If you haven’t been to the epicentre of wonder and patriotism in Covent Garden, more commonly referred to as the London Transport Museum, what have you been doing?

64. Brightest London is best reached by Underground, by Horace Taylor, 1924 (1)No, really, what? It may set you back £15 – the cost of three single-patty Shake Shack burgers, or fifteen cups of Pret filter coffee – but for that nominal fee you get a year’s access to this world of engines and wheels that will quite literally transport you across not only the city, but the WORLD.

Ahem. This year London celebrates the 150th birthday of favourite and least-favourite underground dweller; the tube. Loved and hated in equal measure, the tube is one-and-a-half centuries old with an impressive advertising campaign to match. The Poster Art exhibition, which looks at the advertising of the tube since its opening in 1863, may sound dull, but really it’s an interesting look at how not only the tube has developed as the bloodline of London, but how the city and its culture have grown and come into their own.

…there are more posters for London Zoo than any other attraction…

93. Speed Underground, by Alan Rogers, 1930On their most simple level, the posters illustrate the fundamental purpose of the tube – to transport people from place to place. Many go much further than that by detailing how city dwellers can escape to the serenity of the countryside on the tube, or how families can easily get to the London Zoo. Interestingly, there are more posters for London Zoo than any other attraction, despite it being several minutes’ walk from any station. Getting to the hectic sales was another attraction made all the easier thanks to the tube.

Social events were also a key feature, with dog shows, Wimbledon tennis and horse-racing illustrating the extent to which the underground facilitated the social lives of millions of Londoners. Looking at these images today just reminded me of the plethora of artistic, cultural and social events that occur in London every day, and I felt very small for a second. The speed and ease of the tube was highlighted, as the iconic Underground sign was cleverly worked into graphic designs and images that resonate as much today as they did in the 1920’s. 

…how interesting can they be?…

42. Away from it all by Undeground at Whitsuntide by M E M Law 1932These posters, no doubt, contributed a great deal to the success story that is the Underground, encouraging Londoners to abandon the streets – a move that has proven invaluable as London’s population growth shows no signs of slowing down. It seems odd to have an exhibition of posters – how interesting can they be? – but they’re much more than promotional images. They take us on a journey through the cultural history of our city uncovering the unsurprising truth that although the city has become a very different place since the Underground opened in 1863, the essence and core identity of the city remains unchanged. The humour, phrasing and tone of these posters are essentially British, a character as resilient as the bulldog that hasn’t budged in 150 years. If that doesn’t get you beaming with pride, nothing will.

Poster Art 150 runs at the London Transport Museum until 27 October 2013. Find out more via the website.

About The Author

University of Warwick graduate, Magazine Journalism MA student at City University. Most likely to be found at a gig, at a restaurant table or reading on my commute.

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