diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 22, 2013

Great roundels of the DISTRICT line

Roundels don't usually look like this. They used to. The first roundels consisted of a solid red enamel disc with a horizontal blue bar, and were introduced on station platforms in 1908. They were meant as station nameplates, with the red disc acting as a highlight for the darker board across the middle. These roundels weren't flat - that's timber moulding round the blue strip - and that's not the usual TfL font either which had yet to be invented. But this design used to be the default, except on the Metropolitan who introduced a red diamond instead because they were contrary like that. Now I believe only three stations still boast solid roundels. One's at Covent Garden and another's at Caledonian Road on the Piccadilly, while there are several here at Ealing Broadway. You'll find them inside the old train shed on the platforms furthest away from mainline trains. Three are on platform 9, accessible only via footbridge, where the fewest District line trains ever stop. You're much more likely to walk past the roundel on platform 8, beneath the restored short canopy, in what is a particularly pleasant end-of-the-line space. The effect is a bit like stepping back in time, though only a bit because modern adverts and illuminated signs and bogstandard roundels lurk close by. And before you get too carried away, I believe these ancient roundels are actually replicas, because it's a bit too risky to have your 1910s originals on full display in a busy public place. But they remain great roundels of the District line.

Roundels don't usually look like this. They used to. That raised blue border around the nameplate was the done thing, not replicated since. And that small superscript 'T' for Saint, that's quaint, and totally against modern design guidelines. But it's the apostrophe that's of interest here. Every other roundel on the station says St James's Park, which is the current name of the station. But this one's missing its final S, because St James' Park was the name at the time. I'm not sure precisely when that time was, but I've found a tube map from 1921 which calls the station St James' Park, so sometime around then. By the time of Beck's first tube map in 1933 the name on the map is St James Park, with all trace of apostrophe eradicated, which can't possibly be grammatically correct. The current name of St James's Park crops up in 1951, so has been around a while, and matches the Royal Park above ground character for character. To spot the interloping roundel you'll need to be on the eastbound platform, at the far eastern end beneath the stairs. Trust TfL to keep some proper heritage on the station beneath London Underground HQ. One of the great roundels of the District line.
St. James' Park: plural apostrophe with singular noun (no)
St. James Park: no possessive apostrophe whatsoever (no)
St. James's Park: singular apostrophe with singular noun (yes!)
St. Jame's Park: ghastly error at London Transport Museum 2007

Roundels don't usually look like this. They used to. The font used for Underground lettering wasn't always so rigidly applied as it is today. It developed over time, and these roundels at West Brompton show an earlier incarnation. It's the W that really stands out, here created from two overlapping Vs in an unfamiliar (but not unique) typographic style. And that's not the only difference. The E is asymmetric, with its central bar shortened somewhat and slightly raised, and that B doesn't look quite right either. The letters aren't perfectly spaced, because they'll have been painted by a signwriter rather than a machine, and they're also thinner than we're used to now. But the O is still circular, which is one of the defining features of the Johnston font, and the overall effect remains endearingly attractive. You'll find these roundels at the northern end of both District line platforms, attached to the stairs. But there are rather a lot of stairs at West Brompton, so you could easily use the station without realising these beauties are here. They're both labelled "Reg No 659:814", should anyone ever need to order a replacement. Two more of the great roundels of the District line.

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