Historical Map: George Dow Diagram of LNER Great Northern Suburban Services, 1929

Almost everyone credits Harry Beck with “inventing” the diagrammatic transit map in 1933 with his iconic London Underground map. But the diagram form had already been in use for a number of years before that, as shown in this delightful 1929 diagram for LNER suburban services out of London’s Kings Cross station to points north. It was designed by George Dow, who created many such diagrams for the LNER. His son, Andrew Dow, wrote a book about his father’s work, aptly titled, "Telling The Passenger Where To Get Off" - which is exactly what a transit map is all about.

Have we been there? I have caught the train from Kings Cross to Stevenage, but the modern trains have little of the style and charm of 1920s LNER steam trains.

What we like: All the elements of modern transit design are on show in this diagram - straightened route lines, clear labels, interchange station symbols (here charmingly called “exchange stations”), and a complete absence of geography. This diagram is all about connections - where to get on and where to get off - nothing more. That it looks elegant and sophisticated, full of 1920s style, makes it all the better. The typography is particularly nice, especially the little dots under the “T” in St. Albans.

What we don’t like: In reality, Stevenage is almost due north of London, so one supposes the curious slant of the routes to the north west is because of space limitations (I believe this map was used in train carriages themselves). A little rough around the edges in parts, but this almost adds to its charm.

Our rating: A fantastic look at the early days of diagrammatic transit maps, and one that shows that Harry Beck was not quite the lone pioneer that many people laud him as. Four-and-a-half stars.

4.5 Stars!

(Source: George Rose’s website)

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