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London County Council tramways poster, 1926

London County Council Tramways poster, 1926

​Archive Treasures: Growing pressure on transport

Jeremy Johnson and Sharon Tuff look at transport in London in the 20th century, especially tramways and London Bridge. The text is taken from London: 1000 years which showcases the holdings of London Metropolitan Archives, Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery. 

Trams were a common sight in London throughout the first half of the twentieth century, before being phased out during the early 1950s.  A collection of colourful posters held at London Metropolitan Archives reminds us of their previous importance as part of London’s transport infrastructure.

Until the early nineteenth century London's people and goods were transported by river or by hackneys (four wheeled coaches for hire). Developments during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a network of modes of transport grow up around the capital (see p.116). At the beginning of the twentieth century electric tramway systems began to appear in Greater London, of which the London County Council Tramways (LCCT) was the most extensive.

By the early 1920s the LCCT was in competition with the Underground Group who ran most of London’s buses and underground railways as well as several tramway companies. LCCT decided to commission a set of posters from the London County Council’s Central School of Arts and Crafts, one of the country’s leading art schools. The original set was designed in black and white although following their success further posters were commissioned in colour. Further commissions from other sources followed.

Some posters advertised journeys to specific places, promoting London as a tourist attraction.  Others focused on London as a shopping destination, such as the Christmas poster shown here, aimed at encouraging shoppers into London to take advantage of an all-day ticket.

Harold Workman, Chaos on London Bridge, c.1938

​Chaos on London Bridge by Harold Workman. Oil on canvas, c.1938

​Traffic congestion in London is nothing new, and Harold Workman’s slightly tongue in cheek depiction of mid-twentieth century chaos on London Bridge is probably only slightly inaccurate.  The site of London Bridge has been the city’s most important crossing point for almost two thousand years, ever since the Romans established a river crossing nearby (probably a simple timber structure).  It was not until the late twelfth century that a more permanent stone structure was constructed, which although taking over thirty years to complete, stood for over six hundred years.

Old London Bridge was itself finally demolished in 1832, having made way for a new bridge designed by John Rennie.  Constructed in stone between 1824 and 1831, the bridge incorporated a series of five semi-elliptical arches, with the building work itself being supervised by Rennie’s son, also named John.  This 1831 bridge was widened in 1902, but still proved to be inadequate to the needs of a modern city, unable to cope with the ever increasing demands of vehicle and pedestrian traffic - which is well illustrated in Workman’s painting.  In 1965 the decision to rebuild was again made and a new concrete and box girder construction, faced with polished granite, was built quite literally around its predecessor. This new London Bridge was opened by the Queen in 1975.

Harold Workman (1897-1975) was a painter in oil and watercolour, who specialised in landscapes, architectural and interior subjects.  He studied at Oldham and Manchester and his paintings will be found in numerous permanent collections across England.  He also taught art and was at various times a lecturer at the Architectural Association, the Sir John Cass College and the Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts.

05 May 2015
Last Modified:
27 September 2018