London Transport roundels

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Apparently there is no word that succinctly expresses the emotion of  “love for your home city”. Words are so often replaced by symbols; iconic emblems that partner generations to become enduringly locked in a collective’s civic pride or psyche. One such iconic logo is the London Transport’s roundels – as the instantly recognisable image is known.

First used in a trademark for the London General Omnibus Company and registered in 1905, the roundel first outing on the Underground was in 1908 when the Underground Electric Railway of London (UERL) – as the Tube’s operator was then known – used a solid red circle behind a station’s name-board on a platform at stop now called St James’ Park to highlight the station’s name. An example of the original logo is still in use at Ealing Broadway.  In 1912, in posters designed by Charles Saarland and Alfred France, the word “Underground” was itself used in a roundel.

Frank Pick, the then Publicity Manager, who was to become the boss of UERL, was very  interested in design and thought the solid red disc appeared too heavy. So, in 1915 Pick asked Edward Johnston, a typographer, to develop a new typeface – later called the “Johnston” – and a revised symbol to incorporate a red ring and a blue bar for the station’s name – in his new typeface. The result was registered as a trademark in 1917.

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In the late 1920’s, Pick, by then General Manager, recruited architect Charles Holden to design certain new Underground stations and reconstruct existing ones. Holden incorporated the roundel logo into many exteriors – see South Wimbledon Station that dates from 1926 – platforms and bus stop shelters.

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In 1933, the words “London Transport” were added inside the ring to allow the symbol to be used for tubes, buses, trams etc. In the same year, an Underground electrical draughtsman, Harry Beck, was asked to devise the now iconic Tube map. His mission was accomplished with wonderful simplicity – note the use of the Underground roundel.

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Despite attempts over the years to update or change the roundel in the interest of “modernisation”, by and large the original 1908 logo is still in use. The only material change came in 1983 when after some consideration a new typeface called “New Johnston” was adopted. It has been the official TfL and Mayor of London typeface ever since.

From 2013, forms of the roundel, with differing colours for the ring and bar, were used by the current trademark holder Transport for London (TfL) for its services including London Buses, Tramlink, London Overground, London River Services and Docklands Light Railway.

The huge civil engineering project known as “Crossrail”, which has now been re-named the Elizabeth Line, which runs through the Capital, from Reading in the West to Shenfield in the East, is due to open in 2018 has already been awarded its own roundel – recently unveiled by Her Majesty – of course, in regal purple.

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