11 June 2010

The Hidden Posters of Notting Hill Gate

In around 1959 Notting Hill Tube Station underwent modernisation.  The old lifts were abandoned and new escalators were installed.  The passageways to the lift were sealed off.  Recent work at the station has rediscovered these passageways and when they were opened they revealed a marvellous time capsule.  The adverts which were on the walls the day the passageways were sealed off remained and reveal a world long since disappeared.

For party travel in the fifties there was really only one option, or so this Victor Galbraith poster for London Transport would have us believe.  Galbraith was a renowned designer who created over twenty public information posters in the fifties and sixties before he emigrated to Australia in 1966.

This lovely poster is for the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition and is perhaps proof that the more things change the more they stay the same.  The yearly exhibition is still going strong (but is now called a show rather than an exhibition) and first began way back in 1908.  Its aim then and now is to bring together anything and everything that combined leads to that ideal home.

A more exact date of when the passageway was sealed off can be ascertained by the film posters that adorn the wall.  A little research shows that The Horse's Mouth and Too Many Crooks were both released in 1958.  The first film starred Alec Guiness who would go on to be Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.  Too Many Crooks on the other hand starred the inimitable Terry Thomas and is fondly remembered for a hysterical court scene where Thomas' character appears three times on the trot on separate charges in front of a magistrate.

This striking advert for the Royal Blue travel company is very much of its time - full of colour but simple, more of a visual metaphor than any attempt at realism.  However its simplicity belies the fact that it is a very sophisticated piece of design.  It was created by Daphne Padden, who was very much keeping it in the family, as it were.  Her father before her, Percy, had been a very well know artist and illustrator in the 1920s up to the Second World War period.

Americans particularly often dig at the British for their poor dentistry but here is proof, at least, that the Brits have been taking their dental hygiene seriously for a long time.  The poster rather ominously announces you'll wonder where the yellow went which inclines this writer to ponder whether the denizens of London in the fifties wondered where the enamel went too.  Believe it or not Pepsodent is still sold in a number of countries, including India, Malaysia and Finland.

However, the passageway is not open to the public and so the message is that if you live or work close by and want to peek at the posters, please don’t ask!  For obvious health and safety reasons there are no plans at the moment to open general access to the passageway.  The posters are to remain in situ and London Underground will announce any plans for them in the near future.

How did the passageway come to be deserted by the commuting throngs in the first place? A partition was uncovered during recent new modernization work.  When the escalators were installed between 56 and 59 the Central Line station was abandoned.  The Central and Circle lines stations which had been separate entities were joined together following a great deal of planning.

During the reconstruction work the passageway was ‘sliced through’ and partitioned tidily away to slowly molder in somewhat undignified isolation.  We can only wonder whether the builders at the time joked about the passageway being discovered again by future generations.

We would very much like to thank Mike Ashworth, the Design and Heritage Manager of London Underground for his very kind permission to use the pictures above

Please visit his large collection of sets on Flickr when you get a moment - if you enjoy vintage design you will be there for quite a while!