Back from London and Thoughts on Stone Lettercarving
Hello, all, 

I’m back a few days ago from nearly two weeks in London with my family. We had an exhausting and exhaustive trip. We planned a few things in advance that required tickets, but wound up going pretty hard almost every day we were there. 

London is both very expensive and very affordable right now. With the current exchange rate of $1.33 to £1.00, it seemed on par with Seattle costs, mostly, and we were staying in the house of friends. Most of the major museums are free, which made it nice to breeze into the Tate Modern for an hour and not feel that we had to get our money’s worth. And Transport for London (TfL) is a delight to use, and automatically caps your fares for the day and handles transfers, so you don’t have to plan and buy special tickets. But it was easy to pick the wrong restaurant when hungry and drop to much cash, especially near tourist spots. It was mostly in the upper 70s to low 90s °F (25-32°C) when we were there, and that was the only downside of the Tube: most lines have no “air con”—rarely needed, except in these kinds of increasingly frequent heat waves.

As with my previous trip to London a few months ago, the degree of kindness and friendliness among Londoners of many generations (even centuries, probably) and those new to the city was pretty extraordinary.

Thanks again to patrons here on Patreon and all those who have supported projects this year—this allowed me to take the first real vacation in years. I usually take a working vacation or may take an extra day off here and there, rarely. This was a joy and made possible by direct support. My soul and my body both thank you.

As part of this trip, I was able to get the family out to the Museum Depot in Acton, part of the London Transport Museum. This is where the museum keeps all its spare rolling stock, manages repairs, and has all its poster, type, signage, and other graphical archives.

The Museum Depot doesn’t have regular hours, but does have a few weekends a year that it’s open and regularly has specialty tours. (They also serve school groups and other groups.) We signed up for the “Johnston Journeys,” a typographic romp through the entire museum that was incredible. The tour guide (a volunteer, like many at the depot) had no type background, but knew her trains and transit history, and has been giving the tour for two years, so offered a lot of good insight. I tried to not pipe up, but when we hit the letterpress exhibit, I did spout a few facts about Granby, Curwen Sans, and Gill Sans…

I’ll have a more full report about this visit in the future, as photography was permitted and encouraged. I learned quite a bit from this, and I’ll be giving a talk in September at Ada's Books in Seattle about London Transport typeface and its history and vagaries.

One observation for now about London was how much fresh stonecarving I saw. The Lettering Arts Trust in Snape, a few hours east-is of London, runs a letter-carving apprenticeship program, and I have to think its graduates have made a difference in London. In so many places, I saw freshly cut letters, sometimes very small, like a tiny square sign I spotted on an otherwise unremarkable building near Regent Street; in other cases, massive panels, as in a pedestrian underpass on the south side of the Thames between the Tate Modern and the Borough Market.

On the Fortnum & Mason building not too far from Covent Garden, I noticed the following sign: Drencher Stop Valve Inside. I called attention to this to my kids: it was an older carving, clearly made at a time when it was affordable and reasonable to pay a stonecarver to make an effectively permanent sign in your stonework rather than mount a plaque.

In Kensington, near all the museums, there's a multi-block “subway” (a way beneath the streets, as they call it there, not a train) that takes you from the South Kensington Tube stop (which has some great metal work signage I’ll write about later) to all the major museums. Embedded in the floor at very frequent interval was the name and address of the floor’s maker, likely from many decades before. Rex pointed out that the company name was Wilke’s Metallic Flooring Co. Ltd., but the floor was not metallic!

I’ll have more reports from the trip and other work that’s in progress soonish. Editing the video of my London Kerning talk from late June is still in progress due to the vacation. And I’m presenting a talk at TypeCon in Portland in early August about London’s type and printing archives (St Bride Library and The Type Archive). I wasn’t able to visit either on this trip, due to their opening hours, but popped by the St Bride Institute to get more pictures of its surroundings and a photo inside St Bride’s Church, the printer’s church.