London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Fascinating Fonts

There is a danger, after having a few too many alcoholic drinks, to do things you may regret in the morning such as texting an ex boyfriend or talking rubbish on Twitter. I’m guilty of the former but as far as I can remember haven’t done the latter although someone may correct me on that.

This last week was a bit of a boozy week – Westminster History Club on Tuesday followed by the pub, Westminster Guides’ monthly meeting on Wednesday followed by the pub, my St James’s walk on Thursday followed by the pub, a trip to the theatre on Friday preceded and followed by the pub and my Mayfair walk on Saturday followed by the pub. Think I may need a few days off, that is of course until London Historians on Wednesday – in the pub.

However I digress.  On my way home on Wednesday night after more than my fair share of sauvignon blanc I signed up to a ten week correspondence course on the history of typefaces – as you do. It just so happened that the request for five volunteers for a pilot course was tweeted just at the moment that I briefly looked at my Twitter feed. I emailed Type Tasting only half an hour after the tweet (it was after midnight) and then promptly forgot all about it.

Checking my emails the following day I found out that I had been chosen as one of the volunteers.  I’m interested in the history of typefacing but when I looked at Type Tasting’s website panic struck me.  The courses they run are mostly for creative types; not my cup of tea at all.  However on receiving the first assignment I was very relieved to discover that no drawing is required – tracing of that week’s specified font is allowed.  After agreeing to commit to the ten week course my initial worries were unfounded.

Working on the first assignment has however been a very steep learning curve. I didn’t realise how ignorant I was about fonts in general.  I know that London Underground (and all the English Heritage plaques associated with the history of the London Underground such as the plaque commemorating Harry Beck installed in Leyton last week) use the Johnston font which is named after Edward Johnston and there is also one named after Eric Gill but that is really the sum of my knowledge on historic fonts. Although knowing what the French word “sans” means I had no idea (until yesterday) that sans serif means without the twiddly things (serifs) on the ends of the letters.

Looking closely at the font I’m using for this sentence I notice it is with serifs (Georgia). This sentence is without them (Arial).

I am feeling a bit bamboozled at the moment but hope that after a couple of weeks of absorbing information from the various books, blogs and magazines that have been recommended by Type Tasting it will get easier. I am assuming that each week we are going to be told to go and research a font; that is what we are being asked to do in Week 1.  I’m not going to reveal this week’s font but only mention that I think I may have found an example of it on a Sam Smiths’ beer mat!

I am already starting to look at adverts in a different way and maybe even by the end of the course I might be able to include some interesting signage on some of my walks.

Saying that I notice that Type Tasting are leading a walk around Islington on the evening of 28th April where you will learn about the history of Islington through the signage you see (and photograph) on the way.  After the walk you will create a phrase out of the letters you have photographed. Creating anything like this is out of my comfort zone but “no previous creative experience is necessary” so I have sent an email and fingers’ crossed I get a place. It’s the same day as my Soho Sunday Pub Themed Stroll but I’m sure after a roast at the Queen’s Head I’ll be ready to tackle another challenge in the evening.

A fascinating subject and were it not for staying in the pub too late on Wednesday night I may not have ever explored it.


The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.

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