The Tube map (also known as the London Underground map) is a schematic transport map of the London Underground’s lines, stations, and services, colloquially known as “the Tube,” hence the map’s name. Harry Beck created the first schematic Tube map in 1931. It has since been expanded to include more London public transportation systems, such as the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, the Elizabeth line, Tramlink, the London Cable Car, and Thameslink.
As a schematic diagram, it depicts the relative positions of the stations, lines, connective relations between stations, and fare zones rather than their geographic locations. The fundamental design concepts have been widely adopted for other such maps around the world, as well as maps of other types of transportation networks and even conceptual schematics.
The map is regularly updated and can be found on the official Transport for London website. The Tube map was named one of Britain’s top ten design icons in 2006, alongside the Concorde, Mini, Supermarine Spitfire, K2 telephone box, World Wide Web, and AEC Routemaster bus. Since 2004, Art on the Underground has commissioned artists to design pocket Tube map covers.
Harry Beck created the first diagrammatic map of London’s rapid transit network in 1931.
He was a London Underground employee who realized that, because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were largely irrelevant to a traveler who wanted to know how to get from one station to another; only the topology of the route was significant. Although electrical circuit diagrams were not the inspiration for Beck’s map, their approach is similar. However, when his coworkers pointed out the similarities, he created a joke map with the stations replaced by electrical circuit symbols and names, with terminology such as “Bakelite” for the Bakerloo line.
To do this, Beck made a simple map with just stations, straight lines connecting them, and the River Thames. Lines only went up, down, or 45° diagonally. Beck made a distinction between regular stations, which were marked with tick marks, and interchange stations, which were marked with diamonds. This made the map clearer and drew attention to the connections. Because it was an uncommissioned spare-time project, the London Underground was initially skeptical of his proposal, which was tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. However, it quickly gained popularity, and the Underground has used topological maps to depict the network ever since.
Despite the map’s complexity, Beck was only paid ten guineas for the artwork and design of the card edition (five guineas for the poster). After its initial success, he continued to design the Tube map until 1960, except for a single (and unpopular) 1939 edition by Hans Scheger. Meanwhile, Beck changed the design to accommodate new lines and stations, such as changing the interchange symbol from a diamond to a circle and changing the line colors of the Central line from orange to red and the Bakerloo line from red to brown. Beck’s final design, completed in 1960, is strikingly similar to the current map. Beck grew up in Finchley, North London, and one of his maps is still on the southbound platform of Finchley Central station on the Northern line.
Beck’s significance was acknowledged posthumously in 1997, and beginning in 2022, the following statement will be printed on every Tube map: “This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived by Harry Beck in 1931.
By 1960, Beck had feuded with the Underground’s publicity officer, Harold Hutchison, who, despite not being a designer, drew his version of the Tube map that year. It removed Beck’s smoothed corners, resulting in some extremely congested areas (most notably around Liverpool Street station), and the lines were generally less straight. Hutchison, on the other hand, introduced interchange symbols (circles for Underground-only services, squares for connections with British Rail mainline services) that were black and allowed multiple lines to pass through them, unlike Beck, who used one circle for each line at an interchange, colored according to the corresponding line.
Paul Garbutt, who, like Beck, had created a map in his spare time because he disliked the Hutchison design, took over the design of the map in 1964. Garbutt’s map restored the diagram’s curves and bends while retaining Hutchison’s black interchange circles, though squares were replaced with circles with a dot inside. Garbutt kept making Underground maps for at least another 20 years. Tube maps stopped bearing their designer’s name in 1986 when the map’s elements resembled today’s map very closely. While the standard Tube map avoided depicting most mainline services, the “London’s Railways” map, released in 1973, was the first to depict Tube and aboveground mainline rail services in a diagrammatic style that closely matched Beck’s designs. Tim Demuth of the London Transport publicity office created that version, which was co-sponsored by British Rail and London Transport. Demuth’s map did not replace the standard Tube map, but was instead published as a supplement, later dubbed the “London Connections” map.
The Top 7 Alternative Tube Maps
1) A Map of Shakespeare’s Tubes
TFL’s latest release commemorates the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. It’s a London-based English student’s wet dream, with each line named after a Shakespearean subject and each station named after a villainous character.
2) Tube Map Walking Distance
Visitors and residents of London were recently given what everyone who had to change trains twice to get from Euston Square to Warren Street had been pleading for: a map showing walking distances between stations.
3) Tube Map Station Toilets
If you’ve ever wanted a comprehensive guide to the stations where you can urinate TFL’s official tube map toilet guide is the place to go.
4) Map of the Super Mario Tube
The Super Mario Bros 3-style tube map, which is both the silliest and the best on the list, was created by Reddit user NaturalBeats for no apparent reason.
5) Tube Map of London Restaurants
Chris Pople, a renowned food blogger, wanted to make it simple for his readers to benefit from his extensive familiarity with London’s finest eateries, so he made this handy map. It’s a rare example of a redesign with a purpose.
6) The Actual Underground Tube Map
Not particularly exciting for those with only a passing interest in tunnels, but if you’ve ever wondered how much of the underground is underground, look no further.
7) Map of the night tube
London’s ravers have been waiting for decades for the announcement of the night tube, and even longer for TFL to get their act together and reveal which stations will benefit. So there was a lot of joy at the big reveal last June.