David Heathcote explores the best examples of Art Deco in Britain. He visits the dramatic 1930s London Transport HQ and takes a trip on the Piccadilly Line.
Browse content similar to London Transport. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
A crowded journey to work for millions of commuters,
but the result of one of the most successful corporate rebrands ever.
One which used the clean, functional lines of Art Deco
to sell a single, unified image to the travelling public.
This is St James's station, which lies at the heart
of the London Underground network.
Up here is a fantastic Deco building,
from which the whole network was run.
In 1929, this building was the nearest thing you'd have in Britain
to the experience of an American skyscraper.
The Underground came in beneath the building -
you could come up through here and go straight to work
in the centre of London Transport's offices.
You've got shops out here, multiple exits from the building,
wonderful Art Deco detailing, these very abstract classical columns,
in this fantastic travertine marble...
Big entrance hall, protected from the weather.
Fantastic clock, a jazz sunburst with it.
The whole thing says modernity, it says the future,
it says not being outside in the rain. And it's the easiest way
to go to work, you come out of the station straight into the office.
Suddenly quiet, and you get the feeling of control in here.
Particularly, these machines are here to show that this is
the nerve centre of the whole transport operation.
These tell you the intervals between trains, but that's not what they
symbolically do. They give the illusion that this building
is quietly, efficiently, solidly organising the transport of London.
Here's where you can see it. This is the language of control.
The travertine walls... They're marble, but what's important
about this marble is it has a sense of flow. They look like rivers
that have been frozen in stone. Of course, this motion is what
this building is all about.
ARCHIVE COMMENTARY: 'London, a great capital.
'More people than in any other city in the world,
'forever on the move over its vast surface.
'11 million journeys made every day by London Transport vehicles.
'The far reaches of the city stretch out to each other, and all London
'is linked together.'
After the First World War, the many companies
that ran London's public transport began to amalgamate.
By the 1920s, the Underground Group controlled Britain's first
truly modern transport system - combining not just vehicles
and trains, but technology, engineering, design and branding.
The hub of the system was its new Art Deco headquarters
at 55 Broadway, in the heart of Westminster.
This is a fantastic space. The lift lobby of this building.
It's really American. It's like a compressed version
of the Empire State Building - not least this thing that tells you
where the lifts are. What floor. Although it only goes up to ten,
it looks like a great tower block. It's suggestive of height,
lifts lifting enormous things up great high buildings, but it isn't.
And the four lifts here are the nerve centre
of what makes this lobby modern. So it's very grand, a great statement,
and when you come into this lobby, you've already been through a lot
of the building, which is the entrance from the station but also,
it's a kind of arcade of shops. This is the essence
of this building's modernity, is that all the things,
the shops, tube station, lobby, lifts, it all takes place indoors,
not out there in the open. This is a whole block we're standing in,
not some tiny little building off a street.
55 Broadway was big, bold and very modern. Much of the pleasure
was in the Deco detail.
It's often the most neglected bits of these buildings that are best.
This is just a quiet little staircase.
Probably nobody ever comes down here, but it's a really lovely
little Art Deco moment, because this travertine is used to give large,
interesting, flat, neutral-ish spaces. These are highlighted,
this is a real Art Deco thing. Use highlights
to bring to life plainness.
The top edge of this baluster is nice and shiny - the goldness
you only get from bronze, which is a real lush gold,
and then this sort of sunburst. Although it's a much-used motif,
it always gives you the sense you've got to be going up.
It's a positive thing. Even these balusters have this
kind of growth-movement thing going on. And I've just noticed here,
they have these, I guess, skylight windows.
But even these have a kind of jazziness about them.
I mean, it has been a rude term, jazz-modern,
but sometimes it's the term that works, and here it does.
Anyway, going up here.
This is nice, the stone ends, and you get these tiles beginning.
They must have made millions of these tiles, making the whole
of the inside of the Underground light, fresh and airy,
and of course, hygienic. More bronze.
Oh, now this is really fantastic,
because these balusters, when you look up this stairwell,
you see them in all their magnificent primitivism. Lovely.
This - I didn't expect to find this here.
This is the map before Harry Beck's more graphic map,
based on electrical circuit diagrams - the modern map we all know.
But this is the old Underground map. It gives you this great sense
of the chaos of the system, and also -
really important to the Underground - although the centre is here,
it's really about getting people in from the far suburbs like Southgate
into the centre. So really, this marks the expansion of London.
Here's Old London, here's Underground London. Massive.
55 Broadway was designed by architect Charles Holden.
His design was influenced by American skyscrapers
and the Paris Exposition of 1925 - the birthplace of Art Deco.
Holden's intention was to create a modern, functional building
that provided a bright and light working environment focused around
the needs of the people who'd actually use it.
This is the mail system.
It comes from a time when mail was very small.
Just tiny little letters. You'd shove them in there,
they'd drop down to the basement, then they'd sort them and deliver
them to the offices. So it looks pretty automated but to me,
it seems like a big hole you throw your mail down.
It's really nice that here, it says Cutler-Mail-Chute-Company,
Rochester, New York. I think, in this building generally,
a lot of language says, "We're American, we're efficient."
America was synonymous with the future.
Right over here, central to the whole business of business,
is a clock. Electric clock. I guess a lot of people didn't have watches,
so every time you left the office and went anywhere else,
there was this big clock telling you you're wasting company time.
The nicest thing on this floor is this lovely Grecian water fountain.
Fantastic marble mouldings, and it works.
Unfortunately, the water isn't very nice.
55 Broadway was Charles Holden's vision,
but it was the brainchild of Frank Pick, the managing director
of the new Underground Group. These two men, Holden and Pick,
were pivotal in the development of London's transport network.
Together, they undertook a massive modernisation of all its assets
to make them fit for the 20th century.
Well, Frank Pick was the managing director of the Underground,
he was this amazing business brain who'd come from
the North Eastern Railway who brought everybody together.
So he couldn't design anything himself, but knew exactly
the right people to bring in for the posters, architecture,
-the rolling stock, the textiles, so on.
-And that was his job?
-To oversee everything?
-Well, he is an accountant.
He's probably one of the only accountants that's ever been
so incredibly creative and insightful
in bringing together people like these artists and designers.
He knew all the European modernists who were in the vanguard of design,
but he was also able to kind of fuse that with an English modernity
which was almost medieval in its attention to detail and its love of craft.
So he was trying to create something that was modern that had a kind of Arts & Crafts thoroughness?
Absolutely. Totally thorough.
He had one eye on the skyscraper and one eye on the sylvan English landscape.
So how did that manifest itself in the Underground?
I mean, cos that's nothing to do with the landscape or skyscrapers.
Well, the architecture I think of the Underground
and certainly 55 Broadway, where we are now,
was a synthesis of the absolute forefront
of transatlantic design and technology.
So what did Holden do on the Underground?
Holden did many stations on the Piccadilly Line and the Northern Line,
he worked from 1922 till the beginning of the Second World War,
-and he made this incredible building.
-And was it a close relationship?
It was very close. It was so close that they occasionally fell out.
There was a point when Holden was nearly sacked
because Frank Pick found out that Holden had given one of the stations
to one of his junior architects,
and unfortunately it happened to be Pick's local station in Hampstead.
When Pick found out, he threatened to sack Holden and the whole practice,
and it was only through Holden's much gentler approach to the fiery Frank
that Holden was able to retain the consultancy.
-Lift going down.
So this is the tenth floor, which is really the posh floor.
In there's the executive dining room.
The ceilings are twice the height of the floor below,
and out here is the managerial garden.
No doubt you could come out here with a good pipe
and ponder the infinite variety of modernism.
These tall buildings offered a re-framing
of not just offices and transport but also luxury.
Because height, getting up above everyone else,
was almost like a definition of being above, more luxurious than, everybody else.
So out here on this roof garden,
which also had connotations of Babylonian splendour,
you could look down on everybody around you.
And certainly Pick and Holden could stand here...
..and see that they'd built a monument to the centrality of London transport.
To the whole business of being in London.
And even now that buildings have grown in height, not many come above this,
but in 1929, this was the tallest thing around.
And being up here on the tenth floor was at least three storeys above everyone else.
So here, you were on top of the world.
Finished in 1929, 55 Broadway was the tallest building in London,
a gleaming white monolith to the ambition of the new organisation.
You can feel the underground through the ground here, vibrating,
coming from that building over there.
It really looks like a skyscraper.
It has that kind of ziggurat ancientness about it,
it's tall and it's narrow and it's white.
It's modern and primitive all at the same time.
And it's very American.
Art Deco drew much inspiration
from the primitivism of ancient cultures,
particularly the Egyptian and Mayan civilisations.
One thing you can really appreciate from up here,
perhaps the best view of this building,
is how different it is from all the other buildings around it.
These old buildings here are on a block, but they're four buildings to a block.
This occupies one huge site, with a street marking the boundaries.
That's a very, very American design,
pioneered in the 1880s when the first skyscrapers were put up.
It's a real tour-de-force example of the modern Britain,
not the Victorian, Dickensian Britain
but the new, forward-looking, futuristic Britain.
Not least because it's a great big white building
surrounded by coal-stained old grot.
This stone - Portland stone -
is the stone of choice for most British architects,
because this stone,
which is somewhere between limestone and marble,
epitomises the nature of Britain.
It has the whiteness of the White Cliffs, although this isn't white,
cos as you can see, it's filthy.
It's stuffed with fossils
and, somehow, it combines modernity and ancientness
all in the same thing.
It's clean, modern, but also, you can see this sediment of old Britain
squashed into lumps of stone,
so it's the ideal choice for a headquarters building.
Nothing says stability and forever-ness like this stone.
Holden intended this building as a new Temple Of The Winds.
Aware it was likely to shock, he chose to commission works
from avant-garde sculptors like Henry Moore and Eric Gill
to adorn each elevation.
Holden chose Jacob Epstein,
one of the most controversial artists of the day,
to contribute two pieces called Night and Day.
It was a bold choice.
This sculpture of Day by Sir Jacob Epstein,
when it was put up, caused great offence, a great scandal,
because the penis of the boy
was originally about an inch-and-a-half longer,
and this extra inch-and-a-half
had the effect that, when the rain ran down it,
water cascaded off the end of the penis and into the street,
so an inch-and-a-half had to come off.
The primitivism of the sculpture represents, in a way,
the primitive power of electricity,
and the thing about modernism and primitivism
was that they talked about huge, uncontrollable forces.
The force of electricity was like the ancient force of gods, and here,
this ancient, unknowable god of Day sending his son off
to do his job in the world
is what this sculpture's all about.
It's not immediately obvious to the passer-by,
but you get this sense that the Underground, its electricity,
is a great heavy, primitive god.
Frank Pick, crucially, understood the value of good design,
and that the look of London Transport IS its personality.
He had begun his modernisation programme by commissioning posters
that would persuade commuters
to use the trains in their leisure time.
In the 1920s, bright, colourful Art-Deco designs
produced by the best artists of the day
were always given pride of place in the Tube stations.
Frank Pick understood just how effective they could be
in persuading the public
that this was a modern, forward-looking transport system.
So there's over 20,000 posters in here.
'The posters commissioned from Pick's office at 55 Broadway
'were pivotal in the development of the organisation.'
So I've pulled these samples out,
that I thought you might be interested in, from the period.
Oh, they're fantastic.
So, what are the dates of these, then?
The Clive Gardiner at the end is late '20s.
It's 1927. It's a good example
of how Gardiner would kind of appropriate
some of the more avant-garde art styles,
such as Cubism, into a way that worked for a wider public,
which a lot of artists did do at that time.
Yeah. You can really see it in the sunburst yellow here,
which is somewhere in between Deco and Cubism. It's great.
What about this one?
This is by Jean Dupas, from 1930, and it's a good example
of an artist really just working in their own style.
What was the purpose of these particular posters?
This was an example of promoting off-peak travel, essentially.
This is particularly directed at women,
promoting the idea of going out in the day,
when the services were underused.
Where were they exhibited?
This would have been inside the station,
so it would have been... Perhaps as you were leaving,
it would prompt an idea of what you might do at the weekend,
because it was essentially about promoting leisure travel.
And people would have known this was a fashionable image.
That would have been seen as the latest thing.
I think to some people it would have done, but I think, to other people,
it was the first experience a lot of people would've had of these styles.
So their first touch of Art Deco?
-Yes, without necessarily knowing it was happening.
The posters were the starting point
for one of the most radical redesign programmes
ever undertaken by a single company.
Pick and Holden were able to do this because Art Deco was a total style.
A style which was appropriate for all the company's assets,
from its headquarters building at 55 Broadway
to the smallest fitting on the platforms,
and so, too, the trains which ran on its tracks.
Do you know, this is just as I remember these trains.
When I was a kid, I loved to go on the Underground train.
It was so different from where I grew up.
And they are exactly - EXACTLY - as I remember them.
Although these trains stayed in service until the late 1980s,
they were originally introduced in the 1930s,
and this is called the 1938 Stock.
It was a revolutionary train at the time.
It was the first train
that had all of its running gear underneath the train.
It was styled in an Art-Deco way,
and had a lot of very nice features that we can still see on it today.
You have these Art-Deco lampshades,
which are called "shovel shades" by people who work for London Transport.
-And also, in the sort of seating fabric,
and the technical name for this sort of fabric is moquette,
and Frank Pitt employed some of the leading textile designers of the day,
people like Marion Dorn and Enid Marx, to produce this,
so the overall effect is a very comfortable and spacious environment
for passengers to use.
I mean, this is so obviously Art Deco,
with this ribbed, kind of go-faster stripe thing
and these very Bauhaus geometric patterns.
If it were treated separately, I'd see it as design,
but as a whole, I just think, "Yeah, it's a Tube train."
I think it's part of that fitness for purpose
that Frank Pick was trying to achieve with the trains.
From a technical point of view,
they're a great improvement on the trains that went before,
but they're also very attractive spaces for passengers to use.
And the seats are pretty amazingly comfortable...you know?
They're nice, aren't they?
Pick took a personal interest
in the designers that were chosen and the samples,
and we know that both from the posters that he commissioned
but also from the moquette samples, that he personally signed these off,
even though, as managing director, and later vice-chairman -
he was extraordinarily busy - he still put aside an afternoon a week
to do that sort of commissioning.
Do you think that kind of total control helped the system?
It did. I mean, Pick brought order to what was a very disparate system
in the 1920s and '30s,
and this sort of thing reassured the passengers
that they were getting a consistent service.
'I'm surprised by just how many forgotten Deco gems
'are stored at the museum's depot.
'It's like nothing has ever been thrown away.'
Oh, I remember this.
Finlays. I must have had millions of cigarettes out of here.
These kiosks were very much part of the overall station designs
in the 1920s and '30s.
Yeah, they've got that kind of Deco, streamlined speedy-box approach.
This is fantastic.
This is a passimeter,
and this is where passengers would have bought their tickets from.
Why is it called a pass...? Did they count people as they went past?
They'd count people and also, it's a way of dispensing tickets
in the main hall of the station,
so this particular one was designed by Charles Holden.
It is so Deco. These curved windows...
..and the whole idea that you're going past somewhere,
you're not stopping at a window.
And this mad contrast between expensive material and lino!
Toilet flooring. But...
-Green Art Deco!
-It keeps that expensive feel of marble
-in the station.
-Absolutely. And so modern.
Modern plastic material is as acceptable as bronze. It's great.
Now, that really is Deco.
And this is the sign store,
which is, of course, of critical importance
in creating a standardised...
So you've got all the signs from all the periods?
Absolutely. For London Underground.
So, this is an example of the type of signs that were on the Underground
-before they began to standardise.
-So when are these from?
These are from the 1900s.
They use a jumble of typefaces, and difficult to read.
-Yeah. That is so Victorian, isn't it?
And it was coming from that Victorian tradition
where what Pick did was,
he introduced a new Underground typeface
which was commissioned from the leading calligrapher of the day,
a man called Edward Johnston,
and he produced this very clear font
which was then used on signs with lots of white space behind,
the new bull's eye or roundel logo very prominently positioned,
and minimum of text to give maximum impact.
You can really see how crowded all this information is.
And this is just so empty.
It's just pure information, as we now expect to see it,
and I love this, the arrow going straight down the Tube.
I really didn't get before that this IS the Tube.
During the '20s and '30s, the Tube network
pushed further and further out of crowded and dirty central London
to new and leafy suburbs.
It was Charles Holden who oversaw the design of the new stations,
designs which became increasingly radical for suburban London.
As a result, London's transport system boasts more listed buildings
than any other public body in Britain.
Of course, travelling in the Tube in the '30s
wasn't so different to now.
It was noisy and it was rattley but, above all, it was fast.
This is Southgate,
one of Holden's most wonderful stations on the Piccadilly Line.
Opened in 1933,
Southgate was the most dazzling of all Holden's stations.
These escalators were about the most modern thing people would go on.
They were like a toy in themselves.
They made you feel like you were in the modern world.
And this fantastic warm-lit tunnel taking you up to the light.
You definitely want to go up it.
It's almost like a metaphor of birth.
And, of course, home is at the end of this.
You're home. You're sick to death of work and you're coming home.
And this is like a drop of water in a pool, radiating out.
The thing about these stations is, as a Londoner,
you're just really familiar with them, but back in the '30s,
this was international modernism, it was Art Deco,
it was Europe and cinema and Hollywood and the future all in one.
In 1933, this building was the edge of modern London,
a beacon of modernity in a sea of Tudorbethan houses.
People coming here would feel this was the edge of the city.
When they went down here, they'd be going into work.
But coming out, it was a release from everything that work was.
You didn't really want historic transport.
You wanted your transport to be the future, to be electric,
to be light, to be bright, to be clean,
and the minute you came here, you could see it.
This was, at night, bright with light.
The whole thing glowed in a sea of semi-rural darkness.
From its heart at 55 Broadway to the furthest reaches of the network,
in the posters, the stations and the trains,
Holden and Pick's Art-Deco designs
enriched and advanced the lives of millions of people in the '30s.
But London Transport's bright new world still endures,
even now in the 21st century,
fulfilling the purpose for which it was meticulously designed.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
David Heathcote explores the dramatic 1930s London Transport HQ in St James's, London. When it was built in the1930s, it was the highest skyscraper in London. Heathcote goes behind the scenes and uncovers the story of a building so controversial that Frank Pick, who commissioned it, offered to resign from the London Underground Company, because there were so many complaints about its ambitious design.
The HQ became the nerve centre for an Art Deco transformation of the underground which remains today. David Heathcote ventures out on the Piccadilly Line to Southgate to investigate. For many, it is just the scene of a crowded journey to work, but Heathcote discovers a perfect example of a co-ordinated Deco look. The sleek tube station uses streamlined features, soft uplighting and chrome to create a glamorous overall effect. It may be lost on the commuters on their way to work, but for Heathcote it is a moment to stand back and enjoy the marvel that was Art Deco.