Deck the halls

I think it’s about time to get the Christmas decorations out, isn’t it?  Or in this case, the Christmas posters.  I’ve been saving this one for half the year – and that’s not a weird reflection on it, by the way, it’s part of the design.

Raymond McGrath London Transport Christmas poster 1937

This delight is a little 10″ x 15″ London Transport poster, from 1937 which popped up on eBay over the summer.  And that was supposed to be the end of the post, until I decided to try and find out something about Raymond McGrath, who designed it.

Now the London Transport Museum website doesn’t have much information on him, and it appears that this was the only thing he ever did for LT.  But a bit more delving on the web reveals a lot more.  If I am honest it didn’t take that much, McGrath has his own Wikipedia page for heavens sake, and it turns out he was a really interesting chap.

Predominantly, McGrath was an architect and so rather falls out of the scope of this blog, but I’ll give you a brief summary because it’s such a fascinating and, it seems, infrequently told story.  Coming from Australia in 1926, he quickly became one of the pioneers and champions of modernist architecture in Britain.  His first major work was the remodelling of Finella, a house for the Cambridge don Mansfield Forbes (there is a comprehensive and wonderful article about this if you would like to read more), and this got him known, to the extent that he was put in charge  of the remodelling of Broadcasting House in  1931, so at the age of just 27 he was overseeing architects like Wells Coates and Serge Chermayeff.  He also designed a stunning modernist house in Chertsey, St Anne’s Hill House.

Raymond McGrath Hill House chertsey

(This was later owned by Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music, and there is a great discussion of the area’s modernist rock heritage here.)

Despite these works, a combination of the war, a lack of work and his wife’s mental problems led McGrath to take a job in the Dublin Office of Public Works, where he became Principal Architect in 1948, a job he held until the 1960s.  While he did much notable work there, the move meant that he effectively disappeared from the architectural record in Britain.

As the poster shows, McGrath was also a talented artist and draughtsman.   Below is one of the set of drawing about aircraft production that he contributed to the War Artists scheme before he left for Dublin.

Raymond McGrath war artists painting aircraft production

But this piece of his design has to be one of my favourite things, just for its pure modernist quirkiness.

Raymond McGrath aeroplane wallpaper

It has an interesting provenance, apparently.

This elegant design for a wallpaper was only one element in an entire design scheme presented by McGrath for a house called “Rudderbar”, commissioned by a British female pilot of the 1930’s.  It had been conceived as a combination “house and transport hub” having “an aircraft hanger and a garage built alongside domestic quarters surmounted by an observation/control tower”! It was to be built nearby the historic Hanworth Airplane Field, Feltham, Middlesex, England. And all of this in McGrath’s signature Modernist style.

Rather wonderfully, the paper is being reprinted, so you can now buy it to paper your flying room should you wish.  Although McGrath is interesting enough to warrant more of a memorial than even this, I think.

  • I love the aeroplane wallpaper, and my little boy would be very pleased if I decided to repaper his room with something like this – I don’t usually like ‘kiddie’ wallpaper because the colours are too bright, but this is wonderfully muted.

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