Taking the train might not be much fun any more, especially if you've just paid a small fortune to be crammed into a commuter special that's running half an hour late. But there was a time when the railways were a thing to be celebrated and the train was the only way to see far-flung parts of the country that you'd otherwise never visit. And nothing captures the 20th century's love affair with the railways quite so well as the many posters produced for the rail networks over the years.
Many of these have been collected into Great British Railway Posters, the story of the railway told through its most nostalgic and celebrated art. From bathing beauties and dream destinations to the locomotives of the steam age, these vintage posters give a glimpse into a fondly remembered past. We've gathered together 10 of the best; which one is your favourite?
Produced by British Railways to promote rail services to Weston-Super-Mare, this poster, with artwork by Melville, painted the seaside jewel in Somerset's crown as a glamorous destination, and ran from 1948-1965.
02. South for Winter Sunshine
A 1929 poster produced for the Southern Railway, advertising the South of England as a sunny destination for winter holidays. The artwork is by Edmond Vaughan.
03. Scotland – Straight as the Crow Flies
This poster for the London Midland & Scottish Railway, with artwork by Norman Howard, ran from 1923 to 1947. We love its bold art deco styling.
04. Winter Sunshine
The contrast between the grey, overcast city in the background and the bright seaside foreground is a delight in this 1932 poster for the Southern Railway. The dog shaking itself dry in the corner makes for a fantastic finishing touch.
Yes! Harrogate! This poster. produced for the London & North Eastern Railway to promote rail travel to the Yorkshire spa town, features artwork by Tom Purvis (1888-1957), who became one of the first Royal Designers for Industry in 1936.
06. Skegness is so Bracing
Who can fail to love this poster? Produced by London North & Eastern Railway to promote rail services to Skegness, it shows the 'Jolly Fisherman' skipping along the beach, invigorated by the bracing - that is, cold - sea air. The artwork was by John Hassall, who has been called the first great railway poster artist.
07. Take Me By the Flying Scotsman
This 1932 poster depicts the London & North Eastern Railway and the Flying Scotsman as the embodiment of speed and modernity, while having a sly dig at the Southern Railways 'Little Boy' poster. For all its stylish accomplishment, this poster was not well received by the travelling public, and therefore not re-issued in 1933.
A poster produced for the London & North Eastern Railway to promote rail services to the Yorkshire coastal resort of Bridlington. The artwork is by William Barribal (1873 – 1956), who in addition to designing railway posters for LNER, also worked as a figure and studio painter as well as a print illustrator.
09. East Coast Joys No.6
One of a set of posters produced for the London & North Eastern Railway to promote rail travel to the East Coast of England, and illustrating the various pastimes that could be enjoyed on the east coast. They formed a continuous scene when next to each other, but each could also stand alone. The artwork was by Tom Purvis.
10. Take Your Car to France by Car Ferry From Dover
This 1960 poster produced by British Railways to promote the cross-channel car ferry services features striking comic artwork by RM Lander.
Now buy this!
Want to see more? New 132-page publication Great British Railway Posters features over 100 stunning, iconic posters from the last 150 years, and is available now for £7.99; buy it online here.
Words: Jim McCauley