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Kerry Lee’s London

Lee’s Map of London for British Railways

Artist and pictorial map maker Kerry Lee created two distinctive maps of London, both of which were revised and adapted over a 20 year period, between the late 1930s and mid 1950s. (Read our two posts about Kerry’s life and work here  and here)

‘London Town’ was Kerry’s first foray into mapping the capital, a quad royal station poster printed by the Baynard Press for Southern Railways 1938, in a run of 5000; a revised 1950s edition for British Railways (Southern Region) was printed by Chromoworks Ltd, who printed many of Kerry Lee’s other pictorial maps. A pocket version was licensed by British Railways, issued as the ‘Uniquefold’ map, an ingenious patented pop-up design printed by Valentine & Sons.

Kerry’s other principal map is his ‘London – the Bastion of Liberty’, printed in at least three versions by Chromoworks Ltd. Unlike ‘London Town’, which was primarily a railway poster (although the 1938 version announces that copies were available for seven shillings and sixpence) the ‘Bastion of Liberty’ was aimed at the general public.

Lee’s Map of London for Southern Railways
Kerry Lee’s London Town, Baynard Press for Southern Railways, 1938

Kerry’s maps are densely populated, and we don’t have room here for a full census. On the 1938 ‘London Town’ he has assembled a vast cast of historical and literary figures, from Thomas Guy (‘philanthropist and miser’) to Mr Micawber. There are highwaymen in Islington and duelling dandies in Hyde Park, mingling with flirtatious nursemaids and guardsmen. A common thread is strangers asking directions, as often as not from other strangers. A grand lady in Knightsbridge peers over her lorgnettes: ‘Sir, I am not a guidebook!’ An American couple have a politer response from a squirrel in Regent’s Park after enquiring ‘Say, buddy, are we anywhere near the Zoo?’ A sombreroed Mexican is simply baffled when a cricketer asks the way to Lords: ‘but which lords Senor?’

All of this good humoured silliness contributes to a sense of London as a historic but cosmopolitan city, which many comparable maps of the period emphasised was still the centre of a vast empire (see for example the commercially available editions of MacDonald Gill’s ‘London Wonderground’ map, sold into the 1930s: ‘The heart of Britain’s Empire here is laid out for your view…’). That doesn’t seem to have been Kerry’s prime concern, although the suggestion is present and amplified by the elaborate border. The Union flag is supported by the constituent parts of the British Isles, including the Irish Free State. A disparate assortment of famous ‘Britons’ exchange pleasantries in the upper border: Old Bill and Falstaff; W.G. Grace and King Arthur; Mr Pickwick, and Mr Punch and his dog Toby. The upper border is supported by garlanded columns, wreathed with banners and shields bearing the names and coats of arms of British Empire and Commonwealth countries. At the foot is the royal procession to the State Opening of Parliament, an example of British pageantry.

Kerry Lee’s London Town, Chromoworks Ltd for British Railways (Southern Region), c. 1955

The map was revived by recently nationalised British Railways in the 1950s, when Kerry was at the peak of his productivity. A legend in the lower right hand part of this map notes that it is ‘based on a pre war issue, and as far as is practicable the more important details have been brought up to date’. For example the Royal Festival Hall, built for the 1951 Festival of Britain, has been added on the South Bank. The border has been completely reworked: Commonwealth coats of arms have been replaced by the coats of arms of each London borough, and figures associated with empire have been supplanted by something more local – for example, Sherlock Holmes appears next to Marylebone. London is no longer presented as the capital of empire: instead Kerry celebrates the LCC and public institutions such as the BBC and the University of London, their coats of arms supported by the giants Gog and Magog. At the foot, the State Procession at the State Opening of Parliament has been replaced by the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II, so there is still a nod to the pageantry of monarchy, albeit with a fresh 1950s face.

There are numerous changes to the tiny figures which populate the map. The artist painting a nude model in his Chelsea studio had a blank canvas in the 1930s, but has created a Picassoesque portrait by the 1950s. The theme of strangers and directions remains. In the 1930s a bearded Russian asking the way to the Baltic [Exchange, in the City] received the reply ‘sorry me was too stranger’; he’s still there in the 1950s, but this time his interlocutor is asking for directions of his own: ‘to little Italy?’ In the top left corner, just outside Paddington Station, a be-smocked farmer and his wife (apparently fresh from the west country) ask: ‘Be this the way to the city, mister?; a turbaned gentleman in military boots replies ‘sorry, stranger was I’. In the 1950s, the boots have gone and he simply shrugs ‘I no no’.

There is an overall tendency towards uncluttering. For example, looking in the vicinity of Aldgate, some street names have been stripped out (such as Whitechapel High Road) as have some of the figures, such as the small boys asking a man in a striped jersey for ‘cigarette pictures’. Around Petticoat Lane the figures have been modernised and there are fewer of them, a general simplification. The stall selling bowls of eels is now a generic market stall and there are fewer racks of clothes.

Kerry Lee’s characteristic signature still appears bottom right, showing the artist seated at his easel with his dog; it differs from the 1930s version in that he has sprouted a beard and lost a red handkerchief from his coat pocket, a further indication (if proof were needed) that Kerry was responsible for all the tinkering.

Kerry Lee’s London Town, a ‘Uniquefold’ pocket map, published by Valentine and Sons c. 1955

The pocket version incorporates the major changes such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Coronation procession, but there is no space for figures and puns, and Kerry’s signature does not appear.

Kerry Lee’s London – the Bastion of Liberty, printed by Chromoworks Ltd for the Travel Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland c. 1946

Kerry Lee’s other quad royal map of London, ‘the Bastion of Liberty’, was drawn in 1946 after Kerry was demobbed. At least as rich as ‘London Town’ in terms of historical, architectural and literary detail, it celebrates the capital’s survival and symbolic wartime role. Lee chose an apposite quote by Churchill: “We would rather see London in ruins and ashes than that it should be tamely and abjectly enslaved.” A vignette in the upper part of the map commemorates the role of Civil Defence workers during the Blitz. As we’ve discussed elsewhere it was marketed overseas (especially in America) by the Travel Association of Great Britain, and their logo appears beneath Churchill’s words.

Lee’s Festival of Britain Pictorial Map of London
Kerry Lee’s London – the Bastion of Liberty, printed by Chromoworks Ltd for Pictorial Maps Ltd, Blandford Studios, c. 1951 [sold]

‘The Bastion of Liberty’ was revised for the 1951 Festival of Britain. A smaller, double royal size map, set within a decorative frame, it incorporates Abram Games’ emblem and the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank appears in the border and on the map itself. Following nationalisation the names of the ‘big four’ railway companies have been dropped from the London termini.

Kerry Lee’s London – the Bastion of Liberty, printed by Chromoworks Ltd for Pictorial Maps Ltd, Blandford Studios, c. 1955

At about the same time that Kerry was thoroughly revising his ‘London Town’ for British railways, he evidently revisited his quad royal sized version of ‘the Bastion of Liberty’. Oddly, none of the changes which appear on the Festival of Britain version were transferred to the larger map, but the BTA logo was dropped and replaced with the head of Mithras found during excavation of the London Mithraeum in 1954. It may simply have been that his Pictorial Maps company was no longer working so closely with the BTA, and removing their logo was appropriate.

There are plenty of similarities in style and layout between ‘London Town’ and ‘the Bastion of Liberty’- after all, it’s the same artist and the same city. We have similarly deep, decorative borders, similar placing of cartouches and compass rose, similar banderoles over important buildings and places… even some of the some of the figures make it from one map to the other, such as the duellists in Hyde Park. In other respects they are quite different: major buildings in ‘the Bastion of Liberty’ are depicted as architectural elevations rather than from a bird’s eye perspective; historical and literary figures are often grouped together in categories such as ‘visitors to London’, ‘scholars’ and ‘stars’. There are also different emphases, such as the inclusion of Allied and neutral embassies and the site of the first UN General Assembly (in the Methodist Central Hall) in ‘the Bastion of Liberty’, which hints at the intended audience. All in all, the sheer variety of material in Kerry Lee’s London maps is testament to his wit and inventiveness.   

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