Category Archives: Exhibitions

Untangling the tracks: Communicating change

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Transport for London and its predecessor companies have a long history of producing posters to keep passengers informed about upgrades to the network. Communicating alterations and disruption to passengers, as well as celebrating successful projects, is an important job for train operating companies. Whilst social media is often used today to keep customers informed, the traditional practice of using eye-catching posters is still an effective method.

Upgrading a working railway usually requires weekend closures, which can catch people out. TfL commissioned this popular series of poster designs which use the iconography of the Tube lines to grab the attention of passengers.

‘Going to the match this weekend?’ Artist unknown, 2010 (L)
‘Going shopping this weekend?’ Rachel Thomas of The Milton Agency, 2010 (R)

Recently,  Thameslink has also actively used posters to engage with customers. Some of these posters are explored in our Untangling the Tracks exhibition, which examines the Thameslink Programme, a major project to increase capacity, improve connections and provide greater reliability on the Thameslink route. During the programme, two major line closures over August bank holiday and Christmas 2017 affected hundreds of thousands of passengers. The iconography of the railway – specifically the ‘railway no entry’ icon – was used to add a festive touch to the poster campaign informing passengers.

Christmas line closures, 23 Red agency, 2017

For railway companies celebrating success at the end of a big project is also useful to remind passengers that the disruption was worthwhile.

What today is part of the Bank branch of the Northern line, started out as the City and South London Railway. It was the world’s first deep-level electric railway, opening in 1890. Being the pioneer, its tunnels were built on a smaller scale than subsequent Tube lines. When the time came to merge the line with the Hampstead Tube, the tunnels had to be closed to allow widening work to take place. This poster celebrates the reopening of the line in 1924, emphasising the new modern trains.

From Euston to Clapham Common the transformation is complete, Richard T Cooper, 1924

The redevelopment work at London Bridge station was a major element of the Thameslink Programme. Starting in 2013 the station was completely rebuilt, unifying what had essentially been two separate stations, yet remained open throughout. The architects, Grimshaw, also had to work carefully around its listed features, and many historical elements were kept and incorporated into the new building. The redeveloped station was officially opened by HRH the Duke of Cambridge in 2018. This poster was commissioned to thank the 50 million passengers who use the station every year for their patience during the disruption.

Welcome to your new station concourse, Magnet Harlequin/WMH Agency, 2018

Visit Untangling the Tracks to explore how historic London Transport posters and their modern Thameslink equivalents help to communicate important updates to passengers.

The exhibition is open until Spring 2020.

Thameslink: a history through the city

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Our latest exhibition Untangling the Tracks takes a closer look at the Thameslink Programme, a major project to increase capacity, improve connections and provide greater reliability on the Thameslink route. Work started in 2007 and stations were rebuilt, new infrastructure developed, tracks and signalling replaced, and 115 new trains were ordered.

But what is the history behind the only north-south mainline railway to cross London?

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Engraving depicting the construction of the junction of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway and Metropolitan Railway, circa 1866

The origins of the Thameslink route date back to 1866 with the opening of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway’s (LC&DR) extension over the River Thames. This was despite a Royal Commission ruling in 1846 that railways should terminate at the edge of the city, as it was believed this would help alleviate congestion on the city’s busy streets.

The LC&DR extension travelled north along a viaduct and through the new Snow Hill tunnel to Farringdon, where it could connect with the Metropolitan Railway, and onwards to King’s Cross and St Pancras.

The construction of the extension through the crowded city caused huge disruption, as is clear from an engraving from the time. It is possible to see here how the course of the line changes from viaduct to tunnel.

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Print showing the construction of the Snow Hill tunnel, 1861-62

The Ludgate Hill viaduct was famously depicted by Gustav Doré in London: A Pilgrimage. Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street are shown heaving with people and traffic while a train billows smoke from the viaduct above.

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Ludgate Hill, from London: A Pilgrimage, 1972

Along the line stations were built at Snow Hill, Holborn Viaduct and Ludgate Hill. Snow Hill station opened in 1874, but passenger services through the tunnel stopped in 1916 (the station had been renamed Holborn Viaduct Low Level in 1912), terminating at Holborn Viaduct station instead. Ludgate Hill station closed in 1929, and only freight services operated through the tunnel until 1969.

In 1986 work began to bring the north-south route through the city back. New Thameslink services started in 1988. Although Thameslink trains follow the same route today as the original LC&DR trains, the viaduct at Ludgate Hill was demolished in 1990 and replaced by a tunnel. Holborn Viaduct station was also closed in 1990, replaced by the nearby City Thameslink station.

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Ludgate Viaduct just prior to demolition, 1990

The new Thameslink services were busy with commuters, and soon overcrowding on the line had become an issue as passenger numbers in London and the South East increased. The recent Thameslink Programme has revitalised the route, adding greater capacity, and trains now serve destinations from Sussex and Kent to Bedford, Peterborough and Cambridge.

Our Untangling the Tracks exhibition is open until May 2020. Visit to discover how the Thameslink Programme transformed one of the oldest railway networks in the world, through interactive displays and games, mixed media and miniature station models.

Celebrating 150 years of the District line with our new Poster Parade

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Throughout 2019, Transport for London and the London Transport Museum are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the District line. As part of the celebrations we are featuring twenty District line related posters from our outstanding poster collection in a new Poster Parade on display from 28 June to 19 September 2019.

Map of the District line in 1871

The District line opened in December 1868. Then known as the Metropolitan District Railway, it was the second underground passenger railway in the world after the Metropolitan line. Initially running only between Sloane Square and Westminster, seven more stations opened during the first year. The intention was to join up with the Metropolitan line at either end, forming an ‘Inner Circle’ linking all London’s mainline termini. However, rivalry between the two railways meant that the Circle wasn’t completed until 1884.

The District expanded its services to the western suburbs during the steam era to Hammersmith, Hounslow, Ealing and Wimbledon. But when the American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes first took an interest in the railway in 1899, it was in poor financial shape. Yerkes took over the District in 1901, and through his influence the Inner Circle and District were electrified.

The poster Light, power and speed by Charles Sharland features one of the new trains that were introduced during the electrification of the line. Electrification greatly improved conditions in the sections running underground, and the company promoted their new trains as offering comfortable, modern and technologically advanced travel.

Light, power & speed, by Charles Sharland, 1910

In addition to the District line, Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) owned many other underground railways, including the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Hampstead (now part of the Northern line) and Central lines. To encourage off-peak travel the UERL used posters to promote destinations which could be reached by their expanding network. For the western section of the District line this meant attractions which are still popular today, such as Richmond and Kew Gardens. At the time Sudbury Town and South Harrow were promoted as rural destinations, easily reached in time to see a gorgeous sunset. Though originally served by the District line, these stations were transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.

Kew Gardens, by Irene Fawkes, 1923

At the eastern end of the District line, services from Whitechapel to Upminster opened in June 1902. The District Railway also ran through trains to the popular seaside resort of Southend. The Upminster Windmill and the Canvey Lady in Southend were both familiar local landmarks at the time, and whilst the Canvey Lady was pulled down after the Second World War, the windmill survives and is now a listed building. The process of electrification was slower at this end with Upminster served by steam until 1932, and Southend until after the Second World War.

Upminster The mill, by M A Carter, 1924

Today the District line is being transformed once again, with air-conditioned, walk-through trains introduced on the line in 2014, and the Four Lines Modernisation programme due to deliver a new signalling system by 2023.

Check out our online exhibit on Google Arts & Culture to learn more about the history of the District line, and visit the Poster Parade (28 June – 19 September 2019) at the Museum to see our stunning posters up close.

Poster Prize for Illustration – Bringing London stories to life

Artist Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, reveals how she brought London stories to life in her stunning promotional image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition.

Mid-century poster design has always been one of my biggest influences and sources of inspiration, therefore I was delighted when London Transport Museum approached me to illustrate their marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories exhibition.

I was told that the image would need to be multi-layered and encompass many narratives and stories. The task in hand seemed rather overwhelming at first, where to start? The list of stories that could be included was infinite. Luckily, I also work in a library, the perfect place to begin. I borrowed a pile of books, made lots of lists and began scribbling ideas.

Julia Allum’s promotional image for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories

I wanted the various elements and stories to be interwoven with one another, and thought pages of an open book would be a way of linking everything together. The design developed organically, the patterns and shapes created from the pages dictated the direction it took. The final image includes about thirty different stories, narratives, myths, landmarks and references to film and literature, plus a parakeet from my award-winning illustration for 2017’s Prize for Illustration: Sounds of the City.

‘Surprise City Sounds’, winner of the Silver Award in 2017’s Prize for Illustration competition

The majority of my illustrations continue to be simple geometric designs, so it was good to push myself out of my comfort zone with this brief for London Transport Museum. Not only has it encouraged me to experiment more and introduce a few more detailed pieces into my portfolio, it has also led directly to new commissions.

Artist Julia Allum.

I’m really looking forward to visiting the upcoming Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition to find out how other artists responded to the London Stories brief, and see their amazing work on display.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, launches on 8 February at our Friday Late. Join us to find out who the winners of this year’s competition are, and immerse yourself in an evening of exciting talks, workshops, and activities to celebrate the many stories of our beautiful city.

Prize for Illustration: Notes from a winner – by Julia Allum

Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, and the artist behind this year’s promotional image, shares how her winning artwork was created, what it was like to take part in the competition and how her career benefited from it.

The AOI’s Poster Prize for Illustration was a competition I had been meaning to enter for quite a few years, but for some reason or another never got round to until 2016. When the call for entries was announced, a commission I was expecting had just fallen through and so I decided to put the extra time to good use.

The theme of the competition was ‘Sounds of the City’, and I wanted to tackle the brief from a different angle and produce something that wasn’t too obvious. After brainstorming several ideas, and being inspired by a visit to Kew Gardens, I decided to focus on wildlife living and thriving in the city. Parakeets seemed the ideal choice: not only do they have a distinctive, incredibly noisy sound, they also bring a little piece of the tropics to urban London.

‘Surprise City Sounds’

The final poster design was a long way from where it began. The image initially developed through scribbles. I then spent a lot of time moving shapes around, and  the design evolved from birds featuring within a cityscape to them being the main focus. I am fascinated by pattern, symmetry and repetition and enjoy exploring shapes and how they fit together to create images. What began as trees, slowly morphed into Transport for London’s roundel, and the final design began to take shape. Influenced by my love of Art Deco posters, my work has changed substantially over the years, it has gradually become more simplified and stylised.

When working on this design I was still in the early stages of this new style and a little unsure about it. In fact I was so unsure about my entry – thinking it was too simple to count as ‘proper’ illustration – that I didn’t tell anyone I had submitted it. It therefore came as a great surprise when I heard that my piece had been shortlisted; never in a million years did I think I would go on to win one of the awards!

In the eighteen months since, I have concentrated on producing work as much as I can; work I enjoy doing, and forging a style that is uniquely mine. In turn this has led to more enquiries and collaborations, including commissions for interior vinyl graphics, travel posters, editorial illustrations, a shopping bag for a national US chain and of course the marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration. Furthermore, towards the end of last year I was in discussion with some dream clients, so I am looking forward to what 2019 may bring.

The Poster Prize for Illustration is such a wonderful platform for illustrators to showcase their work and further their career, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in organising it.

Besides receiving enquiries and commissions, the most important thing I took from the award was confidence and self-belief. This opportunity gave me the push I needed to take my career to the next level. Having my work acknowledged and praised by industry professionals, plus seeing my poster on the London underground gave me such a boost.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, opens at London Transport Museum on 8 February 2019. On the same date, we invite you to join us at our Friday Late launch event, where you can find out who the winners are, and join us as we bring London’s stories to life, engaging the senses through captivating talks, workshops, and activities.

Picking up speed in 2019

by Sam Mullins OBE, London Transport Museum’s Director

With Santa’s hideaway and all our Christmas decorations packed away for another year – not to mention all those festive jumpers – our thoughts at London Transport Museum turn to a packed programme in the year ahead.

London Stories by artist Julia Allum

With our Poster Girls exhibition now closed, the Exterion Gallery will stage The Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, brought to you in partnership with The Association of Illustrators. Opening on 8 February 2019, London Stories will bring together 100 remarkable and personal illustrations, each capturing a different story inspired by life in, and love of, London. Uncover some of London’s more unusual historic tales, learn about voyages of travel and romance, and unearth the secret signs that can be discovered across this great city. On the opening day of the exhibition, we will also be hosting one of our popular Friday Lates where we keep the doors open until 10pm. With music, bars, hot food, talks, quizzes, and craft activities, a Friday Late is a great way to discover the Museum as well as get an early preview of our newest exhibition.

Hidden London – Clapham South deep-level shelter

Following on from London Stories, our next major exhibition, Hidden London, opens in October 2019. We will open up the hidden world of disused stations in a series of immersive experiences based on film, sounds, photos and objects. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fabulous illustrated book containing new photography and fresh research into the ghost stations and tunnels of Hidden London. This exhibition will complement our already popular Hidden London tour programme which we will continue to enhance and expand.

family Open Weekend at Acton Depot, July 2018

We will open our Depot at Acton three times this year in April, July and September, allowing you to go behind the scenes at the Museum’s ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. The London Transport Miniature Railway will once more be in action, take a ride on a historic bus, children can enjoy various craft and play activities as well as short talks and tours. Each weekend is themed, with our first weekend in April called ‘Love Your Line’ celebrating the District, Victoria, Jubilee and Overground lines. Staying with Acton, the restoration of three 1920/30s ‘Q’ stock cars is well under way, while the 1914 charabanc is being prepared for an active year.

As always, I would like to extend my thanks to all the staff and volunteers whose never ending passion and drive help us to deliver such an extraordinary programme of events and experiences at the Museum in Covent Garden and beyond. We look forward to you joining us for some, or all, of these fantastic events in 2019.

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.

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)