A Review by Barry Gray
The Moving Metropolis is subtitled “A History of London’s Transport since 1800”. Thus it will come as no surprise that this is a general history rather than a book dedicated to graphic design. Equally, in view of the importance of design and signing to the various undertakings which became London Transport, signs, posters, maps and typefaces feature often in this illustrated history. The influence of Frank Pick (who became Managing Director of the Underground Group) is mentioned and it was Pick who commissioned Edward Johnson to design the famous typeface for the Underground as well as promoting the high quality publicity and the new station designs of Charles Holden.
This is basically a book of illustrations with informative captions with sections introduced by short essays taking the reader over two centuries from 1800 to the new millennium. The book is published in association with London’s Transport Museum and concentrates, not unnaturally therefore, on London Transport and its predecessors. In reality, the subtitle would be better off without the apostrophe ‘s’ as the main line railways are dealt with cursorily. As a comparison, the Metropolitan Railway has 60 references in the index and the Southern Railway 3, despite the fact that almost all of South London was covered by the SR network.
This type of illustrated publication is clearly not intended to be a definitive history book. Despite being broken down into periods (such as “The Birth of London Transport, Designed for the Capital, 1918 – 1939), the content can feel rather bitty at times.
Nevertheless, what must be in excess of 1000 illustrations are generally well chosen and are accompanied by descriptive paragraphs with useful background details. Overall an enormous amount of information has been conveyed.
Not perhaps the definitive publication for the student of either design or transport history, this is, nonetheless, a nicely produced volume conveying the flavour of how London Transport developed from its beginnings into the complex system of buses, trains, tubes, trams and river boats that we know today.