In the short time that Eric Ravilious was of working age he produced a massive amount of work for such a young man. He died while serving as an official British War Artist when the aircraft he was aboard crashed off Iceland. He was 39 years old.
At the time of Ravilious’s death there were various projects underway that the war disrupted. As manufacturing was halted, these commissions were put on hold while the country had to economise.
Eric Ravilious – Design for London Underground Plate, 1939.
One of the projects Ravilious had started was for a commemorative plate for the ‘New Works Programme’ of 1935-40 that London Transport had begun.
It was an ambitious extension of the Northern and Bakerloo lines northwards, and the Central line both east and westwards. Although the engineering work was well advanced by the outbreak of war, the project had to be abandoned and was only partly realised in the post-war years. Thus the commemorative plate designed by Ravilious was never produced.
The early Underground train lines, originally owned by several private companies, were brought together under the ‘Underground’ brand in the early 20th century and eventually merged along with the sub-surface lines and bus services in 1933 to form London Transport under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board (L.P.T.B.).
The ‘New Works Programme’ was to develop many aspects of the public transport services run by the L.P.T.B. and the suburban rail services of the Great Western Railway and London and North Eastern Railway.
The investment was largely backed by government assistance as well as by the issuing of financial bonds and was estimated to cost £42,286,000 in 1936 (approximately £2.59 billion today).
Of the four vignettes Ravilious chose, three were of construction and one was of the predicted Grand Opening, with a tube train and swash bunting along the platform.
One of the vignettes of construction show men being lowered in buckets into the tube shaft. These were likely non-station locations where the soil was excavated out and the steel and concrete lowered in, like the workers. It was a typical practice in mining.
Men in a small-scale drop lift.
Another of the pictures shows workers putting up the frames for the tube tunnels and station platforms. The wiring being bunched on the sides of the tunnel.
The two workers pictured here are bolting the rivets of the metal into place. The image when manufactured, would have been a black and white transfer and the colour would have been a translucent enamel paint.
The three heraldic devices show the county badges of Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex.
The plate would have been one of the last commissions of Frank Pick, chief executive of the London Passenger Transport Board. Pick, who retired in 1940 and died the next year, had worked for the Underground since 1906.
Pick had become publicity officer responsible for marketing and it was at this time that, working with the company’s general manager Albert Stanley, he began developing the strong corporate identity and visual style for which the London Underground later became famous, including the introduction of the ‘Underground’ brand.
One of Pick’s responsibilities was to increase passenger numbers, and he believed that the best way to do so was by encouraging increased patronage of the company’s services outside peak hours. He commissioned posters which promoted the Underground’s trains and London Transport buses as a means of reaching the countryside around London and attractions within the city. Throughout Pick’s career his over-riding passion was for architecture and design, and his adventurous approach and choice of collaborators is famous.
Ravilious had other work planned for London Transport, some posters and wood engravings. During his lifetime he did see some of his work used, a set of his wood-engravings were used for the covers of the Country Walks books in 1936.
1936 cover to Country Walks, 3rd Series with a Ravilious Design of Two Cows.
The Country Walk books were by Charles White and printed for London Transport to show people the possibilities of using the Underground and Bus network. Inside they had maps and planned walks showing how to get to the locations using London Transport.
Each of the three volumes had a wood engraving by Ravilious on the cover. The second volume had a Mill, the third featured the Two Cows wood-engraving.
A print from the original woodblock with Two Cows to the left, and Hull’s Mill, Castle Hedingham to the right. 1935.
The two images were engraved on the same block of wood and printed together as one proof. On the left a cow and a bull in a field, separated by a stone wall; on the right a horse standing next to a mill stream, with watermill (based on Hull’s Mill, Castle Hedingham, near Great Bardfeild) in the background.
Below is the original drawing for Two Cows, reversed in design as a woodblock always prints backwards.
Eric Ravilious – Two Cows, preliminary study for a woodcut, 1935.
The pencil design is remarkable for another reason: part of the design was turned into a watercolour featuring two Cows in the same pose.
Eric Ravilious – Two Cows, The Fry Gallery, 1935.
The book Away We Go by Oliver Green and Alan Powers, documents more of the other work that both Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden did for London Transport, mostly their designs for press adverts.
Ravilious Engravings by Jeremy Greenwood, The Wood Lea Press, 2008.
Moving Metropolis by Sheila Taylor and Oliver Green, Laurence King, 2001.
Ravilious and Wedgwood by Robert Harling, Dalrymple Press, 1986