Submission - Historical Map: Greater London British Rail Map, 1969

Submitted by Peter Marshall, who says:

I’m currently trying to design a clearer diagrammatic representation of the maddening tangle of railway lines and services in the South London area. Just doing my initial research into historical versions online, I turned up this interesting map.  It appears to have been published in 1969 by British Rail, for what purpose, I am not absolutely certain.  It seems far too sparse in detail to be a map intended for use by the general public, as it gives so little information about lines and services, however it appears to have been published alongside a timetable.

I think it’s interesting mainly because the first thing I imagine anyone planning to map the railways around London doing is completely abandoning topography, however, topography plays such an important part of this map. The use of the BR typeface and stripped down use of only 3 shades (background, river and line) of the same BR red is beautiful in its simplicity. The strange angularity of the river seems to serve to instruct the user that this is a diagram using topography as its basic principle, but prepared to deviate from it as necessary, such as in the exaggerated separation of Lewisham from the Lewisham bypassing curves, or the large junctions at Selhurst and Streatham.

Perhaps I’m over-familiar with the region and therefore find it easier to use than an ordinary member of the public, but I think this is a really interesting approach.


Transit Maps says:

I think Peter has inadvertently provided the answer to his own question when he says that this map was published along with the British Rail timetable book. This is what I like to call a “boast map” — it serves no other purpose than to say, "Look how large and extensive our network is! Why, you can get just about anywhere on British Rail!"

Of course, to work out how you can actually get there from here, you have to consult the timetables in the accompanying book, or go and talk to a British Rail booking agent.

The map itself serves its purpose well and is another great example of how to make a compelling map with a limited colour palette. The major London terminals are nicely emphasised, and the restrained London Underground roundels to indicate stations with Tube interchanges are rather wonderful.

BR certainly used diagrammatic maps of their Greater London network at the time for use by the general public, as this superb poster from 1965 shows.

Source: Joyce’s World of Transport Eclectica

Question: Differentiating Local/Express Services

An anon asks:

What is the best way to display two different lines that share a section if one acts as a local service and the other as an express service? I wanted to use ticks to represent the stations on this map, is there any approach to this problem that allows me to use it?


Transit Maps says:

The solution here is best summed up by the words of the great Massimo Vignelli, who distilled the very essence of transit diagram design down to one little quote:

“A different color for each line, a dot for every station. No dot, no station. Very simple,” 

And if you’re using dots as your station markers, it really is that easy, as shown by Vignelli’s own New York Subway map (the 2008 version is shown above), where the express patterns of the 2 and 3 compared to the 1, for example, are easily distinguishable.

Using ticks as station markers does make things a little trickier. You’ll note that the London Underground map separates routes that run along the same track but have different stopping patterns, so there’s absolutely no chance of confusion. I show the section of the Metropolitan Line and Jubilee Line above, but it also occurs on the Picadilly/District Lines west of Earl’s Court. If the route lines touched each other, a tick could be interpreted as belonging to all the lines at that station, so the London approach really is for the best, I feel.

Submission – Unofficial Map: “Hyper Japan” Directory London Underground Map

Submitted by chiguire, who says:

Found this London Tube map in the Hyper Japan directory magazine. Hyper Japan is some sort of convention about the country [of Japan, held in London – Cam], but I couldn’t stop staring at this map. It’s like a car wreck, it’s horrible but you just can’t stop looking :-P


Transit Maps says:

A great example how you can use all the elements of a successful transit map and still end up with a complete mess. Obviously, the organisers of Hyper Japan didn’t want to pay a licensing fee to TfL for the actual Tube map, so they either made one of their own or paid someone substantially less than the licensing fee to make one for them.

The central part of the map actually looks eerily similar in shape to the real deal, with the (in)famous “thermos flask” shape described by the Circle Line remaining almost intact. However, things go rapidly downhill after that, and much of the system south of the Thames just looks horrible: the DLR and Overground suffering the worst. I’m also pretty certain that the southern part of the Northern Line is at a non-standard angle just so the legend can be squeezed in underneath it.

The square interchange symbols aren’t a patch on the superb interconnected circles of the actual Tube map, and the typography is lacklustre at best. If you need connecting lines between labels and the station they name, then you’re doing it wrong.

Our rating: A poor imitation that really makes you realise how balanced and aesthetically pleasing the Tube map is by comparison, and how difficult it is to make a truly excellent transit map. One-and-a-half stars.

1.5 Stars

Historical Map: Pocket Diary with London Tube Map, 1948

A lovely little black and white version of the Tube map at the front of a 1948 year diary. Drawn by H.C. Beck (see his name at the bottom left), it shows the central area of London only and is based off the 1946 version of the full map. By 1949, interchanges were being drawn with a white connector line between adjacent circles, rather than the separate circles seen here.

Source: hollandfamilyarchives/Flickr

Historical Map: Unpublished Proof of H.C. Beck’s London Underground Diagram, 1932

A printer’s proof of the first card folder (pocket) edition of Beck’s famous diagram, with edits and corrections marked in his own hand.

Of note is the use of quite ugly and overpowering “blobs” instead of the now-ubiquitous “ticks” for station markers, and the fact that the map has been entirely hand-lettered by Beck, using what he called “Johnston-style” characters. He’s cheated quite a bit with his letterforms and spacing on some of the longer station names.

The Piccadilly line is also shown in what seems to us a very odd light blue, although Beck was simply following established colour conventions from earlier geographical maps. The now-familiar dark blue was in place by the time the diagram was officially released in January of 1933.

Source: Scanned from my personal copy of “Mr. Beck’s Underground Map" by Ken Garland

  1. Camera: CanoScan LiDE 600F

Historical Map: Nicholson’s Complete London Guide Bus Map, c. 1980

Unusual and potentially confusing bus map that chooses to colour-code routes by the major thoroughfare that they travel down: all Oxford Street buses are orange, all Farringdon Road buses are lime green, etc. However it’s all a bit of a mess, made more so by the strangely yellow/orange-heavy colour palette. Westminster Bridge is crossed by six routes; five of them are way too similar to each other (orange-brown, yellow, orange, another orange-brown and lime green). Only the dark green Victoria Street route line provides sufficient contrast with the other lines here.

The map also requires the user to have more than a passing familiarity with London bus routes, as it only lists their route number as they leave the map, not their destination. I know that Route 9 passes through Piccadilly, but where does it go after that? A travel-savvy Londoner might know, but a tourist may not.

Reminiscent of this similarly confusing central Sydney bus map from 2000, although at least the Sydney map tells you the final destination of the bus routes!

Our rating: Idiosyncratic, strange and not actually terribly useful. One-and-a-half stars.

1.5 Stars

Source: grepnold/Flickr

Fantasy Map: 2014 Tour de France as a London Tube Map by Joe McNamara

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against the “… as a subway/tube map” design trope. Having created more than a few of this type of map myself, I’d be a pretty sad hypocrite if I said otherwise.

However, it does bug me when a map in this style fails to live up to the fundamental underlying design principles of the piece that inspired it, and that’s what’s happened here. Obviously drawing inspiration from H.C. Beck's famous Tube Diagram (the oversized LU roundel really driving the point home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer), this map was created to commemorate the first few stages of this year's Tour de France being held in England. It’s a fun idea, and not without merit as a concept, but there’s far more to making a tube map than just putting some coloured route lines down on a page and calling it done.

Beck himself, ever in search of more simplification and rectilinearity in his Diagram, would simply not have approved of the twisty, torturous paths that these stage routes take. In his hands, Epernay to Nancy would have been represented by a simple straight segment (instead of needing three angle changes): Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Etienne by a clean diagonal line. Yes, there’s a desire to indicate the relative lengths of each stage here (making this a map/diagram hybrid of sorts), but there has to be a simpler, cleaner, more Beck-like way to do it.

In my opinion, if you’re going to make such a big deal about the source of your homage, then a better adherence to the design principles espoused by that source can only make for a better end product. And I’m not talking about making a map that’s slavishly identical in every detail to the source: I have no problem with the substitution of what looks like Gotham for Johnston Sans, or the non-rounded corners where the routes change direction: that’s just window dressing on top of what really makes the Tube Map what it is — Beck’s never-ending quest for design clarity.

Source: via Gizmodo

Official Map: Southeastern Rail Network, England

Southeastern’s website contains the following blurb: “Our network covers London, Kent and parts of East Sussex. With 179 stations and over 1000 miles of track, we operate one of the busiest networks in the country. We also run the UK’s only high speed trains.”

They should really add: “We also have a network map that makes it almost impossible to work out where our trains actually go.” I mean, what is actually going on here? Leaving out the networks of connecting rail companies, there are two main Southeastern networks – the magenta Metro routes (London and surrounds) and the lime green mainline routes that extend out into Kent and East Sussex – but that’s about as much as this map really tells you.

You could probably assume that most Metro services start at one of the four London terminus stations shown, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. If I get on at Victoria, where can I actually go? What happens at the apparent Y-junctions east of Barnehurst and Slade Green? Which way do trains go and could they actually loop all the way back to London? Nothing here tells me otherwise, so that’s an assumption that could be made by a user unfamiliar with the system.

Do the mainline trains start in London as well, or do I have to catch a Metro train out to, say, Sevenoaks and change trains there? The lime green routes are only shown outside London’s perimeter, after all.

It’s all just horribly ambiguous and unclear. It’s only after poking around on the Southeastern website that I found an alternate “lines of route” interactive map that makes some sense of things. There are actually six Metro routes and five mainline routes, four of which originate from London. The fifth – the Medway Valley line – runs from Tonbridge to Strood. Try working that out from the map.

Our rating: A prime example of style over substance. The map looks cool and all, but it doesn’t actually help a user plan a trip at all. Eleven routes isn’t that many: show them all from end to end so that people can easily determine where to get on a train, where to most efficiently interchange with other services and where they can get off. It’s really not that hard, people. One star.

1 Star

Source: Southeastern Rail website

Photo: The Underground Map – Then and Now

A nicely executed little montage of Underground maps through the years. From left to right: what looks like the 1932 version of the F.H Stingemore map, the original 1933 H.C. Beck diagram, and a modern day Tube Map. I have to say, the Underground uniforms in the 1930s were a lot nicer than their modern counterparts!

Poster: Helping London Grow for the Future, Transport for London

London’s certainly come a long way since the Metropolitan Line first opened in 1863 with wooden carriages and steam engines. I wonder what a Victorian Londoner would think of this modern skyline, all soaring, glimmering, curving glass? 


Helping London grow for the future. We’ve been serving London since 1863 and our continuing improvements will help you get around for the next 150 years.