Photographs of chalk lettering on blackboard by Edward Johnston © Central Saint Martins Museum & Study Collection
In 1899 Edward Johnston was invited by William Lethaby, the first principal of the Central School of Arts and Crafts, to start a class on Writing and Illumination. He was described by those he taught as an influential and inspirational teacher – high praise from such noteworthy students as Eric Gill, Noel Rooke and Graily Hewitt (and it would be Hewitt who took over the class when Johnston moved to the RCA in 1912). Johnston is probably best remembered for the work he did for the London Underground. His typeface Railway remains in use and his bar and circle symbol, an early experiment in corporate identity, is still a familiar sight in London today. However, his book Writing and Illumination & Lettering was recognised as a seminal work when it was published in 1906 and his classes were almost singlehandedly responsible for the revival of calligraphy in this country.
These photographs were taken by Violet Hawkins, one of Johnston’s students, and show some of the blackboards created by him for his classes at the Royal College of Art and Central School of Arts and Crafts. A close look at the photographs reveals no trace of ruled guidelines, suggesting that Johnston created these amazing letters entirely freehand. Sets of these photographs can be seen at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the National Art Library and the Crafts Study Centre.
Text by Judy Lindsay, Head of Museum & Contemporary Collections, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design