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London’s Surprisingly Rich History of Transit Textile Design

London Transport Museum’s wonderfully nerdy archive commemorates an aspect of the city’s appearance that has long been both omnipresent and scarcely noticed.
Moquette designed by Joy Jarvis on a restored Tube carriage from 1938
Moquette designed by Joy Jarvis on a restored Tube carriage from 1938London Transport Museum

Designing a practical and attractive seat covering for public transit has never been the easiest of briefs. When designer Enid Marx was commissioned in 1937 to create textiles for use on London’s Tube and Buses, she was told it had to look fresh “at all times, even after the bricklayers had sat on it.” It also had to look bright and attractive, but avoid what the network called “dazzle”—the potentially nauseating effect a garish, busy design might have on passengers eyes when in motion. The brief—and Marx’s and others responses to it—helped to create a visual identity for London’s public transit through textile design, one that still continues today.

Over the past year the London Transport Museum has been exploring this visual legacy as part of a project called, Celebrating Britain’s Transport Textile. Diving into the museum’s archive of over 400 moquettes, its researchers have created a new online resource compiling designs and photographs, as well as recorded interviews with designers instrumental in their creation. The results are a rich and wonderfully nerdy archive that has unearthed some forgotten designs, vividly commemorating an aspect of London’s appearance that has long been both omnipresent and scarcely noticed.