Margaret Calkin James

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Margaret Calkin James (June 1895 - 1985), was a calligrapher, graphic designer, textile printer, watercolour painter and printmaker, and is best known for her posters designed for the London Underground and London Transport between 1928 and 1935. Untold numbers of commuters admired her Kenwood and Boxhill posters while oblivious of her identity.

She was born in Emmanuel, West Hampstead, the third of seven children of Harry Bernard Calkin (1861–1926), a senior underwriter at Lloyds and Margaret Agnes Palfrey (1870–1936), daughter of Penry Powell Palfrey (1830–1902), a well-known artist in stone and stained glass.

She attended North London Collegiate School from 1909 to 1913.[1] She was a student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts between 1913 and 1915, specialising in calligraphy and winning the Queen's Scholarship in her final year. She then enrolled at the Westminster School of Art. Her work was displayed at The Rainbow Workshops in Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury, which she opened in 1920 after World War I and was one of the first galleries started by a woman to promote art, craft and design. She lived and worked at Lapstone Farm, in Chipping Campden during World War II.

She designed posters for London Transport, book jackets for Jonathan Cape, pattern papers for Curwen Press, programmes and booklets for the BBC and a greetings telegram for the GPO.[2] Some of her textiles were used at the new Norwich City Hall in 1938.

In the late 1960s she suffered a stroke, paralysing her right side and depriving her of speech. Undaunted, she started a series of wool embroidery designs using her left hand.[3]

In June 1922 she married Charles Holloway James, a distinguished architect who trained under Sir Edwin Lutyens.[4] After her marriage she worked from a studio at her home 'Hornbeams'. Her daughter, Elizabeth Argent, lives at Alcester.



  • At the Sign of the Rainbow - Margaret Calkin James 1895-1985, Betty Miles, Felix Scribo (Warwickshire, 1996, 2005) ISBN 0-9528481-1-2

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