The British London and North Eastern Railway company was one of the earliest companies to make extensive use of Gill Sans from around 1930 onwards, clearly following in the lead of London Underground using Johnston. Although it served some relatively poor parts of Britain, the company was forward-thinking in using design to develop a corporate image.
This set of guides to country walks seems very much a product of the Arts and Crafts spirit of the time, with increasing interest in landscape preservation and vernacular architecture — and probably a desire to boost off-peak and passenger use of the network. The series was very large and covered much of England north and east of London. The books cover a potted history of the areas visited, architecture, notable historic residents and wildlife. (Local resident Eric Gill isn’t mentioned.) Some very nice posters were made to promote the series, and these are often available reprinted. The walks are clearly intended as a good long day out, generally around 10 miles and sometimes 15, with recommended pub rest stops pointed out.
Both these copies are anonymously credited to “Pathfinder”; I’ve seen it claimed somewhere that some books in the series were authored by conservation activist Tom C. Stephenson, but cannot confirm this. No information about the artist either.
Interestingly, the books take corporate branding to heart — the entire book is Gill Sans, all the way through, with a bit of mid-green accenting for titles. Some maps are hand-drawn; the railway route map uses printed Gill Sans for text.
Regarding typography, this is very much the metal Gill Sans in all its glory, much more loosely spaced and suitable for general-purpose use than digital facsimiles. The spacing between the words is pretty wide too and the text justified – this certainly wasn’t set by a compositor who believed in one space after a period. The general design is very much “modernist classical”: everything more or less centred, large text and a general feeling of airiness and minimalism (although some walks have the linespacing compressed to make them fit onto a page). The maps are quite folksy and handdrawn, not purely geometric like Harry Beck’s tube map of the same period. It’s not unlike the first specimen of Gill Sans in aesthetic – in fact, this is pretty much the ideal of metal Gill Sans – homely, practical and yet also industrialised, the rolling wooded hills and valleys of the Chilterns and the railways slicing like a bowshot through them. (Unfortunately my copies are quite fragile so it’s not easy to photograph the hand-drawn maps inside. I may photograph extra images in a cradle at some point.)
The LNER wasn’t the only contemporary railway company to publish such books — the Great Western Railway company released a book, Rambles in the Chiltern Country, covering the same area at around the same time, as did the Southern Railway south of London, hiring radio broadcaster S.P.B. Mais. So did what became London Transport. Books in succession to this continued to be published (now by the nationalised British Railways) into the 1950s. The series hasn’t been reprinted in modern times as far as I know, although you can find them quite often on eBay.
Both copies in my possession printed by Knapp, Drewett & Sons of Kingston-upon-Thames, who also did work for London Underground.
Contributed by Matthijs Sluiter
Contributed by Stephen Coles