The Father of Modern Calligraphy

Edward Johnston was born on 11 February 1872 and is often regarded, with Rudolf Koch, as the father of modern calligraphy.


Johnston has been credited with reviving the art of modern penmanship and lettering through his books and teachings. His book Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, 1906, sparked a renewed interest in the art of calligraphy. Inspired by William Morris’s admiration of medieval manuscripts, he studied historic calligraphic scripts and devised the simply crafted round calligraphic handwriting style, written with a broad pen, known today as the foundational hand.



He is probably most famous for designing the London Underground typeface. In 1913, Frank Pick commissioned him to design a typeface for the Underground, and the simple and clear sans-serif Johnston typeface was the result. It was used throughout the London Underground system until it was re-designed in the 1980s.


Not all his students were happy with his decision to create a sans-serif design for the Underground, in a style thought of as modernist and industrial. His pupil Graily Hewitt privately wrote to a friend:

In Johnston I have lost confidence. Despite all he did for us…he has undone too much by forsaking his standard of the Roman alphabet, giving the world, without safeguard or explanation, his block letters which disfigure our modern life. His prestige has obscured their vulgarity and commercialism.

As well as the typeface, Edward Johnston also designed the famous roundel symbol used throughout the system:


Both practitioner and teacher, Johnston mentored many famous calligraphers and type designers including Eric Gill and Anna Simons. His link with Hammersmith and why he is included in the Hammersmith & Fulham Archives is that he lived at 3 Hammersmith Terrace from 1905 to 1912. Near neighbours were Emery Walker and Douglas Pepler.


Note that the font used on this plaque is not “English Heritage’s own unique font” to quote English Heritage but London Underground’s New Johnston sans serif, the 1979 version of the font designed by Johnston and introduced in 1916. Three other Underground-related blue plaques use this font: Frank Pick, Lord Ashfield and Harry Beck.




Fiona Fowler

Volunteer, Archives & Local History Room





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