Not small.

Having said that nothing new and interesting has turned up for a while, I am just about to prove myself wrong.  But that’s probably a good thing.  At least I think it is.

Anyway, I was looking at the V&A’s collection of Empire Marketing Board posters (as anyone might do on a quiet afternoon) and my search turned up this.

Lilian Dring Youth Hostel Poster 1940

Or rather these, as there are three images in the one record.

Lilian Doing Youth Hostel Association poster 1940

Lilian Doing Youth Hostel Association poster

The description is:

Join the Youth Hostels Association. Poster, originally printed on 7 sheets, 2 of which were later cut by the artist, issued by the Central Council of Health Education through the Agency of Abbey Arts Ltd.

They were designed by Lilian Dring (which auto-correct wants to change to everything but her actual surname), and produced in 1940, all of which is fascinating for at least three reasons.

Firstly, there aren’t enough posters out there by Lilian Dring.  I’ve seen very few examples of her work at all, and yet she designed this amazing, albeit never used poster for London Underground.

Lilian Doing modern god of transport London Transport poster

It’s brave, it’s heroic, its modernist – and by a woman designer.  I think she should have been as famous as McKnight Kauffer.

On top of that, these posters were produced in 1940.  At this point, almost all commercial poster advertising was prohibited, and the Ministry of Information was pumping out posters of every which kind telling the British population what to do, join, eat and save.  It’s really quite surprising to find another government body engaging in what could be seen as inessential postering on this scale; I genuinely had no idea that this had happened.  It makes me wonder what else got advertised in the first year or two of the war – and that’s quite an important question.  In the later years of the way, people complained about the omnipresence of propaganda.  But if, in 1940, the government’s poster efforts were surrounded by other kinds of messages, it would have made their impact very different.

But one more interesting detail – to me the most fascinating one of all – is lurking in the object history note.

The poster was printed to the same format as the Empire Marketing Board posters on the hoardings for which it was placed in November 1940.

Now one of the many notable things about the Empire Marketing Board poster campaigns were that they were designed for their own, unique, set of hoardings.  I’ve written about them in detail elsewhere but they were elongated and set apart, designed to take a very specific set of formats.

Austin Cooper vintage Empire Marketing Board poster set Order by Telephone

That’s three 60 x 40″ 4-sheet posters, two 40 x 25″ Double Royals and then a title strip at the top, in this case by Austin Cooper.

And if we look at the full pictures in the V&A’s catalogue, not only do the Dring posters work as a sequence in just the same way, there are clearly three more in the collection which I’m guessing would fill the remaining slots perfectly.

Lilian Dring YHA poster 1940

Lilian Dring YHA poster 1940

Lilian Dring YHA poster 1940

All of which raises some ideas which I’d never really considered before.  The Empire Marketing Board had something like 1700 of its own poster sites in towns and cities across Britain, but it only produced posters between 1927 and 1933.  So what happened to those hoardings after the EMB ended?  Did they get taken down, or did they moulder and rot?  Or, as these posters suggest, were they used by other semi-official, non-commercial advertisers?  Because these posters were produced in 1940, seven years after the EMB stopped using them.  That’s a long gap, and suggests it was filled by something in the meantime. Will I ever know the answer to that?  Probably not.  But it’s still an interesting question.

When I started writing about these posters, that was the sum total of my thoughts.  But then, I thought, I should probably find out a bit more about Lilian Dring.  So I did.

Despite being one of the first students on the Royal College of Art’s Poster Design course, she ended up working in textiles.  Now, maybe textiles were always her one real love, I don’t know, but at the same time it’s a course which quite a lot of women end up following.  Step away from the big, dominant poster work, that’s for the men – instead why don’t you go off and do something a bit more, well, crafty?

I can’t help reading that kind of narrative into the story of how she changed direction.

She began stitching in 1931 on her mother’s hand-operated 1912 Frister & Rossman machine.  […]  Her early work, undertaken during the Depression and using scraps, included rag dolls, given as presents to friends’ children, and later the ‘personal pillows’ and ‘music cushions’,  which always illustrate articles about Lilian. Recycling thus became a major influence in her life and work.

Now Dring did go on to be quite avant-garde in her use of recycled stuff and I really like the sound of what she was doing.

Her reaction to WW2 was illustrated by a piece called ‘Parable 1’ made in 1941 to cover a bombed out window, by then she may have been living in Twickenham, where she died in 1998.  It was in three layers with quotations from Exodus (20, v.4.): In the Heavens above: fighter planes and barrage balloons; In the Earth beneath: bombed-out buildings & ambulances; ‘And in the Shelters (sic) under the Earth: people sleeping in air-raid shelters.  She appears to have been deeply disturbed by both the destruction caused by warfare, and later by that caused by pollution of the environment.  Most of her work featured appliqué – […] and in a similar work, ‘Parable 2’ made in 1972 (the year after she made a red presentation stole for Canon Blair-Fish, the then Vicar) she used can-pulls, dead gladioli stems and even fur from her kettle.

Parable 2 is behind her in this picture, although I can’t identify the kettle fur in there.

Lilian Dring

I really hope she did exactly what she wanted to do – that textiles were her choice and decision, not something forced upon her by circumstance and the lean times of the 1930s.  At the same time, I can’t square those small scraps of reused fabric with the woman who created a set of posters too dramatic and expensive for even Frank Pick to produce, or even the expansive YHA posters.  Perhaps she had art in her that had to come out somehow, any which way she could find, and the world told her textiles, not posters.

Women artists and designers are so often made small in this way, pushed into work which can be marginalised or even ignored.  All that talent unseen, when it could have been stretched across the biggest billboards in the land; instead it hangs in private houses, or the far end of dark churches.  I hope she was happier than I am about it.


All quotes, and the picture of Lilian Dring, are from this website about embroidery in Surbiton, where St Mark’s church contains a number of ecclesiastical embroideries that she designed and made.


So, my attention was rather diverted from Quad Royal towards the end of last year on account of this.

The life of stuff - cover image

First the bad news, it’s not about posters at all.

Despite that, it may yet be of interest to a few of you because, amongst other things, the book is about how things come to mean and what we read into them.  So in some ways it is a much wider application of what I do with posters on here, which is to stare at them very hard and see what might be understood from them.*

At the same time, it’s also very different, what with being a memoir and taking in museums and hoarding and the history of napkin rings and all sorts of other things besides, so I won’t be offended if you don’t read it.  In any case, it’s not coming out until May.  But if you do decide you want to get it, it’s available online, or you can trundle down to your lovely local bookshop and get it there.

Next post will be back to posters, or at least vintage design, I promise.


*I’ve been fascinated by this ever since taking an MA in Design History, where I was intensely frustrating to my tutors because I wasn’t particularly interested in what they considered to be the core of the subject, which was how things came into being.  I wrote about what bits of china might have meant to the people who owned them instead.

As the book shows, this is still what I’d rather write about – only now I think I’d defend myself a bit harder.  Because looking at things in terms only of who designed them and why is missing a big part of the picture.  It’s not quite discussing books only in terms of the history of authors and printing, but it’s getting close to it.  Much of literary criticism is based on re-readings and re-interpretations of a book, rather than restricting itself to what the author intended, or discovering which kind of desk it was written on, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t look at objects in the same way.  And that includes posters.



Ghost posters

This picture arrived by email last week.  It is, I am told, a street corner in Brighton at some point during the 80s.  But with the 1950s lurking just under the skin.

Brighton street corner with posters remaining

Now this would be worth putting your way just as a reminder of what does persist, and in the strangest places.  But there’s more to it than just that.

Because this picture is the only colour image I’ve ever seen of that Eckersley Omo poster on the left.  Until now, I only knew it from a black and white reproduction in Modern Publicity.

Tom Eckersley Omo poster 1962 Modern Publicity

Despite that,  I recognised the poster at once, because I’ve used it – both on here and elsewhere – as an example.  It’s a reminder of the sheer volume of British posters, specifically commercial posters, which have not only failed to survive in any number, but quite often have left almost no trace at all.  Except here it is, leaving a trace, thirty years after it was first printed.  Hurrah for that.  And I much prefer it in colour too.

(I suspect that there are other clues in that picture too, or at least hints.  My feeling is that British commercial posters weren’t kept in part because they were immense, whereas – perhaps – Continental ones came in smaller sizes too.  But that’s just a hunch with no research behind it for now.)

Two addenda.  Firstly I know nothing about that Bovril poster at all, so if anyone has any ideas about that, please point yourself at the comments box at once as I would love to find out more.  Secondly, the picture comes from someone called Bongo Pete, but arrived with me via the medium of Facebook which means that it’s hard to contact him.  So if you are Bongo Pete and want any more acknowledgement than that (and of course my eternal gratitude for taking the picture in the first place) please do get in touch.




Well I went up Leeds at the end of last week, to give a talk at the Marks and Spencer archive about Daphne Padden.

This was a lot of fun, even if I’m not entirely sure that I fulfilled the alleged title of the talk, which was about Daphne Padden and design in the 1960s and 1970s.

Daphne Padden Marks and Spencers Christmas cake design

I did cover Daphne Padden’s work for Marks and Spencers, but that didn’t take very long at all, because we don’t really know very much about it.  Which isn’t just me not trying very hard, but between me knowing about Daphne Padden and the archive knowing all about M&S, there still isn’t very much information out there at all.

Daphne Padden M&S angel sandwich design and finished

And that, in the end, was one of the main themes of the talk: just how little we know about designers and design of this period, despite all the best intentions of archives, academics and people like me.  Served with a large dose of my general thoughts on archives, not knowing things and why coach posters are brilliant, most of which will be familiar to any regular reader of this blog

Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach poster sailor 1957


I was considering posting the talk on here, but that’s before I delivered it and realised that it was a rambling and somewhat opionated mess that probably wouldn’t play that well without the facial expressions and apologies.

But I did meet lots of lovely audience people there too, who asked interesting questions, so I’m happy to answer any questions on here if anyone wants.  Although be warned in advance, quite a few of the answers tend to be, we just don’t know.



Vote poster

Stuff, life, has kept me away for a bit – apologies – and now that I am back there appears to be an election on.  This blog doesn’t usually have too much overlap with the political arena, but there is one thing I wanted to point out.

Labour party post war poster reversion as tea towel

It’s not a poster – well it was once upon a time, but now it is a Labour Party fundraising tea towel.

Obviously tea towels based on vintage poster designs are a great idea, but that’s not the only reason I’m showing you this.

What’s interesting is that this is a poster that I’ve never seen before, another part of the unknown known.

There are a very few political posters that have become part of our visual furniture.


But the rest – well, they’ve just disappeared.  And there’s no central repository, no archives to browse through and see which parties produced which messages and designs.  So to all intents and purposes they didn’t exist. Until, that is, the Labour Party goes through their own records and pulls one out for us to buy.  For which I am of course very grateful, although it would be even more interesting to see the other ones too.

(The Labour Party archive does live, it seems, in the People’s History Museum in Manchester, but only a small proportion of the posters are digitised.  Although this one does seem to come from the same series as the tea towel.)

Labour party 1950s political poster

But in the end, all of this acts as a reminder that it’s almost impossible to make any kind of sweeping statement about the history of posters, for the simple reason that we just don’t know enough.  The posters that are out there, kept in archives, curated, digitised, seen, are just a small and rather less than random sample of the totality of what was produced.  And every so often we get a reminder of this fact, which can only be a good thing.

Oh, and if you wanted to get a tea towel, the bad news is that they were a limited edition and have just sold out.  But you can always buy one of ours instead.

New ideas for dishwashers

Christmas is madness in so many ways, but one of them is that there is far too much television on to take in all at once.  So one of the series that Mr Crownfolio and I stashed away to watch later, was The Home That 2 Built, which is a history of makeover and suchlike programming on BBC2.

We’ve also been watching it in the wrong order, starting with the last programme, about the 90s and 00s.  This is because in my past life before this blog, back in the late 90s,  I used to make exactly this kind of show.

So I knew there would be a few familiar things in there, but I really wasn’t prepared for how much I recognised.  It was like drowning and watching an entire period of my life flash before my eyes as I went under, programme after programme, episode after episode.

Laurence LLewellyn Bowen on Changing Rooms, first series

‘I filmed that bit.  And that one.’

‘That was the first programme we ever made.’

‘She was a cow.’

‘Oh my God, it’s those credits again.’  Etc.

They didn’t interview me, though, opting instead for Laurence Llewelyn Bowen; I can’t think why.

So, fast forward a couple of weeks, and we finally get round to watching the first programme, about the 1960s.  This time I really wasn’t anticipating any kind of surprises, but my goodness there was one this time too.  Half way through, in a short piece of black and white film, a woman demonstrates how she has turned a dishwasher into an owl.

‘That’s Barbara Jones,’ said Mr Crownfolio.

He thought he was being flippant, but you know what?  He was absolutely right.  There was Barbara Jones.  On our television.

Barbara Jones on BBC2 with owl dishwasher

It’s a good owl, too.

Barbara Jones owl dishwasher two

If you want to watch it for yourself, this episode is on Youtube, and you can find it about 27 minutes in.

But I do have to warn you, there’s a lot of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen to wade through on the way.  For which I do have to apologise.  It is after all, in a small way, my fault.