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article imageThe London Underground and its world famous map

By Alexander Baron     Jan 12, 2013 in Travel
London - You may not be a Londoner, you may not even have been to Europe, but you've almost certainly seen the famous London Underground map. But how did it come about, and how has it changed over the years?
The London Underground is 150 years old this week. When the first underground train left Paddington for Farringdon on January 10, 1863, there was no need for a map, but by the 1920s, things were getting quite complex.
The Northern Line opened in 1890, the Central Line in 1900; the Bakerloo Line opened in 1906, as did the Piccadilly Line; and then there were the existing lines. How would people find their way around?
In 1931, a draftsman working in the London Underground Signal's Office submitted a new design to his bosses; they were unenthusiastic, but the following year a limited print run was produced, and in 1933, another 700,000 copies were run off. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, not quite. Harry Beck's original map was radically different from those that preceded it, it was also updated for reasons that will be explained below. Here is the map as it was originally conceived.
Iconic map of London Underground by Harry Beck.
Iconic map of London Underground by Harry Beck.
Tricia Wang
In spite of its name, most of the London Underground isn't actually underground. The first underground stretch was actually cut and cover; it is only the tube lines that are properly underground. Most of it is also totally in the open including the entire Metropolitan and Bakerloo lines from Finchley Road station, the Central Line west of White City, most of the Central Line from Stratford to both Epping and Hainault; and the Piccadilly Line from Baron's Court to its western terminii (apart from the Heathrow extension).
Although there is no Circle Line shown, all the tracks were there in 1931. In a sense, the Circle Line does not exist because it runs and always has run over the tracks of the Metropolitan Line and the District Line. By the same token, up until recently, District Line trains used to run on British Rail tracks on the Richmond and Wimbledon branches, and the modern Hammersmith & City Line runs over District Line tracks to Barking. The modern Metropolitan Line runs out to Amersham with a single line operating between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham. The former London Transport - including buses - is now run by Transport For London.
There is no Victoria Line on Beck's map; this was opened only in 1968, and all its stations are underground. The Jubilee Line is an even more recent addition. On Beck's map, the District Line runs to Hounslow West; since October 1964, this has been a Piccadilly Line branch only, and later this line was extended to Heathrow. Epping was not part of the Central Line when Beck drew his first map; this was joined by a single line to Ongar, which was closed in the 1990s. A number of other stations have closed over the years including Wood Lane and British Museum. Some stations have also been renamed. Embankment used to be Charing Cross; Shepherd's Bush Market used to be plain Shepherd's Bush, which meant there were two stations so named a stiff walk apart.
While these changes are understandable, the Underground map itself has a number of anomalies. For example, from Kings Cross St Pancras to Euston on the Northern Line is northbound, but the same journey by Victoria Line is southbound!
The most important anomalies are that the map is not to scale, and this can cause some confusion, especially in Central London. Bayswater and Queensway are a minute or two apart, literally a short walk up or down the road named Queensway, but many people especially tourists end up changing at Notting Hill Gate for one or the other.
Having said that, the map is easy to read, and gives especially tourists what they want. This has resulted in it becoming a template for similar maps, like that of the Tokyo Subway, below.
Tokyo Subway Route Map  including JR’s Yamanote and Chuo lines  other private lines  Narita Expres...
Tokyo Subway Route Map, including JR’s Yamanote and Chuo lines, other private lines, Narita Express and Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport.
Tokyo Metropolitan Gov’t.
Harry Beck died in 1974, but he has left a lasting legacy, in one of Britain's and indeed the world's most iconic, recognisable and mimicked designs.
More about harry beck, London underground, farringdon station, bakerloo line
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