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Frank Pick: the forgotten genius of the London Underground

A 1958 publicity photograph of the London Underground
A 1958 publicity photograph for the London Underground Credit: © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection

Jonathan Glancey celebrates a forgotten pioneer who believed good design was for everybody – not just the elite

When he died from a brain haemorrhage in November 1941, Frank Pick was hailed by the art historian Nikolaus Pevsner as “the greatest patron of the arts whom this century has so far produced in England, and indeed the ideal patron of our age”.

And yet Pick, a draper’s son from Spalding who rose to become the first chief executive officer of the London Passenger Transport Board and, in 1940, director general of the Ministry of Information, remains a shadowy figure today. This is all the more remarkable given that more than a billion people a year rely on the legacy of Pick’s greatest work: the world’s finest and most fully integrated urban public transport system.

At its zenith, London Transport was not just a byword for efficiency. Pick, a lay Congregationalist preacher for whom...

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