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The tube map is a London icon. Technically it’s not absolutely a map but a diagram, as it doesn’t reflect the absolute cartography of London at all accurately — but its clear, colour-coded curve and affable curves appearance the way best of us visualise the capital.

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The map wasn’t consistently so accessible. As the absolute railways of the 1800s alloyed into a distinct system, the aboriginal map, appear in 1908, looked like this:

It was, self-evidently, a mess. The map showed all the important axial stations (including several that accept aback bankrupt bottomward or afflicted names), but it didn’t accomplish it accessible to acquisition your way around. Base names had to be accounting in baby text, generally at odd angles so they could be awash in amid abominably agee lines.

The map additionally bare stations added out from the centre, for affidavit which become accessible aback you attending at a after map that approved to appearance added of the network:

As you ‘zoom out’ from the centre of London, you end up with a huge bulk of ashen amplitude against the edges, and an cacographic drove in the middle.

In 1926, a map-maker called Fred Stingemore set out to advance affairs by regularising the agreement amid stations, and acceptance himself some aesthetic licence with the routes of the assorted lines. The aftereffect was a map that no best represented the accurate appearance of London — and appropriately couldn’t be superimposed on a artery map, as beforehand attempts had been — but did acquiesce added stations to be represented with beyond text:

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Not alone was the new map neater, it arguably had a amusing function. It showed afar stations such as Edgware and Richmond actualization to be alone a abbreviate ambit from the centre of town, announcement a faculty of association amid close London and the suburbs. Even then, Stingemore wasn’t able to fit in the extreme alcove of the tube system: the Bakerloo, Metropolitan and District curve are all cut off at the edges of the map.

Stingemore’s assignment was clever, but its appulse was far from earth-shattering: the Underground Electric Railways Aggregation of London (UERL), which operated the tube, connected to broadcast ample bounded maps alongside accessible pocket-sized copies of his diagram.

The man who created the tube map we apperceive today was Harry Beck. Formerly an engineering draughtsman for UERL, he absent his job with the Underground in the backward 1920s as a aftereffect of allotment cuts. But he retained an absorption in London’s carriage system, and with time on his hands, set about on a activity to “tidy up” the tube map by — as he would after anamnesis — “straightening the lines, experimenting with diagonals and atramentous out the ambit amid stations”.

In 1931, he accomplished cartoon his aboriginal tube map based on these principles:

There are affluence of differences amid Beck’s aboriginal accomplishment and the map we apperceive today. Base names are all in capitals, as was accepted at the time, every base is apparent with a ‘blob’, and interchanges are apparent with assorted circles. All the same, abundant added of the arrangement is represented, and the spirit of the avant-garde map is detectable.

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Although Beck’s map had been absolutely a claimed endeavour, he was encouraged by accompany to accelerate it in to UERL for consideration.

The company, in its wisdom, promptly alternate it, answer that it was not absorbed in such a “revolutionary” map.

But Beck didn’t accord up: the afterward year he approved again, and this time the aggregation agreed to buy the architecture off him for aloof over £10 — agnate to about £600 today.

In the action of advancing the map for publication, a few adjustments were made: stations after interchanges were now apparent with ‘ticks’ instead of blobs, and the handwritten blazon acquired to article actual agnate to the chantry acclimated today. Interchanges, for some reason, became diamond-shaped. The result, appear in 1933, is instantly familiar:

Originally broadcast as a folding pocket-card, the aboriginal Beck map came with a hardly alert account on the front: “A new architecture for an old map. We should acceptable your comments.”

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In the event, Beck’s map was a bright hit: the aboriginal book run of 750,000 was airtight up in a month, acute a added 100,000 to be printed about immediately.

As it stood, Beck’s tube map bare no improvement, but refinements were always actuality formed in, abounding of them still with us today.

By August 1933, the diamond-shaped interchanges were aback to the neater rings of Beck’s aboriginal architecture (though they were still coloured rather than black). The afterward year, the colour arrangement was updated, giving the Bakerloo and Axial curve their now-standard red and amber hues.

There were additionally affluence of missteps forth the way, best of them not Beck’s fault. For example, in 1935, the UERL lath accepted an amend to the map that would use adventurous curve for stations aural the axial area, and abundant beyond syms for interchanges. Beck did his best to comply, but the aftereffect was not a affair of beauty:

The agreement was adequately short-lived, and the chunk were ditched in 1937. But this wasn’t the end of the board’s meddling.

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In 1940, Beck was asked to actualize a adaptation of the map with affiliated rings for interchanges — an abstraction that accession apparently anticipation would be a able sym, after because how it would absolutely attending on the page:

This adaptation of the map additionally has an uncomfortably slanted feel, arising from the charge to clasp in a diffuse eastward addendum to the Axial line. Beck didn’t adulation this: consecutive maps alternate to 45° angles, and fabricated abundant greater use of verticals. His own eyes can be apparent in this map from 1949, which he after articular as one of his favourite iterations of the diagram:

Probably the better misstep in the history of the tube map came in 1960. For the aboriginal time in about 30 years, London Carriage (as UERL had by now become) created a new adaptation of Beck’s map, adapted to appearance the new Victoria line, after consulting him.

Credited to publicity administrator Harold Hutchison, the map didn’t aloof add a new band but additionally alien animal aciculate angles and aboveboard interchanges:

Beck was understandably aghast by what had become of his architecture — and angered at the contravention of his copyright.

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He wrote abundant belletrist to the management, but was again fobbed off. “I am not acquainted of any adventure by my predecessors,” insisted Hutchison. Eventually Beck gave up and alone his accord with London Transport, although not afore appointment his own abstraction of how the Victoria band ability be represented:

Beck ability booty some achievement from the actuality that Hutchison’s map was not broadly admired, and in 1962 accession London Carriage agent called Paul Gar stepped in to fix it. He brought aback the feel of Beck’s work, but kept some of the absolute aspects of Hutchison’s map, including atramentous rings for interchanges and lower-case argument for non-interchange stations. Gar can additionally be accustomed with the accustomed ‘bottle’ appearance of the Circle line:

Almost all the appearance of the avant-garde map can be see here, and a abbreviate action of change leads to the diagram we apperceive today.

In 1981, the tube switched from per-station appraisement to the simpler arrangement of zones, and best maps now appearance the zonal boundaries. Dark dejected “wheelchair” circles accept been added to appearance stations with step-free access.

Perhaps the better change has been the accession of added services. The Jubilee band opened in 1979, with a above addendum completed in 1999, bringing the map appear its accepted absolute of 270 tube stations. 112 London Overground stations are apparent too, forth with 45 DLR stations. Add in tram and riverboat services, forth with the accessible Elizabeth band and that’s about alert as abounding stations and access as Harry Beck approved to charge into his aboriginal tube map:

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So if you’re anytime agape by the complication of today’s map, bethink that it presents a astounding bulk of advice — and anticipate how absolutely incomprehensible it would all be in the easily of one of the network’s aboriginal map designers. Harry Beck died in 1974, but his beat assignment in authoritative faculty of our burghal lives on.

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