railway stations from 1908. The District, and the three new deep-level Tube lines opened in 1906-7, are shown in bold lines on a simplified and slightly distorted map of London. The black lines represent the Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL) system. Other railways are indicated with faint grey lines.

First Underground-branded pocket map, 1908

Ref. 1983-4-2

This map showed all the underground railway companies on the same map for the first time, branded with the UndergrounD logo. It was prompted by the opening of the Franco-British exhibition at the Wood Lane exhibition centre in 1908 (you can see it marked on the left-hand side) which was hugely popular and attracted large numbers of visitors to London. The 1908 London Olympics was held there too. The Head of Underground publicity, Frank Pick, coordinated the production of the map, using a different colour for each line. The District has been green on all colour maps ever since. The UndergrounD brand with the capital U and D was another of Pick’s ideas.

Pocket Underground map, 1930

Ref. 1992-85

Fred Stingemore was a talented photographer, designer and artist who worked in the Underground publicity office. His elegant design was used from 1926 to 1932. It simplified the geography of the system, enlarging the central area and doing away with the street background completely. The dotted lines show the new Piccadilly line services that opened in 1932, running alongside the District in the west.

First diagrammatic Underground pocket map, 1933

Ref. 1984-51-204

H C Beck was a draughtsman working in the signalling department when he designed his first ground-breaking Tube map in 1931. It was initially rejected, but Stingemore encouraged him to make some changes and try again a year later. This time it was accepted, still somewhat reluctantly, but when finally issued, it was an instant hit with the public.

The map today: pocket Underground map, December 2018

Ref. 2019-131

Remarkably, pocket Tube maps today are the same size as Stingemore’s three-panel maps of the 1920s, albeit with a fourth panel for the key to lines and other information. To fit the furthest reaches of the Overground into the same space, the central area has shrunk again, and text is much smaller. The District has shrunk too, as many western sections originally opened on the District are now only operated by the Piccadilly line.

We will continue to celebrate the District line’s 150th anniversary all throughout the year. Visit our website for more information about the District 150 celebrations.

Where are all the women?

by Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

In December 2018, we launched the collecting project Where are all the women? and asked the public to contribute their stories about female family members, ancestors or employees who may have worked in the transport industry in London, or across the United Kingdom, from 1800 to the present day. Here follows a little update on how the collecting project is going.

A storekeeper in the fitting shop at the LGOC’s engineering works during WW2

So far, we have been trusted with some remarkable stories which I’d like to share with you. We have heard about women who found that they were the only females working in an area at the time, whether that was twenty or seventy years ago:

“Mum said she worked in the ticket office at Waterloo station during the war. She was the only female employee in the ticket offices.”  – Ann Westfold, describing her mother’s work during the Second World War

“For a while I was the only female train operator on the Bakerloo line.” – Hannah Wood, talking about her job in the 1990s

Canteen workers being trained at Baker Street, 1968

We have a range of dates covered already, from the last of the horse-drawn era in the 1940s to the Jubilee Line Extension in the 1990s:

“Rose worked on horse-drawn vehicles at King’s Cross and St Pancras from the late 1940s until the 1960s… At only four foot nine inches and weighing six and a half stone, Rose’s small stature was quite a contrast to the large heavy horses she worked with.” – Margaret Palmer, describing her mother’s work

“I joined in 1998 when there was a big recruitment drive for the Jubilee Line Extension. Saw the advert for station assistant at Whitechapel station and decided to apply.” – Nicola Dinneen, describing the start of her career

Vic Roberts tells us she was a “driver, manager and then mechanic. I was part of the much unseen fabric that we women create.” She features in images in the Museum’s collection, and donated a set of photographs that she took of her colleagues.

Bus mechanic Vic Roberts cleaning her tools at Putney bus garage in the mid-1990s

There is still time to submit your story, and we would love you to do that so we can share it. Here are some frequently asked questions about the project:

I’m a woman and I work in transport – can I put myself forward?

Of course! We love first-hand accounts of your work and it’s great to hear from the experts.

Do you want stories that aren’t all positive? Sometimes work has been difficult and I’ve faced sexism in the workplace.

Unfortunately, many people face discrimination at work and have experienced unfair treatment, harassment and bullying. If this is part of your story, please include it in your account so we can preserve a full picture.

I’m a trans woman, is my story welcome?

Yes, we would be very pleased to hear from you, and grateful that you have chosen to share your story with London Transport Museum. The experiences of non-binary people and transgender women are under-represented in our collections and we would like to correct this. If you can help, we’d be delighted.

We look forward to hearing from you. Just pop over to Where are all the women? project webpage and fill out the form there!

LGBT+ Linking Lives collecting project

London Transport Museum’s Documentary Curators, Susanna Cordner and Ellie Miles, collate and collect perspectives on and stories about the role transport plays in contemporary London. Their work gives us the opportunity to bring new voices into our collection and to make sure that the history and narratives we tell reflect the experiences of different kinds of people.

In this blog, Susanna reveals what attracted her to this role, and introduces her latest collecting project, LGBT+ Linking Lives.

What first drew me to the role of Documentary Curator was the opportunity to seek out and share different kinds of social stories. Transport seemed a particularly potent subject through which to do it. Public transport acts as a great unifier of public experience. If you dare to look around you, next time you’re sat on the Tube (I grant you, this isn’t common practice, but it might be worth the risk), more likely than not you’ll find yourself framed by a diverse range of people, with a greater mix of ages, ethnicities, and orientations than the majority of other work places or public spaces can offer.

Public transport is therefore a social space, a social subject, and, simultaneously, the performer of an essential social role. Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it connects us – it allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link.

TfL Ride with Pride vehicles, painted in rainbow colours in support of LGBT+ staff network, OUTbound. Photo by Eleanor Bentall

We took inspiration from this for our current LGBT+ Linking Lives collecting project, through which we are collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital. We want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in your LGBT+ experience in London.

Andy De Santis, Vice Chair of OUTbound, TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network

I’ve been collaborating with colleagues from OUTbound, TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network Group, who have been so generous about sharing their stories so far. The subjects of these stories range from experiencing public transport as spaces of safety while transitioning, to the accepting community and revelry of the night bus, from feeling heartbroken heading home on the Tube to finding joy in staffing a station during Pride.

We will be sharing these stories over the coming weeks, and they will be the subject of a pop-up display at our upcoming Friday Late: London Stories on Friday 8 February.

Friday Late and Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories promotional image by Julia Allum

At the event, you will also be able to add your own love stories to a giant map of meeting places. In case you want to record your own piece of past or present there and then, we will also be hosting a pop-up oral history booth on the night.

The everyday can often tell us more about the human experience than the exceptional, and the role and impact of something as arguably humble but essential as transport on our lives deserves to be remembered. I look forward to hearing your stories!

Learn more about our Friday Late: London Stories event on 8 February, and book here.

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.

New LGBT+ collecting

By Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

To celebrate the start of Transgender Awareness Week, on Monday 12 November 2018, TfL flew the trans pride flag above 55 Broadway. Perhaps the flag, as well as more personal stories, will come to the Museum soon, as we are working to enrich our collection around LGBT+ people’s contributions to London’s transport.

Trans pride flag above 55 Broadway, 12 November 2018, photo © Andy De Santis

We have been working with OUTbound, one of TfL’s staff network groups, to source some exciting new objects for the collection – one of which you might have spotted in our previous blog #ASKACURATOR. Our Collections Development Group recommended we add the objects below to the Museum’s collection, and we are pleased to share them with you on Transgender Awareness Week.

Placard with roundel in trans pride colours

Placard with roundel in trans pride colours, reference photo © London Transport Museum

The TfL roundel in the trans pride colours adorns this placard, made on behalf of members of OUTbound. Earlier this year, roundels and benches with rainbow and trans pride colours were installed for the first time in a handful of stations for London Pride.
We looked into getting hold of a station roundel, but with them being vinyl stickers – like the Gareth Southgate roundel seen this summer –  they are torn when removed, and we haven’t yet found a practical solution to preserving them. However our search put us in contact with Andy at OUTbound, who carried this special one-off roundel to support trans colleagues at Brighton Trans Pride in August, and offered it to the Museum.

LGBT+ Ally lanyard

LGBT+ Ally lanyard, reference photo © London Transport Museum

This year, TfL launched a new initiative for LGBT+ allies to help employees create a supportive and inclusive environment for staff and customers. These lanyards were produced and distributed to group members who sign up and make a commitment to supporting the LGBT+ community and learning more about LGBT+ issues. These are a valuable addition to our collection, and we intend to keep a record of training materials too, to help contextualise the lanyards in future.

‘Ride with Pride’ badge

‘Ride with Pride’ enamel badge, reference photo © London Transport Museum

This badge shows the popularity of the ‘Ride with Pride’ campaign, which ran in 2015. As with the roundels, we weren’t able to preserve the bus wraps produced for the campaign. We have a few related objects in the collection, like this poster, and London’s first rainbow crossing. But it’s nice to have this badge as a physical memento, as  part of the legacy of ‘Ride with Pride’, alongside photos documenting the project.

TfL Ride with Pride Vehicles. New Routemaster bus, black cab and DLR train painted in rainbow colours in support of LGBT staff network, OUTbound. Photographed at Beckton DLR depot. 1 August 2015. Photo: Eleanor Bentall

These new additions to the collection sit well with some other recent acquisitions, including interviews, posters and oyster card wallets, but they are just a small part of the collection that we hope to build. These objects give us the chance to learn more about LGBT+ experience and London Transport. We are looking forward to collecting more personal stories to go with these objects. This is a topic that we are keen to revisit and we have exciting plans coming up.

If you have objects or stories that you think we ought to be preserving, please get in touch and let us know: documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk

#AskaCurator

What does a Documentary Curator do?

Gareth Southgate roundel
Gareth Southgate roundel @ London Transport Museum

When Southgate station was renamed ‘Gareth Southgate’, when Transport for London staff members took part in Brighton Trans Pride, and when the tube driver Harvey Mitchell stopped his train to make his tribute to the victims of the Grenfell fire, London Transport Museum was at the ready to follow and record these stories and to bring them to the museum. I’m Ellie Miles, I’m one of the museum’s curators and I have the amazing job title ‘documentary curator’. Susanna and I work as Documentary Curators, and it’s our responsibility to work with the people who experience them to bring current events and everyday life into the museum’s collection.

Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

These news-worthy events are one side of the contemporary collecting work that we do. Sometimes we collect the exceptions: the things which don’t happen every day. Sometimes we collect the typical: things which seem ordinary now but will be hard to get hold of in a few weeks, months or years. Working with groups like OUTbound (TfL’s LGBT+ Staff network) means that sometimes we can find stories that aren’t shared elsewhere. As well as reacting to unexpected events, there are some things which we can plan for. Over the next few years we’ll be collecting in two local areas with new Crossrail stations, to see how the new line changes them. We always try to collect objects that tell us about the times we are living in.

OUTBound at Brighton Trans pride event, 21st July 2018, photo © Andy De Santis, used with permission
OUTBound at Brighton Trans pride event, 21st July 2018, photo © Andy De Santis, used with permission
Trans pride roundel, in the curators’ offices at London Transport Museum, 20th August 2018, photo © London Transport Museum
Trans pride roundel, in the curators’ offices at London Transport Museum, 20th August 2018, photo © London Transport Museum

This can be difficult because sometimes the ‘real’ object has been destroyed through use and we might only be able to get hold of related material – for instance, the designs or plans for a piece or project. There are some new things that we are still learning to collect: for example, we have a lot of old tickets, but maybe it’s time we collected oyster and contactless journey data.

When we find a suitable object, we propose it for review by the Museum’s Collections Development Group. If the group agree it’ll be a good addition to the collection, is in manageable condition and fits our collecting policy, then the Museum will then preserve it alongside the rest of its objects. Sometimes these things get out on display straight away, but most are kept in the stores, for the future.

Harvey Mitchell, 24th July 2018, photo © London Transport Museum
Harvey Mitchell, 24th July 2018, photo © London Transport Museum

Although we are usually free from discussions about repatriation and the questions that other museums must face about human remains, we still need to think about how we collect responsibly. It’s important that we are inclusive; work respectfully with the people who donate their stories and objects to the museum; and ensure that the acquisitions represent London’s diversity. If we don’t, then we aren’t telling the true story of transport in London at all.

I love working to collect the stories of transport in London today, there is so much so learn and so many fascinating things to discover. We couldn’t do it without everyone taking part and sharing their stories. If you have a contemporary object or story for the Museum send us an email, we’d love to hear it – documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk

C&RE

A modern couple who brought a new aesthetic to 1930s poster art

Unique among the artists featured in London Transport Museum’s Poster Girls, Clifford and Rosemary Ellis were a husband and wife design partnership. They married in 1931 after meeting at the Regents Street Polytechnic, and henceforth virtually all their commercial work was jointly signed, often with the initials ‘C&RE’. At the time, this was an unusual demonstration of artistic and marital equality, underlined by the occasional use of the signature ‘Rosemary and Clifford Ellis’ (rather than ‘Clifford & Rosemary’) which can be seen on one of the London Transport posters in the exhibition. In describing their collaborative approach, Rosemary explained that either one might have the original idea for a design which they would then finalise together.

Whatever the origins of their ideas may have been, the results were extraordinary. Their unmistakable style was characterised by a lively use of colour and form, creating unusual and memorable poster designs. Travels in Time (1937), for example, is almost surrealist in its depiction of a disembodied Charles I against an imagined landscape. Luckily for Londoners, this bewildering image was paired with an explanatory poster (also designed by Rosemary and Clifford) promoting the Capital’s museums. In contrast, their representation of animals and birds, seen in their designs for Green Line Coaches (1933), was wonderfully naturalistic and alive with movement.

Ellis artwork

By the late thirties, the couple were much in demand, having designed posters for London Transport, the Empire Marketing Board, the Post Office and Shell-Mex. Their joint output included book jackets, lithographs, murals, mosaics and wallpaper. Clifford was also the headmaster of the Bath Academy of Art and instrumental in re-establishing it as one of Britain’s foremost art colleges at Corsham Court after the Second World War. During the war, Rosemary and Clifford worked together on the monumental Recording Britain project, but are perhaps best remembered today for the 60+ dust jackets they designed for the long running New Naturalist book series.

The couple’s extensive personal archive was auctioned in 2017 following the death of their only child, the sculptor Penelope Ellis. London Transport Museum acquired two rare ‘proof’ versions of ‘Museums’ (1937), showing annotations made by the artists before final printing. These included the replacement of the printed London Transport logo with a hand drawn alternative, which was accepted for the final design.

To find out more about Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, visit the Poster Girls exhibition at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, or go behind the scenes to explore the Museum’s famous poster collection at Acton Depot Open Weekend, 21-22 April. Full details of Depot tours and times can be found here www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends

David Bownes is co-curator of Poster Girls and director of Twentieth Century Posters (www.twentiethcenturyposters.com)

introducing our new gallery, Digging Deeper

Written by Simon Murphy, Lead Curator of Digging Deeper

In our new permanent tunnelling history gallery, we set ourselves a number of challenges. At the most basic level we needed to bring the tunnelling story up to date to include the Elizabeth line opening later this year. The main display was ten years old, but a large part of it – a full-size representation of a tunnelling machine from 1890 with three mannequin figures, was first installed more than twenty years ago.

Elizabeth line construction

We also wanted to highlight the individual contribution of the engineer James Henry Greathead to tube tunnelling from 1870 right up to the present. What made the project a challenge was that we wanted to tell the story succinctly in a series of videos and key objects in a new tunnel-shaped space, without the need for traditional text panels.

An additional consideration was that the tunnelling story is only one part of the larger narrative of the growth of tube railways, alongside the development of electricity and lifts/escalators. Whilst these other display elements stayed mostly the same, they were spruced up, and we added floor graphics to help visitors distinguish the different story strands.

To create a more immersive experience we built an enclosed tunnel space, that visitors enter through an arch resembling an arch from the first tunnel under the Thames, dug by Marc Brunel between 1825 and 1843. The new tunnel space extends four metres out from the original period tunnel mock-up, using theatrical lighting effects to first mask and then reveal Greathead’s 1890 tunnelling shield.

Immersive tunnel display

The main narrative video is projected into the circular tunnel shape, with three shorter videos focussing on more specific object-related stories appearing on the sides of the tunnel. Broadly, these cover Greathead’s first shield and the Tower Subway tunnel it built in 1870, the refinement of the shield from 1890 and its use on the expanding tube railway network, and the era of computer-guided integrated Tunnel Boring Machines (or TBMs) used on the extension of the Jubilee line in the 1990s and on an unprecedented scale on the Crossrail project from 2012 to 2015.

www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/year-of-engineering/digging-deeper