The London Underground Tube Map
My London Underground Tube Map I use London Underground all the time to travel in London. So I’ve always wanted my own full size Tube Map at home. And so I framed one myself.
The London Underground Tube Map is a schematic transport map of the lines, stations and services of the London Underground. Here in London we call the Underground railway colloquially “the Tube”. And so the map we call “the tube map”.
The first schematic Tube map
The first schematic Tube map designed by Harry Beck launched in 1931. Since 1931 the map expanded to include more London public transport systems. Including the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, TfL Rail, Tramlink and the Emirates Air Line cable car.
As a schematic diagram, it does not show the geographic locations but rather the relative positions of the stations, lines, the stations’ connective relations, and fare zones.
The basic design concepts have been widely copied or adapted for other such maps around the world.
A regularly updated version of the map is available from the official Transport for London website. I purchased my map from the Transport Musuem shop in London’s Covent Garden.
In 2006, the tube map became voted one of Britain’s top 10 design icons.
History of the tube map
Today the transport system remains managed by transport for London. But London’s early transport system was operated by a number of different independent companies. So there were no complete maps of the network. Just different maps for the individual companies’ routes.
The early maps designs simply lay the lines over a regular city street map. There was no integration of the different companies lines or routes.
In 1907, The Evening News commissioned a pocket map titled The Evening News London “Tube Map”. This map was the first to show all of the lines. Also it was the first to use a different colour for each line.
Another early combined map was published soon after in 1908 by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in conjunction with four other underground railway companies using the “Underground” name.
The geographical route maps continued to develop. Issued in various formats and artistic styles until 1920. In 1920 for the first time the geographic background became removed on a map MacDonald Gill designed.
This freed the design to enable greater flexibility in the positioning of lines and stations. The routes became more stylised but the arrangement is still geographic.
The 1932 edition became the final geographic map published, before Beck’s diagrammatic map introduction.
Harry Beck’s maps
The first diagrammatic map in the style we still use today was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. Beck was a London Underground employee. Beck understood that because the railway runs underground, the physical locations of the stations were less important to travellers simply than how to get there.
The map is similar to electrical circuit diagrams. Beck devised a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the River Thames; lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or on 45-degree diagonals.
To make the map clearer and to emphasise connections, Beck differentiated between ordinary stations and interchange stations. London Underground was initially sceptical of his proposed map. The map was an unpaid part time project for Harry Beck.
So London Underground tentatively introduced the map to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. However, it immediately became popular, and the Underground has used Beck’s maps to illustrate the network ever since.
London Underground paid Beck ten guineas after creating the original artwork and designing the card edition. However after its initial success he continued to design the Tube map until 1960.
During this time new lines and stations needed adding. Also Beck continually altered and improved the design. In 1997, Beck’s importance became posthumously recognised. Also printings after 2013 have a recognition statement on every Tube map. “This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck”.
Check out the latest Tube Map on the TFL website