It’s time for another crack at revealing the lives of the designers who made early Underground maps. We know so much about Harry Beck and MacDonald Gill, and so little about almost everyone else… It has been a while (longer than I thought) since I delved into the life and times of Fred Stingemore so this is long overdue. One day I hope to find a way of putting names to the teams of (currently) anonymous draughtsmen who worked ‘in house’ for the printing companies regularly commissioned by the Underground Group and its predecessors, such as Edward Stanford Ltd, WJ Adams & Sons, Waterlow & Sons, Johnston, Riddle & Co, Dangerfield Printing Co, George Philip & Son and David Allen & Sons. For now, though, let’s look at three names which we do have. These names appear on maps which are well-known but normally catalogued (by me and everyone else, including the Transport Museum) with surname and initials as given, without further elucidation: W.E. Soar; J.C. Betts; E.G. Perman. Who were they?
William Edward Soar (1854-1912) may be the earliest credited designer of Underground maps. His name appears on most maps produced by the District Railway from 1880 until his death. He was described as ‘an indefatigable member of the staff of the District Railway, makes it a labour of love to bring this excellent map “up to date”’ (Penny Illustrated Paper, 23 August 1890). We happen to have one of his maps inscribed ’from the author’, the only example of an Underground map with a presentation inscription I’ve seen, so a ‘labour of love’ sounds about right. It puts him at the head of a longstanding London Underground tradition of allowing employees with bees in their bonnets to design official maps in their spare time, including Harold Hutchison (publicity), Paul Garbutt (planning) and Harry Beck himself (engineering draughtsman). William Soar was described as a railway clerk on the 1871 census, when he was aged 16. He rose to become the District Railway’s Traffic Manager, and by 1906 its General Manager, answerable only to the Chairman and Board of Directors.