50 objects 35: Railway posters

Nostalgic images of railway travel have been popularly recreated on everything from calendars to mouse mats, but once this approach to advertising the pleasures of the railway was fresh and new. Our Transport History collection holds several beautiful posters that look back to this time.

GreatWindsor1897

1897 poster promoting day travel to Ascot

Initially transport notices served a function, to give information about timetables or list rules of conduct. They were text heavy, with little in the way of images or embellishment. However, several things happened that changed the nature of these posters; the growth of tourism, increased competition amongst rival rail companies and the development of printing technologies. As railways networks grew and developed affordable travel was open to larger groups of people. Day trips and holidays further afield became a possibility and resort towns such as Blackpool flourished.

Tenby

1908 Print advertising the health resort of Tenby and its Golden Sands

Railway businesses proliferated in the late 19th century, in fact some locations had several lines running through them. The need to differentiate themselves and their assets became more important to railway enterprises in the drive to secure custom. The means to produce such enticements in the form of colour advertising posters with images was made more commercially viable with the development of colour lithography techniques that enabled mass production.

AirLikeWine1

Weston Super Mare’s intoxicating climate

 

Railway posters served not only to induce people to use a railway line, but to promote travel as a pleasurable end in itself.

Cornwall

Great Western Railways poster on the delights of Cornwall

 

Attractive images played an important role to evoke the romance of the rail or the attractive aspects of the destination, with sunshine, coastlines and leisure scenes as important components. Several early artists and illustrators, such as Norman Wilkinson and John Hassall became specialists in the field.

As railway travel boomed these images became a common sight in stations, but the quality of their design and composition make them a lasting pleasure today.  

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