How the Railways Promoted Their Services
A Midland Railway poster lauding the attractions of Blackpool.
ADVERTISING and publicity material put out by railways makes interesting material for studies from several angles -
On the factual information side, the railways followed the tradition of stagecoach proprietors and canal companies which had established a style of combining timetables with slogans indicating their superior charms. One reads thus: “CHEAP travelling from the King’s Arms and Commercial Inns, Kendal; coaches leave the above inns every morning at SIX o’clock through Lancaster and Preston to Liverpool and Manchester in 9 hours certain at very reduced fares. NB -
By contrast canal notices about facilities, thefts of goods and the like were usually much more restrained in choice of type and thus much more effective. Curiously, many late nineteenth-
The printing of the Surrey Iron Railway’s toll sheet at its opening in 1804 showed not only that the direction of the world’s first public railway understood per-
Both typographically and in spirit, the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s handbill of September 19, 1825, announcing the order of proceedings on its opening day, six days hence, was a very modern looking document, which could have set a precedent, but unfortunately does not appear to have projected its influence very far ahead. The Liverpool and Manchester issued a combined rail and coach time-
With the Railway Mania and keen competition for public patronage, a sort of Dark Age of this type of public advertisement was entered, put out either by the railways, sponsors of excursions or the rival organisers of fly-
Another, replete with detail of an excursion to Hull on a Sunday produced a caricature notice from Sabbatarian interests stating that the participants in such an un-
Keeping to the factual style of information, the Great Eastern in 1887 pioneered with a list of seaside and country hotels and furnished lodgings; the idea seems to have spread rapidly, but most imitators found it impossible to refrain from using some longwinded all-
The title page of George Measom’s Official Illustrated Guide to the South-
The spate of railway publications seems to have put a term on the privately published guides to railway scenery. There were series by George Measom, published by W. H. Smith & Son, imitated in the eighteen-
The development of printing processes so that coloured lithography on a large scale became possible produced the pictorial poster, however. The lush period of development was between 1895 and 1914 and in those years attempts were made to push practically every aspect of railway, trading as far as passengers were concerned. On the freight side, the illusion of monopoly still remained with railway managements well into the lorry age. At the beginning of this century the modest-
Artist W. Gunn Gwennet, commenting in an article on railway posters in The Railway Magazine in 1900, thought the railways did not get value for money from their posters, partly because too many relied on bald announcements in type and largely because the pictures in the others were inferior as works of art. Not only should the picture used be considered for its quality as a work of art, but it should be both bold and simple; to be well-
Tanconville’s “Cannes” poster, produced for the PLM.
This failure to tell a simple story long dogged the British railway poster. By contrast Tanconville (Henry Ganier) did one for the PLM which had the one word “Cannes” at the top of a seductive view of the Mediterranean coast. PLM added its initials in a minor key on the other side and some circular tour particulars appeared at bottom left, partially obscured by a fishing net on the beach. This could have been improved by omitting all the details of cheap facilities, which were in next-
A typical poster issued by a railway in 1903 was the Cheshire Lines “Summer Holidays in the Isle of Man” effort; name of railway and title was draped across the poster under the Cheshire Lines Committee’s badge in type that looked as if the draughtsman had made it up as he went along. A map showed the Isle of Man and the Lancashire coast, with Lancashire firmly occupied by the three-
Cheshire Lines poster advertising summer holidays in the Isle of Man.
A Blackpool and the Lakes excursion was advertised by the Furness Railway and had the merit that most of the type was at least in level readable lines. Two girls on a ship’s deck sharpened a reference to the fast steamer Lady Margaret and the paddle steamer Lady Evelyn. A London & South Western poster of the period advertised the London to Paris service via Southampton and Havre with four vignettes of scenes and wording worked into the loops and whorls surrounding them; another example of cramming, although not so tasteless, was a Midland & South Western Junction double-
First signs of intelligent display came from the Great Eastern and Great Northern Railways. Against a vivid sketch of a wherry and a windmill the Great Eastern just declaimed “Norfolk Broads -
The Midland Railway’s advertisement of tourist resorts in the Peak of Derbyshire carried five scenes but otherwise resembled a page from a photographic album of the period. It fell to the Midland’s rival, the London & North Western, to make a breakthrough, using Norman Wilkinson seascapes, the railway’s name and some simple wording such as “Dublin and Holyhead”. There were plenty of relapses -
One of the famous LMS advertisements commissioned from noted academicians, namely “Speed” by Sir Bertram Mackennal.
The leaven of better design spread very slowly. On the way the Lancashire & Yorkshire called attention to through services and facilities to the South Coast with the words “From the gloom of the town to the sunny South Coast” perched between a view of smoking chimneys set in semi-
Frank Pick was responsible for much of the uplift in artistic standards on railway poster design. In 1908 he persuaded John Hassall to make a cartoon of “No need to ask a p’liceman”, in which the police constable is referring inquirers from the country to the map then exhibited outside all London Underground stations, whether they were in the Underground group or not. Then there was Mabel Lucie Attwell’s charming sketch of two kiddies interviewing a rabbit at one of the country resorts on the District Railway -
By that time it seemed imperative for railways to do their best in good clean quality poster design and it spread to all their literature and publicity efforts. Under the influence of J. B. (later Sir John) Elliot, the Southern achieved the standard of simple direct messages such as “South for Sunshine” above a picture of a small boy talking to the driver of a King Arthur 4-
One important factor in the selection of good poster designs was the part played by many resorts, which took advantage of being able to pay for publicity material out of the rates, and joined forces with the railways. Until 1911 only Blackpool had the power to spend ratepayers’ money on attracting holidaymakers from outside the borough -
What John Elliott described as “the most effective poster that we [the Southern] or any other railway produced at that time”. It shows Ronald Witt looking up at fireman Woof of Nine Elms. Since it first appeared, it has been reproduced over and over again.
As to the third arm of publicity on railway premises, that used by purveyors of commercial products, in the early years of the century it was in bad odour. Although many firms kept their advertising on railway stations to short messages such as “Bovril”, or “The Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen; They come as a boon and a blessing to men”, some stations were so plastered with overlapping notices that it was difficult, complained a District Railway traveller, to “tell whether one was at Victoria, Virol or Vinolia”. (Twenty years later most of the stations on the Northern Railway of France had a board proclaiming URINOIR on a platform building much more prominent than the station name.) The Underground in London began a mighty clean-
Other railways followed the London examples and an orderly plan was evolved by the trade advertising agent of the North Eastern, a former colleague of London’s Frank Pick, in 1911. Under the scheme, the spaces for commercial posters and those of the railway were set out neatly on every station on the line; all spaces were numbered and registered so that there could be no doubt where a poster should be displayed, the filling and charging of the spaces were simplified and clashes between rival products could be avoided. In the meantime the advertising industry had done as much for commercial advertisers in improving the technique of poster design and printing as had been done on the railways; at last the poster began to come into its own as a necessary means of transmitting information and instigating thought rather than a disorderly attempt to catch the passing eye.