London Transport
Johnston & Granby Typefaces

Last updated 6 January 2010.

“Johnston” (or sometimes “Johnston Sans”) is the common name of the legendary sans-serif design commissioned by Frank Pick and developed by Edward Johnston for the London Underground system in 1915-1916. The P22 version, licensed from the London Transport Museum, is true to Johnston’ original design. The included “Underground Extras” feature graphic elements inspired by the design motifs of London Transport maps, tile patterns and seat covers. The more recent Underground Pro set expands the typeface. The overall design is kept as intended by Johnston, and remains within his system of proportions. However, additional features are included such as small caps and foreign languages characters. A “petit-serif” adaptation also exists. It was designed by Charles Holden and Percy Delf Smith, and was used for some signs at Arnos Grove Station on the Piccadilly line.

In 1979 the typeface was redesigned by Colin Banks to produce “New Johnston”. It took six months to complete, and was not in use much before 1980.

The Granby family of types was first cut in 1930 and further developed during the following decade as Stephenson, Blake & Co’s contribution to the general cashing-in of other foundries on the popularity of Monotype’s Gill Sans and the geometric sans-serif fonts being introduced in Europe. It is so similar to Johnston that it’s likely that the only reason London Transport didn’t ask awkward questions is because Stephenson, Blake cut the wooden masters for the original Underground lettering. (One quirk of history is that the “reference” set of Johnston letterpunch blocks held by the LT Museum actually has some smaller sizes of Granby mixed in. It is thought that by the early 1960s, with the Johnston sets becoming depleted, LT simply bought the similar Granby to make sets up as it was cheaper than having new Johnston blocks cast.) There is some discussion as to whether the Granby typeface was or was not used in the interim for the earliest vinyl “E” stickers. No one at London Transport recalls Granby in condensed form, and there clearly are stickers with condensed text. However, this may have been simply a technical issue, as the original Granby Condensed type was not available in digital form, and may have been seen to be just too condensed, with “uncomfortable” proportions. These days we can condense a font optically using digital technology but in 1979-80 that was probably not the case. Granby was certainly used during the period when there was a proliferation of multicoloured stickers, without any apparent pattern, before London Regional Transport reimposed new design standards from 1987-88.

Johnston

Johnston character set

Granby

Granby character set
equal-sized vertical and horizontal strokesGlonger vertical and shorter horizontal strokes
short strokeQlonger stroke, descending below the baseline
equal-sized upper and lower arcsSlarger-diameter lower arc
more open space between arc and loopalittle open space between arc and loop
two loops in letter-formgloop and hook in letter-form
curved serif at bottomlno serif at bottom
same width as height; squat lookingsnarrower width than height; upright looking
long shallow descenderyshort curved descender
no serif1has serif
tighter arc and steeper angled stroke2looser arc and shallower angled stroke
point on top and left corners4chamfer on top and left corners
point at bottom left£loop at bottom left
square.diamond
square,diamond


Font samples courtesy of identifont.com. Other information from Mikey Ashworth, Leon Daniels, David Lawrence’s A Logo for London, and Jeremy Tankard.