Category Archives: Exhibitions

Spiral escalator: An engineering wonder ahead of its time

Spiral escalator – An engineering wonder ahead of its time

Written by Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

In 1988, the rusty remains of an engineering experiment were found buried at the bottom of a lift shaft at Holloway Road station. The remains were of a spiral escalator which had been installed in 1906, but abandoned shortly after – probably due to safety concerns.

Construction of the spiral escalator at Holloway Road station, 1906
Construction of the spiral escalator at Holloway Road station, 1906

The spiral escalator was designed by inventor Jesse Reno, who had unveiled the world’s first ‘inclined elevator’ in New York in 1896. His ambitious design at Holloway Road consisted of a double spiral which would have allowed a steady stream of passengers to ascend and descend at the same time with no waiting, unlike a lift. The two spirals encircled a central core – an outer spiral for the descent, and an inner one for the ascent. It ran continuously in a clockwise direction, travelling at a speed of 100 feet (30 metres) a minute. The journey to street level took approximately 45 seconds

It seems that the complex design was flawed and there is no evidence that the escalator ever entered passenger service. It was dismantled in 1911 and only found later during maintenance work.

Conserved section of spiral escalator installed at Holloway Road station, 1906
Conserved section of spiral escalator installed at Holloway Road station, 1906

In 1993, London Transport Museum rescued the surviving parts of the escalator from the lift shaft and later restored a large section, which can be seen at our Acton Depot. A smaller section will soon be going on display in our new Future Engineers gallery, opening in October 2018.

‘There is no doubt that walking upstairs is very fatiguing’ The Engineer, 10 August 1900

Just five years after Reno’s failed attempt, the Underground’s first escalators were installed at Earl’s Court station in 1911.  To allay any fears, a disabled man – William ‘Bumper’ Harris who had lost a leg in an accident – was invited to ride the escalators and demonstrate the safety of the new machines.

The escalators were so successful that they began replacing lifts on the network, which up until then had been the main way of getting passengers from deep level tunnels to the surface (and vice versa).

In 1913, the Underground Group commissioned a poster to celebrate the opening of the new Bakerloo line extension to Paddington station. Featuring prominently in the poster was the exciting ‘moving staircase subway connection’ – obviously considered a strong selling point for passengers tired of taking the stairs.

Paddington New Station, by Charles Sharland, 1913
Paddington New Station, by Charles Sharland, 1913

There are 440 passenger escalators on the Underground network today, and in its 40-year lifespan, an escalator will travel the equivalent distance of a trip to the moon and back. Reno’s dream of a spiral escalator has also become a reality – Mitsubishi Electric have been designing and installing spiral escalators around the world since the 1980s.

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Mabel Lucie Attwell

Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964)

Children’s book illustrator and publishing phenomenon

Mabel Lucie Attwell was one of the most successful female illustrators of the twentieth century, whose trademark chubby toddlers remain as popular now as they were 100 years ago. Although not well known as a poster artist, the success of her children’s books, postcards and (later) annuals, made her an obvious choice for London Underground’s emerging publicity campaign. Her immediately familiar style struck a reassuring note with passengers and, by implication, suggested that the new Tube railway was a safe and reliable system.

Country fairCountry fair, 1912

Trained at Heatherlys and Saint Martin’s School of Art, Attwell’s first commission for the Underground came in 1912. More followed in 1913, and it seems likely that she continued to work for the Underground after the First World War. A Pathe newsreel from about 1920, for example, shows Attwell sketching a new Tube poster, Christmas in Fairyland, in her garden using her three children as models. Sadly, no copy has survived in the London Transport Museum collection, although one exists in the Pushkin State Museum (Moscow). By this time Attwell was a best-selling publishing phenomenon. Her already extensive range of books and cards was expanded to include nursery ceramics, textiles, calendars, dolls and figurines – all eagerly collected today. But it was her immensely popular illustrations for children’s classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm that bought her a devoted worldwide following.

Attwell continued to work into old age, assisted by her daughter Peggy who took on the management of Attwell’s estate after her mother’s death.

Examples of Attwell’s rarely seen Underground posters are included in London Transport Museum’s current Poster Girls show, together with vintage film footage of the artist at work. Behind the scenes tours of the main poster collection are available to book online.

In keeping with the theme of Attwell’s delightful posters, the next Acton Depot Open weekend (7/8 July) features a variety of special family events to entertain the little ones in your life www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends 

We're off to the pantomime

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

The Travel Queen

Dorrit Dekk (1917-2014) was probably the most successful female poster designer working in Britain during the 1950s and 60s. Known as ‘The Travel Queen’, her joyful images for Air France, the Orient Line, P&O and the Post Office earned her a worldwide following. Yet surprisingly, given London Transport’s reputation as a patron of outstanding design, she produced only one poster for the Underground, We Londoners (1961), which can be seen in the Museum’s current Poster Girls exhibition.

The commission was the idea of Harold Hutchison, London Transport’s Publicity Officer, who wanted a poster showing various London ‘types’ wearing distinctive, or ceremonial, dress. His suggestions included well-known figures, like Chelsea Pensioners and market porters, alongside more obscure ‘occupations’, such as a Royal Mace Bearer and a Swan Upper. Quite what the Czech born Dekk made of these suggestions is not recorded, but she set about the task in May 1960. The final design, for which she was paid 120 guineas, was published in June the following year. Dekk was evidently very pleased with the result, telling Hutchison that the poster “looks quite gay and just right for the foreign invasion of tourists”. She had the design reprinted as her personal Christmas card, while London Transport reissued it under licence to Cunard and even as a headscarf pattern in 1969.

Doritt Dekk

To find out more about the women who designed posters for the Underground in the 1960s and throughout the last century, visit our Poster Girls exhibition during our ‘Swinging Sixties’ Friday Late, which takes place this Friday evening 18 May. As well as the exhibition, you can enjoy curated lectures, tours, workshops and there will be bars and 60s sounds played by the Museum’s resident DJ – The Museum of Vinyl.

www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events-calendar/friday-lates#swinging-sixties

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

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

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 twentiethcenturyposters.com

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: https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/friday-lates

 

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 twentiethcenturyposters.com

For more information about Poster Girls – a century of art and design and our public programme of events please visit www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events-calendar

Browse the Poster Girls shop range  www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/poster-girls

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 www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events-calendar/talks#room 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

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)

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…

image3
A draft “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell
image2
An alternative draft “Barman” moquette by WallaceSewell
image4
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.