MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill, born in 1884 in Brighton, was the second son of Rose King and Arthur Tidman Gill, a non-conformist minister. In 1897 the family moved to Chichester where he was educated at the Prebendal School. He also took classes in carving and drawing at the Chichester Technical College and Art School. Two years later his father became rector of St John’s in Bognor where Max attended Holyrood College. At sixteen he became pupil of a local architect, learning the skills of architectural drawing and construction at first hand.
In 1903 he started a five-year assistantship with Nicholson and Corlette, eminent ecclesiastical architects in London, for whom he did much decorative work on church interiors. For the first year he and his brother Eric shared the Lincoln’s Inn chambers previously occupied by the calligrapher Edward Johnston. To improve his skills, Max attended evening classes in architecture and lettering at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. And to supplement his income, he would often help Eric with lettering design and painting whilst also working on his own account. Eric reciprocated by cutting the stone for Max’s early designs, for example, the Dorothea Beale memorial.
Max regularly attended meetings at the Art Workers’ Guild, where he mingled with the eminent architects and craftsmen of the day. Edwin Lutyens gave Max his first map commission: a painted wind-dial for Nashdom, a palatial house near Taplow. The architect Halsey Ricardo recommended Max to Ernest Debenham for a five-year appointment as architect-in-residence to oversee the creation of a model farm and village on his Dorset estate. This coincided with the publication of Max’s first map poster, the humorous ‘Wonderground Map of London Town’, created for the Electric Railways of London, which brought Max his first major commercial success. Max’s work for London Transport and London Underground is discussed further in Section 5.
Image: Original watercolour plans for Dorothea Beale memorial plaque at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, 1908. This was a collaborative project with Max’s brother Eric and commemorated Dorothea Beale, campaigner for women’s votes and education, founder of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, and head of Cheltenham Ladies’ College from 1858 to 1906. Private collection.