5 Typography Quirks That Only Tube Geeks Will Appreciate

Last night I seriously geeked out at the London Transport Museum for a talk about Underground Lettering before 1933.

The talk, given by design and typography lecturers Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon, featured the progression of lettering styles before Johnston’s famous sans serif was introduced.


Typography Quirks Tube Geeks


But what I wanted to share with you is the 5 quirkiest features of typography, hidden in plain sight on the London Underground.

* SPOILER! *  If you are irritated by lettering spacing this might just ruin your commute forever…



1. Aldwych’s ‘R’

“But Aldwych doesn’t even have an ‘R’!”

Correct. But it wasn’t always known as Aldwych station, between 1907-17 it was Strand station and as Catherine pointed out, the more you look at the ‘R’ the weirder it becomes, its short stubby leg seems to be almost falling off…

Typography Quirks Tube Geeks


On the Surrey Street side, things don’t get much better. Surely the designer could’ve squeezed in the whole of ‘railway’?!

Typography Quirks Tube Geeks


(Incidently you can discover the full, bizarre history of this ‘lost’ station on my Fleet Street Tour)


2. Edgware Road’s ‘G’

Typography Quirks Tube Geeks
A constant terror you can spot all over London (particularly on street signs). It was described in the lecture as the ‘only just G’.

3. Arsenal’s bad spacing

Typography Quirks Tube Geeks


Previously known as Gillespie Road (or should that be G  I  L  L  E  SPIE?) It’s hard to take a proper picture without being actually on the tracks…

But, like many a person confronted with writing in big letters, they started rather optimistically. Sadly though, the spacing of the first 5 letters meant squishing in the last 4!



Before we move on, you might be familiar with the initial design of Johnston’s roundel? It was gorgeously thought out with an enlarged U and D with diamonds dotted above the gaps in letters:


Typography Quirks Tube Geeks


4. Arsenal’s Wrong Roundel

Typography Quirks Tube Geeks
You might have to look closely to spot the mistakes in this one, but notice in Johnston’s original that the diamonds are above the letter gaps? It means that despite being unevenly spaced they appear visually ordered. But Arsenal seemingly missed the memo, making the diamonds evenly space so they don’t correlate with the letters.


5. Maida Vale’s roundel

But don’t let these get you down, Phil did share with us the ‘Best Roundel Ever’ (And he should know)


Typography Quirks Tube Geeks
BONUS. Hammersmith’s ‘&’ mystery

For a bonus point I also wanted to share with you this mystery…

Spotted by Catherine recently at Hammersmith Station, just what is this floating, lonesome ampersand doing there?


Typography Quirks Tube Geeks


Can you take a guess?


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  • How about it originally said H&C for Hammersmith & City line?

    May 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm
  • Phoebe


    Didn’t realise lettering could be griping! Will try and spot more mistakes on my next commute

    May 11, 2016 at 11:25 pm
  • Philippa


    Somewhere there is a guy snickering over the thought of people puzzling over his random ampersand.

    You have an excellent eye.

    May 21, 2016 at 2:41 pm
  • Vincent


    Only just stumbled on this and completely hooked, thank you. The abbreviated Rly at Aldwych/Strand reminded me of one that irks me on my commute – not on the Tube, but over St Thomas’ Hospital A&E entrance – no, not the dodgy apostrophe, but the strap line underneath it: “Serving the community 24 hrs a day”.

    August 4, 2017 at 3:14 pm

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