The Twentieth Century Society

Review: A Logo for London: The London Transport Bar and Circle

by David Lawrence (Laurence King Publishing, 176pp, £19.95)

Reviewed by Robert Drake

This is the latest of many excellent books on the history of London Transport by David Lawrence. It looks at the roundel or ‘Bull’s Eye’ logo of bar and circle which has been the definitive and ubiquitous symbol of London Transport since the 1930s (and its precursors since 1908). It traces the need to establish a corporate identity (as well as to pick out a station’s name among the forest of enamel advertising signs on the platforms). A blue bar and red disc (rather than a circle) was developed in 1907/08, examples of which can still be seen at Boston Manor station. Another source was the wheel and spoke insignia of the London General Omnibus Company which became part of the Underground Group in 1912.

As the Underground expanded in the 1920s and 1930s, its architecture was developed to display the roundel to best effect, for example by incorporating it in stained glass or a canopy at the entrance or displaying it on a mast. Stations became recognised landmarks in city and suburban environments. When the London Transport Passenger Board was formed in 1933, the calligrapher Edward Johnston re-designed the Bull’s Eye in the form which has broadly survived until today.

Lawrence identifies the contribution of overlooked figures such as the émigré Hans Schleger who designed tube maps and bus and tram stop signs (when fixed stopping places were introduced from 1935). He also goes beyond the Underground stations to look at Charles Holden’s superb bus shelter designs and cap and lapel badges. Mock-ups of major stations were used to work out the clearest and most legible signage.

He also marks the post-war decline in design standards, from the austere designs by Misha Black and the Design Research Unit for the new Victoria Line to proposals that the roundel should be just one colour (blue).This was not implemented, apparently because of opposition from Underground staff. Although the roundel has been used by other transport systems around the world, the book concludes by suggesting that it has become a symbol of London itself.