The Twentieth Century Society

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Book reviews

British Rail Architecture, 1948-97 & Seats of London: a Field Guide to London Transport seat patterns

David Lawrence (Crécy Publishing, 338pp, £35) & Andrew Martin (Safe Haven, 192pp, £12.99)

Reviewed by Robert Drake

The latest book from David Lawrence will be most useful for C20 casework. It is essentially about British Rail station design, and follows on from his 2016 book, BR Designed. It traces the foundations of modernity in British railway architecture before 1939, with examples particularly from the LMS and Southern Railways, the two most progressive of the ‘Big Four’ formed after the ‘grouping’ in 1923. After nationalisation in 1948, new stations were built, often in conjunction with suburban electrification schemes, with precursors of truly modern stations on the West Coast Main Line at Apsley (with cast in-situ reinforced concrete) and Becontree on the Southend Central line.

The core of the book concerns designs under the 1950s modernisation scheme where New Towns on routes out of London acquired new stations such as Harlow and Stevenage (on new sites) and a few large new stations such as Bristol Parkway, Birmingham International and Milton Keynes Central close to motorways, airports or exhibition centres, important as traffic generators in the Inter-City era. Lawrence describes experiments with CLASP building systems and prefabrication, particularly on the Southern Region.

Then, following the saving of St Pancras station through the efforts of John Betjeman and the newly formed Victorian Society, BR architects placed new emphasis on the conservation of other surviving 19th century stations. The role of Bernard Kaukas as Director, Environment at BR from 1977 is emphasised – he was an early supporter of the Thirties Society, and came to talk to us about his work for GWR and BR. The story stops in 1997 when BR was de-nationalised. Lawrence’s text is accompanied by atmospheric period photos and supported by appendices on the use of scale models and on catering and refreshment spaces.

London Transport has a long tradition of good design, evidenced by Charles Holden’s stations, Edward Johnston’s typeface and Harry Beck’s tube map. Andrew Martin’s wittily written book on moquette, the seat-covering material used on trains and buses, is published in collaboration with the London Transport Museum and draws on its archive. It includes Enid Marx’s iconic designs from the late 1930s and 1940s in warm reds and greens for the Bakerloo and Northern lines, alongside an unused design by Paul Nash and others by Marianne Straub and Marion Dorn, these mostly commissioned by Christian Barman.

Moquette magic: Marion Dorn’s Leaf (or Colindale) pattern (1938)


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