Tuesday 24 April 2012

London Fonts

I know nothing about typography, but I keep wondering about the fonts of London street signs. This one appears to be Westminster's modern standard:

[UPDATE: A Twitter acquaintance suggests 'Folio' for the Westminster font - plausible?

This one, similar but not identical (eg. compare the C), can be found in Camden:

This might be similar to the above but the 'O' looks fatter above?

This one seems similar but it's much blockier and look at the 'S':

And there are many other fonts out there, once you start looking - like this one with another distinctive 'C':

And this rare bold, older one (note it's WC not WC1 or WC2), with a similar 'C' but very different 'R'

This is from a similar period, perhaps, but a different 'R'

This one's very nice and unusual:

This spindly effort is great, presumably utterly unreadable at any distance:

I came across this one today - when does it date from, I wonder?

I'm sure there are many more, but my first question is - can anyone identify these fonts?


  1. I'll be interested to see if you get any replies from people who really know about this stuff, but I suspect part of the answer is that for the older examples, they aren't really 'fonts' at all, because fonts/typefaces are a feature of mechanical reproduction. Instead they would have been hand-lettered, with all the slight individual variations that implies. If that is the case, I don't know how much they were expected to work to a house style, or how that would have been managed… Printed templates? Stencils? Specimens they were expected to copy?

    And even if they had a proper lettering system, I don't know whether it would be an identifiable typeface bought from a commercial type foundry — it might have just been designed in house or by a convenient local sign painter. After all, the world managed to produce an awful lot of lettering and signage over the centuries without the help of professional type designers in the modern sense; shop signs, gravestones, and so on, which would just have been the work of local artisans. Sign painters, masons and what have you.

    But I don't actually have any real knowledge to offer, just ill-informed speculation.

    1. Cheers - I take the point about hand-lettering. We'll see if any further replies, especially re the more modern ones.

  2. Cheers - may well try later, although I don't have a big sample of characters to hand.

  3. You can upload samples of the signs here for ID: http://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont/

  4. The street names shown above with just a WC (and not WC1 or WC2), or an NE or an EC, date from before 1919. In 1919 all the geographical zones were subdivided into districts with the addition of numbers, and the street signs included this number.

    Before then, the postman who delivered the letters (several times a day) knew where all the streets were and had learned this from older more experienced postmen. After the Great War in which so many postmen (and other workers) were killed, the postmen who replaced them needed a more precise zone in which to locate the addresses and didn't have time to absorb "the knowledge" in the traditional way.

    Perhaps if hadn't been for the First World War we would never have had sat-nav.

    Great blog.


    1. Cheers, I didn't know when that change happened - very interesting!