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The Story of the Tube Map


Harry Beck designed Tube Map

The map of the London Underground  or Tube Map is world famous, however the story behind its creation has became almost as famous.

In the early days of the London Underground, there was not a single organisation but rather a collection of independent railway companies that constructed lines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These companies only tended to publish route maps of their own services, the maps also used to feature stations and nearby places of interest or main streets or roads.


1908 Combined Map

The first combined map was produced in 1908 by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) and four other companies Central London Railway, City and South London Railway , Great Northern and City Railway and the Metropolitan Railway. This was the first time the companies tried to adopt a common “Underground” brand.

However it quickly became clear that the maps in the crowded central areas were not distinctive enough due to the tradition of including other geographically-based information.
Many styles and formats were tried but none was that successful until 1920 when MacDonald Gill omitted the geographic background detail .

In 1931, Harry Beck who was a London Underground employee considered that as the railway was underground, most travellers  where only interested how to get from one station to another and were little interested about other information.

Therefore  Beck set about devising  a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line  connecting them, and the River Thames; lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or on 45 degree diagonals.

To make using the map easier and to emphasise connections, Beck differentiated between ordinary stations  and interchange stations .

Beck had developed the map in his spare time and with little support from his employers, however in 1933 a small pamphlet was made based on Beck’s design and issued to the public who quickly adapted it as the “Tube” map.

Despite the time and effort taken in making the map, Beck was only paid ten guineas for the design and five guineas for a poster. However Beck continued to design the map until the 1960s.

Other designs have been tried but have been rejected by the public who have been remarkably loyal to Beck’s design even though the distances on the map are not geographically correct.

In the last few years, Beck’s map has been considered a design classic and other designers have played around with the map to produce their own artwork.

Beck’ s importance was finally recognised by London Underground  who issue the statement, ‘This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck’ is printed on every London Underground map.

Since the 1960s, changes have been made to the map to accommodate new stations and fare zones but tend to stay true to the design principles of Harry Beck.

It was not only in London that the brilliance of Beck’s design was recognised, all around the world the basic concepts of the map were adopted for network  maps.

Even the font for the map which  is known as Johnston has become the  historic and generic font for all TfL uses, from tube station facades to London bus destination blinds.



Forty Tube Facts


For many Londoners and visitors, the Tube is an integral part of London and a source of much interest and speculation.

This has led to a number of books about the subject and a wide range of merchandise related to it. The Tube often reflects Londoners sense of humour with spoof signs and urban legends about what you can find in the depths.

However it is the facts about the Tube that can be the most surprising  like why do many Londoners and visitors use  the tube journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line which is only 260 metres long  takes only about 20 seconds, but costs £4.30, when it has been proven that  it is quicker and cheaper to walk ?

Here are some other interesting facts :

1. During the morning peak period, the busiest Tube station is Waterloo, with around 57,000 people entering.

2. On the Metropolitan line, trains can reach over 60mph.

3.  The shortest distance between two adjacent stations on the underground network is only 260 metres. The tube journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line takes only about 20 seconds, but costs £4.30.

4. Angel has the Underground’s longest escalator at 60m/197ft, with a vertical rise of 27.5m.

5. Only 45 per cent of the Underground is actually in tunnels.

6. The longest distance between stations is on the Metropolitan line from Chesham to Chalfont & Latimer: a total of only 3.89 miles.

7. The longest continuous tunnel is on the Northern line and runs from East Finchley to Morden (via Bank), a total of 17.3 miles.

8. Aldgate Station, is built on a massive plague pit.

9. The longest journey without change is on the Central line from West Ruislip to Epping, and is a total of 34.1 miles.

10. The deepest station is Hampstead on the Northern line, which runs down to 58.5 metres.

11. Over 47 million litres water are pumped from the Tube each day

12. The London Underground trains were originally steam powered.

13. The station with the most platforms is Baker Street with 10

14. The District Line has the most stations: 60.

15. London Underground has been known as the Tube since 1890


16.The Tube’s logo is known as “the roundel”

17. The total length of the London Underground network is 249 miles.

18. The eastern extension of the Jubilee line is the only Underground line to feature glass screens to deter suicides.

19.The inaugural journey of the first Central line train in 1900 had the Prince of Wales and Mark Twain on board.

20.The first escalator on the Underground was installed at Earl’s Court in 1911.

21. The first crash on the Tube occurred in 1938 when two trains collided between Waterloo and Charing Cross, injuring 12 passengers.

22. Busking has been licensed on the Tube since 2003.

23. The phrase “Mind the gap” dates back to 1968.

24. The Jubilee Line is the only one to connect with all the other Underground Lines.

25. Approximately 50 passengers a year kill themselves on the Underground.

26. Fewer than 10 per cent of Tube stations lie south of the Thames.


27. In the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore has a scar that resembles a map of the London Underground on his knee.

28. Edward Johnston designed the font for the London Underground in 1916. The font he came up with is still in use today.

29. The Underground has the oldest section of underground railway in the world, which opened in 1863.


30.The Underground was first used for air raid shelters in September 1940.

31. The tube carried one billion passengers in a year for the first time in 2007.

32.The last manually operated doors on Tube trains (replaced by air-operated doors) were phased out in 1929.

33. According to TFL, London Underground trains travel a total of 1,735 times around the world (or 90 trips to the moon and back).

34. The Oyster card was introduced in 2003.

35. There are 14 journeys between stations that take less than a minute on average

36. The total number of stations served on the network is 270.

37. On August 3 2012, during the Olympic Games, the London Underground had its most busiest day , carrying 4.4 million passengers.

38. The most common location for filming is Aldwych.

39. Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986, the idea of American writer Judith Chernaik.

40. Alcohol was banned on the Tube – and all London Transport – from June 2008.