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The Wonderground Map of London Town

  • Author: GILL, (Leslie) MacDonald (artist)
  • Publisher: Westminster Press (Printer) - G W Bacon & Co (retailer) - Gerard T Meynell (copyright holder)
  • Date: 1915
  • Dimensions: Sheet size (fully opened): 128.4 x 99.8 cms / Folded: 32 x 25 cms


The first retail edition of MacDonald Gill’s idiosyncratic comic vision of London at the beginning of the First World War

About this piece:

The Wonderground Map of London Town


Sheet size (fully extended): 128.4 x 99.8 cms. Size folded: 32 x 25 cms. Printed colours. Dissected into sixteen segments backed on contemporary linen and folding down into printed paper covers with title: The Wonderground Map of London Town. Covers a little soiled and worn. Small old pinholes to corners & centre in blank margins only. Minimal areas of old wear to linen on verso causing a couple of tiny holes in linen backing at central fold junctures. Slight paper crease at lower left corner in blank margin only. Two small paper creases to panel segements where slightly misaligned in foldings. Overall a very good example.

The retail edition of MacDonald Gill’s much-renowned, delightfully personal, playfully anarchic and idiosyncratically comic vision of London which had first appeared in poster format in Underground stations across London just a few months before the outbreak of the First World War.

Such was the widespread popular appeal of the original Underground poster that this retail edition was subsequently commissioned, being printed and published by the Westminster Press, whose owner and Managing Director was Gerard T Meynell [1877-1943]. It was sold by the mapsellers, G W Bacon & Co, through their well-known & long-established central London shop at 127 Strand for a price of Six Shillings (Net).

This edition of the map, described as royal 8vo, was first advertised in 1915 editions of the Bookseller Magazine. Indeed revising the date of this edition and re-assigning to it an early 1915 publication date seems increasingly justified: for this exact edition appears in a list of new publications – “Books published this week” – in the March 6th 1915 edition (pp.213-214) of the Athenaeum Journal of Literature, Science, The Fine Arts, Music & the Drama, where it is describedas The Wonderground Map of London  6/- . Bacon.  A large pictorial map, mounted on linen and cut to fold”. Indeed for this edition, the map was dissected into sixteen panels and laid onto a linen backing. A pair of attractively designed & printed protective card covers enclosed the map, once folded down.

Gill himself, writing in The Studio magazine in December 1944, recalled his first forays into the world of commercial poster maps thirty years earlier :

My first poster map, known as the “Wonderground map of London” was designed in 1914 for the late Mr Frank Pick, then the Publicity Manager for the Underground Railways Company….I would claim that the now world-wide interest shown in decorative maps and their modern application dates from that time……

Indeed the original poster edition was received with favourable reviews in the late Spring of 1914.

On Page 680 of The Railway News, Vol 101, dated 21st March 1914, there appeared one particularly noteworthy assessment of the poster:


The latest Underground Poster is one of the most striking efforts in the way of pictorial burlesque ever attempted.  It takes the form of a large topographical map of the Metropolis, by Mr MacDonald Gill, in the making of which the draughtsman has given unrestricted license to a very keen sense of humour. The idea is in every way a novel one, and full justice has been rendered to its possibilities, for probably no other single sheet of  the same size has ever before been so crowded with such jokes, such puns, and such witticisms as here displayed. The principal thoroughfares and buildings, the parks, the river, and the Underground Stations are shown, and the life of London in all its phases has been dealt with by the fun-creating pencil of the artist. From Shepherd’s Bush to Whitechapel, from Hampstead to Clapham, every district has been made to contribute its share of parodied characteristics. The poster is sure to arouse more than ordinary attention wherever it is exhibited, for the more one studies it the more one discovers its seemingly inexhaustible sources of humour, and soon all London will be roaring at this comic map of London.

Another commentator, writing in the Illustrated London News just ten days later, on Saturday April 4th 1914 (p.576), was equally fullsome in his praise:

One of the most striking of recent posters is the new comic map of London, executed by Mr. MacDonald Gill for the Underground Railways. It is a large pictorial map of the Metropolis, showing the chief streets and buildings, the parks, and the river, and the Underground Stations. It is crowded with detail of a humorous character, the peculiarities of every district being happily parodied, and it forms an abundant source of amusement. Passengers on the Undergrond Lines almost wish they had longer to wait at the Stations when they become interested in this most entertaining poster.

However, The Times, in its obituary notice for Gill, in January 1947, was slightly more reserved about the map and its “primitive” humour:

Public attention was arrested by his map of London for the Underground in 1913 (actually published in 1914), whose humorous incidents and captions received a slightly chilling notice in these columns. But if the humour was thought to be somewhat primitive, the effect of the poster was admitted to be quite striking.

It is interesting to note that, in both the original 1914 poster issue,  this 1915 retail edition, and the subsequent revised & reduced edition of Wonderground Map (1914-24), prima facie, the copyright in all cases appears to have been held by Gerard T Meynell personally, rather than by the Westminster Press or the London Underground. For it is his name (not Westminster Press or London Underground Railways) that is given as the copyright holder alongside the 1914 date clearly inscribed in a panel in the lower right corner of all three editions.

Gerard Tuke Meynell  [1877-1943] held a particularly crucial role in the close interconnected nexus of printers, designers, illustrators, engravers and typographers associated with the world of commercial printing, advertising and graphic design in the years just before the First World War.  It was a world further bound together by the Senefelder Club (named after Aloys Senefelder, the Bohemian-born Munich printer who invented the printing by lithography in the last years of the 18th Century) co-founded by Ernest Jackson [1872-1945] John Copley [1875-1950] and Joseph Pennell [1857-1926] in London in 1909 (it held its first Art Exhibition in 1910). And the Double Crown Club (founded in 1924), of which Meynell was also an active member.

Meynell himself was born on 27th November 1877 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the son of Samuel Tuke Meynell [c1846-1920], an iron and alkali manufacturer of Nether Heworth Hall, Co Durham, and Ellen Elizabeth Newman [c1845-1923]. His parents had married at St. Mary Magdelene’s Church Peckham in May 1873. Gerard was initially educated at Durham Grammar School, where he appears as a 13 year-old scholar in the 1891 Census. In May 1892 he moved to the remote Yorkshire Dales public school of Sedbergh, following in the footsteps of his elder brother Piers Henry Meynell [1874-1962] who had joined the School in 1886. Gerard left in April 1894, subsequently joining a bank in Newcastle. Both brothers joined Sedbergh during the revival and expansion of the school under the the generous and influential Headmastership between 1880-1900 of Henry George Hart [1843-1921]. Hart built on the initial successes of the short-lived tenure of the previous headmaster Revd Frederick Heppenstall (c.1835–1879) who had begun to restore the school’s fortunes after decades of decline and near bankruptcy. Hart was a devout broad-church Anglican, and a much-loved & deeply respected figure amongst teachers and pupils alike, affectionately known as Daddy or Da for short. Both Meynell brothers were subscribers to a History of the Sedbergh School and its Chapel published in 1897, in which the subscriber address of both is given as 14 Eskdale Terrace, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1895 Piers Henry Meynell’s occupation is given in the Sedbergh School Register as Engineer in the Locomotive Dept of the North Eastern Railway Co with the same Eskdale Terrace address. In 1897 Piers joined the Royal Navy as an Engineer, rising through the ranks over the next 25 years, becoming an Engineer Lt Commander in 1917 and finally retiring in July 1922 with the rank of Retired Engineer Captain. He married twice and seemingly had no children. Piers died in York at the old Tuke Hospital, The Retreat, in Feb 1962. One must assume that Gerard moved to London in the late 1890’s. By the time of the 1901 Census he was living at 45 Westbourne Park Road, and aged 23, was already described as a Printer (Employer). This would have been ideally placed for access to the Westminster Press print works located on the nearby Harrow Road (at No 411a). In 1909, Meynell married Esther Hallam Moorhouse [1878-1955], the daughter of prosperous Leeds Quaker, Samuel Moorhouse. She had moved to Brighton, Sussex as a young child. She was already a noted author and novelist in her own right, at the time of their marriage. By the time of the 1911 Census the newly married couple had settled in the genteel surroundings of Colville Square, Kensington.  By the end of the First World War the Meynells were living in West London, initially in St.Peter’s Square, Hammersmith (1918) and later in Gunterstone Road, W14. With their two daughters, Gerard and Esther moved to Sussex in the 1930’s, first to Pulborough and then  to Ditchling, where they built two small houses, events celebrated in two of Esther’s books, Sussex Cottage [1936] and Building a Cottage [1937]. Esther had converted to Catholicism in 1931.

Robert Thurston Hopkins, writing in 1921 in his book, Kipling’s Sussex, notes on page 180:

Ditchling has suddenly sprung into fame in the newspaper world ! In May, 1920, the first village news-sheet was produced at Ditchling by Mr. Gerard Meynell. The first number, printed on two sides of a single sheet, gives utterance to local grievances—such as that of being ” thrown into the ditch by motor charabancs full of trippers “— rebukes the discrepancies of the village clock, publishes the bus time-table, has its poets’ corner, gives full reports of the cricket club’s perform­ances and offers a tip for the Derby. The poets of Ditchling have come forward with some rather good things, one of which runs as f ollows :

” The bricks and tiles are red and brown,

In the roofs and walls of Ditchling Town,

Tangled roofs and cottages neat,

Clustered  together  where  four  roads meet

Ditchling under the Hill.”

It seems probable Meynell’s newspaper was hand-produced on the local St Dominic’s Press.

Ditchling had of course also attracted Max & Eric Gill’s great friend and mentor, the calligrapher Edward Johnston [1872-1944], who moved there in 1912, just prior to beginning his first work for the London Underground.  Eric Gill [1882-1940] & his wife Mary had also moved to Ditchling in 1907, to a house called “Sopers”, later moving to “Hopkins Crank” in 1913.

The Meynell-Johnston-Gill connection continued with Meynell’s daughter Rosemary [1917-2003], who married Mark Bindon Clare Pepler [1911-1958], the son of Hilary (Douglas) Pepler [1878-1951], another Quaker-Catholic convert and joint founder with Gill, of the St. Dominic’s Press, 1915-16 and, again with Gill and Desmond Chute, of the Catholic community of craftsmen, also based at Ditchling, known as the Guild of St. Joseph and St.Dominic. A disillusioned Eric Gill would leave the Ditchling community to establish a new one at in the remotest reaches of the Black Mountains of Wales  at Capel-y-ffin in 1925.  Interestingly one of Pepler’s other sons, David, would marry Eric Gill’s daughter, Betty in 1927.

Hilary (Douglas) Pepler was a man of independent means and the Great War brought many skilled Belgian craftsmen to Britain. Official help was provided in providing them with tools and accommodation in Hammersmith and Pepler began to have their work published through his business known as “The London Hampshire House Workshops”. It was Meynell whose Westminster Press printed these books. The first of these, entitled The Devil’s Devices [1915], was illustrated by Eric Gill, with a special dedication to G K Chesterton by Edward Johnston. The book was described in a contemporary prospectus as ” a sociological satire containing an account of a cinema entertainment in Satan’s Circuit and an appreciation of No.27, an English working man.”

Hilary (Douglas) Pepler and Esther Meynell would later jointly write the 11-page Story of Ditchling in 1946. A photograph of Esther Meynell and her young daughter Joanna, circa 1919, at Ditchling’s North End, features on the opening page of the Ditchling History Project website ( http://www.ditchlinghistoryproject.org/ ). Meynell himself died at Hayward’s Heath Sussex in September 1943.  His widow Esther died at their home in Ditchling in 1955.

Gerard’s father, Samuel Tuke (and his uncle Wilfrid (see below)) were themselves the sons of George Mennell or Meynell [c1811-1892], a Northern colliery owner, who had originally been born in Scarborough. After living for a time in York, he subsequently settled with his wife and family in Newcastle.  In retirement, he moved to Exeter & Weston-super-Mare. Through George’s wife, Hannah (née Tuke) [c1811-1869] the family had close connections with York’s well-established Quaker community, that also included amongst others, the Rowntree and Terry families, of chocolate fame. In true Quaker tradition, the Tukes had been pioneers in addressing the need for the humane treatment of mental illness. Other members of the family were to be associated with humanitarian and philanthropic activities during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Gerard Meynell’s great-grandfather was Samuel Tuke [1784-1857], the philanthropist and mental health reformer who was director of The York Retreat (originally founded by his grandfather William Tuke); his great-uncle was James Hack Tuke [1819-1896], the philanthropist best known for his work during the Irish potato famine, and a cousin was Henry Scott Tuke [1858-1929] the watercolourist.

According to J H Mason, Gerard Meynell had been employed in a bank and come into the Westminster Press by a legacy. Certainly he had taken over ownership & direction of the Westminster Press in 1899. With long-established works in the Harrow Road, the Press moved to new offices in Covent Garden in 1912. During this period, The Westminster Press had become one of the principal printers working under contract with the London Underground to publish its many colour posters. Gerard’s uncle, Wilfrid Meynell [1852-1948], was Managing Director of the Catholic publishers, Burns and Oates (under whom Stanley Morison would later work). And it would be Wilfrid’s youngest son, Francis (later Sir Francis, being knighted in 1946) [1891-1975] who would also manage the Pelican Press [1916-23] and then found the Nonesuch Press [1923], perhaps best-known for its seven volume edition of Shakespeare published 1929-33. It is interesting to note that the influential American artist and graphic designer, Edward McKnight Kauffer [1899-1954], whose artwork would become so closely associated with the London Underground poster, during in his early British career, held the post of Director of Pictorial and Poster Advertising at Meynell’s Westminster Press. It would be through Meynell that Kauffer would first come into contact with Frank Pick, Publicity Officer of the London Underground in 1915. The same would be the case with Edward Johnston in 1913, with whom Meynell had also become very closely associated through the development of a completely new printer’s typeface, the monotype Imprint Old Face (series 101), adapted from fonts originally used by Christopher Plantin,  Abraham Ortelius’s printer in Antwerp in the late 16th Century. This new type, produced mechanically for Meynell by the Monotype Corporation, first appeared in 1912, and with it a journal (Imprint), whose aims and objectives were first advertised in the Times on 10 September 1912 and the first issue of which appeared in January 1913. The Journal was set in its eponymous type and published by Meynell’s Westminster Press. Its aim was to arouse interest in good printing & raise typographic standards and show the enduring place of the craftsmanship within the printing trade.  The typeface became a model of modern taste, clarity and authority, thanks in part to the unduly powerful influence of the Imprint Journal and its supporters.  Johnston was its lettering editor and it brought together many other leading contemporary typographers and designers, such as Ernest Jackson, Stanley Morison, & J H Mason. Whilst running to only nine issues and closing in November 1913, the journal had a lasting influence through the use of the new Monotype typeface. As Morison himself noted in his book A Tally of Types, the type’s importance lay in the fact that “the design had been originated for mechanical composition. … the first design, not copied or stolen from the typefounders, to establish itself as a standard book-face” .  As with the newspaper trade, it in fact, marked the imminent death knell of the old compositor and typesetting trade and the emergence of a new age of printing by machine.  Meynell and his colleagues at the Imprint had intended for the typeface to be freely available to the print and publishing trade, but it eventually came into the ownership of Monotype Imaging.

This 1915 edition also differs from the original 1914 poster issue, in that the amusing ditty, which Gill had composed and included in a panel in the lower right of the original poster, has now been erased and a new text inserted.

The original ditty had read:

The Westminster Press they printed me
In all my artful devilry
And painted me o’er in colours galore
In AD One thousand nine one & a four
For the Underground Railway Company
The laughter of GODS is yours if you will
As the wish of the artist is. MacDonald Gill.

This is now replaced with the following inscription :



Drawn by MacDonald Gill /

Printed & Published by/

The Westminster Press /

11 Henrietta Street  Covent Garden /

London WC

It would seem that this edition is in fact the very first time that the term “Wonderground” was coined for the title of the map. It was a title that evidently captured the public’s imagination and led to a whole host of derivatives that employed similar terms to describe decorative pictorial City maps and were designed upon a similar model.

However this version of the Wonderground map is Gill’s unique & highly idiosyncratic construction, bearing his own very personal stamp, It presents the streets and buildings of London as if from a bird’s eye perspective, its different districts, buildings, historical sites and sounds, personalities and peculiarities, brought to life through Gill’s unique panoply of illustrative and literary props. Comical characters abound, spouting forth, via the medium of the speech bubble, a profusion of puns, jokes and clever literary wordplays and double-entendres, including many now sadly hard-to-understand contemporary social. cultural and topographical references. For example a large multi-coloured Chinese Dragon (representing the Serpentine) fills Hyde Park. Elsewhere the animals of London zoo consume proffered buns and visiting boys who have approached too close to the cages, whilst a Tiger lurks in the deep undergrowth of St.John’s Wood. A farmer’s horse pulls an iron plough up the Harrow Road; men on Polo ponies cast legs of Ham against the walls of the Hurlingham (hurling ham) Club in West London. Adjacent to the headquarters of the London Underground in Victoria, a workman wields a heavy pick with the comment “my pick cannot be surpassed“, most probably a reference to the commissioner of the map, Frank Pick. Gill himself includes a comic portrait of himself, kneeling with a long-eared hare in his hands at the Temple, with the comment “One hare caught in the Temple”, Gill’s London offices and address being No.1 Hare Court, Temple. Other cryptic comments and illustrations abound, the hidden meanings of which have been lost in the mists of time through the passage of the last century. For example the exhortation to “Watch this spot between 3 and 4 o’c of an afternoon”, at a location just off the Old Kent Road. “Give him socks, govner !” cry a couple of workmen in Hammersmith to a fisherman who has indeed just caught a large white one on the banks of the Fulham Thames, and comments “Well I am”. Another bearded workman stands adjacent to barrels connected by bulging tubes to the nearby Chelsea Gas Works, and comments : “Are you sure them gas tubs is full, Bernard ? “Idle Pork is waiting” “, to which said Bernard answers “Yus”, whilst in far off Hyde Park (Idle Pork), a small group of banner-waving protesters standing to the north of the Serpentine dragon, ask “When are the gas tubs coming ?”. Back in Fulham, in the triangle formed by Filmer Road, Bishop’s Road and Dawes Road, a recumbent lithsome jester-like figure is pinpointed as “an undiscovered gen(i)us of the Plasticene Age”. In Battersea Park, a large white swan on one of its lakes proclaims “Where is my fountain pen”, clearly a reference to the popular brand of “Swan” Fountain Pens (which used this same swan image as their trademark) which were made and sold by the firm of Mabie Todd & Co Ltd. Gill provides another charming self-portrait of himself, this time seated on top of a house in Westbourne Park in North West London. He sits admiring an unfurled copy of his own Wonderground map, exclaiming “Good pull this!“. The printing works of the Westminster Press on the nearby Harrow Road is pinpointed with an arrow just to the right of this wonderful self-portrait.

Another distinctive and recurrent feature of many of Gill’s maps is the inclusion of vignettes of many members of his own family, often including his parents and siblings, the latter almost invariably represented as children. This version of the Wonderground map is no exception, with Max’s elder brother Eric and one of his sisters, either Gladys or Madeline, holding open a book in the lower left of the map in which, on the opened pages, appears a quotation from Algernon Blackwood’s A Prisoner in Fairyland, an enormously popular children’s book first published in 1913. The quotation reads “Little Mouse that lost in Wonder, Flicks its whiskers at the Thunder” and its inclusion perhaps references the almost Fairyland-like quality and aura that Gill seeks to convey in this charming and captivating map.

This sense of the fantastical and magical is further referenced in the unusual symbolic motif or coat of arms that embellishes the front covers of this edition and also appears in the top left of the image, between Ladbroke Grove and Latimer Road. It would appear as if Gill is drawing a clear connection between his “Wonderground” map of London and the underground fantasy world that was Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. In Chapter One of Carroll’s book, Alice is sitting with her sister on the river bank when she notices a clothed white rabbit talking to himself and, in following him, tumbles down a rabbit hole. The coat of arms or symbolic motif, appears to show a kaleidoscopic circular tunnel, resembling closely Alice’s rabbit hole, into which the viewer’s gaze in naturally drawn, and at the end of which, almost at its vanishing point, appears a tantalising glimpse of distant trees and foliage, the exit to another world, a little like Alice’s tantalising view of the garden through the keyhole of the locked door. Two gatekeepers stand guard on either side of the entrance, on the left the Brunel-esque figure of a Victorian engineer in top hat and frock coat, complete with umbrella, and on the right perhaps his counterpart, a hardy shirt-sleeved Victorian “navvy”, tunneller or railway labourer. The Latin motto below reads: Intrate aut exite parum via tuta moranti (Enter ye or exit ye by the safe way, delaying little). The vignette is surmounted by the profile of a white rabbit, with a pointer from Gill highlighting that this is “the oldest inhabitant of the Underground”! The symbolic, perhaps subliminal, association with the White Rabbit of Carroll’s Wonderland cannot be ignored, particularly given the White Rabbit’s muttered catch phrase (I’m late, I’m late). The objective of the Underground service was, of course, to get passengers to their intended destination safely and as quickly as possible, without delay. It is interesting to also note that on his 1922 In the Heat of the Summer Underground pictorial map poster, Gill’s coat of arms for the Underground incorporates the profile of a “rabbit rampant” standing on its hind legs, clearly another in-joke that references this “the oldest inhabitant of the Underground”!

Gill’s use of heraldic devices and coats of arms is a distinctive feature and recurrent theme of many of his commissions across the  different graphic media with which he worked, a legacy of the deep influence of the Arts and Crafts movement upon his early character and artistic development, and it is no less evident here, with the encircling banner inscription embellished with coats of arms representing London (top centre) and Westminster (bottom centre), St.Marylebone (top left), Holborn (top right); Kensington (middle left), Southwark (middle left), Chelsea (bottom left) and Lambeth (bottom right).

RefsB Wilson – The Sedbergh School Register 1546 to 1895 [Richard Jackson, Leeds, 1895]: Piers Henry Meynell p.316, Gerard Tuke Meynell p.350; Sedbergh School and Its Chapel [Richard Jackson, Leeds, 1897]; LTM Poster 1983/4/682 (original 1914 poster edition); V&A Collections: E.3748-1913 & E.130-1942 (original 1914 poster editions); Peter Barber & Tom Harper: Magnificent Maps – Power, Propaganda & Art (BL Exhibition Catalogue, 2010), pp.135-7 & ill (Maps 3485. (199.); Oliver Green: Frank Pick’s London, pp.36-37 & ills.