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Here's the reason Underground stations have such random tiling

Written by
Hayley Spencer

Most elements of the Underground are pretty uniform – the signage, tube maps and yellow lines, but when it comes to the original tiling at a lot of major stations, things get pretty random. In case you've ever wondered why – no, it's not because a mixed bag of coloured off-cuts were going cheap at the tile shop. In fact, there's a very good reason Underground stations were originally decorated with distinctive colours and patterns.

When some of the oldest and more popular stations were decorated back in the day, the designs of the tiles were a way for passengers to recognise where they were, as back then many passengers using the tube were illiterate. So, a glimpse of the black and teal chevrons at Russell Square or the yellow patterns at Covent Garden were a clear sign to workers that they were home and it was time to shove their way off.

The jazzy patterns didn't stay in vogue for too long, though – as the Underground network progressed so did the level of literacy among passengers, and so the tiling took on slightly more sophisticated designs. Hence the not-so-cryptic tonne of bricks at Brixton and the Sherlock silhouettes at Baker Street. Minimalism, schminimalism, eh?

More Underground stuff: Tube stations: Then and now

25 things you (probably) didn't know about London Underground

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