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The Night Scotsman

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

Miscellaneous Musings

Eric Gill - sign writer

Eric Gill (Arthur Eric Rowton Gill 1882-1940) I’m no railway historian, so perhaps someone out there will know more about this sign.

A couple of years ago, on an invited visit to the splendid Fawley [Railway] Museum (Fawley in the south-west corner of Buckinghamshire) I spotted a hand-painted name plate for The Night Scotsman steam locomotive. It was propped up on the floor under a bench. I recognised immediately the lettering was based on the eponymous Gill Sans typeface. Although scratched and timeworn I could see that it was perfectly hand-lettered, almost certainly by Eric Gill himself. The wide spacing of the letters making up ‘Scotsman’ match the well-known name board he created for a sister locomotive the Flying Scotsman. The Gill typeface is instantly recognisable. Look at the idiosyncratic ‘G’ and “M’.

19 November 1932 Eric Gill on the left, Cecil Dandridge, advertising manager for LNER, on the right

The winter 1933 edition of the Monotype Recorder reported that Gill “painted, and affixed with his own hands, the name-plate of the most renowned train of our day, the ‘Flying Scotsman’”. Gill, on the left, is seen standing beside LNER (London & Northern Eastern Railway) executives and, on the right Cecil Dandridge, the enlightened advertising manager for the LNER company. Dandridge wanted to present the company as fast, efficient and forward looking. To help achieve this aim Gill Sans typeface was used extensively throughout LNER’s promotional material, especially evident in station signage, and general printed matter. Historians point to Gill Sans also being used on its innovative poster campaign, but it was not used consistently. Although the subsidiary text might be typeset in Gill Sans, many poster artists of the time liked to do their own lettering (which was redrawn by the lithographic artisans who prepared the artist’s original artwork, colour by colour, on lithographic stones or zinc plates in readiness for printing). For example, those of you who know the work of the poster artist Frank Newbould, one of Dandridge's favoured poster artists, - he rarely used Gill as the basis for his hand-lettered poster headlines

a preliminary poster design by Frank Newbould

Back to the mystery of The Night Scotsman name plate. A hand-painted sign missing the definite article “The” is featured here on a Senior Service cigarette card from 1938. Hand-lettered in a Gill Sans style – but probably not by Gill himself. The spacing between the ‘O’, the ‘T’ and the ‘S’ does not look right.

Poster aficionados will know this wonderful railway poster for The Night Scotsman by the Russian born artist and filmmaker, Alexandre Alexeieff. This is the holy grail for railway poster collectors - a copy sold at Christie’s South Kensington in 2011 for £35,850.

Whilst discussing Eric Gill - it is interesting to note that it was about 15 miles from where I live in the Chiltern Hills, at Pigotts farmhouse (and collection of farm buildings), that Gill produced his most memorable and, arguably, his greatest works (he lived there from 1928 until his death in 1940). Apart from a number of different typeface designs. he created the Prospero and Ariel statue (1933) over the entrance to the BBC’s Broadcasting House building, and the enormous bas-reliefs for the Palace of Nations, the League of Nations building in Geneva (1937).

I took this photograph soon after the Broadcasting House building was cleaned

You can just make out the ‘EG’ monogram carved on this saw handle – found in the workshop at Pigotts

Set in Gill Sans –
5s = 5 shillings (probably circa £100 today)

Eric Gill’s own design for his headstone, with lettering cut by Laurie Cribb. Speen Baptist churchyard, Buckinghamshire. PRAY FOR ME
1882 – 1940

I would be interested to hear from someone who knows more about the mystery of The Flying Scotsman nameplate/s

The railway fanatic Sir William McAlpine established the Fawley railway museum in the 1960s, and famously owned the Flying Scotsman from 1973 - 1996


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