10 Years ago this year I made a big decision and followed my heart and moved 213 miles North from London or Mitcham (technically Surrey!) to Leeds in West Yorkshire. I left behind the hustle and bustle of London, the concrete jungle and hectic lifestyle and now live in the friendly, beautiful historic town of Yeadon, a stone’s throw away from the Yorkshire Dales and the wide open countryside. The difference between the two is worlds apart, but I much prefer the more serene slower pace of life.
Despite me living up in Yorkshire for all these years, customers and staff of Banana Moon still refer to me as ‘The Cockney’ or ‘The Cockney One’. It’s a nickname or phrase that always makes me smile as I am technically not ‘a Cockney’. The term traditionally refers to people born within a certain area of London, that is covered by “the sound of Bow Bells” and is geographically and culturally used to refer to working-class Londoners, more specifically to those born in the East End. I was born south of the River Thames so this means I am a ‘Croydonite’, however my Grandad Rich and Nanny Bavington were both proper ‘Cockney’s’ and from doing a lot of family research I do have a lot ‘Cockney’ blood so I don’t mind at all!
With a keen interest in London History, advertising and also in Fonts, Signs and Design, I watched a fascinating programme on the London Underground last week called ‘The Tube: An Underground History’
On 9th January 2013 the London Underground was 150 years old. From watching the programme I learnt that London built the first ever underground railway in the world which opened in 1863, which now forms part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, and was the first line to operate underground electric trains, in 1890. The first tunnels were built just below the surface; later, circular tunnels (or tubes) were dug through the London Clay at a deeper level to form what we now know as the UNDERGROUND or the TUBE.
We use a lot of different fonts at Banana Moon so I was interested to learn that in 1913 the Underground’s Commercial Manager Frank Pick commissioned designer Edward Johnston to come up with a font to be used in its poster campaigns to strengthen the company’s corporate identity. Pick specified to Johnston that he wanted a typeface that would ensure that the Underground Group’s posters would not be mistaken for advertisements and be “the bold simplicity of the authentic lettering of the finest periods” and belong “unmistakably to the twentieth century”. With this in mind he designed the font with the perfect circle of the letter O and used a diagonal square dot above letters i and j and for the full stop.
The font family designed was originally called Underground. It became known as Johnston’s Railway Type, and later simply Johnston. The font has been used on the Tube map, nameplates and general station signing, as well as much of the printed material issued by the Underground Group ever since. It was also used for wayfinding signs at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and also used in the overlays of the BBC TV show Sherlock (a favourite with me and other members of the team!) New Johnston a new form of the font is also used for signage in the fictional Hospital in the Fox TV show House.
On the Tube, history is everywhere – it’s down every tunnel, in every sign and design, and in the lives of the unsung people who built it and also run it today. We take this whole underground system for granted with 1 billion customers using this historic network every year.
Next time you’re in London and you get to travel on the London Underground take 5 minutes to look at the surroundings, signage and history all around. You will be amazed!