Moquette- commissioning and design
Moquette is the durable, woollen seating material that is used in upholstery on public transport all over the world.
Derived from the French word for carpet, moquette is produced on looms using the Jacquard weaving technique. The pile is typically 85 per cent wool mixed with 15 per cent nylon and the backing is made of cotton. The weaving process has changed very little over time. The pile can be uncut (loop type), or made up of tufts (cut type) or can be a combination of both uncut and cut to make it extra hard-wearing. The woollen pile has good thermal properties, making it cool in summer and warm in winter.
Across London’s transport network, moquette has been seen and sat upon by millions of commuters on buses, trains, trams and trolleybuses for over 100 years. Moquette was chosen for public transport for two reasons. First because it is hard wearing and durable. Second its colour and patterns disguise signs of dirt, wear and tear. On top of this moquette had the advantage of being easy and cheap to mass-produce.
Before the widespread use of moquette on London’s passenger vehicles, a variety of different styles of seating had been tried. These included unpadded timber seats and benches. You could also find seats upholstered in rattan, leather and an imitation leather called leathercloth, as well as cotton and silk velvets. Different upholstery materials were trialled throughout the decades, but moquette was favoured due to its durability, design, cost and comfort.
Moquette was first applied to public transport seating in London in the 1920s when the designs were produced by the manufacturers. The first specifically designed moquette was a pattern called ‘Lozenge’, made in 1923 by Firth Furnishings Ltd. It followed the fashions in home furnishings and art deco styles of the day.
With the creation of London Transport in the 1930s, Chief Executive, Frank Pick and his Publicity Officer, Christian Barman commissioned established artists and designers to create stylish, contemporary patterns for the Capital’s transport system. Under Pick’s direction, design was the key to producing and promoting a quality public transport system. It was at this time that moquette was transformed from a practical seating fabric to a design icon. Textile designers such as Enid Marx, Marion Dorn and Paul Nash were commissioned by London Transport to produce exclusive moquette designs. Geometric and contemporary, these new moquettes were radically different from the floral patterns produced previously. The designs were used on a variety of tubes, buses and trolleybuses during this period and had to work well in daylight and artificial light.
In 1936 the established textile designer Marion Dorn was commissioned to design moquette fabrics for use in London Transport vehicles. Marion Dorn, born in America in 1896 was a designer most well known for her wall hangings, carpets and rugs. She moved to London in 1923. Between 1936 and 1942 she designed four moquettes for London Transport; Chesham in 1936, Colindale and Canonbury in 1937 and Caledonian in 1942. These moquette designs featured small scale, tight, abstract repeating patterns and were a break away from the sweeping decorative designs which were evident in her other work.
‘Ladder’ otherwise known as ‘Chesham’ designed by Marion Dorn was initially used on the Metropolitan and District line surface stock in the late 1930s in a pale green and dark green colourway. The colours were later switched so that stains would not show so quickly.
The ‘Ladder’ design was so popular that in the 1950s, it was decided that the design should be re-drawn and trialled in different colourways and with modifications. The chosen design was used on the Piccadilly line from 1953 onwards.
The second pattern by Marion Dorn designed in 1937 was originally titled ‘Leaf’ and later became known as ‘Colindale’. There were two colourways used; the light green colourway was the original design used on the Northern line in 1938. It was re-drawn and re-coloured in darker colours to be used after the Second World War.
Marion Dorn also designed ‘Canonbury’ otherwise known as ‘Handcuffs’, which was used on the Northern and Central lines and ‘Caledonian’ which was used in a trialled car for the Metropolitan line in 1939 and later the Northern line.
During the Second World War moquette became increasingly expensive; it was taxed at 66% and considered a luxury fabric. Additionally, the manufacturers of moquette suffered shortages in woollen yarn. During the War design became less important and only the vehicles most in need were reupholstered.
In 1936 the iconic textile designer Enid Marx was commissioned by Frank Pick and Christian Barman to design moquette. She was told that the material had to ‘look fresh at all times, even after bricklayers had sat on it.’ It was also not allowed to look dazzling as it was destined for moving vehicles.
The first design commissioned by Christian Barman, and the first design produced by Enid Marx for London Transport in 1936 was a design called ‘Belsize’ or ‘Grid’. The design's bold and simple geometric weave was developed in an attempt to solve the problem of 'dazzle'. It was first used in the 1935 experimental flat ended tube stock. It is also known to have been in use on Metropolitan and District line stock during the 1940s.
In an interview with the BBC in 1949, Marx said the following about designing moquette: ‘First, and most important, you must realise that the function of a railway coach is quite different from any home function, it would be wrong in scale, in colour, everything. There are definite design rules which have always applied.’
From 1936 to 1938 Marx designed another three moquettes that were used on vehicles, ‘Bushey’ from 1936, ‘Brent’ from 1937 and ‘Chevron’ from 1938.
Enid Marx designed ‘Lozenge’ otherwise known as ‘Shield’ in 1946. This moquette was used to re-upholster the 1938 Tube stock around 1949 on the Bakerloo and Northern lines. It also appeared on sub-surface trains on the District line.
The ‘Bullseye’ or ‘Roundel’ moquette design has up until now been attributed to a designer called Edmund (Eddie) Chapman. Edmund was the Head Designer at the moquette manufacturing company, John Holdsworth and Company Limited. However, in-depth research has uncovered that this moquette was actually designed by Joy Jarvis, a designer working in London at the time it was commissioned.
In a letter from John Holdsworth and Company Limited dated 1947, it was written: ‘We have the pleasure in enclosing a new trial of the design made by Miss Jarvis, with the horizontal bar of the ‘Underground’ symbol strengthened…’
Additionally, the design was also mentioned in a letter from 1948: ‘Design number 11521, this has been used recently in 1938 tube stock... this is a Joy Jarvis pattern. Miss Jarvis is a very young and new designer recommended to me.’ This design has now been attributed to Joy Jarvis.
The next development in moquette design began in 1964 and was born out of the work of Professor Misha Black. Black worked as a design consultant on the construction of the Victoria line, coordinating every aspect of its design. Professional designers Marianne Straub, Jacqueline Groag and the Orbit Design Group were commissioned to design a new moquette to highlight the newness of the line.
The moquette design by Marianne Straub was approved in May 1965. However, by this time it was already too late to be used on the Victoria line trains and a moquette design developed for the A stock was used instead.
The Straub design was later used on many tube and surface stock trains from the late 1960s onwards. Professor Misha Black's idea of identifying a line with a separate interior appearance and its own specific moquette, is still in use today on many of Transport for London’s (TfL) vehicles.
During the 1990s there were experiments with giving each line its own moquette to give each line its separate identity. Jonathan Sothcott who worked for DCA Design Consultants designed the 'Central Line Check' moquette for the new 1992 Central line stock, incorporating the red of the Central line. Moquette patterns were designed specifically for use on certain lines, incorporating the colour of the line as well as complementing the colours used throughout the carriage.
Today, moquette patterns can be designed by TfL, chosen through public competitions or designed by an external design company. Often there are many people involved in the development of a new moquette design or colourway.
Wallace Sewell (Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace- Jones) have been designing moquette for Transport for London for over a decade. There work begun with TfL when they entered a competition to design the moquette for the Overground.
The brief outlined the four colours that had to be included in the design, and reinforced that the designers should consider wear and tear and protection from vandalism in their designs.
Wallace Sewell have also produced moquette designs for the Croydon Tramlink, Underground and Crossrail trains which can be seen on the network today.
The most iconic design by Wallace Sewell is the ‘Landmark’ design, later renamed ‘Barman’ after Christian Barman who oversaw the commissioning of moquette in the 1930s. The 'Barman' moquette was the winning design from a public competition. Each company could submit up to four designs in this competition, and Wallace Sewell’s designs came first, second and third out of over 350 applicants.
The ‘Barman’ design is on the Central, Jubilee, Northern and Waterloo & City lines in the original dark blue colourway and has more recently been recoloured in dark grey for the Bakerloo line and a light blue for the Piccadilly line. The colours and patterns have evolved over time, but the tradition of producing distinctive designs continues today.
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