Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Enduring Tile of the London Underground

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the first train journey on the London underground. Chances are that it was not particularly comfortable, as the engine was a steam locomotive.

Anyone who has ridden the modern London underground can attest to how hot it becomes in the carriages during hot summer months and the grime that builds up on your skin over the course of travel. But it is a fun experience, as well as an effective method of moving around Britain's capital. But I digress, after all this is a tile blog.


To The Trains Tile Sign
Covant Garden - Photo Illustration

Tile is used extensively on the underground. In the early days of the underground lighting was by means of gas lamps. To maximize the light, reflective white tiles were applied to the stations. With the widening availability of electric lights at the beginning of the twentieth century and the expanding of the underground service a new tile scheme was undertaken.


Russell Square Platform
Photography by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Green

Individual color and pattern schemes were established for the platforms, allowing even illiterate travelers to arrange meetings and know where they were going: If the station had green tiles with a brown pattern on an off-white background then it was Trafalgar Square. The tile suppliers used innovative methods to ensure their tiles would grip well and remain in place. It is difficult to get the tiles to release intact even after a century² . Over time station names have changed, so the tiles were painted over to conceal the old names.


Baker Street Platform

In recent years many of the stations on the underground have, or are, undergoing renovation. That tiles have been in service for 100 years speaks to their hardwearing resilience in adverse conditions. The restorations vary from tear downs with the complete loss of the Edwardian patterns, to tile replacements faithful to the original designs¹ .


Finsbury Park Platform
Photography from Joanne Bradley

The tile designs at some stations reflect famous places found above ground. Finsbury Park on the Victoria Line has balloon mosaics in reference to the balloon launches at the park. Baker Street has the silhouette of a famous fictional detective, who lived at Baker Street, on its walls. The tiles used to create the silhouette are themselves patterned with the silhouette creating a unique halftone. South Kensington is decorated with scenes reflecting the Natural History Museum.

 
South Kensington Platform
Photography by Joanne Bradley

In 1903 Leslie Green, architect, was tasked with designing stations for three railway lines. His Arts and Crafts designs can still be recognized by their ox-blood red glazed terracotta block facades†.


Covant Garden Station
Photography by Joanne Bradley


Russell Square Station
Photography by Joanne Bradley

The relief tiles of the ticketing halls are largely lost due to remodeling and the installation of self-service ticketing machines² . Some of the decorative tile on the City Line, from Carter's & Company of Poole, can still be found at City Line stations³ .


Carter's & Company Tile used on the City Line in the 1930s
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Reference Sources
¹ http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/2445.aspx
² http://www.dougrose.co.uk/index_tiles.htm
³ http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O233184/tile-carter-co/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Green
http://www.vam.ac.uk/b/blog/va-network/happy-150th-birthday-london-underground

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