Gill Sans & The North Eastern Railway / 1084 with titles

Typographic Background

The Gill Sans was considered a typeface that captured modernity and became instantly popular due to its uncomplicated and rational design. From this growing interest it became the typeface choice for the Church of England, BBC, Penguin books and North Eastern Railways. The typeface was dominantly used within the public services.


Gill Sans. Image courtesy Identifont.com.

Cecil Dandridge commissioned Gill Sans for the North Eastern Railways identity. The typeface was used on all printed material as well as train station furniture and decor. By adopting Gill Sans as the only typeface that North Eastern Railways used it created a solid corporate identity that was absent before. By having a unified appearance it suggested that the company was reliable, consistent and a singular company rather than multiple railway groups before its synchronised.

Neds Blog A lot of black coffee and no sleep…. -Eric Gill » BBC WORLD Gill Sans Type


Retin Art –Inspiring penguins.

Branding of the North Eastern Railway

This overall voice, gave North Easter Railway a strong sense that it was a powerful corporation. This undertaking of one typeface was a significant step forward. By rejecting the previous Victorian style and hand painted typefaces in favour of machine set type. The North Eastern Railway made a bold statement to the public that through standardisation it was part of a new technological and social era.

An Account of the LNER Type Standardization’ Part II – Page from the Monotype Recorder, Winter 1933. Image courtesy Mikey Ashworth.

The machine inspired aesthetic removed the concept of individual craftsmanship and projected the ideas of unity and collaboration. Mass production was seen as a pathway for social progress. The concept that products could be produced cheaper and quicker would mean that anyone, from any background could purchase the same items. This removal of high priced and rare products would break down social classes. This break down meant that society would eventually become standardised to an extent, making society more equal and united. This process of unifying was similar to the way that many large companies were moving towards one identity, meaning that the masses were also becoming a powerful voice too.

Technological and social advancements within the 1920’s

The “roaring twenties” were named so due to the persistent economic growth and the positive changes in culture and lifestyle. Society was moving forward and the transport systems had to keep up. The industrial industry was at an all time high and the sales of cars and consumer goods were increasing. Cities were becoming places where people wanted to live and work. The term “Metropolitan Centre” was becoming popular for modernised cities. The attractiveness of these cities was due to the ease of access. The railway connections between cities and the capacity to travel large distances in a short space of time were predominant reasons for their interest. These fast railway systems were considered the height of modernity. The ideas of modernism were filtering through to the population and many saw technology as the answer to fulfil these modern ideologies.

Liberal England Tynemouth9. Image courtesy Jonathan.

The North Eastern Railway had a reputation for being pioneers of architecture and design. They were one of the first railways to use electricity throughout their system. These advancements in technology helped North Eastern Railway become the most innovative transport company across England. The better trains meant better service gaining them more customers.

Standardisation of design and time

Implementation of the LNER type standardisation – LNER leaflet reverse, 1939


An Account of the LNER Type Standardization’ Part II – LNER timetable after standardisation, c.1933. Page from the Monotype Recorder, Winter 1933. Image courtesy Mikey Ashworth.

The printed materials for North Eastern Railway were machine set type, which created a consistent and unified design in each piece and throughout the company. The typeface was not the only form of standardisation. Due to the complexity of the railway system there was a need for an understandable and readable timetable. Standardisation was a system that echoed the ideas surrounding modernity. The railway was a place that standardisation affected the individual constantly. The importance of understanding the complicated timetable was linked to the understanding of how the city as a machine worked. These timetables changed the way society moved around, along with their relationship with that environment.

Travelling via train and political issues of movement

The timetable and “Railway Time” were becoming a significant part of society. The public was centring their daily activities on the railway. This focus on the time caused many to find the pace of modern life a strain. The dictation to via the railway system caused members of society to suffer from anxiety and pressure of missing trains. The concern of the railway did not stop there; using the railway was a personal safety risk. Many saw the train compartments as an element of privacy while others saw the separated carriages (which allowed men and woman to mix) as a place were criminal or immoral behaviour could occur.

Train carriages and stations were one of the first places where people from various social classes could mix together. Therefore this added to this underlying anxiety of whom you may have been sharing a carriage with. These communal areas allowed social classes to experience what kind of person lived on the other side of the social barrier. Trains allowed people to move around a lot more. The train lines changed from a transport system for moving goods around the country to an infrastructure that would cater for commuters as well as those wishing to travel for leisure.

From a political perspective movement was a growing concern. Monitoring people’s movements within a city was hard, but even harder when people could move across the country at great speeds. Timetables and similar systems meant that people’s movements were in an organised and systematic way. This meant that people were still moving but they could still be controlled.

The social and economic implications of speed, travel and the railway

The city with its newfound metropolitan status was drawing a new kind of worker in. The industrialisation allowed machines to produce mass products rather than factory workers. Job roles in the city were changing; white-collar clerical employment was vastly over taking the skilled labour profession. This meant the role of the railway was also changing. Fewer goods were being transferred around Britain via train this allowed the space to be used for commuters. The concept of living outside London in suburbia and travelling into London on a daily basis was becoming vastly popular.

Travelling for leisure was also rising as the economy was growing the public was starting to have a disposable income, which could be spent on product or holidays. Day trips to the seaside were increasingly common via the railway. The changing role of the railway meant that it had to appeal to the masses. Marketing the North Eastern Railway as a modern way to travel allowed them to change the public’s perception of the purpose of the railway.

Implementation of the LNER type standardization – LNER leaflet, Frank Newbould, 1938. Image courtesy Mikey Ashworth

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