Spring 2014 Newsletter

Spring 2014

100 Years of the Wonderground!

A hundred years ago on Monday 23rd March 1914 the Wonderground Map of London Town first appeared in Underground stations across the capital.  Known originally as 'By Paying Us Your Pennies', the map was intended to 'give a festive appearance' to platforms and to entertain passengers as they waited for their trains.         


Full of burlesque humour, quaint cartoon characters and puns such as 'The Earl's caught!', it parodied the districts and inhabitants of Central London, and although its heraldic borders give a medieval flavour, the map includes contemporary touches - a Bleriot monoplane 'looping the loop', soldiers drilling on the parade ground  - showing the capital just prior to the First World War.  These historical aspects were explored in January on Radio 4's 'The Essay' by Emma Jane Kirby as 'The Map that saved the Underground' - you can find the essay on the BBC magazine at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25551751

In 1913, when the map was commissioned, stations were gloomy places with poor lighting and dingy decor - not the sort of place where you would want to linger.  But when the Wonderground appeared, it changed people's perceptions - the Daily Sketch reported that it: 'makes people lose their trains - and still go on laughing'.   An Underground poster campaign was the brainchild of Frank Pick (pictured),  publicity manager of the London Electric Railways, who wanted to make travelling a pleasant experience with good signage and attractive platforms.  Initially he commissioned posters from printers such as Gerard Meynell, a friend of Max's, but by 1916 Pick - who was always concerned with quality - took over control, directly commissioning artists.  Meynell, an astute businessman, owned the copyright on Max's map and brought out a folded version, which sold in thousands. The Wonderground Map was the first of seven decorative maps Max created for London Underground, and not only launched his career in poster map-making, it also  inspired Wonderground maps of cities around the world including Melbourne, Mexico City and Manhattan.   It continues to influence today's artists and mapmakers too  - do check out Stephen Walter's wonderful maps:  'The Island' and 'Hub'. 

Lincoln Cathedral

In February Gary and I spent a couple of days in Lincoln exploring the magnificent cathedral.  I was principally there to check out and photograph various Max-related things.  The first was paintwork in the small medieval Bell-ringers' Chapel, where in 1913 Max and 3 assistants restored the bell-ringers' names painted on the wall, and also decorated the vaulted ceiling.  The job came through Sir Charles Nicholson, Max's old employer, who was the architect responsible for significant work in the cathedral at this time.

The other two items - also commissioned by Sir Charles Nicholson - were stone memorial plaques designed by Max, the first - in St George's Chapel - was for Sir Henry Errington Longden in 1911 and the second - located on the north transept wall - was for William O'Neill in 1913.  Both were carved by Joseph Cribb at the Ditchling Workshop of Eric Gill, Max's older brother.    

After our stay in Lincoln, we drove east to Burgh-le-Marsh, just outside Skegness, where I was welcomed by the vicar and shown the missal that Max wrote for the Missionary college there between 1906-08 (see last newsletter).  Although the calfskin cover is a bit battered, the contents are in good condition, I'm pleased to say.   The vicar has very kindly agreed to loan the book for a small MacDonald Gill exhibition in Suffolk later in the year (see Events below).


Ambrose Heal

Most of you will have heard of Heal's furniture store.  The man who made it such a household name was Ambrose Heal, who married good Arts & Crafts design and craftsmanship with sound marketing strategies. His aesthetic approach extended to publicity material and he commissioned the likes of Eric and Max Gill to create advertisements.   On the top floor of the Tottenham Court Road store he created the Mansard Gallery, which showcased the work of contemporary artists and craftsmen - Max exhibited painted tiles here. In 1920 Max decorated the ancient oak beams in the sitting room of Baylin's Farm, Heal's home near Beaconsfield, and two decades later painted a small but pretty bird's-eye perspective of the property.   This panel has recently been restored and hangs in the farmhouse above the desk of Oliver Heal, who has just published a magnificent book on his grandfather: Sir Ambrose Heal and the Heal Cabinet Factory 1897-1939 (Publisher: Oblong Creative). 


Events coming soon

Tuesday 3 June 7:30pm Ealing Civic Society. Talk on MacDonald Gill given by Caroline Walker in the Liz Cantell Room at Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, W5 2BY http://www.ealingcivicsociety.org

Saturday 9th - Saturday 23rd August Centenary Exhibition documenting Ernest Debenham's Bladen Estate, Briantspuddle, Dorset (more details in the next newsletter)

August 15th - December 23rd 2014  Exhibition showing the use of lettering in MacDonald Gill's work. The Lettering Arts Trust gallery, Snape Maltings, Suffolk http://www.letteringartstrust.org.uk/