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A man rides a 1967 Central Line Train
Image courtesy of: London Transport Museum

In pictures: the retro patterns of London Transport's upholstery

Andrew Martin has documented the city's oft-ignored moquettes in a new book.

By El Hunt

Next time you park your bum on the Central line, spare a moment to glance at the woven designs under your derrière. Since the 1930s, London Transport has commissioned bright ‘moquettes’ – French for carpets – dreamed up by leading designers and artists.

Andrew Martin has documented this colourful history in his new book ‘Seats of London’. Beginning with the seats of the WW1-era B-type double decker – which was brought in to replace the city’s Victorian horse-drawn buses – the story runs right through to the still-not-bloody-finished Elizabeth line.

From London Underground’s very first commissions (including an abstract motif by the surrealist artist Paul Nash) to Enid Marx’s plaid number and even a custard-coloured Yellow Pages advert, there’s a lot of history in these humble pews. Talk about sitting pretty. Check out some of London's artiest chairs below.

This leafy pattern once adorned the seats of London’s ‘Diddler’ trolleybuses. The electric buses – powered by overhead lines – served the city from 1931 onwards. Diddlers were phased out in the capital after the end of WW2, and trolleybuses disappeared completely in the '60s.

⬆ London Underground commissioned the surrealist artist Paul Nash to design this earthy moquette. His Alperton motif – created around 1938 – never made it as far as an actual tube seat.

The Q1 trolleybus was rolled out to replace all the vehicles damaged during the London Blitz – this ’60s seat design wouldn’t look out of place on a retro tracksuit. 

This natural number was designed especially for the Metropolitan Line by Jack Thompson and Richard Eatough circa 1954 – the spirals are based on fossilised shells.  

⬆ As part of a huge advertising campaign in the late 1990s, phone directory Yellow Pages took over an entire circle line tube. As well as wrapping the outside in custard-hued branding, they clad the train’s 192 seats with a branded moquette. Sounds garish.

⬆ In the 1950s, Douglas Scott was tasked with designing the now-iconic Routemaster double decker bus. He dreamed up these tartan moquettes to brighten up the interior, and the busy pattern also disguised any nicotine stains (back then, it was the norm for smokers to spark up on the top deck).

‘Seats of London: A Field Guide to London Transport Moquette Patterns’ by Andrew Martin is available now from London Transport Museum. All images courtesy of London Transport Museum. 

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