Manchester Central Library poster shop is now live featuring a selection of posters from Central Library’s historic collections. The giclee prints on premium silk 240gsm paper make ideal Mancunian Christmas presents.

Central Library tram poster

The beauty of this series of 1930s travel posters is extraordinary. But they are, above all, archives. They have smudges, bashes and tears. We have got rid of the creases and punch holes they suffered when they were stored in a lever arch file in the Corporation Transport Department offices, but otherwise they are as found. They are living documents. And, like all other archives, they come with a back story.

Manchester Municipal School of Art organised a competition to produce pictorial posters for the Manchester Corporation Transport Department trams and buses between 1933 and 1934. Eighteen designs were used. Their unusual shape was designed to fit on the back of the driver’s cab. Thirteen of them are now available on the poster shop.

River Mersey at Chorlton

In the file alongside the posters is a series of letters between the School of Art, Manchester Corporation and the artists themselves.

Thirties travel poster featuring runners

W. Southon worked on the buses during the day. In the evenings he took classes at the School of Art. Two of his designs were chosen – the elegant Dunham Park By Bus and the funny When Time Means Money. Imagine how pleased it must have made him to conduct on a bus decorated by his own artwork!

Travel by Tram

Some of the students were not as lucky as Southon. L. Eddleston of Prestwich received a curt reply thanking them for this Take the Tram design in 1937 but explaining “I am afraid that it is not suitable for our purposes.”

Jackson Burton’s 1942 design Make Room for the Workers is striking but it too was rejected:

I regret that the poster would not be of assistance in meeting our present problem.

Make Room For The Workers Who Must Travel by Jackson Burton, 1942

There’s even a hilarious report on a test of how the posters are looking in the trams and buses on a dull November day almost exactly 80 years ago:

The posters were seen at noon on a dull November day without artificial light. Under these conditions one or two of the posters are not as effective when displayed in the cars as when seen in the office.

Pictorial Poster in the Tramcars, 9 Nov 1933 (part 1)

The report reflects on which posters are working well and which aren’t:

The white bear in ‘Belle Vue‘ is very successful but the other bear is not distinct. In daylight ‘Heaton Park‘ is sombre and the outline is not clear.

Thirties football travel poster

For some posters the position is critical: “Subjects such as the ‘Football‘ poster would have a wider appeal if displayed on the top deck.”

Letter from R. A. Dawson, Principal, to General Manager, Transport Department, Manchester Corporation, 10 July 1933

The initiative for the poster project seems to have come from Stuart Pilcher, the General Manager of the Manchester Corporation Transport Department. The Principal of the Manchester Municipal School of Art, R. A. Dawson, writes to Pilcher in July 1933 enclosing an account for the designs at two guineas each to the Transport Committee: “May I express my appreciation of your kindly thought in having these designs produced in Manchester and in giving young people an opportunity of trying actual practical exercises.”


Also on the poster shop is a Ringway Airport publicity poster featuring a map of Britain and a fabulous coloured version of Berry’s 1750 map of Manchester and Salford. We will be adding more posters featuring images from our rare books, special collections and archives over the next few months. Watch this space!

Berry (complete), 1750