Tynography
By Stuart Ritson

Last week I took a spontaneous day trip to Newcastle. It’s not a city I knew much about really, my ideas of it shaped mainly by stereotypes fuelled by Get Carter, Our Friends in the North and Byker Grove. 

The reason for the random trip North was mainly just to get out of the house. I’ve spent the last few weeks under a regime of forced inactivity, stuck inside with little to do beyond watch DVDs and read books. This is due to a broken right hand, leaving me without the ability to design, drive, ride or, most importantly in this instance, aim and fire my beloved Nikon. 

As a result, you’ll have to forgive the quality of the imagery accompanying this piece – the best I could do without my camera was to be a little bit creative by retracing my steps in Google Street View and provide screen grabs instead. Excuses and explanations over then, and on with the trip. 

The first typographical gift one notices when arriving in Newcastle is the Metro network signage, featuring the eponymously named and specifically designed punchy slab serif, Calvert. 

 

There are some really nice uses of this typeface in the stations, though these were of course situated well beyond the view of Google’s ever present eye (at least for now) so I cannot provide images. A quick scan of Flickr provides the goods though. 

A Metro day saver ticket is perhaps one of the public transport bargains of the century, giving full access to the rail network and the Tyne ferry, plus a few link buses along the way. Therefore it seemed rude not to ride the train, ferry, bus and train out to Whitley Bay. 

 

Here the bright modernist black-on-yellow graphics of the Metro network contrast sharply with the rather more genteel ironwork serif on the station facade. This very permanent piece of typography reminds us of the line’s Victorian origins, of the steam engines that once thundered along it during the halcyon days of the North Eastern Railway. 

During my walk along the windswept and deserted promenade of Whitley Bay, it was hard not to feel that strong sense of melancholy familiar to any off-season seaside resort. 

 

Above the shuttered windows of the succinctly named paper shop, the most recent layer of typography was peeling away to reveal its predecessor beneath. I wondered how many other layers might exist under there, and how much North Sea wind it might take to expose them. 

Further along the promenade were signs that this little stretch of coastline is an entirely different place during the summer evenings, when sunlight gives way to neon tubes and the area brims with inebriated Geordies. 

There seems to be some typographic indecision at the Rex Hotel. Or perhaps they specialise in 3-for-1 deals? 

One B&B seemed keen to display its deep affection for contractors, a message they reinforced by way of a laminated sheet taped to the door glass. The street was pretty deserted during my visit, though judging by the ladder-shod van parked outside in the image here, it appears a contractor was indeed enjoying a bit of that love when Google drove by. 

 

Next to Whitley Bay police station was this adorable example of 1970’s signage. The once dynamic crisp red bold-italics sit against a now flaky and stained backboard. I particularly liked how the white keylines were fading, and in some cases missing entirely. In fact, looking at the total absence of outline on the J, N and D made me wonder if one day they simply fell off onto the ground below, perfectly accurate typographic skeletons lost amongst the crisp packets, Greggs pasty bags and dead leaves. 

Back inland, among the bright city lights of Tyneside proper there is what must be one of the city’s most prominent and spectacular pieces of typography, sitting proudly (both figuratively and literally) high up atop the windowless expanses of brick that make up the brutal faces of the spectacularly imposing Baltic Flour Mill.

It’s rare these days that any company would have such conviction as to set its name into the actual fabric of its premises. I love the permanence of it, the confidence to make such a statement in brick. In an age of frequent rebrands, buyouts and closures, looking back to a time of reassuring and optimistic upper-case longevity is very refreshing. 

It also leads one to assume that Joseph Rank never envisaged this flour mill becoming a home to the arts after standing derelict and unloved for so long. 

 

A short distance upstream is of course the defining icon of the city, the Tyne Bridge. In the centre of this magnificent structure, facing each other on opposite sides of the road are two cast iron plates set into the railings, giving details of the date of construction. Clearly the image here doesn’t show in enough detail the type itself, and I didn’t make a note of what they read, but I’m sure anyone with enough interest to warrant five minutes on flickr will find a decent close up. 

Further along the railing, (partly obscured in this image by the van’s cab) can be seen a small white panel. Printed on there is simple black lettering giving the contact details for the Samaritans. Interestingly, I saw near identical signs on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, equally dull and unemotional in tone. Both times I have seen these signs I’ve morbidly wondered what I would do if given the job of redesigning them. What font best appeals to the suicidal? Perhaps, for once, the informal whimsy of Comic Sans would be just the ticket? 

No, of course not. I’d jump too. 

 

Finally, lurking under a ledge above a pub whose windows were covered in garish vinyl stickers offering meal deals and happy hours was this subtle lettering featuring what I’ve always considered an incredible ugly ligature. I’ve always thought simply putting the O tightly spaced with the E would be preferable to this ugly, conflicting shape. Still, it’s an interesting find, and therefore a nice find. Tyneside is full of them. 

LINKS
Flickr images of Metro’s usage of Calvert
Newcastle and Gateshead Tourism
Baltic Mill

The Samaritans

Thanks for sharing these observations Stuart, and for being so determined to submit whilst your hand is out of action!

So what’s in your neighbourhood?

I am putting out a request for contributors for the “my type of… place” section of this blog and would like you to put together your own typographic tour. If you are interested, download the contributors information sheet for more details, ideas and specifications here.

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